To the beat of their own drum: Street music fest promises surprises - Brooklyn Paper

To the beat of their own drum: Street music fest promises surprises

Beat-down: The thundering drums of the 65-piece, all female, samba-reggae drum group Batala NYC will open the street music festival at Littlefield in Gowanus.
Honk NYC

Honk if you love flugelhorn solos, marching bands dressed as rabbits, and sidewalk dance parties.

Honk NYC, the annual festival showcasing brass and street bands, is back in town, bringing an eclectic parade of eccentric musicians to Brooklyn’s streets, bars, and art galleries, not to mention its parks and subways.

“It’s pretty wild,” said JR Hankins, a member of Brooklyn-based Balkan brass band Veveritse, which has been playing the festival for four years. “There’s tons of costumery, lots of dancing, good socializing, and silliness.”

The event began as an unofficial after-party for the original Honk festival in Boston, but became a festival in its own right in 2009, first taking the name Bonk, short for Brooklyn Honk. And though the revelry now takes place across the city, Brooklyn remains at the heart of the event. Six local bands are on the bill and the five days of brass and ditties will be book-ended by two big parties in the borough.

This year’s festival will kick off with a boom on Oct. 15 with a parade through the streets of Gowanus that will bring marchers to Littlefield, where the thundering drums of 65-piece, female samba-reggae drum group Batala NYC will be waiting to strike up the band.

“We’ll be surprising people walking through their neighborhoods with brass bands,” said festival steward Sara Valentine, who also moonlights as a baton-twirler in the Hungry March Band. “Right from the get-go, it’s going to be about dancing and participating.”

Batala’s membership is open to any woman with a desire to beat a drum and the group is emblematic of many of the bands at Honk. Some groups are comprised of professional, full-time musicians, but many are made up of weekend hobbyists who have not picked up a trumpet or French horn since high school. What makes Honk unique, says Batala bandoleers Stacy Kovacs, is that bands of all skill levels and genres share the same spotlight.

Ra ra shish boom ba: Flatbush’s own Haitain rara band Djarara will play homemade horns to close out Honk NYC.
Honk NYC

“It’s just a forum for all types of musicians and all types of instruments,” she said. “It’s fun to realize that these people are adults. They have real day jobs and they take time out of their lives to come dress up like rabbits and play their saxophones.”

Holding down the other end of this spectrum is renowned New York trumpeter Frank London, who will headline the opening night with his new project Sharabi, a mash-up of klezmer music and Indian Bhangra.

The party returns to Gowanus three days later for a Friday-night gala at the cavernous, canal-side Gowanus Ballroom, where a trio of Brooklyn bands will close out the festival. The 10-piece PitchBlak Brass Band will bring its happy fusion of hip-hop and trombones; Veveritse will provide twisty, Roma-inspired jams; and Flatbush’s own Haitain rara band Djarara will play homemade horns and party rhythms for one final blowout.

And those are just the events we can tell you about. Bands will also be playing on the Staten Island Ferry, in the subway system, and at other renegade performances, but details will only be released 24 hours before the shows. Valentine promises it’s worth keeping an eye on Honk’s web site and an ear to the ground.

“When the doors open at the subway stops and people can’t even get on because there’s a brass band playing, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen,” she said.

Honk NYC! Opening Night Party at Littlefield [622 DeGraw St., between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, (718) 855-3388, www.honknyc.com]. Oct. 15, 8 pm, $10, 21 and up. Honk NYC! events citywide Oct. 15-19.

Planes, trains, and boats: Bands including the balkan brass troupe Veveritise will bands will be playing surprise performances on the subway, the Staten Island Ferry, and other undisclosed locations as part of the street music fest Honk NYC.
Honk NYC

More from Around New York