Welcome to On the Brown Low—a column dedicated to exploring all that the lovely city of Providence has to offer. Join me, Isabela Karibjanian, as I take you on a tour of all the hidden gems I find off College Hill!
Rambunctious brass bands. Jugglers. Giant alien mascots. Activists of all ages. What at first seems to be an incongruous list of things you could potentially find at some sort of social justice-oriented music festival or protest actually all can be found at one event in Providence—PRONK! Last year, I heard echoes of PRONK! from my study carrel in the Rock, but this year, I decided to venture down the hill to find out just what all the fuss was about. Keep reading after the jump to find out how I ended up joining Providence’s annual street intervention!
PRONK! is Providence’s own offshoot of the HONK! Festival—an activist street band festival that began in Boston and has since grown into a global movement. PRONK! reclaims the streets of the city with people-powered music, provides activists with a space to challenge mainstream culture and narratives, and hopes to spark dialogues and a joyous celebration of music. An alternative to Columbus Day events, PRONK! celebrates resistance to colonialism, hatred, and injustice. After a day of music making and coalition building, all bands and activists join together for an occupation of the street (South Water Street, that is) and a raucous parade.
Not truly knowing what to expect as a spectator, I headed down the hill with a backpack filled with books, determined not to be cooped up in the library for a second year in a row. At first I was nervous that PRONK! had once again passed me by—it was 6:15 and there was still no parade!—but my fears were soon assuaged as as I heard Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” echoing off the high-rises downtown.
The parade crept forward down South Water Street, and quickly, there was no distinction between crowd and parade. Parents, children, adults, dogs, teens, and even an alien character or two all danced and held up signs about their respective causes. Providence favorites like the What Cheer? Brigade (of Spring Weekend fame) and the Extraordinary Rendition Band joined bands from as far away as France for a collective outpouring of music and activism.
At one point, I ended up dancing behind a brass band and next to a person holding a fake chicken painted gold. As my backpack jostled and as I followed the parade down South Water Street, I didn’t think of the paper I still needed to write or about the stress of midterms, but of how surreal that moment in the parade felt. It almost felt like an episode of Portlandia had come to life, and in the best way possible.
As a member of the Brown Band, I’ve long wondered what I would do with my flute post-graduation. Instead of letting it sadly collect dust on a shelf somewhere, now I know that I can join one of the hundreds of boisterous and goofily dressed brass bands that perform at HONK festivals around the country. All I need now are some polka dot tights or a golden chicken…
Is there something in Providence that you want to see covered here? Have any suggestions for my next adventure? Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let me know!