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M4 in the Press

The Aquarian

Rant ‘N’ Roll: This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Marching Band!

—by , October 23, 2013 THEAQUARIAN.COM

They’re called M4 (for MarchFourth Marching Band) and it’s the closest to Mardi Gras you may ever get without going to New Orleans. Lighting up the festival circuit since their 2003 inception, they’re a nonstop action-ball, a Whirling Dervish, a Saint Vitus Dance and a carnival sideshow all rolled into one. Rock ‘n’ roll tunesmiths Leiber & Stoller wrote a song in 1961 called “Little Egypt” about a belly dancer who came out “wearing nothin’ but a button and a bow.” The two pulchritudinous female dancers shakin’ their moneymakers on the stage of the Musikfest Café in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, weren’t wearing much more and they shimmied and shook and crawled on their belly like a reptile. Two guys on stilts were on either side of the stage and they crawled up the legs of those giants upside down, spreading their legs and wrapping them around the faces of the eight-foot tall acrobatic twin towers. The effect was visually stunning.

Have I mentioned the music yet? Six horns, five pieces of percolatin’ percussion and a funky electric bass pounded out a primal world-beat fit to dance to with Brazilian, African and Big Bayou influences as if they rose from the swamps of Louisiana. Yet they’re from Portland, Oregon. Go figure. Oh, I forgot their Eastern European gypsy swing. And their colorful uniforms. That pounding beat had me at my usual spot just to the right of the soundboard dancing my fool head off for the duration of their 90-minute set.

Totally DIY, this music was all-original, as was the presentation: their own choreography, they even sew their own uniforms. Or so I’m told. I’m also told they constantly tour with a rotating cast of 30 performers. And they have an album out,Magnificent Beast, their third, produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. The live effect, though, is not unlike Cirque Du Soleil. Multi-media to the max. The dancers/stilt-walkers have been known to crowd surf and, on this night, they did a French Quarter-style second line right through the crowd with a trombone-man, a sax-man and a trumpet-man blowing hard and loud in and around the surprised faces at each table. Table? Who had time to sit during this all-out Bacchanalia?

It all amounts to a kaleidoscopic panoply for the senses, a celebratory feast of friends. Do I have to say they blew me away? You could call it a vaudeville circus, a sexy carnivalesque sideshow of animalistic proportions where all sense of decorum is battered, beaten and trampled into submission. It’s an orgy. That’s what it is! An orgy! And it’s in Technicolor. 3-D. I will not soon forget the image of scantily clad beauties crawling up the legs of the stilt-men and hanging upside down, legs spread, breasts straining at the sheer diaphanous fabric. To dance your ass off to the wild Rhumba, Salsa, Samba, Sousa, Cajun and deep-fried Southern soul is one thing. To simultaneously dance, drink and stare unabashedly at the kind of visually stunning performance that sears itself into your brain is quite another.

The Examiner

March Fourth Marching Band (Rating: 5 stars)

Kathleen Creighton October 5, 2013

Last night I ended up at the Stage One venue of Fairfield Theater Company thanks to learning about the show in the last minute. March Fourth Marching Band is a performance troupe from Portland, OR. I learned about this group from some Left Coast friends so I was excited to actually get the chance to see them live.

March Fourth (drum) rolled, tap danced and stilt walked into Fairfield with human marionettes, disco ball helmets, pharoah flutists, and music no one could stop dancing to. By the end of their second set, the only word I kept coming up with was “fun!” Normally when there are that many horns and saxophones on a stage, you expect ska. However, that was the one genre I didn’t hear. Except for one reggae number, to put a name of the musical style on March Fourth is difficult. One minute you’re in a 1920′s speakeasy and the next your bopping on Bourbon Street to New Orleans jazz or in a 70′s club dancing to early disco. The musicians are all masters of their instruments and they work as a tight-knit team. Even when featuring bass saxophone, trombone, trumpet or flute solos the rest of the band provides the perfect background to paint them on.

