The din of trumpets, trombones, sousaphones, and bass drums rang out across the mouth of the Providence river on Monday as hundreds gathered for this year’s Pronk! festival.
Ostensibly a marching band music festival, Pronk! is as much an activist summit, as it is a concert.
Along with more than a dozen marching bands from around the world, participants stomped in happy unison calling for school, prison, and law enforcement reform. The bands, which hailed from as far away as Paris, France, provided a constant and wild accompaniment.
The alt-marching band festival began in Boston a decade ago with Honk! That festival has continued, and the model spread across the country. (Pronk! is an amalgamation of the two words Providence and Honk)
The marching bands at these festivals are unlike those at high school pep rallies. The sounds are often ferociously loud and fast. The music is heavily influenced by Balkan and Gypsy melodies and rhythms, though sounds of hip-hop and pop-punk are easily heard.
This year’s festival began in downtown Providence at Burnside Park, across From Kennedy Plaza. The setting was change from the prior year, when the event began at India Point Park on the east side. Organizers described the move as part of an effort to make the festival accessible to a wider variety of participants.
The bands played in three separate areas of the park, as adults, families, and children milled about. People waiting for busses at the nearby transit hub looked on with a mixture of bemusement, enjoyment, and apathy.
Around 5:30 p.m. the crowd marched from the park to South Main Street, then on to the hurricane barrier at the edge of the Providence River for the final four hours of the festival. There, onlookers enjoyed longer sets from all of the bands in the salty night air.
By the end of the evening, a rowdy crowd greeted the Providence-based What Cheer? Brigade for a final marathon set.
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