Update: KUTX was there for Honk!TX this weekend. Check out video from the festival below, and see more photos here.
Original story (March 21): South By Southwest has come and gone, but Austin's festival season is in full swing.
This evening Honk!TX comes to Austin. The free, three day festival corrals brass bands from around the country and showcases an array of genres.
“Honk Texas is like 20 renegade brass bands and community street bands, converging on streets and parks and neighborhoods in Austin,” cofounder Jason Fialkoff says. “And it’s this quilt, this fabric of different type of music, this tapestry of costumes and colors. It’s really beautiful.”
Fialkoff also plays in the Minor Mishap Marching Band – one of the founding groups behind the fest four years ago. “We really just had the Minor Mishap Marching Band to rely on. The Austin Samba School has been around a while. But after our first year, the Dead Music Capital Band, a zombie brass band showed up in Austin.”
That’s right – a brass band, made up of zombies. And that’s not all. Now there’s the Urban Achievers Brass Band, whose style is more in step with New Orleans’ Second Line. And there’s also the Yes Ma’am Brass Band, which is made up of all women.
If you’re downtown a Saturday night, there’s a good chance you’ll see at least one group parading through the streets. And more keep popping up. Fialkoff credits a lot of that to Honk!TX. He says the festival empowers people to get back into music or start up a band.
“It’s really amazing,” Fialkoff says. “Every year, someone who sees Honk for the first time, gets really involved, and shows up their second year a member of a brass band and it’s a wonderful, impressive thing to see happen.”
One of the newer bands in town is the Boss Street Brass Band, formed by John H. Reagan high schoolers. “We started off with a New Orleans brass band at school, and then some of them wanted to continue it after,” says bandleader Ormide Armstrong.
Reagan has struggled academically, but its band – led by Armstrong – has become a shining beacon. It leapt into the national spotlight in 2012, when it was called on to perform at SXSW with Kanye West.
“It was outrageous,” Armstrong says. “It was at the old [Seaholm] power plant. The kids got to meet so many artists. Mos Def was walking around, Jay-Z, Beyonce. … It was a great experience for them – and me, myself, I popped on a band uniform and got on stage with them too.”
Now that Boss Street has been together a couple of years, they’re recording their own music and making a name for themselves. They get together every week for practice.
“At first when we started playing, we were playing everyone else’s music and having a good time jamming,” Armstrong says. “Now we have a direction with our originals. We have originals that we’re sitting on that we haven’t even got to yet.”
And their goals?
“Keep getting bigger and bigger,” Armstrong adds. “And I told the guys last month: I want to win a Grammy.”
The band credits Honk!TX with getting them started. They say it’s all about giving it back.
“We like giving back to the community,” Armstrong says. “Honk is one of the first shows that we did as Boss Street. We were fortunate enough to let us perform for them.”
Jason Fialkoff agrees. He says Honk!TX is about creating community through the power of music.
“Honk Texas come from a wide array of backgrounds,” Fialkoff says. “There are people who have day jobs and do this for fun. There are people who are professional musicians and feel really strongly about what these brass bands are, and appreciate the creative energy they can put into it.”
And what does putting on a free festival do for Austin?
“Putting it on for free is really just like activating our neighborhoods,” Fialkoff says. “And really demonstrating what people can do with their spaces just by putting a brass band in it.”
You can check out the music yourself beginning this evening, as brass bands take over locations along South Congress. The festival continues across Austin this weekend with park performances, revues and a big ol’ brass band parade.