- There was great weather, great performances, great fans, a
committed host and an area ideally suited for outdoor
performances by steelbands. So: why was this event
denied an ‘A plus’ grade? Simply put - insufficient time
for these great performances, but it must be noted here - through
no direct fault of the host, Carl Merez. As scheduled within the
original time-frame, the event afforded
more than enough time for even the most ardent
steelpan music junkie to get his or her fix of a full complement of
pan music. The free event was slated to begin at
3:00 pm and finish at 10:00 pm.
Philadelphia [Philly] Pan Stars put on a
great performance during the competitive phase of the event.
However, contrary to information originally conveyed to When
Steel Talks at the end of the event, organizers have since
claimed that there
has been no winner decided upon in the competition. We
will keep you posted as to how organizers eventually resolve
this phase of the event.
Nonetheless, Philadelphia Pan Stars
delivered a rousing rendition of a Patrick Davis-arrangement
of the late Maestro’s (covered by Bunji Garlin) “Fiery.” This year, though, their approach was one of a panorama
styling, with musical variation implemented by Davis.
The Maryland area groups, in addition to
Philly Pan Stars were all present on time,
and in most cases long before start time, and staked out
under their tents, raring to go. When the
show/competition finally got underway, the performances from
the overwhelming majority of the groups were of a high
level and captivating. The fans were quite pleased with
what they heard. The only group that really did not
live up to the excitement they generated at their previous
appearance at the Baltimore event was New York-based De Heart
of Steel. With fewer members who seemed lost at times
during their performance, with false starts and wandering
melody lines, they were a shell of the band’s original
incarnation (Hearts of Steel) which wowed the crowd in 2007. It appears that success has taken its
toll on the original band, with the small but previously tight group
of experienced players, split into either two or three
factions, one of which is De Heart of Steel.
As organized, the ‘round robin’ approach calling for
each band to play a warm-up piece and their tune of choice
for the judging round went off without a problem.
Although the DJ failed to have an announcement system for
the house - the crowd simply followed the judges from group
DC Pan Jammers
DC Pan Jammers’ arrangements and
execution were extremely noteworthy, and a band to watch
musically if they maintain this track. Their
performers are gifted musicians who handle their instruments
with a refined touch. PanMasters clearly continues to
stake their claim as one of the most versed and better
steelbands in the North-eastern area of the United States.
Special mention for the most visually animated performance
coupled with all-round showmanship, has to go to Positive
Vibrations. These musicians were entertainers with
theatrical flourishes, and ‘lived’ their music as
Given the way the timing facet of the
show was thrown off because of the late start, Women In
Steel almost did not get to perform two selections as did
the other bands, because they did not
take participate in the competitive round. Fortunately
the hosts facilitated this before the event was shut down.
Utopia Pan Soul as always was at the ready to bring
different and much-appreciated and musical colors to the
Appearing in all for this year’s show
were PanMasters, DC Pan Jammers, Trini Pan America, Positive
Vibrations, Tropical Pan Vibes and Philadelphia Pan Stars steel
orchestras, and from the New York area - Utopia Pan Soul:
the Next Generation, De Heart of Steel, Women In Steel,
Crossfire and Higher Levin steel orchestras. One can
just imagine what the presentation would have been had the
audience had the good fortune to be graced with their
full repertoires as planned.
Due to the shortness in time, show attendees
were robbed of what could have been a very, very special
afternoon into evening of pan. Bands literally only played two tunes
for the entire event. This did not allow enough of a
runway to really highlight the merits of the bands and what would have been
their properly prepared repertoires, to the audience.
The organizers, fans and the bands who were on time were short-changed by the behavior of
To dissuade this type of behavior and recurrence,
beyond an act of God, organizers of this event should seriously consider
disqualifying bands in total. If bands do not arrive
on time, (once their arranged transportation/buses turned up
for them as scheduled, and they were not ready) organizers
should be prepared to tell the arriving band(s) not to
disembark from the buses, but simply direct the contracted
bus drivers to return to New York, or wherever, with the
For this steelpan event and others
similarly structured to get to the next level, in terms of greater audience
patronage, serious investors, and greater expectations and
subsequent returns - there simply must not be people,
especially business associates, showing up for events to
either track or enjoy investments based on their support -
and not have an event come off as promoted. And this
event is one that has much potential. The location is
superb and the weather is usually extremely co-operative.
However, no one could foresee that a
sizeable amount of the performing bands would be late -
extremely late - and thereby throwing the show off
considerably. Because of the competitive element of
the show, and the nature of the overall performance setup, all
the bands had to be present before it could really begin.
The New York bands did not arrive until after 5:00 pm - add
another hour or so for setting up - the show did not begin
until about 6:35 pm. Subtract just under an hour from the
advertised end time of 10:00 pm, because the local authorities
implemented a shutdown time
not too long after 9:00 pm - probably to have the field
totally cleared by 10:00 - and you have just about a
window. So performances that were supposed to take
place within a six-hour time span, were shortened to
whatever could be accommodated within two and a half hours,
much to the disappointment of those present, patrons and
steelpan musicians alike.
In fairness to the New York bands, we
learned that it was primarily one band that created the reason
for the abject lateness. Yet all the New York bands have to take full
responsibility, as no common sense and professionalism
appeared to kick in for any to take control of the situation.
The bottom line is the entire New York contingent was late -
just over two hours after the scheduled start. And through
this lateness, they all contributed to depriving the music fans of an
extra special steelpan music event.
As hard-working host Carl Merez had
organized it, there was more than enough time for even more bands
from New York to be present with much time to spare.
The organizers provided the necessary transportation for the
whole New York caravan to hit the road out of Brooklyn by 9:00 am.
Indeed, Utopia Pan Soul sought to use their event
performance as part
of their upcoming DVD/CD, and as such contracted the services
of Basement Recordings whose crew traveled with them (equipment
and all) to capture their performances live.
Unfortunately under the circumstances, one can expect that did not happen. Only two performances were recorded.
Utopia Pan Soul:
the Next Generation
But - the organizers are to be
congratulated for once again pulling together an event that is
truly about pan and people. They gave thought to
suggestions stemming from last year’s event, among them
implementing a barrier between the band and the crowd, in an
effort to allow all to enjoy the full sound of the
orchestra, rather than having a crush of bodies in front, almost upon
the players, thereby muffling the music. This worked
well for those bands at Saturday’s event where the barriers
were set up. The others which played without, did not
always fare as well.
When Steel Talks looks
forward to next year and expects the forward progress of
what will be the BECI’s (Baltimore
Education and Cultural Institute, Inc. [beci-inc.org]) ninth annual
Harbor View Festival to continue, and that everyone
concerned will have learnt from this year’s missteps.
President & CEO, BECI
The New York contingent has to take full responsibility for
their time-management issues, and owes their host, BECI’s
President and CEO Carl Merez, his co-organizers,
the other performing orchestras who were at the venue on
time, not to mention the steelpan music fans who turned up - an apology.
Anytime the pan movement can
find an event promoter such as Merez and others who are part
of the BECI initiative, who truly care about promoting the
instrument and its music, nothing but
professional behavior and decorum should be the order of the
In this age of technology, it only takes one
person - who arrived on time for the show - with a cell phone to send a text message, or make a
call, to say “there’s nothing happening here” to divert other
potential attendees from making their way to the event,
thereby causing the proverbial ‘snowball’ effect. The
truth be told, it was really only one band that hijacked the
show, but you know how that goes - and this year’s
experience shows that one bad apple can impact the entire