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Portrait of an Artist: Environmental Encroachment travels to Cambridge for Honk!

By Alice J. Donnellan, Crimson Staff Writer

HONK! Festival of Activist Street bands returned to Somerville for the 14th consecutive year, rounding off the three days of festivities with a parade to Harvard Square on Oct.13. Boasting 25 brass bands from across the country and internationally, HONK!, coinciding with the Oktoberfest market, attracted hundreds to the streets. Displays of eccentric costuming, political chants, and verve ran alongside numerous skills share workshops and talks on music and activism. The Harvard Crimson spoke with Mike W. Smith, Jon M. Cox, and Erin T. Allen, members of the Chicago-based band Environmental Encroachment, about increasing access to music and the purpose underlying all the fun.

THE HARVARD CRIMSON: You take your brass band instruments and introduce your own swing. Can you speak to your musical style at all? What influences you?

JON M. COX: It sort of varies. We take some classic rock tunes and brass line them.
Since Environmental Encroachment has been coming here for so long, we also do a tune share with some other bands so sometimes we play some of their own songs. We play stuff from the New Orleans tradition, Balkan and Klezmer tradition...

ERIN T. ALLEN: Western, Moroccan trance…

MIKE W. SMITH: Funk. Some funk.

JMC: Basically, the mission statement is to get people moving and having fun. Shake that booty.

THC: There were definitely people dancing in front of the stage! What do you think is the importance of coming to a festival like this for your band?

MARTIN J. MILAN: Spreading the love of music, bringing people together, and inspiring people to do more stuff like this.

THC: And as an activist band, do you join in protests at all?

MWS: We went to Cook County Women’s Jail and performed for the women’s prisoners which was really outstanding. And fairly recently we performed for a guy who was jailed illegally at a fundraiser and they raised enough money to get him out. We also do the largest food drive in Chicago called CHIditarod which is really fun. They get all these creative teams together and have a shopping cart race. And we do a lot of community things.

ETA: As a regular guest in the band, I want to say that there’s something activist about being such an open band and inviting people to join this crazy family.

MWS: Our band has a strange way of accepting people. A lot of bands are very closed-off and competitive. At HONK!, everyone shares musicians and songs. The importance of coming is very deep; you could write a dissertation on it. It stems into reeducating kids and adults who are not psyched about music and what music can do. It’s about finding a use for public spaces. It’s about bringing together people of all ages. It’s about bringing communities’ finances together which HONK! did for Somerville.

JMC: For so many music festivals these days, the ticket prices aren’t for local people.
This is an amazing free festival that’s for the local community to come out and have fun and reclaim public spaces...

ETA: ...And connect with each other in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise.

— Staff Writer Alice J. Donnellan can be reached at

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