By Andy Smith, Journal Arts Writer
The band is a cross between a funky New Orleans brass band and a circus troupe, complete with dancers and stilt walkers.
It all started in Portland, Oregon, in 2003. Bassist John Averill and his friend Dan Stauffer decided to put a band together for a Fat Tuesday party. The party was on March 4, so the March Fourth Marching Band — now called MarchFourth, or sometimes M4 — was born.
This weekend, MarchFourth comes to the Rhythm & Roots Festival in Ninigret Park in Charlestown, performing on Saturday and Sunday. It’s something you don’t want to miss, said festival producer Chuck Wentworth.
Imagine a cross between a funky New Orleans brass band, with lots of percussion, and a circus troupe, complete with dancers and stilt walkers. The performers of MarchFourth like to wear outlandish outfits that look as though they came from a yard sale jointly held by several bankrupt marching bands and a defunct circus.
“We’re an alternative big band for the present day,” Averill said. “Fun is the key word for us. ... We like to put on an inclusive dance party, get the audience involved. We always had the dancers and other performers, from day one. We wanted to create that good party vibe. We take the music we play seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”
The band might be best known these days for its song “Gospel,” which was featured in the 2013 Pixar movie “Monsters University.”
Over the years, MarchFourth grew organically from its Portland roots.
After that original Fat Tuesday party, Averill said, MarchFourth played at a protest against the Iraq war. Then members formed a sort of social club that met every Monday, and started playing gigs in and around Portland.
In 2007 the band bought its first bus — it’s now on bus No. 3 — and started touring. At the moment, Averill said, MarchFourth has 15 people on stage, and he acknowledges that it’s an economic challenge to tour with that many people.
“Those are things that you don’t think about when you’re putting a band together for a party,” he said.
At one time, back in the Portland days, there were as many as 35 performers in MarchFourth, but Averill said the band’s membership has pared down since then in order to tour.
“We’re playing more sophisticated music now. It’s a little less cacophonous than it used to be.,” Averill said. “We definitely have a funk and New Orleans influence, but we also do rock, jazz, lots of different genres. ... If it’s got a groove, we’ll play it.”