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The Lemon Bucket Orkestra take to the streets

By Chrissy Steinbock on July 31, 2014

This Saturday night the Byward Market will be alive with music and you’re all invited to join the street party. The strolling music and dance-fuelled celebration, presented as part of the Ottawa Chamberfest will be lead by the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, a 16-strong, Toronto-based “Balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-superband.”

Marc Marczyk (violinist and vocalist wih LBO) admits that this description of their sound is long but aptly captures what the band is about: “drawing on Eastern European traditions and trying to evoke the feeling of those songs and of that sometimes irrational exuberant celebration everywhere we go.”

The group’s music draws on a broad palette of musical traditions, celebrating the folk music and culture of Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia with infusions of funk, New Orleans jazz and blues. Whether or not you have heard of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, leave your expectations at home. With hours of repertoire ready at hand, no LBO show is the same, stages are often abandoned in favour of playing among the crowds and music flows naturally in a kind of blazing wave of energy. And despite the unpredictability of the shows, the music is solid.

I met up with Marczyk at one of the band’s open-air performances in the market earlier in the week to talk about the beauty of busking, Eastern European culture, and the group’s unique take on traditional music. Everything about the LBO is rooted in busking. The band’s name, for example, was inspired by a song from Odessa, the title of which translates to lemons.

Marczyk explains, “It’s a local gangster tune, it’s slang for money. The gangsters would say ‘who grows more lemons out in their garden.’ We started as a busking band, and we would always say, ‘we put out our bucket and work for our lemons.’”

The band’s instruments are also chosen based on their busk-ability, “we never use instruments that you can’t play without electric power” and “we don’t play instruments that you can’t march with.” The LBO grew out of a bunch of musicians who met playing in a gypsy-punk band, the Worldly Savages and began busking and playing after-parties for that group. Eventually LBO outgrew the after party scene and developed into its own entity as word spread about the late-night jams.

Marczyk explains, “even though we were four when we started, Tangi Ropars (accordion) and I always wanted it to be a big band. The number we envisioned in our head was 13, with brass and strings and all of the instruments. If you believe in something, it’s gonna happen. We called it an orchestra and eventually it became one.”

Marczyk credits busking as the key to the band’s success. As he says, busking “meets people at the street level, where they’re not expecting it. That surprise is key to the music. The street is a place that’s like being in someone’s neighbourhood. It’s not like a concert venue where they have to pay an exorbitant amount to go see you, it’s not in a club that they feel maybe it’s too cool for them, or it’s not their scene or their kids can’t come or they’re too old or whatever. Busking allows people to feel more comfortable as opposed to obliged, to experience without pressure.”

The LBO’s busking-based approach to making music also ties into the group’s focus on celebrating Eastern European culture. To Marczyk, playing traditional music asks that the performers “understand that it’s part of something larger –  it’s not just regurgitation of material on stage for people to sop up. It is part of a larger culture that people have to feel they’re being welcomed into. So we really work to do that whenever we’re on and offstage. We try to give of ourselves in terms of musical energy and cultural spirit, and ask people to be a part of that and give back, to create this kind of exchange that I think is really at the heart of celebration.” Saturday night the party will be waiting and all you need to bring is yourself.

The Lemon Bucket Orkestra perform on Saturday August 2 in a strolling concert through the Byward Market. The show is free and begins at the intersection of York and William at 7pm. Check the Chamberfest Facebook page and Twitter feed for real time updates.

You can also catch the LBO busking twice daily in the market as a lead up to Saturday. The band will be in various spots around noon hour and after 5pm.