HONK! ON Festival Makes Successful Debut

Our first HONK! ON Festival was amazing.  And of course it went by in a whirlwind of sound and colour.

Before all that though, the time spent thinking and organizing and anticipating slipped by rather slowly and then BAM it was suddenly run-up week and the jitters kicked in.  Our apartment was HONK! Central with t-shirts and last-minute to-do lists everywhere.  The first day seemed a little surreal and even with all the prep still going on, it took a while to sink in that it had really arrived…

Marion referred to the opening band social evening in Dufferin Grove Park as being a “soft start” and it really is the way to go as far as organizing a festival is concerned.  We probably got the idea from the band gathering they did for the opening of HONK! Fest in Somerville last October.  Although you need to have virtually all your prep done by opening night, because it’s more informal than the public performance days, you have a chance to iron out a few things at the last minute as well as answer questions and get everything in motion for the real deal starting the next day.

My official opening really started with greeting and then rehearsing members of the Ad HONK! Band, our open, festival-only band for independent participants and anyone else who wants to support.  We worked on two tunes: an original of mine called “Town Hall” and Sonny Rollins’s “St. Thomas.”  It went really well but took way more energy than I was expecting.  As we were cluing up, other band members began showing up and it was nice to see connections and re-connections established among the musicians.  I was super impressed that Extraordinary Rendition Band showed up in full regalia! Some spontaneous jamming went on until it was time to quiet down for Clay & Paper Theatre’s show going on in elsewhere in the park.  It was a real bonus for us that they were doing the show, as it became an optional activity for our participants.  After chilling at the bonfire for a while ERB blasted out some jams and we had several park patrons join the crowd.  Of course, as the evening drew to a close, we got approached by park staff about noise complaints. Oh well,  there it is.  Next year we’ll probably do Christie Pits Park because we can have a larger gathering and it’s also a designated park for music events.

After leaving Dufferin Grove many of us went to Drom Taberna to hear/see the Scruffy Aristocrats, one of our participant bands (and a sub-set of ERB).  Jim, the sousa player came to say hello to Marion and I and mentioned his nervousness at having to follow the Heavyweights Brass Band but they were awesome – great sounds, great charisma.  We left during their second set – long way to travel back to York – and heard the next day the band got asked to do a third set.  Matt, the alto player said it was probably the most fun, best received gig they’d done so far.  Thank you Drom and Drom fans.

You’d think after all that and feeling wiped out on the late-night TTC ride home that getting at least a bit of rest would be so easy.  Nope.  So wired!  So Saturday started way too early with me going to pick up a rental van. We loaded up our t-shirts and other gear and went to pick up Trevor’s drumkit (he plays in my band Sax Drive).  We had plenty of time to get to Alexandra Park by 11am, meeting with Gerry and Catherine, a couple from Street Brass who volunteered to help.  In the interest of having an unrushed morning, we decided to leave the barbeque pick-up until later in the day when I could leave after my band’s set.  It was probably just as well.  A little while later we learned it crapped out on us.  Fortunately, we were borrowing it from Candace (the person who designed our wonderful t-shirts!) and she and her friend Bri who visited us from Indiana for the weekend, took care of it for us.  I honestly don’t know how we would’ve handled it if they couldn’t!

Apart from that and a couple short rain showers the afternoon went off without trouble.  The Ad HONK! band kicked things off at noon with a little processional along a portion of Dundas before turning south on Bathurst towards and into the park. There were only a few people on hand at the start to welcome us but I’m sure next year and as we build we’ll have more people.  In fact, there weren’t huge crowds throughout the day but the advantage of having it all in one place is that the bands can support one another as well as have the opportunity to socialize.  This doesn’t really happen to the same extent when bands are assigned to perform at different locations.  I think this is the primary reason we plan to keep the festival a smaller event, at least for a while.

After the performances we marched over to Trinity Bellwoods, sending four separate groups over with short gaps between.  Meanwhile, Kevin, our master-at-HONK!-grilling, was assembling the new BBQ.  The bands set up in a collective outside our booked BBQ area and proceeded with a tune-sharing and jam.  I loved this part.  There wasn’t much to do but wait at this point so I was able to join in.  It ended up being great additional exposure for our festival in this other location (including the neighbourhood between parks), and immensely satisfying as we were denied our original permit at this park in the 11th hour and had to re-locate.

That evening was much more chill although when we finally made it home, exhausted but content, there was a bit of admin work to do for the Sunday Pedestrian Sunday event.  I had only received the plan from the Kensington organizer the day before and the visiting bands in particular still only had a vague idea of the plan.  We also had one of our local groups bail on us so we had an extra slot to fill.  It all worked out really great though.

I went to play in the 12pm Street Brass set on Sunday and managed to recruit some members to come back and play at the new spot at 5pm.  I had to get my own band set up for 5:30pm and help Trevor with his kit.  I think the pre-finale processionals through the market were a big hit although I only caught glimpses.  Then the visiting bands were set up in a triangle spanning the south end of Kensington Ave where they alternated tunes for a closing 45-minute set.  At just after 8pm we were off to Drom once again for the after party.  We literally drank the place out of radlers.

The most heartwarming of the post-festival experience was to learn from several of the local musicians just how fabulous the whole thing was – not just the festival itself – but the whole HONK! vibe, how exciting it was, how inspiring it was, etc.  They finally get it.

My only regret is that, not being much of an extrovert/schmoozer, I didn’t take the initiative to talk to more of the visiting band members.  Apart from a handful, I don’t know if they felt like it was worth coming!  But I guess this is only the beginning.  With this foundation, as we travel to other festivals we can make stronger connections and close this gap.

Marion and I are seriously considering another trip to Somerville this fall.  I hear there’s going to be an open band that I can participate in so I’m definitely bringing my horn this time.

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