This is all about interactive performance art. Admittedly there were some points of the show that the audience does observe, like when the stiltwalkers and the dancers/acrobats did the puppets and puppeteer routine. Especially in the small space of Stage One the whole vignette was a bit scary. The audience even got to see, after choreographed falls of the stilt guys, how they get back up on the “big shoes”. Another number a mic’d wooden box was set up to show off the tapping talents of one of the troupe’s dancers. Most songs though were “audience play-along” and during those it was a complete family affair. Young children in attendance were invited to dance on the stage with the group. At their seats, in the aisles and in the pit people from 18-80 were getting their groove on.

Stage One is one of the best venues in the state and the home of a wide variety performers. March Fourth Marching Band was yet another special evening there. I think everyone left smiling and feeling like they got their $20 worth.

CT Post

MarchFourth Marching Band parades into Fairfield Theatre Company
Scott Gargan Updated 3:38 pm, Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The thing about parties is that at some point, they have to come to end.

But this one never did.

It all started in Portland, Ore. in March 2003 when more than 20 local musicians and performing artists marched into a warehouse for a Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras celebration. Using the concrete floor as a stage, the ensemble launched into an impromptu performance that combed covers of Fela Kuti, Fleetwood Mac and Rebirth Brass Band with eye-popping vaudevillian theatrics.

It was supposed to be a one-off gig. But the show was such a hit that the troupe — dubbing themselves the MarchFourth Marching Band after the date of their inaugural show — continued to perform, gradually snowballing into a mobile big-band spectacular with cross-country ambitions.

Now, the party is coming to Connecticut, as MarchFourth Marching Band takes the stage atFairfield Theatre Company’s StageOne on Friday, Oct. 4.

The brainchild of Portland multi-instramentalist John Averill, the group conjures visions of a high school marching band that recently returned from a party-fueled stint at Burning Man. Their music is a swirling tapestry of swing, klezmer, hip hop, jazz, funk, reggae and gypsy punk channeled through a brassy assemblage of saxophones, trombones and trumpets and a freight train percussion corps.

The band’s theatrical dimension features a colorful phalanx of stilt walkers, fire breathers, dancers and acrobats that look straight out of a Bourbon Street carnival.

“I’m not sure why it works,” Averill said in a phone interview last week. “Yet, in the context of show, everything makes sense. The key to it is the fact that the members of this band, both past and present, came to the table with their own set of influences.”

However, in recent years, Averill said, MarchFourth has “streamlined and shaved down sections to a manageable size” — a logistical necessity for an act that is perennially on tour.

“At one point, between 2005 and 2007, there were 35 people in this group,” he said. “It wasn’t feasible to shuttle that many people around the country. Thirteen seems to be magic number.”

The transition from freewheeling street spectacle to coordinated stage act followed the creation of increasingly complex arrangements and the recording of original material. It was also what Averill had originally intended.

In the months leading up to the now legendary Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras party, Averill had cobbled together a series of one-off bands with the hopes of hatching a stable outfit. He just never envisioned it being so huge.

“I was in a lot of bands,” he said, “but I didn’t expect the one that would have legs would have so many legs.”

It was hard not to get swept up in MarchFourth’s speedy and magnificent evolution: Additional members were recruited, original music was released and national and worldwide tours followed. The group shared the stage with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, No Doubt and KISS.

Though MarchFourth is more compact unit now, the spirit of that Mardi Gras performance lives on. The party, as it were, keeps marching on.

“I’ve consciously steered this project in the direction of becoming more of a stage band, but I also want to have street energy,” Averill said. “I’m not interested in a becoming a cirque that’s scripted with songs in the exact same order. I still want to have that raw, live, in the moment kind of experience.”


Paste Magazine Video

Paste teamed up with Horny Toad at the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival to capture off-the-wall performances around town. Click to watch the feature video they produced.

The Watch

“All Telluride is a Stage”

-Local Perspective by Seth Cagin (August 17, 2011)

There’s a possibility that the Telluride Jazz Celebration could be fined for closing Main Street on Saturday night.

