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Sample Track 1:
"Ninth Ward Calling " from Rise Up
Sample Track 2:
"Nightmarika" from Rise Up
Sample Track 3:
"Contada Ridiculata" from Rise Up
Layer 2
MarchFourth Marching Band, Rise Up, 2009 Tour Flying Tortillas, Stilt Walkers, and Musical Mayhem: MarchFourth Marching Band Comes to the People

A decommissioned fire engine pulls up, and out pour dazzling stilt walkers, flamenco-skirted fan-wielding dancers, brass players of all kinds, a lone battery-powered bass player, and drummers wearing harnessing made from bike parts, all decked out in costumes that range from Village People camp to steampunk goth glam.

They may start marching down the block, playing on the upper deck of a ferry or at a major stadium, or dancing a hole in the dance floor. They may break into wild Balkan dances, down-and-dirty New Orleans-style jams, madcap circus romps, or the theme song to Rocky. They may do just about anything.

This is the MarchFourth Marching Band, often called “M4” by fans, a quirky, funky instant party of a group whose twenty-five odd members make, sew, build, drive, design, choreograph, compose, and mix everything themselves. This includes their latest album, Rise Up (MarchFourth Music; October 13, 2009) and their upcoming national tour this fall. The band’s DIY ethic is epitomized with the customized bus that they bought on Ebay and lovingly refitted, from its kitchenette and Wi-Fi to its seat cushions and curtains (the fire engine is just for local transportation).

The carpenters, stonemasons, artists, business owners, metal workers, physical therapists, and lawyers of MarchFourth have similarly transformed the staid conformity of the good old marching band into a sparkling celebration of vibrant individuality. “There’s no uniformity to our uniforms,” laughs dancer, stilt walker, and long-time M4 member, Nayana Jennings. “It’s really individual. There’s no dress code. We don’t tell people what they have to wear. It depends on the person and how long they’ve been with the band. The longer they play, the more costumes they have.”

The group never meant to become a huge touring ensemble. Born at a March 4th Fat Tuesday celebration several years ago, the band’s founders—including a New Orleans transplant who contributed 100-year-old Mardi Gras flambeaux to their first performances—had such a good time and made such a strong impression that soon they were performing at dozens of block parties, rallies, corporate parties, and weddings around Portland, OR. Before they knew it, the band had swelled to nearly three dozen performers and was playing major West Coast and world music festivals, including a guest appearance at the Hollywood Bowl with friends and fellow Portlanders Pink Martini.

While keeping a countercultural edge, MarchFourth strives to remain “accessible and approachable,” as Jennings puts it, walking a tightrope between sensual and family-friendly, Clockwork Orange and bigtop mayhem, carefully orchestrated performance pieces and barely contained chaos.

The band’s music bursts with this eclectic energy, in songs like “Dynomite!,” a Latin-flavored electro-house anthem with a sly nod to ’90s rapper Coolio. Or the off-kilter Balkan meters of “Simplon Cocek.” Or the tongue-in-cheek fiesta of “Contada Ridiculata,” which inspired one M4 member to toss package after package of corn tortillas into the crowd as the dancers swirled flamenco-style skirts. “Our mission is to cover every possible genre of music in the world,” bandleader John Averill exclaims.

Just as MarchFourth has never met a style of music they didn’t like, they’ve never met a performance opportunity they couldn’t handle. “Other bands are stationary in one location, and people have to come to the band. We can come to the people and move them from place to place,” explains Jennings. “That flexibility is our biggest asset, not having a stage or a spatial difference between us and them. We get really close to the audience. There’s an inclusiveness to our band that people don’t get from other performers. We can march off the stage into the crowd after the show and literally rub elbows,” even in 106-degree heat in the California desert or after hours of parading uphill through a suburban L.A. canyon.

There’s a spontaneity, too, that flows from having a very large group of very creative people marching together. MarchFourth has taken to the streets to celebrate momentous occasions like the election of Barack Obama and has turned rides on subways into impromptu concerts. “The drummers were banging out percussion on the window and walls, and the brass players were all singing their horn parts and things like that. People on the subway were wondering what was going on,” Jennings smiles. “Surprisingly, we’ve seldom been shut down.”

Quite the opposite, in fact: some of the band’s most exciting performances have been completely spur of the moment. After the bus broke down on Vancouver Island during a recent tour, the group spent all day working with mechanics to get their ride up and running. They missed their ferry back to the mainland and were poised to miss their next gig.

“We had to take what ferry we could get,” Jennings recalls. “We realized we were going to miss the festival we were supposed to play next, the first time we ever missed a show. So we decided to put on a show on the ferry. Everyone got in costume, got out their instruments, and played for an hour. The ferry operator and crew were so enthusiastic and people got really into it. We wound up selling forty CDs and made hundreds in tips, more than we have at some festivals.”

The enthusiasm is contagious when MarchFourth kicks in -- sometimes a bit too contagious. At a recent celebration of the group’s birthday at Portland’s historic Crystal Ballroom, things got a bit out of hand. A special stage had been set up for M4’s dancers on the venue’s renowned “floating” dance floor, which bounces gently as dancers move across it thanks to its unique mechanical construction.

When the band called for audience members with a March 4th birthday to come up on the dancers’ stage, so many people piled on and boogied that the stage legs poked a hole through the floor. “We literally danced a hole in the floor,” Jennings laughs. “They had to repair the old wood with a copper plaque, and we wondered if we could get it engraved to remember the occasion.”

Yet the collapsing stages, forced canyon marches, and various other breakdowns and train wrecks work only to add more creative fuel to the fire for a group whose size and diversity would seem to doom it to entropy. “Humor is what helps keeps us sane in all the chaos. We laugh a lot on tour,” explains Jennings. “That, and love. That’s why we do this.”

A portion of the proceeds from Rise Up will be donated to Sweet Home New Orleans. This non-profit helps musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, and Social Aid & Pleasure Club members get on their feet, earn money from their art, and pass on America’s most unique cultural traditions. Early efforts began with the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, just days after the levee failures in 2005. As the needs of the music community changed, SHNO sought to repopulate the New Orleans music community and to assist the musicians and culture bearers of the city.

<< release: 10/13/09 >>