Providence International Arts Festival

Providence Top Brass

Extraordinary Rendition Band talks about music, activism and being a band of friends


An extraordinary rendition is not typically something to celebrate. An extraordinary rendition, according to accordionist/trumpet player Meghan Kallman, is “when the government transfers—without legal process—a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for interrogation.” The Extraordinary Rendition Band (ERB), however is one large celebration of diverse sounds. The band “[shines] light on criminal war brutalities via joyful sounds and merriment,”  says Meghan. “It’s meant to make people think.” 

ERB will play a set for the Providence International Arts Festival opening party on Thursday June 11 as well as several sets on Saturday June 13. Shannon Kelley, a saxophonist who has been with the band for more than six years, and Meghan gave us some insight into what makes this band, well, extraordinary. 

Providence Monthly: Your band is not just a rendition band; it is the Extraordinary Rendition Band. What makes you all extraordinary?  

Shannon Kelley: My band friends are some of the most creative people ever born. I love how my creativity blossoms around them. They’re also among the most selfless, kind, supportive, generous and massively fun people. There are no egos in this band -- we see each other as equals and make decisions together. We’ve had some amazing discussions where the phrase “I love you, but I disagree on that point” has been heard, in the most respectful way possible, even among strong opposing feelings. I think a major factor that separates us from a group like a professional orchestra, for example, is that they might play really well together but then they go home. We are all friends as well as being a group of very different people. We get to travel twice a year and always get in as much social time together as we can. We once made a binding resolution to spend more time together as friends. 

Meghan Kallman: We are also extraordinary because we are loud and raucous music-makers, and we embolden and amplify community organizations and institutions with democratic, spontaneous guerrilla-style outbursts of sound. We frequently show up for unannounced, spontaneous musical serenades that we call “music-bombs,” helping to support causes and activity that we believe in. 

PM: Could you talk a little about both the band’s musical and aesthetic style? 

SK: In my opinion, we don’t have one style. We play a lot of New Orleans music but we also play a lot of other styles too - Michael Jackson, a disco version of Star Wars, a 40s big band song, a Balkan song, a reggae song and more. I like to say whatever we happen to like is our style.

MK: We dress in red, white and shiny. In the same way that our music interrupts regularly-scheduled life with sound and fun, our dress interrupts people’s regularly scheduled vision with crazy costumes. Like much of our music, most of our costumes are joyous. One time the Providence Journal described us as “ragtag”. We certainly don’t all look the same, but leave plenty of space for each individual to express themselves within the group. 

Many of us wear patches or signs on our clothing to help express the things that we believe in. For instance, since the Ferguson protests, the back of my shirt has said “Black Lives Matter.” Last week our baritone sax player had a sign that said, “This machine creates harmony.” Our bass drum has a sign it wears frequently saying, “Stop Police Brutality.” 

PM: Under the band’s description on your website it says, “We interrupt your regularly-scheduled life with spontaneous moments of raucous musical joy.” How are you able to achieve this?  

SK: We’re often invited to play as a surprise. We love bursting into a room and surprising the crowd -- not only with our presence, but with our imaginations. We put a lot of effort into molding each song and each song evolves a lot over time. We hope it really shakes up your day when we invade your space! We also love roaming around downtown, playing on the sidewalk with a crowd of passersby; or jumping into a bar then disappearing after the song is over.

MK: During the warmer months, we practice on Thursday evenings by the Hurricane Barrier in Providence. We’re outside, in public, and people fishing or walking around often stop and listen to us for a little while. We even music bombed a fancy wedding on Martha’s Vineyard last summer and the bride and groom totally loved it.

Mostly we believe that music should be public, and powerful, by the people and for the people. We’re an open band, and we try to bring our music to places where music sometimes has a hard time going.

PM: Why is, as your website says, any note better than no note?

SK: We push each other to broaden our skills. Trying something new and being imperfect is preferred to holding back out of fear.

MK: I’ve always interpreted that as meaning that it’s better to do something—and perhaps do it wrong—than to not do anything at all. Mistakes are learning opportunities. Playing any note—even if it’s a sour one—is better than no music at all.

PM: What has been your favorite performance in your time with the band? 

SK: A high school prom for developmentally challenged teens, or leading the RISD graduation procession, or playing in boats during WaterFire, or during a festival when we were asked to pull in random people from other bands.

MK: I have a lot of them; ERB is a big part of my life, and some of my most important friendships come out of it. A few weeks ago we were marching from the Columbus Theater to Ogie’s Trailer Park at the end of a TEDx talk in Providence, and we stopped by a housing development where there were some folks out in their front yards, and played them a tune from across the street. Then another trumpet player and I actually stopped traffic without really meaning to, playing our trumpets while standing on the double yellow line. Bit by bit the whole band came forward, until we had command over the street for one tune and traffic was stopped on both sides of us. For that one moment, our music was more important than the hustle and bustle of life, and the residents of this development were all out dancing and having fun. It was totally unexpected—we hadn’t planned to stop, we just did it because it seemed like the thing to do. And none of the motorists even got mad. That would be another moment of interrupting regularly-scheduled life with spontaneous moments of raucous musical joy.

PM: What can attendees expect from you all at the Providence International Arts Festival?  

SK: We’ll be pulling out all the stops for this one! Not only are we playing a stage set, afterwards we’ll be throwing music all over downtown; Big Nazo (great friends of ours) has asked us to help them take over its neighborhood; there might even be a new song debut. The audience will help if they put on something shiny and dance with us!

MK: They’ll have to come and find out!

Meghan Kallman, Shannon Kelley, providence international arts festival, extraordinary rendition band, marching band, providence ri, music, activism, music activism, street music, brass, erb


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