That’s too bad, really. The town ought give Jazz a reward for bestowing on us all a bit of old Telluride magic. The festival can’t really be faulted for not knowing in advance that the crowd attracted by the MarchFourth Marching Band would force the street closure.

The town likes to plan street closures in advance and to approve them and exact proper compensation for the costs involved–as it is a town’s prerogative to do so.

But here’s the thing about magic: You can’t always anticipate or plan for it. When it happens, you sure as hell don’t want to get in its way, either, and the town does deserve credit for quickly closing Main Street when it was clear what was unfolding.

Odds are that the magic is not entirely new to fans of the Portland-based band. This outfit is certainly popular wherever they perform. But I have to believe that the magic they brought with them was elevated by Telluride’s Main Street at dusk.

MarchFourth (M4) was a hit at Jazz, performing first in Mountain Village on Friday and at Elks Park on the Town Park stage on Saturday afternoon. Word spread that they are something special and so a crowd gathered for the scheduled parade Saturday evening on Main Street. It was too much of a crowd to confine to even the wider sidewalk on the north side of the street, as was originally envisioned, so the Town Marshal’s Department had no option other than to close the street to vehicular traffic.

M4 is a circus act, featuring performers on stilts and magicians and baton twirlers, bright costumes, and a musical act inspired by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and whatever mythical marching band of the imagination inspired the Beatles to create Sgt. Pepper in the first place.

They play “marching” music, not exactly John Phillip Sousa and not jazz, but horns and drums that make you feel good, like you may have felt as a child when you first saw a marching band and could feel the pounding of the drums in your chest. They’re musically tight at the same time they create an impression of controlled chaos and the upshot is an unreasonable sensation of joy.

So this is what the dorks who played trumpet and trombone in your high school band became when they grew up, you think. Who would have guessed they were artists? And yet, weren’t they always kind of cool, really?

Bill Pence, the co-founder and longtime co-director of the Telluride Film Festival, often observed that the town of Telluride itself was a major part of his festival’s success, because it is in that nature of this picture perfect town wedged in a box canyon to allow itself to be entirely overtaken by a modestly scaled event like the Telluride Film Festival and the Jazz Celebration, or at least to seem as if it has been co-opted for at least as long as the event lasts.

So it is with M4 and their command of Main Street for less than an hour on Saturday. Telluride’s Victorian buildings proved to be the perfect backdrop for what M4 was doing, transporting everyone who followed the band up and down the street into a place not really of this world.

I realized later, thinking about the magic of this moment, how often Telluride performs this extraordinary feat, when there are hot air balloons aglow on Main Street, for example, and every year on the Fourth of July. And it’s not just on Main Street or on the Town Park stage that it happens. It can happen when you’re skiing Gold Hill on a powder day, or rafting the San Miguel, or hiking the Sneffels High Line. It might be catching a glimpse of a passing herd of elk on a hillside. It’s a combination of our cool, dry mountain air, the deep blue of the sky, the alpenglow on the surrounding peaks, and the things people do here to express their love of bluegrass music in June and mushrooms in August and of softball and beer in the park.

This is all hopelessly sentimental of course, the kind of sentimentality that anyone is entitled to when they express a love of their home. But on this weekend when the stock market was crashing, again, and the outside world was consumed with talk of a new economic order and ongoing political instability, again, Telluride more than ever felt like a sweet refuge from it all.

We know that we can’t really stand apart from the world. Monday morning will come and we’ll go back to our day jobs and the parade will have gone by. Sometimes, though, there is no percentage in puncturing the illusion that life in this valley is something special.


Steamboat Today

Steamboat Free Summer Concert Series closes Friday with a spectacle

A band named after its own birthday must love to celebrate.

And celebrate they do in a spectacular fusion of music, dance and visual arts in the spirit of free expression.

Nearly 10 years after its formation in Portland, Ore., the MarchFourth Marching Band will make its first appearance in Steamboat Springs on Friday in the final show of the 2012 Free Summer Concert Series.

The concert kicks off at 6 p.m. at Howelsen Hill with Billy Franklin Trio opening.

