Providence Honk Festival (Pronk!) celebrates music, but probably not the way you’re used to seeing it celebrated. On October 12, Wickenden Street in Providence will become unusually brassy. Local favorites, like The Extraordinary Rendition Band and What Cheer? Brigade, as well as guests flying in from other locales, will fill the autumn air with a mix of melody and cacophony. A truly grassroots effort brought to our city streets thanks to local benevolence, Pronk! aims to mix locals and artists into one sticky pile, blurring lines between audience members and performers. No ticket or place in line grants access to the festival; you have it. Providence Honk Festival knocks down the traditional walls of performance for a truly immersive cultural experience.
So … horn bands? That’s it? Pronk! conjured up images of a nebulous bundle of trombones and bass drums whirling together in a tornado of sweaty musicians. I didn’t get. Well, here is some context: Pronk! is an iteration of Honk!, the inaugural horn festival that took place in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 2006. Two local bands felt compelled to match their music with the political issues of the time, and called out to brass and drum bands around the country to play with them. That year, musicians from San Francisco, Chicago, Brooklyn and Vancouver flew in to populate Somerville’s Davis Square with their raucously joyful music. And so Honk! was born.
Sizable and loud brigades of musicians provide the noisy and joyful soundtrack to organizations standing up for local issues all over the country, and Australia, Brazil and Rio de Janeiro joined the club this past year. Providence’s Horn Festival shines a light on organizations like New Urban Arts, which is working to build an empowering community for high-school aged artists.
Pronk! is a simple concept with a long and continuously evolving history. Committee members, all non-paid volunteers, carve time out of their busy lives to help bring musicians to streets and strategize new and innovative ways to evolve while staying true to their non-commercial core. The purity of Pronk! distinguishes it from every other festival in Providence that chooses, and reasonably so, to have sponsors help fund the many costs of putting up a festival. Here’s what excited me about Pronk!: Not just the concept of marching bands and brass-instrument wielding musicians flooding the streets, but the pure and simple goal of using music as a tool for activism.
Pronk! performers congregate at India Point Park at 2pm on October 12 to take turns entertaining the crowd. Performances are followed by a parade with a route yet to be announced, though in previous years it headed straight down Wickenden Street to end at The Hot Club, where performances continued into the night.