The pageantry and sheer insanity of the 35-member (give or take a few here and there) MarchFourth Marching Band is completely lost on you while you wait outside their practice space in Southeast Portland. Standing near the entrance of the arts collective The Egg, while the muffled horns and muted drums bleed through the door, you can't help but wonder what the big deal is? It's a marching band, so what? Every high school in America has one. The stilt walkers? The costumes? The dancers? Eh, it's all a little too Burning Man. If a glimpse of the band—or a small snippet of them practicing on the other side of a door—is all you ever experience, cynicism will win out, and you'll never like MarchFourth.
But as you walk inside this collective space and witness the band members huddled close, segregated tightly into their instrument groups, as stilt walkers shuffle about the building, it's like going backstage at some turn-of-the-century carnival. Never mind that cynicism, this is the stuff that children (and Tim Burton) dream about, a rollicking ensemble of artists gathered together, doing more plotting than actual practice. Among the chaos of the band's gathering you feel as if you are witnessing a movement that will somehow both preserve, and soil, the legacy of marching band music.
While there has been some migration from traditional marching bands toward hiphop, this music is not known for its evolution. This is the music of pep rallies and Veterans' Day parades, why should it have to change? According to bassist, and one of the group's founding members, John Averill, MarchFourth is "something entirely different. Musically, we're not influenced by marching bands at all. I really think of us more as an alternative big band that happens to be able to march."
Of course they barely march at all. Instead, the motley MarchFourth ensemble is quick to abandon the stage and intermingle within the crowd, adding some welcome chaos and excitement to an otherwise stiff genre of music. Compared to the rigid structure of the traditional marching band, March Fourth is wanton hedonism set to the snap of a snare drum's beat and the dazed stumble of a stilt walker in festival garb.
The greatest compliment that can be paid to MarchFourth is that—no matter how cynical you are, or how little you think of the marching band sound—you want to join their band. Being in the audience is just not going to cut it, you want to don some ridiculous outfit, scale the barricade, and find your rightful place onstage. It's like running away to join a circus where you'd be forced to play a tuba and maybe breathe some fire. Come on... it's already a big group—what's one more member?