Then, MarchFourth takes the stage with more than 15 members including dancers, acrobats and stilt walkers.

“It’s about music, and it’s about movement,” said John Averill — a founding member, bassist and the group’s bandleader — during an interview with Explore Steamboat on Wednesday:

Explore Steamboat: How did you come to form the MarchFourth Marching Band in 2003?

John Averill: I was sort of putting together bands. … But all those bands were kind of one-offs. This one happened to stick.

It’s been 9 1/2 years, and the band has gone through so many mutations though since then. It’s changed a lot.

We had the spectacle right off the bat. We had the dancers and some drummers. And we only had four horns. Now, the band’s become a real band instead of a community revolving-door thing. What we are now is four dancers, five drummers, eight horns, me on bass and our sax player also plays guitar. We have a lot of guitar in the band. It’s become a big, funky rock band. There really isn’t anything “marching band“ about it.

Instead of a drum kit, we have five drummers that make up a kit. We had all these elements at the very first show, and so we’ve just refined that in all aspects.

The music definitely has stepped up. For the first show, we learned, like, seven covers.

Now, we play all originals. We have some really good writers, and we have developed our very own sound. It’s a very bass-heavy horn sound. What I was focused on in Portland nine or 10 years ago was putting on fun events in the spirit of New Orleans. Maybe not New Orleans, specifically, but maybe more like a Burning Man sort of get-together and bring out all these people and costumes and have a good time.

ES: I noticed MarchFourth will be performing at Burning Man this year. Are a lot of the members regular participants at the festival?

JA: Most of the band has been to Burning Man several times. I went 13 years in a row, and no one in the band or myself have gone in the last two years.

It’s not a big musical festival — you don’t make money going to Burning Man; you spend money going to Burning Man, but it’s returning to our roots.

ES: How has Burning Man influenced MarchFourth as a band?

JA: I think it’s more just the inclusive factor. It’s getting to where the audience is more involved in the show. We do a lot of things to break down that wall. It’s about the atmosphere where people are free to express themselves. That’s one of Burning Man’s better values, the M.O. of free expression.

People are encouraged to freak out and be a part of the show instead of just sitting and watching us.

ES: The Steamboat Free Summer Concert Series is a place where people of all ages come out to see the show. What do you like about playing for families?

JA: I love playing for kids; I love when they freak out. They’re not dancing to be cool. They’re not dancing to try to get noticed. They’re moved by something, and they’re jumping around. It’s so free form. We learn forms of dance: People come up with their cool dance and their sexy dances, but the kids are all about completely dorking out. And we’re dorking out on stage.

ES: Do you guys really make your own costumes? How does that process work?

JA: We find some stuff at thrift stores and vintage stores. We don’t have a dress code or anything uniform. We match because everything’s so mismatched that we all kind of match in some inverse way.

By Nicole Inglis, Steamboat Today (August 16, 2012)

Relix Magazine

Magnificent Beast review (Spring 2012)

Marching bands aren’t just about blaring horns and boosterism anymore. If, at their core, they might bring out the regimental soldier in all of us, then it’s the rhythm that speaks the loudest–whether you’re talking about the New Orleans-style second line or the latest hip-hop hybrid from Young Buck, Outkast or Kanye. Two recent albums accentuate how radically different the music can get, depending on who’s at the controls.

Oregon’s MarchFourth Marching Band (or M4) are the hip fusionists of the genre, folding occasional lead vocals and electric instruments into the latest studio outing, which was produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin. The album borrow from ska (“Soldiers of the Mind”), Bollywood (“Delhi Belly”), rock (“Fuzzy Lentil”), dark zydeco blues (“Rose City Strut”) and more. “Fat Alberta” is M4 at its best–true to the percussive horn lines of the traditional march, and funky-as-all-get-out on the swing meter.

