Last weekend, our curiosity got the better of us, and we wandered into Davis Square to investigate this thing called “Honk!”

In its sixth year, Honk! is a rowdy festival of street bands. This simplified statement doesn’t begin to accurately describe what Honk! is, however. Activist marching bands from as far away as Austin and Seattle converge on Somerville once a year to raise money for their chosen causes, and make a joyful noise. And, oh, what a joyful noise it is!

More than thirty bands bang away on drums, blare their horns, and encourage all bystanders to clap their hands and stomp their feet. A powerful reminder to pay attention, and make a positive change in the world, this year’s festival felt especially poignant amid the stream of images and articles filtering in from Occupy Wall Street. While I haven’t personally attended any of the “Occupy” protests, I found myself thinking that Honk! perhaps has a better grasp on how to inspire people to take action.

The cathartic and positive energy generated first by the bands, and then echoed by the listening, dancing crowd feels empowering. Instead of feeling hopeless about the state of the world, I began to feel inspired to do something about it in my own way.

The aim of banding together and raising our voices for a positive change was made even more powerful by how gosh darn entertaining all the bands were. Dressed in motley, sometimes glaring, sometimes uncomfortably odd personal interpretations of their bands’ colors, each musician was a show by himself. Together, they formed a delight for the senses. Some of the bands played funk, some gypsy-inspired dirges, some even played patriotic songs to highlight the rights Americans are supposed to have. Many played entertaining and inspired covers of well-known songs. I caught a performance by Atlanta’s own Seed & Feed Marching Abominable, while my photographer stood transfixed by Seattle’s Titanium Sporkestra who played many fierce rock covers.

Excepting only the Friday night opening party, and the Honk! harbor cruise, all events were free, and family friendly. We purposely skipped the Sunday parade from Davis to Harvard – in which participation was invited – because my daughter was so enthusiastic about the bands that I know I would have been required to march the whole parade route. While I’m not ready to let my three year old run away with the circus, I do hope she was inspired by Honk! I know I was.


photos by Jay Remy