Marching to their own beat 

Portland’s March Fourth Marching Band transforms the traditional big band concept


Who: March Fourth Marching Band

When: Saturday, April 17, 7:30 p.m.

Where: TWSSF Main Stage (Skier's Plaza)

Cost: Free!

As anyone who was in Whistler during the Olympics can tell you, there's just something about a big, old-fashioned marching band that draws a crowd. In the case of the March Fourth Marching Band, it may be the fire-dancing stilt walkers, or costumed fire-eaters, flag twirlers, Vaudeville dancers, clowns or acrobats that immediately command the attention of the masses.

Or maybe they're drawn by the music.

Either way, March Fourth Marching Band - which is affectionately called M4 by its true fans - definitely isn't your average marching band. No, this massive musical ensemble has put a fresh, modern twist on the era of big bands, creating a throwback to a culture which isn't exactly mainstream today.

John Averill is bass player and bandleader for M4, which got its name from the date of their first show: March 4, 2003.

The group's roots stretch back to the infamous Burning Man Festival in Black Rock, Nevada. Averill attended the event one year and was inspired by the fun-loving atmosphere that fuels the event, year after year. He returned to Portland, Oregon and started hosting his own underground parties with the same feel-good vibe. Soon, he was putting together an impromptu marching band to play at a Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras party; assembling a group of performers and musicians to play a seven-song set of Rebirth Brass Band, Fela Kuti and Fleetwood Mac covers. They were a smash hit and M4 was born.

"I'm not sure why we connect," Averill reflected. "I think it's just an explosion of energy!

"Managing this band is more like managing a sports team than it is a band. With the exception of the bass, we can switch up a lot of the different instruments," he added. "No two shows are ever the same."

This mobile big band can feature saxophones, trombones, trumpets and drums, which are all anchored by a battery-powered electric bass. Musically, they draw inspiration from a wide range of global influences, including Eastern European gypsy brass, samba, funk, afro-beat, big-band, jazz and rock.

The group performs all original material, with individual members writing independently and bringing tunes back to the group to rehearse, perfect and perform.

"It's really all over the map because we have about 12 people in the band who have written songs... and the repertoire really adds up pretty quickly," Averill explained. "People's individual influences are really all over the map."

Working with such a large group of multi-talented artists over seven years, there have definitely been a few changes in the "team roster."

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