It’s half-trot, half-run up parade-blocked, people-choked Broadway in Columbia, Missouri in Leap Day’s springy dusk a couple hours west of St. Louis or east of Kansas City along I-70, the grand march opening the fifth edition of the fantastically smart, town-transforming True/False documentary film festival, led for the second time by the event’s semi-official punk circus marching band, Chicago’s Mucca Pazza.
I tarried at an overlapping event, scooping up visiting journalists and bloggers and consultants and doc-makers from the altar of an open bar, urging them toward the rural drag to witness the hijinks of Chicago’s very own, and now it’s a gallop to get in front. Police cars with blue lights flashing block the cross-streets. The sidewalks stream thick people, a few figures bent to scrawl, drawing from the many buckets of fat sticks of multicolored chalk. The band’s stopped in front of a church with a tall white steeple that from most angles resembles Donald Duck and the sound grows louder as the crowd clusters. Later that night, a small club will throb with a Gypsy-inflected wall of sound.
But now the more than dozen players in customary mismatched ragtag marching band uniforms tear into something unrecognizable but utterly rhythmic: sousaphone, trombone, trumpet, an electric guitar wailing from a loudspeaker on a helmet atop the red-white-and-blue-jacketed player’s head. A light breeze of clear cool air moves, but the assembling stands in place, swaying or jumping, a couple hundred celebrants. A hundred-fifty yards ahead, a Stephens College overpass is draped with festival banners and photographers and cheering figures. Marching forward to the college’s commons where fire twirlers await in a roped-off area, placards dance: turbaned swamis (don’t ask), Diane Arbus’ eerily calm twin girls. Scattered around the mushy field, it’s tough to keep count: no one’s standing still long enough. Three drummers? Two trumpets? Saxophone, cymbals, trombones, sousaphone, bullhorns, the big thumping drum with the crude sketch of the band’s iconic grinning Mad Cow on the side. The single cheerleader, barelegged, Docs-booted, shakes her pompoms in an ironic frug. A Ken-sized band member adorns the shoulder of one player. Scattered details like that put a grin on 360 degrees of faces.
A whistle sounds. The march resumes, crowd trickling toward the center of town. Atop a newly restored hotel, the neon letters “Tiger” are burning bright in the falling blue. Drums roll. Traffic resumes. The weekend begins with one last trumpet blast. (Ray Pride)