The sun has taken a sabbatical from “sunny” San Diego for what feels like weeks, but there is one event that never fails to brighten my day: the spectacle that is a command, a date, and a band all wrapped into one eccentric, sequined, hodgepodge, pirate-skank package that is March Fourth Marching Band.
The ruckus raised by this (at times) 32-person on-stage marching band is crazy contagious. Almost completely void of lyrics, the songs are laden with horns, sax, and, of course, drums, and make for feet-stomping beats that can’t be ignored. They sound like the Big Bands of the 1940s mixed with folksy jig music, ska, and in the case of some songs, pink-panther-esque / spy vs. spy theme jingles.
I know, right?
The vibe is upbeat and energized; the audience converges into one massive dance party, egged on by dancing girls covered in sequins who mix into the crowd and lanky costumed guys on stilts playing massive (cardboard) guitars and an (actual) oversized cow-bell. For outdoor shows, the stilt walkers tend to double as flamethrowers and the dancing girls as hula-hoopers.
The theatrics are impressive. The entire band is dressed in pseudo-pirate and exaggerated marching-band type attire, but all done in a very extravagant DIY fashion. Funky hats and impressive showings of facial hair ingenuity are prerequisites. It also seems as though each member has some sort of distinguishing feature, be it attire, hair (in passé places for some female members), make-up (eyelashes for days), or loud personality—all of which pretty much speak to every band member.
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, March Fourth assembled for a one-day Mardi Gras show seven years ago and hasn’t stopped since. Many of the original members have retired in light of “real world” obligations, but new members who can afford to live part time in the fantastical world of M4 have since joined the ranks. Bandleader John Averill asserts that while each member is paid a wage, it is modest and would support only the thriftiest of vagabonds.
They travel around in a converted tour bus and are a staple performance at New Belgium Brewing’s Tour de Fat events in major cities across the U.S. They camp under the stars in most cities (weather permitting) and seem to really like each other. While they may be ex-band geeks, they’ve earned the right to be as openly freaky as can be. That is, of course, until they go home to their day jobs.