Atlanta brass band revolution brings new flavor to july celebrations
Latest News | August 22, 2016
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Brass bands, the mainstay of the July Fourth parade, are playing Balkan wedding songs, disco, unprintable New Orleans ditties like “Black Drawers,” and adding a revolutionary new flavor to the staid patriotic repertoire.
Credit a mini-renaissance in street bands, the musical equivalent of the graffiti artist. These bands are mobile, they work outdoors and they have a guerrilla sensibility.
More Mardi Gras than “Music Man,” the new brass bands are enlivening Atlanta’s patriotic celebrations. Here are five that will be rocking the holiday.
The Wasted Potential Brass Band
Independence Day is a time for parades, marching bands and “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” but in the past few years something strange has happened to your John Philip Sousa.
Mercury Orkestar boasts a repertoire of Balkan tunes, gypsy harmony and frenetic, staccato horn lines.
Take a small, pugnacious brass band, add a rapper with a bullhorn, and you’ve got a recipe for an Atlanta twist on a New Orleans staple.
The Wasted Potential Brass Band will deliver that mix to runners passing the Brookwood Amtrak station on the morning of July 4 as they serenade the participants in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race.
“We’ll play some New Orleans standards with Atlanta lyrics,” said trombonist Jamie Hemphill. “We’re trying to bring that second line sound to the city of Atlanta. And we play a couple of our own, inspired by the lantern parade.”
The Wasted Potential Brass Band is among the new wave of Atlanta street bands that are giving New Orleans a run for its money.
That would be the lit-up parade along the Beltline in September, in which the WPBB also has marched.
The band will perform beginning at 6:30 a.m. July 4 at 1688 Peachtree St., near the Amtrak station.
What better way to celebrate the birth of America the Beautiful than with a blast of Serbian wedding music?
For Eric Kofoed, it seems appropriate. Kofoed, 39, is the founder of Mercury Orkestar, an Atlanta ensemble modeled after the Balkan brass bands that blew his mind back in college, when he first heard a recording by Romany band Fanfara Ciocârlia.
He described the music as “wild, crazy, fast, ecstatic and improvisatory. I fell in love with it.”
His ensemble of 8 to 14 pieces includes trumpets, euphoniums, tuba, percussion and a shrieking, pint-sized E-flat clarinet.
“We do beer festivals, park festivals, club dates — my goal is anywhere there’s a party, that’s where we want to be,” he said.
Mercury Orkestar also will be playing at the Peachtree Road Race, in front of the Amtrak station, later in the morning of July 4.
The Wolf Pack
The Wolf Pack, run by alpha wolf and tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, can expand to 30 members, with conventional wind instruments augmented by laptop electronics and Cuban percussion.
For outdoor gigs, they sometimes jettison the electronics and pack the trap drummer onto a “drum chariot” and push him down the street.
Most of the Wolf Pack’s tunes are originals, which Williams described as “a mixture of sounds.” They include “Maul,” “In the A” and “Frank.”
The latter is a tribute to late member Frank Barham, who was killed last year in a traffic accident while propelling his wheelchair from Atlanta to Savannah on a fund-raising expedition.
The Wolf Pack will perform at sunset July 4 at the opening of Williams’ new arts space, Gallery 992, at 992 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. in West End.
The Seed & Feed Marching Abominables
The Abominables are perhaps the granddaddy and grandmama of Atlanta’s alternative marching bands, and are also probably the biggest.
In 2013, when they celebrated their 40th anniversary at the Inman Park Festival, they mustered 220 musicians and dancers for the parade.
The band is known for outrageous costuming, but also stresses musicianship, and will perform more standard marching band material than the others mentioned here, because they have the instrumentation to carry it off.
On July 2, at the parade in Blue Ridge, attendees will hear the “Armed Forces Medley,” “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “America the Beautiful,” along with some Ray Charles and Lady Gaga.
The parade will begin at 10 a.m. July 2 in downtown Blue Ridge in North Georgia.
Atlanta Freedom Band
About 35 musicians and members of the color guard in the Atlanta Freedom Band will bring party music to the Avondale Estates parade this year, pumping out the glam sounds of Kesha, Queen, Nicki Minaj and Daft Punk.
Founded in 1994 by a man named Buzz Carr, who decided the Atlanta Pride Parade needed a marching band, the Freedom Band has grown to include a concert band and a jazz band.
Atlanta’s premier LGBT marching band, the Freedom Band offers many onetime musicians the opportunity to dust off wind instruments that haven’t been played since middle school.
“One of our slogans is ‘Get that instrument out of the closet,’” said Cliff Norris, director of marketing and development.
Norris said the Freedom Band can play the conventional repertoire, but is more likely to rock “Starships” or “Crazy in Love.”
The Avondale parade will begin at 10 a.m. July 4 at 1192 Clarendon Avenue in Avondale Estates.