In 1997, theatre grad and community advocate Dan Vie formed a musical ensemble called “The Cacophonistas” in order to protest the APEC summit being held in Vancouver at that time. Upon seeing the potential need and impact of such a group, Dan set to the task of creating a more permanent community activist band.
In 1999, professional tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger Ross Barrett joined Dan in hosting the first of many workshops of “The Carnival Band”. Soon after, Dan asked local performer, composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Marcos X to join the team as lead percussionist and co-musical director alongside Ross. These workshops quickly gained popularity and became regular weekly events hosted at the Britannia Community Centre. The band members and other creative partners drew largely from the richly creative population of Vancouver’s east side.
In 2002, Dan raised federal monies to import composer Gregg Moore from Portugal for three weeks of extensive musical and performance workshops. These workshops not only lifted the band’s energy and skill, they also provided the group many of the charts they still play today. Fuelled by this vibrant street band culture so alive in Europe, Dan organized a 2-week tour of the UK and Germany for eight players in the summer of 2003. The band’s first CD, self-titled, was recorded in 2004 by Marcos X and Kirk Pleasant and was released in 2005. Hundreds of shows were played throughout this time, including monthly performances at the east Vancouver restaurant, “El Cocal” for over six years.
In the spring of 2006, Dan became a father and needed a break from the everyday tasks of the band, and so he turned over the management duties to the group at large. At this time, Marcos X stepped up to take on the duties of managing director, and long-time surdu player, Devon 8, took on responsibility for the band’s booking and promotion. In late 2006, the band attended the Honk! festival in Boston, a gathering of street bands from around the world. In the spring of 2007, a group of five players from the band toured to China to the Shanghai International Music Festival. In the summer of 2007, the band continued its touring frenzy with a trip through the UK, Basque Country, France, and Germany.
In the late summer of 2007, Marcos X, Devon 8, and several others left the group to pursue more professional music opportunities. The remaining 25 or so performers, driven by the common purpose of ensemble playing and advocacy, sought better clarity and accountability in the business and artistic direction of the group. For these reasons, the band elected to form the “Open Air Orchestra Society”, a registered non-profit, to manage “The Carnival Band” and to promote live, community-centred music throughout the city.
Ross continued as co-musical director, joined by long-time Carnival Band member, baritone saxophonist and composer Tim Sars.
In the spring of 2008, the Open Air Orchestra Society began exercising its new mandate by hosting regular workshops which were free, open to the public, and led by some of Vancouver’s top Latin and African percussionists. The society also organized and sponsored two trips for the Carnival Band: to the first annual Honk Fest West in Seattle, and to Artopia and Seafest, two festivals held in the northern coastal islands of British Columbia. A community choir, “Voice Mob” and samba dance group, “The Carnival Band Dancers” also became active as performance troupes under the society umbrella.
Throughout the band’s colourful history, hundreds of players have passed through our ranks, many of them continuing on to successful musical projects of their own. We cherish the memories, and wish them all well.