The Washington DC Carnival in 2005 will be one that will be remembered for a while to come. There was a surprise awaiting steelbands, masqueraders, and the thousands of carnival and pan lovers, especially those lining the last four blocks of the Caribbean festival. It was not a pleasant one - the surprise that is.
But the writing was on the wall for the 2005 DC event. Signs of things to come were obvious when it was announced that the parade would end not at 6:00 PM, but at 3:00, with a 10:00 AM start. Another red flag was the stipulation that steelbands would be at the beginning of the parade. They traditionally bring up the rear, capping off the event as accompaniment for the very enjoyable 'las lap' chip.
Another note of concern sounded at the DC subway station when scores of obvious out-of-towners asked a clerk for help. She had no idea of any "Caribbean carnival or West Indian parade taking place" she said. She was serious. She went back to her booth and emerged with a listing of at least four other events/festival happening around the area. But incredibly, there was no mention or listing of the DC Carnival. And from this subway station ran the "Green" line, which had a few stops along the carnival route, such as Georgia Avenue-Petworth and Howard University. Now, it's a different story in Brooklyn, New York for Labor Day Carnival celebrations. There are very few Transit employees who would not be aware of the parade, much less not have a memo of some sort lying around pertaining to it for those unfamiliar with the event. Was it an oversight? How could there be such a major thrust by the DC Carnival committee to invite one and all, but apparently some type of 'disconnect' with the Transit Authority in DC?
Anyway - It was an extremely hot day - 90 plus degrees, and along the actual route, there were the customary crowds, who along with the masqueraders, were having themselves a good time. At the head of the parade was the Boys and Girls Club of America Unique Marching Band. Hartford Steel Symphony were next, followed by DC Pan Jammers, and PanMasters who were the third and final steelband in the parade. Bands of masqueraders took their turns behind the steelbands.
To get the most that the steelbands had to offer, When Steel Talks initially kept pace with them, and eventually moved past. About three or four blocks before the official end of the route, WST took up positions with the intention to capture some final shots and footage. As was the case earlier on in the route, there were thousands of people on both sides of the street here. The police made it clear that onlookers needed to stay on the sidelines, rather than give in to any temptations to 'take a chip.' Some officers were a bit more insistent than their comrades. There were entire families with children in tow, older members of the community sitting in their portable chairs, with the ever-energetic younger generation passing briskly by - most on their way to catch as many bands as possible further on the route. Even people who appeared to be workers around the University campus came out and took up positions along the walls, some still wearing their aprons, etc. They were aware this was the end of the route, and usually the best place to catch all the action. Everyone sat and waited for the masqueraders and steelbands to arrive.
The Unique marching band was first on the scene. They went through a couple of their paces, then suddenly stopped, waved a few times, then walked the remaining block or two of the route, their drums and music falling silent. People wondered, but put it down to the little ones being tired. A few minutes later, about 1:10 PM came the steelbands. DC Pan Jammers players rolled on by, with their players just looking around at the crowd, themselves looking kind of uncomprehending. The same thing happened with PanMasters. By this time, the crowd sitting along the grassy inclines just outside of the walls of Howard University, and others along the sidewalks and roadside were voicing displeasure, questioning what appeared to onlookers as the bands 'decision' not to play the final few blocks.
WST walked down to where the steelbands had halted. On the way there, some disgruntled-looking panmen heading in the opposite direction with their tenors in hand, explained that the bands had been ordered by the police to stop playing a few blocks before the end of the route. One pan player said "I don't believe this - this is how they (authorities) treat we ting. And we take it just so. Dat ain't right! Things have to change!" And so on. The pan players had been made to roll past in silence much to their own amazement, and to the anger of the crowd, who did not know better at the time. A little further down, some of the pans had already been loaded back into their transports. Now understand - this was about 1:45 PM. As one veteran pan player in PanMasters put it "This is bad, very bad, I've never seen anything like this! We played for only two hours."
But remember - the warning bell had been sounded. The parade was going to end at 3:00 PM, and that was that. But what had everyone incensed, is why the children's marching band and the steelbands had been shut down before three o'clock, and at least three blocks before the end of the route - robbing those encamped there of their opportunity to enjoy the parade just as their fellow onlookers all along the route earlier had done. They were calling for answers as to why, as early as 1:00 PM, the police pulled the plug and shut everything down at that point.
As for the pan people who customarily save a final flourish for their last few minutes - well - they will have to finish it next year. But will they even bother to come out? Many parade participants and onlookers alike were saying - that is what the powers-that-be want to do - shut them and the entire Carnival down. Some vowed adamantly that they were not coming back in 2006, and that it made no sense to make the trip to DC for so short a time of revelry.
There were a couple other steelbands who were seen in previous DC Carnivals, but were absent this year for one reason or another, like Trini Pan America Pan Groove and T&T Steelband of Washington DC. Who knows, perhaps the spirits worked things out in their favor. So much work - practicing for "Carnival" and having not nature, but the authorities literally "rain on their parade" is a lot for the pan players to swallow.
As the pans were being removed from their stands and put away in the trucks, anxious but happy crowds of people continued to pour out of the subway stations and buses from various points, making their way in the direction of the parade, apparently oblivious to how much they had already missed. Even a few well-known Brooklyn pan notables were seen heading up the street looking for the 'pan,' and straining their ears for sounds of pan music which had long since been stilled.
In the shadows of Bubba Bush's benevolent [Capitol and administrative] buildings, in the capital of the United States of America, the seat of world power, at this year's DC Carnival, pan men looked "basodee" and appeared thoroughly "Bush" whacked at the way things turned out for them in 2005.