NPR Song of the Day

The idea of an album of marching-band music is pretty funny, but MarchFourth Marching Band doesn’t go for laughs in “Magnificent Beast,” as trombonists, trumpeters and sax players use their horns to build alluring melodies and throbbing beats. The group goes even brassier in “Rose City Strut,” as it’s joined by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s clarinetist, tenor saxophonist and tuba. The Preservation Hall band had come to Portland, Ore., home base for MarchFourth, for a joint concert last April; the New Orleans players agreed to improvise some solos for free if the recording could be made at the concert hall.

The horns push and pull, wail and oompah, share conversations and sometimes seem to have a difference of opinion, but always reunite in blissful harmony. The band was going for a dark, sultry mood, but an optimistic spirit is just as evident. The bah-BOMP-a-BOMP BOMP melody insinuates itself into the listener’s brain, while the pace is perfect for a stroll down the street. The song’s “Rose City” title calls out to a dancer named Rose who performs with the band, but it also functions as an homage to Portland’s nickname. Portland has many musical identities, but here, it sounds like the grooviest place in America.

NPR’s Song of the Day

Missoula Independent: Feature

Thirty musicians walk into a bar…

Portland’s MarchFourth proves the old adage that bigger is better

Last September, around 20 members of the MarchFourth Marching Band descended on the German countryside….

The MarchFourth marching band from Portland, Ore. is comprised of over 30 individuals including brass and drum musicians, electric bassists and guitarists, stilt walkers and dancers. “We’re pretty free-spirited,” says bandleader and bassist John Averill, “and once people see us the whole uptight military-esque stigma of ‘marching band’ kind of flies out the window.” - Photo courtesy Andy Batt

PHOTO COURTESY ANDY BATTThe MarchFourth marching band from Portland, Ore. is comprised of over 30 individuals including brass and drum musicians, electric bassists and guitarists, stilt walkers and dancers. “We’re pretty free-spirited,” says bandleader and bassist John Averill, “and once people see us the whole uptight military-esque stigma of ‘marching band’ kind of flies out the window.”

Little Village Magazine

By Yale Cohn.

All day yesterday I told people what an amazing show I had seen the previous evening at Gabe’s: the March Fourth Marching Band.

“What were they like, Yale?”

And that was the problem. I couldn’t say what they were “like” because they were so damn unique. I’d never seen anything “like” them ever before in all my years of going to concerts or seeing marching bands perform at football games or parades.

I had to describe them then for what they are, not what they were “like.”

What they are is a band so butch they make the Village People seem like N.W.A. by comparison, but with no tongues in cheeks at all – they mean it.

I think Salvador Dali is their manager.

They buy mustache wax by the drum.

H.R. Geiger designed their drum kits.

After seeing their show I am now sexually attracted to hats.

The space was not big enough for them and the sound and spectacle they brought with them and neither was my brain, it’s still throbbing. (Though that may also be the energy drink-based cocktails I had, lesson learned.)

I wanted to steal their poster from the door of the bar and crawl inside it in live there with the red-headed gal featured on it.

Their show was an Alejandro Jodorowsky film that jumped off the screen only with fewer exploding bullfrogs.

Some mad scientist somewhere took a marching band that died in a bus crash outside his castle, reassembled the bodies, laid them out on a platform that he pulled to the ceiling where it was zapped with a lightning bolt and brought them back to life as a monster, cackling all the time as he admired his creation, a monster of a sort that had never existed before.

A sweaty, beautiful, chaotic, organized, hyper-realized, super tight, fever dream of a monster that defies categorization and pumped out so much beat and rhythm that Gabe’s better call in a structural engineer to look at their roof sometime soon because it may have been blown clean the fuck off.

This was their first show in Iowa City and we all gushed and pleaded and threatened them that they better come back – or else – and I certainly hope they do.

Mostly for the sake of everybody who didn’t get to see them this time and are – rightfully – feeling bad about it given how much those of us that did have talked them up.

Would I go see them again myself?

I don’t know. They set the bar pretty insanely damn high themselves with their show on Monday and how could they possibly top it?

Then again, if anybody could, it would be them, wouldn’t it?

That’s a chance I’m willing to take.

If we’re lucky enough for them to come to our town again, so should you.