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Local and visiting marching bands gather at Riverfront Park for Sponk festival

UPDATED: Sat., July 7, 2018, 8:38 p.m.

For many of the dozens of musicians involved in Spokane’s first Honk! Fest, Sponk!, playing music is a form of protest.

Dee Christoff, who plays cymbals in the Seattle band Chaotic Noise Marching Corps, said the marching band festival – which takes place in cities across the country – is about reclaiming music from the commercial sphere and bringing it to a place where it can be enjoyed by anyone for free. The moving marching band festival provides a venue where anyone who chooses can express themselves, she said.

Marc Smason, a member of the Rise Up Action Band who has played at Seattle’s Honk! Fest for a decade and participated in other festivals around the country, said activism and public access to live music are intertwined with the event’s history.

“It’s important to have music in public spaces, where anyone, whether you’re rich or poor, can hear live music,” he said.

Smason said historically, Honk! Fest has tried to play socially relevant songs that focus on themes of peace and justice, discrimination, labor and equality. He added that street performances, live music and public speech are an important aspect of resistance and protest, which, he said, is important in the current political climate.

Many of the groups that attended the festival, such as local band P-Jammers, often perform at protests and marches, such as the local Families Belong Together rally last weekend.

Laura Oviedo, who plays clarinet and drums and is married to Smason, said one of her favorite parts about playing at Honk! Fest is the way musicians communicate culture and feelings through their instruments. She added that performing together allows musicians to communicate their frustrations and fears differently as well.

“Sometimes,” she said, “you can say more with music than you can with words.”

Jon Lossing, a member of the P-Jammers and an organizer of the event, said he hoped Spokane would be an early member of the grass-roots movement growing around street music, and that Sponk! would continue for years to come.

The festival partnered with the Lands Council, an environmental group, which insured them during the event.

Mike Petersen, executive director of the Lands Council, said the organization wanted to get involved because of the activism background of some of the bands in attendance.

Cevin Millstead, drumline section lead in the band Chaotic Noise, said one of his biggest hopes for festivals like Sponk! was to show aspiring musicians, young and old, the artistic possibilities in a marching band.

“I love demonstrating to the 12-year-old kid that was forced to learn trumpet and the 30-year-old that hasn’t picked it up in years that there are options once you get out of school,” he said.