Community street band festival HONK!TX celebrates fifth anniversary

Katie Walsh

This weekend, a zombie marching band, a New Orleans jazz ensemble, a self-proclaimed “circus-punk-brass” group and 22 other renegade brass bands will perform throughout Austin.

Friday kicks off the fifth anniversary of HONK!TX, a festival that brings brass bands, or “honk bands,” of all genres and sizes from around the country for a weekend of free live music. Local volunteers organize the event.

Jason Fialkoff, one of the co-founders of HONK!TX, described a honk band as any band that performs without amplification and turns a public space into a stage. HONK!TX performances take place exclusively outdoors in public areas.

“HONK!TX works to transform our neighborhoods, parks and public spaces through the power of music,” Fialkoff said.

Hannah Rotwein, Plan II and studio art sophomore, said she stumbled across the festival last year while dining on South Congress Avenue.

“The neatest part was the atmosphere created by the engagement between the performers and the audience,” Rotwein said. “Everyone was there to have a
good time.”

HONK!TX drew inspiration from other honk festivals, such as the activism-oriented honk festival in Somerville, Massachusetts, and the more party-oriented festival, HONK! Fest West, in Seattle.

What sets HONK!TX apart is its emphasis on community, Fialkoff said. A group of 12 volunteers who comprise the festival’s organizing committee focus on scheduling performances in different parts of the city so all Austinites can experience HONK!TX.

The festival includes shows at homeless shelters and the Boys & Girls Club of Austin and a parade that winds through low-income housing developments on the
East side.

“You can’t just put [an event] on and say that you are serving the community,” Fialkoff said. “You have to make sure that you are bringing it to them, and that’s
what we do.”

The first performances begin at 6 p.m. Friday on South Congress Avenue in the parking lots of Jo’s Coffee, Snack Bar and St. Vincent de Paul. Saturday, the music lasts from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Spider House Cafe, and a community parade in East Austin closes the festivities Sunday at noon.

Five years ago, the festival showcased 22 bands, and, this year, 26 will perform. Fialkoff said they keep the lineup small to avoid overwhelming their audience.

“We are not trying to grow,” Fialkoff said. “We are not trying to be two weekends of Austin City Limits. [HONK!TX] is more Eeyore’s Birthday than it is ACL.”

Chicago-based Environmental Encroachment, one of HONK!TX’s bands, is a 25-piece honk band famous for donning bunny ears during their performances. Environmental Encroachment co-founder Mike Smith said the band has a circus feel, with performances involving acrobatics, hula hooping, fire spinning, puppeteering and a man who plays a xylophone made out of saw blades.

“We wanted to bring art, as many people do, outside of the four white walls,” Smith said. “We wanted a more experiential type of artwork. We wanted to do something that requires some sort of physical effort or some inclusion and some experience.”

Smith said he has attended every honk festival in the country at least once. Sometimes he travels with his band; other times he travels alone and creates a makeshift band with other “orphans” once he gets to the festival. He said he keeps coming back because the festivals keep him young and inspired.

“Honk fests are kind of like an adult playground,” Smith said. “Music can cut through the languages; it can cut through the hatred; it can cut through the emotions. Music is the most important language.”