If you live in Sonoma County, there’s a decent chance you’ve experienced the aural, visual and always joyful phenomenon that is the Hubbub Club.
An eccentric and eclectic street band of the sort director Federico Fellini might have mustered for one of his movies, this group’s brand of raucous music earns it stage time at dozens of public events each year.
From the infectious tunes culled from songbooks around the world, to the colorful, inventive attire of the musicians who play them, to the streamers and hula hoops that are part of its performance, the Hubbub Club is out to engage whoever stumbles into its path — sometimes sweeping them up in shared enthusiasm.
“Hey, I want to be part of this,” Sebastopol family physician and trombonist Jerry Eliaser remembers thinking when he saw the band play at a 2008 political rally, before he joined up himself.
“It’s amazingly fun,” said Santa Rosa Junior College student Pauline Allen, a trumpet player who, at 19, is among the band’s younger members. “The great thing about Hubbub is it brings the joy of music to everyone who plays and everyone who listens.”
Founded in the fall of 2007, the band has several dozen members, from stalwarts to alumni who may come and go, depending on life circumstances. Its roster includes mostly west county residents from all walks of life — a lawyer, a real estate agent, a massage therapist, a ranch caretaker and a stay-at-home mom. The performers are usually clad in red and black, the band’s signature color scheme.
Members sometimes learn new instruments as they go or, more often, rediscover the satisfaction of making music decades after putting down what they played in high school or college. “For most everybody, music is something you did as a kid and come back to,” said Sebastopol resident Jim Jenkins, a marine insurance underwriter. “It becomes something really important.”
While music is its core function, however, members say the band embodies a deep yearning for community connection and public service with a slightly unruly, comic edge revealed through kooky headwear and apparel and the antics of the “second-line” hoopers, stilt-walkers and dancers who often accompany the musicians.
There’s a leftist skew to the band’s choice of music, the venues and events it chooses to play and its operational structure.
The group sprang from an international movement that over the past decade and a half has seen the birth of “activist street bands” in cities across the nation whose members largely embrace liberal social causes and organize themselves around collective decision-making.
The very act of going into the street, taking over public space and playing loud music that brings people with you is a form of empowerment, said Jesse Olsen Bay, who founded the band with his wife, Frieda Kipar Bay.
“It’s my belief that one of the most politically powerful things one can do is simply sort of subvert people’s expectations of what’s allowed,” he said.
Bay, who has a young son and so many other musical projects he no longer finds time to play with Hubbub, had played with the Brass Liberation Orchestra in the Bay Area before the couple moved to Sebastopol seven years ago and began recruiting musicians for a Sonoma County street band that prized democratic rule over skill, though strong musicianship is important, too, he said.