With rain threatening all day I hadn’t planned on going to the Waterfront Festival, so I’m glad my sister told me we should go see the Marchfourth Marching Band because it was a sight to behold. In fact, former Isthmus editor Marc Eisen stopped me on my way to the beer tent and said that “Madison will never be cool until we have a marching band like that.” To be fair, that means a lot of other cities aren’t cool either, because I have never seen anything quite like it. Unlike Mucca Pazza, the unwieldy large Chicago ensemble that also wears mismatched, retro uniforms and uses electric guitars in addition to the standard brass and woodwind instruments, Marchfourth throws a circus into the mix with stilt walkers and acrobats adding to the fun on and in front of the stage.
They started the show by asking everyone to take a few steps back. The reason for that was apparent as soon as the stilt walkers came out from behind the stage. Being four feet off the ground on a pair of stilts would be frightening enough, but these two made it look easy as they danced and high kicked on the rain soaked, uneven ground. On the next song a hula hooper joined the band, spinning two hoops on every body part over the course of a catchy song. Impressive, but it got even better. A second girl did the sort of tricks you see circus performers do on a rope dangling from the big top, but instead she did them on a pole held in place by one of the stilt walkers, or sometimes on the stilt walker himself. The two girls and two guys retuned for the next song as marionettes and puppeteers respectively for a live action puppet show that turned into a revenge fantasy with the controlled becoming the controllers.
Throughout the spectacle it was sometimes difficult to concentrate on the music what with all the action (not to mention the fear of someone breaking their neck) going on in front of them, but they were worth paying attention to. The baker’s dozen of musicians varied widely in age, from an impossibly skinny blond boy who looked like he was still in high school to the trumpet player who could have been his grandfather (you know, in other words, my age). No matter what their age, they all certainly had style from their creative outfits to their colorful make-up to the tattoos some of them showed off. Everyone was given a chance to step forward from their risers in the back for a featured solo, while the drummers kept everything going.
This was their second year in a row at the Marquette Waterfront festival and I can see why they were invited back, this is entertainment for all ages. I’d like to think that booking them in the first place makes us at least a little cool.