Out on the Town: HONK!

A trombonist participates in the annual HONK! parade from Davis Square to Harvard Square on Oct. 9, 2016. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily Archives

The weekend of Oct. 5 was no ordinary weekend for Somerville. Over the course of three days, activists and musicians from around the world descended on Davis Square for the yearly HONK! festival, a lively combination of music and activism.

Since HONK!’s inception 12 years ago, the event has provided an opportunity for participants in a growing activist street band movement to meet in Davis Square, play music and advocate for progressive causes. Being both a jazz musician and a leftist, it seemed this event was perfectly catered to me, so I was very excited to go.

HONK! takes place mostly in Davis Square, so it is very easy to get to. One may walk if they are able and willing. If not, the 96 bus leaves from the corner of Boston Avenue and Fairmount Street, across the street from Nick’s House of Pizza, stopping directly in Davis Square. Of course, the Joey is also a great option — if you can catch the darned thing.

I arrived at HONK! on Saturday the 6th at about 11 a.m. As I got closer, I heard some pretty raucous brass music. There was a brass band playing a tune on a large concrete slab behind the T station, and a crowd had gathered around them. I stayed for a few tunes, observing the crowd. Everyone was beaming from ear to ear. Many audience members had instruments themselves, and they honked along with the band. There was a grassroots feel to the whole morning, which definitely rubbed off on me — I felt great.

I decided to leave for an hour or two, since Saturday’s events were officially starting only in the afternoon. When I returned, two blocks of Elm Street were roped off, allowing HONK! attendees to walk freely through the square. Activist street bands stood on every corner, alternately playing and advocating for different causes. Being able to walk from band to band was very convenient. However, finding a spot to get a meal, or just to sit indoors, was difficult with all the foot traffic on Elm Street. After a brief tour of the area, I decided to come back Sunday for the parade from Davis Square to Harvard Square.

Sunday’s parade was a sight to behold. Groups sported face paint, huge signs and matching shirts. I saw two people on stilts. For this parade, I was with a student group taking part, so I was able to walk in it, rather than observe it. Over the course of two hours, we walked from Davis to Harvard, straight down Massachusetts Avenue. On either side sat thousands of parade watchers, cheering us on and waving their own signs. Bands blasted music at intense volumes. Positive energy radiated from every square inch of the parade, and I left Harvard Square that day with the best headache I’ve ever had. HONK! is a lot of stimuli, but it is a memorable, festive and completely free experience.