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Honk! Festival Brings Fun to Cambridge

It was a cloudy day, but that did not stop thousands of people from attending the 40th Annual Oktoberfest, and 13th Annual Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands, which took place in Harvard Square on Sunday, October 7th.  Dressed up in festive, brightly colored costumes with activist pins and a multitude of glitter, musicians painted their faces as they pranced from Davis Square to Harvard Square. Leaves fell like confetti as the crowd cheered loudly for over thirty marching bands that made it to the stage one by one. The bands that performed had traveled from as far away as Brazil, while others were native to New England.

The diverse audience–full of families, couples, and college students– enjoyed free samples of Pumpkin Cheesecake flavored Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars from Yasso.  (The smooth, orange yogurt does not drip onto the hands of its consumers, surprising parents of messy eaters
festival-wide.)  Students from many of the area’s colleges were in attendance, happy that the festival was free and the music (and the performers) were very entertaining.

Between barricades that separated the past performers from the audience, musicians danced to the marching band’s tunes, as they eagerly waited for their turn in the spotlight. Others tied their hair into messy ponytails with yarn, preparing to make a dance circle with the audience members. Although unkempt, the dancers helped create a relaxed and carefree atmosphere and did not scare away festival-goers.

As much fun the audience was having, there was also a serious side.  The Cambridge Artist Coalition wanted the audience to know about the current political climate, and how it has affected artists in Cambridge. In February, 200 artists had eviction notices slipped under their doors. They were ordered to vacate the EMF Building located in Central Square, by April 30, 2018. The building had served as a space for tenants to create and display their art freely, and express themselves through their work.  “The artistic community has lost a home. We are grieving,” a representative of the Cambridge Artists Coalition said, close to tears. Like this member of the Artists Coalition, many of the artists considered the EMF Building their workspace and their home.  It is still unclear what the building will be turned into. The crowd echoed the speaker’s
call for change and promised to help in any way they could. Once they walked off of the stage, more horns continued to blare showing everyone how important the arts are in Cambridge.

Honk! is an annual festival with free admission that lasts three consecutive days and was recognized in the “2015 Best of Boston” display. The bands are socially engaged and decorate their horns to show their thoughts on their vision of change. Widely accepting the LGBTQ+
community, many of the Honk! performers use rainbows to display their support and pride.  Just ahead of the Honk! stage, there was Oktoberfest, filled with food, arts and crafts, vintage items, samples, contests, entertainers and beer from five breweries. Families came for a bite to nibble on, or spent the day shopping at the boutique tents. Small jewelry and intricate designs embroidered onto bags and clothing were displayed on hooks made of wood.

Oktoberfest originated in Munich, Germany where the town was invited to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese on October 12th, 1810.  Since then, it has turned into a sixteen day event where over 1.5 million gallons of beer are consumed each year.

Unlike the original festivities in Germany, Cambridge did not have a horse race but there was as much dancing as the original celebration. People formed dance circles near the blaring speakers and did line dances near a live band and entertainer. People of all ethnicities moved
their hips to the men banging their callused hands on their drums.  The alcohol is still a large part of the festivities; this year, Cambridge hosted beer from Alden & Harlow, Charlie’s Kitchen, El Jefe’s Taqueria, The Hourly Oyster House and The Sinclair.  But there was just as much emphasis on good eating:  over 50 international food vendors held lines that wrapped around the block throughout Harvard Square.

Open streets left plenty of room to walk both on the pavement and on the sidewalk. Couples linked arms and skipped as one woman asked her friend to take a photo of her posing next to a large inflatable Geico Insurance mascot. Tents kept the rain from the variety of cultural
food placed in aluminum trays on foldable plastic tables.  People got involved in the fun in many ways: I saw a person sitting on the bottom of the stairs near Harvard Square’s T station, wearing a unicorn costume. He lingered there while small children pointed in amusement. Later, he got up, walked passed a man tilting a bag of rainbow kettle corn into his mouth and began to dance around to the distant sounds from the Honk! stage.

Towards the end of the festival, it began to drizzle, and a colorful sea of umbrellas invaded the exit. Folding chairs went back into vans labeled with company names as the vendor’s tents went down and the lively marching band music was at rest. Oktoberfest featuring Honk! came to an end after a long day of entertainment and will be back next year for more fun.

Performers in red costumes take a break and sit with a festival goer on a concrete bench.

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