Publicists and reviewers have a habit of calling his band a “revolutionary folk orchestra”, but that’s a description Mark Marczyk wants to reconsider, especially having spent last February in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
“I was part of the protests in February that ended up with about 150 people in body bags and the whole city burning,” the Lemon Bucket Orkestra’s singer, fiddler, and founder explains, interviewed on the beach during a break from Vancouver Folk Music Festival workshops. “It came to a point where I was on the Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv, and I came to terms that this could be my last night on earth. I was surrounded by cops and flames and burning tires on all sides, and it looked like it was going to be the end—and then it wasn’t, and the people prevailed. So after having that kind of experience, my conception of what revolution means has changed a little bit.
“I don’t want to get into an emotional reaction and say, ‘Well, we’re not revolutionary anymore,’ ” he adds. “We are revolutionary, but that experience has definitely changed the way that I think about what music should do for people, and how it can be used to effect social change.”
In other words, Marczyk once wanted to play the fiddle while Babylon burned. But now that he’s seen Babylon burning and nearly gotten scorched, he’s happier with the community-building possibilities of a good party—like the riotous Balkan hoedowns that ensued whenever the Lemon Bucket gang, 16 strong for the occasion, took to the stage at last weekend’s folk festival.
Driven by the irresistible wallop of Rob Teehan’s sousaphone and Jaash Singh’s doumbek, this pancultural juggernaut created a brass-and-fiddle rave with every performance, and the dancing got even hotter once the musicians left the stage to join the crowd.
“Pretty much at the end of every show, we break that barrier between performer and audience, I guess,” Marczyk says. “Some people say, ‘Oh, do you ever get sick of the gimmick of coming off-stage?’ And the answer is ‘It’s not a gimmick. It comes from a genuine place.’ We want people to be a little more aware of the community that music incites, and how it enables community to develop.”
Marczyk’s views on music and society developed during an earlier, two-year-long visit to Ukraine, where he discovered a community of dancers and musicians happily combining the tango with Roma music, klezmer, and even rock, often on the street. Busking remains an integral part of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, as a way of both fine-tuning the band’s material and creating transient communities of music-lovers.
“The street is a great place to see people’s reactions,” Marczyk notes. “But there’s a philosophical bent to it as well. We want to play for everyone, everywhere, regardless of political leaning, class, societal status, or financial situation. We’ve got to make our rent and all that, but we always try to get out and do stuff for the community, and busking is that. It’s playing for people and saying, ‘You give me whatever it’s worth to you. If it’s worth a smile, give me a smile. If it’s worth a slice of pizza, give me a slice of pizza. If it’s worth your business card and an offer to come stay at your yacht club, then that’s fine, too.’
“All these things have happened to us,” he adds. And no doubt more will happen soon.
The Lemon Bucket Orkestra plays the Mission Folk Music Festival on Saturday (July 26).