Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Honk! festival of activist street bands takes place Oct. 6-8 this year. (Photo: Kate Wheatley)

The Honk! Festival of activist street bands, now in its 18th year, is set to rock the streets of Somerville, Cambridge and Boston from Oct. 6-8 on Indigenous Peoples Weekend.

Since its inception in 2006 with 12 bands, the event has more than doubled in size and given bands from around the world a stage on which to combine musical prowess with social and political advocacy. In response to the challenges posed by Covid, pandemic-era festivals were reduced to local bands only; this year returns to welcoming bands from around the country – 33 of them, making October bigger than pre-pandemic events, organizers said Tuesday. (The 2019 event had 25 bands, though from as far away as Brazil and Berlin.)

This time, bands with membership as big as 30 players will travel from homes such as Georgia, Texas, California, Washington and Colorado, organizers said.

International bands are expected to return in future years. “Connecting with street bands from around the world would really enrich the Honk! experience for everyone involved,” said Ken Field, a member of the organizing committee. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. But it’s difficult to figure out the logistics of it – where band members will stay and who will house them, especially post-Covid.”

The return to large, in-person festivals even without international participation serves the Honk! mission, though.

“Our initial goal here was to provide opportunities to these kinds of bands. Give them an opportunity to meet, get together with a shared goal: wage equity, empowering women, promoting different causes, that’s what Honk! has always been about,” Field said. 

The festival is also expected to expand its scope in future years to include musical education, particularly targeting younger musicians and high school bands, offering them a firsthand experience of the event, Field said. Field is past president of the board at Tutoring Plus of Cambridge.

In the meantime, the 2023 edition promises a weekend of nonstop music with a robust lineup of bands from New Orleans to Chicago, new and returning, including The Young Fellaz Brass Band, Haitian Rara Bel Poze band and the Good Trouble Brass Band, formerly known as the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band. This band, the founding and host band of Honk!, adopted its new name in August.

If you plan to attend but need accommodations, reach out to [email protected].