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Stiltwalkers, dancers make March Fourth Marching Band a sight to see

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Somewhere between the stilt-walkers, the horn section and the drum line, the members of the March Fourth Marching Band find a way to mix funk, jazz and burlesque into one spectacle of a show – and they’re bringing it all to Harlow’s Wednesday night.

March Fourth Marching Band – M4 as it’s come to be known by fans – is a self-styled, cross-genre musical extravaganza from Portland that boasts a roster of more than 30 members who rotate in the lineup for shows.

“It’s a spectacle, for sure,” stilt-walker and part-time band manager Nayana Jennings said Monday. “There’s something to watch, something to hear, and an interaction between the audience and the band that you don’t often see.”

The core touring group includes eight or nine horn players, five drummers and five or six stilt-walkers and dancers, all of whom make the stage and the dance floor their playground for every show.

Founders John Averill (bass player and bandleader), Nayana and her twin sister, Faith Jennings, Nathan Wallway (stilt-walker) and Dan Stauffer (cymbals) started the March Fourth project nine years ago for a small Mardi Gras party in Portland.

It morphed into something larger than life Jennings said, and now the band tours across the country 175 days out of the year, on average.

Describing the music – let alone the band itself – is a challenge: It’s an eclectic group of people playing an eclectic mix of sounds, with plenty of visual excitement thrown in.

“It’s such an assortment of things,” Jennings said. “We’re everything from rock to jazz to Bollywood to drumline.”

Jennings said the “marching band” portion of the name is more a tribute to the fact that they move on and off the stage, into the audience, than for being a uniform, precision group of instrumentalists.

“For us, it’s taking that regimented, militarist basis of marching bands and turning it on its head,” Jennings said. “We move in amoeba formation.”

The band’s costumes include old band uniforms that have been restructured to reflect a sexier, burlesque-ier style with plenty of lace and garters, fishnet and bustiers.

Some have called the band “the Mad Max of drumlines,” Jennings said – with a New Orleans brass band and neo-circus, vaudevillian atmosphere.

Bandleader John Averill said being part of March Fourth Marching Band is like “moving with a traveling party.”

All of the members of M4 collaborate to do pretty much everything for the band: writing and arranging their own material, designing and making all of their costumes, and choreographing their routines.

M4’s first album was a nine-track, self-titled studio production from 2005. Since then, the band has released three more albums – most recently “Magnificent Beast,” late last year – and a full-length live concert DVD from its 2009 anniversary show.

Musical influences for the band are all over the grid: the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Pink Martini – and even Cirque du Soleil, Jennings said.

Band members range in age from 23 to “50-plus,” according to Averill, and each person plays at least one instrument. Some play two or three.

Wednesday’s performance at Harlow’s will be the band’s second visit to Sacramento in its history, Jennings said.

Touring doesn’t pay a lot, Jennings said, so some of the band members started individual micro-businesses to supplement their income.

Band members recycle old sweaters and leather jackets into hats to sell and make jewelry from recycled instrument parts.

“It’s really great to see the creativity all of these artist have and are able to bring to the show,” Jennings said. “People can take a little bit of March Fourth with them and support the band. And nothing is made in China – these are items literally made on the tour bus.”

What does Averill see as the future for March Fourth?

“It involves us getting on television somehow,” Averill said. “A soundtrack or a cover – things you get when you have a real manager, which we don’t have.

‘The vision in my head is we become successful and make twice the money we are making,” he added. “That’s what everyone wants, right?”

March Fourth Marching Band hits Harlow’s, 2708 J St., at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $15 in advance HERE.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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