Horn dogs unite

Pub date September 3, 2008
WriterTodd Lavoie
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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Lately I’ve been thinking about buying a trumpet. I had one once, though my mom sold it back to an instrument shop years ago — long after I’d ditched it and jumped the fence to a cappella choir about midway through high school. By that point I couldn’t have cared less, but more recently I’ve found myself daydreaming about it, its gleaming shine, its sleek curves. Mostly, though, I reminisce about its power — roaring and robust and showy as hell, that trumpet gave my mild-mannered little self a shot at being loud and free. And yet somehow, incredibly, I gave it up: too uncool, I’d told myself. Damn fool, what was I thinking? I take a mental inventory of my favorite songs — trumpets everywhere. I scan my record collection — yep, brass galore. I recall the new artists who are getting me the most hot ‘n’ bothered — can you guess the common thread? So, anyone want to sell me a trumpet?

As much as the current brass boom appears to be in full flourish from coast to coast, we here in the Bay Area are particularly spoiled for choice when it comes to horn-driven delights: rapturous Balkan brass bands, wickedly deep Afro-funk, and sweet soul music are all solid fixtures on the local menu for lovers of trumpets, trombones, and beyond. Still, the range of flavors extends even further than this quick list. As the longstanding booking agent for San Francisco’s Amnesia Bar, Sol Crawford, can attest: "I was thinking about all of these amazing bands we have in our area, when it occurred to me — so many of them feature brass! So, I decided, why not put together a festival to spotlight brass in all its diversity?"

And what a spotlight it will be. Boasting 11 days’ worth of brass-tastic revelry involving 30-plus artists and 21 shows, Crawford’s showcase offers thrilling testimony to the endless taste combinations proffered by local horn players — and the bands who love ’em. The festival’s name was inevitable. "As I began organizing this festival, I thought of it as a feast," he elaborates over iced tea at a Mission District café. "Then I pictured a cornucopia — this great big horn-shape with food spilling out. Perfect. A hornucopia, then!"

With a roster as impressive as this, the Hornucopia Festival is a veritable bounty deserving of the food analogy. Consider the sweet-and-savory possibilities of any given evening, and you’ll have rung Pavlov’s bell and set your mouth a-salivating: there’s the hot-pepper punch of Afrobeat powerhouse Aphrodesia, the hard bop/hip-hop grease of the Realistic Orchestra, the crisp crunch of punk-rock march-brigade Extra Action Marching Band, and the corn whiskey–marinated Dixieland delirium of the Gomorran Social Aid and Pleasure Club, for a start. Floor-burning Balkan brass band bacchanalians Brass Menazeri will elevate heart rates with a release party to herald the arrival of their latest self-released CD, Vranjski San. Lord Loves a Working Man’s heavy-soul workouts should keep crowds feeling limber … and so on. Add them all up, and that’s some serious Bay-representing horn love. One last coup: Crawford also enlisted the help of eminent New York klezmer daredevil Frank London, who will debut a sure-to-electrify ensemble: the SF Klezmer Brass Allstars.

Asked about the drive behind orchestrating such an enormous event that not only includes shows but workshops and panel discussions, Crawford’s answer is simple. "It’s about connecting," he explains. "There’s a great return to acoustic-based music happening right now, and a lot of these artists are mixing and melding genres in fascinating ways. And I want to bring them to a larger audience." My eyes continue to widen in awe upon hearing the full extent of what it has taken to put together this colossal labor of love, but he returns my sense of wow with an easy smile. "My friends have been great in helping out," the organizer adds. "So have the bands. It’s the scrappy brassy little festival that could."


Sept. 4–14. Includes Frank London’s SF Klezmer Brass Allstars Sept. 5 at Café Du Nord; Brass Menazeri, Aphrodesia, and bellydance Sept. 12 at Great American Music Hall; and Polkacide Sept. 13 at Café Du Nord. For more information, go to www.hornucopiafestival.org