By ERIN BERGE
An elegant Italian bride carrying traditional white calla lilies stepped away arm-in-arm with her new husband from one of Rome’s oldest Basilicas, Santa Maria in Trastevere.
Greeting the newlyweds were young girls in delicate dresses, men in polished tuxes and five musicians, complete with suspenders, a fedora, a perfected handlebar mustache and a traditional American wedding song.
The Vermont Joy Parade, a band since 2008 from Burlington, Vermont, were in the middle of their many street performances in Rome when they joined in this wedding celebration.
“We play these unusual styles of music that a number of people in Rome have told us they are so grateful for,” said trumpeter Ben Aleshire.
The band chose to busk the streets of Rome for the month of September because it compared to the “Metropolitan style” of New York City, according to Aleshire. But the band soon discovered during their outdoor performances an encouraging atmosphere for artistic expression that is rare in the States.
Accordionist Galen Peria said street performing is “just more inherent in European culture”. Even as police escorted the Vermont Joy Parade out of the Porta Portese markets in Trastevere one day, local Italians defended the band by chanting, “long live art!”
“There’s not that kind of respect or regard for performance in America,” said Peria.
Beyond Rome, the band also toured Belgium and Germany where unexpected academy-award winner Jared Leto asked for them to join his 30 Seconds to Mars Germany tour.
“It was very bizarre and surreal,” said guitarist and singer Anna Pardenik, who sings with a powerful and raspy voice.
Bizarre because the band’s music contrasts Leto’s almost screaming rock band. The Vermont Joy Parade is a swanky rendition of 1920’s jazz and folk music with lyrics solely in English that Aleshire admits they do not accommodate for other languages.
The focus is more on musical expression than their actual message in lyrics, which include the comical “how do you know when you’ve had too much?” and “working is a curse!” To which an elderly man from Spain happily sang along.
“I imagine that it’s our energy and our connection to one another and amusement that translate more than the lyrics,” said Pardenik.
With every strum, holler or thump, each musician wears a vibrant smile or smirks an inside joke that interestingly receives a hardy chuckle from the crowd, filling Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere with music and laughter.
Their short, 40-minute performances are based on a rotating system among local artists in the piazza area. According to Aleshire, performers are allowed about 20-minute sessions before another artist gets a chance to perform.
The Vermont Joy Parade prefers this system to the states, where an artist could claim a public area for the entire day.
“It’s very hard to busk in the United States, outside the big communities like New York and New Orleans,” said Peria. “Even in the town that we all met it’s become a big battle for years.”
Street performances in their hometown Burlington require a permit and a five-dollar fee for the day after an artist goes through an audition. According to the Ron Redmond, the executive director of Burlington’s main Church Street, it is meant to keep the streets suitable for local restaurants and residents who may complain about the music.
Complaints are not exclusive to Burlington, however. The Vermont Joy Parade also encountered disapproving locals in Roman public areas. According to Peria, a mother came down to their band one night asking them to stop because her son could not do his homework.
“It is impossible with this music,” imitated Peria with a stressed expression.
And after the band joyfully sent off the newlyweds in Piazza Santa Maria, an elderly woman tapped the banjoist Benny on the shoulder, mid-performance, to tell him he should not use the “F” bomb.
But the band still draws a significant crescent-shaped crowd full of tourists from England, Spain and Germany all tapping, clapping or recording the impromptu concert on a street of crooked cobblestones.
“Incredible. They are really living the music and not afraid to show it and it draws the crowd around,” said two German girls, Angela and Josephine.