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Eleven Years and going strong -
Pan Masters Steelband Jamboree delivers another memorable Memorial Weekend music outing

North Brentwood Steelband Organization’s Got it Goin’ on -  sets the 2009 Bar Real High


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In Pictures

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Maryland, USA - When Steel Talks (WST) departed Brooklyn at 5:40 a.m. to catch the 8:05 Washington-bound Amtrak train stopping off at 11:04 a.m. in Maryland - the site of the 2009 Pan Masters Steelband Jamboree.

WST left with a lot of anticipation, in terms of expecting much from what this year’s line up of steelbands would present.  In addition to many of the Maryland-area steelbands, this year Long Island-based ADLIB Steel Orchestra - the 2008 New York panorama champions - would be participating.  And based on past performances, the expectations were high for a very entertaining event.  After all this was the 11th annual steelband jamboree.  Simply put: if you don’t know what you are doing by now, you will never know.

Fast-forwarding: the bands’ performances were excellent.  If you were not there you missed a good one.  All the steelpan artists delivered.  The young players who performed were very poised and performed like seasoned vets while enjoying themselves and keeping intact, their infectious exuberance - meanwhile the veterans anchored the bands with experience and purpose.  This year’s Pan Masters Steelband Jamboree was again another successful exercise on how an organization and community can come together socially and artistically to seamlessly knit the ingredients needed to excel at home, in the classroom and community.

Pan Masters did not disappoint us or the attendees of the event.  Pan Masters’ organization delivered a tight and well-produced production that was entertaining, engaging and memorable.  Beyond the artistic success, it was a great promotional day for the event and the instrument.  Let’s face it - many of the steelband music events are so badly produced they do more damage to the instrument’s positions within ‘john’ public’s psyche than anything else. 

Hundreds of fans turned up for the annual event.  This is particularly significant in that this is the Memorial Day weekend in the US.  There is probably not another weekend in the year that provides as many options, challenges and competition for the attention of any program attendee - as there are so many choices that are all vying for attention, not least of all the traditional family gatherings and social functions. 

In addition to great music and performances, the program attendees experienced an event devoid of the frustrations that often plagued steelpan music events.  Everything was on time and rolled from start to finish with an efficiency and purpose that was astonishing.  There very few major hiccups that ever made it to the public’s awareness.  The Pan Masters’ event managing team did an excellent job of cooperating, being proactive, ‘outing fires’ and insulating the audience from any discomfort or distraction.

The DJ system, which (as at most steelband events) doubled as the PA system - must get better.  Prime Time is simply that, “Prime Time” - not Practice Time.  One has to deliver at a moment’s notice when called on - not yesterday or tomorrow; time’s up - the gig’s over.

The Pan Masters’ production crew once more implemented the two-stage setup which worked again, very well.  Bands moved in and out of the performance areas and on to their loading bays with minimal delay.  One suggestion we have, might be to make use of a drape system (like the ones commonly in place at trade shows) to block off and separate, the loading section from the audience’s view, and also from the main performing area.  Another such system can even dually serve as a backdrop, and backstage section, while efficiently screening from the audience view, band and instrument movement on and off the stage area.  Finally - a ten-foot curtain system (pulley) in front of the performing area, would elevate the peripheral visual aspect of the show.  There is nothing like the raising of a curtain - to reveal an orchestra raring to go!

Once again hosts/event organizers Pan Masters proudly presented a beautiful color brochure with their own original graphics to event patrons with a thorough bio of all the performing bands.  This act alone, sets Pan Masters apart as organizers, from those in charge of many other steelpan music shows, concerts and panoramas - and this is in comparison with national and international steelband productions.  Pan Masters demonstrates a clearly genuine show of respect for their audience and their fellow steelpan performing artists, and their respective efforts and achievements.

This year Ms. Angela van Niel served as the media coordinator in addition to her other responsibilities.  Ms. van Niel not only secured WST any support we needed, but also provided us with a day schedule that mapped the run time to the minute - and in detail for the whole event.  Ms. van Niel could also be seen clearly in the role of stage manager, ensuring that everything was rolling according to schedule.

The Pan Masters Steelband Jamboree remains a special event in that they have found a way to move forward with limited resources, while presenting an entertaining, community-oriented and highly artistic event that draws its citizens together in large numbers.  Simultaneously they provide a platform particularly for its youth and adults to perform and showcase their talents, even as they facilitate a professional and high-level music arena for its musically advanced steel orchestras.

It has been reported that US President Barack Obama picked up a pair of steelpan instruments for his daughters on his recent trip to Trinidad and Tobago.  In this regard, given the quality of the Pan Masters Steelband Jamboree, and since the Obamas have taken up residence (in the White House) a stone’s throw away from Pan Masters’ practice facility, we would not be astonished to see the Obamas seated in the audience watching their daughters perform with one of the groups.

Which brings to mind, kudos to the organizers - and attendees themselves - for making sure that the view of folks who were sitting in the tented areas - was seldom blocked.  We were particularly impressed with MC Roland Barnes who kept things on point, imparted valuable and pertinent info during the proceedings, and even kept ‘super enthusiastic’ attendees away from blocking hosts Pan Masters’ video op while they performed.  Indeed it was like the parting of the “Red Sea” when Barnes spoke.  All listened and behaved - except for this one rogue photographer who got into every photo and video.  This was the performing artists’ (steelbands) moment.  No media person should ever detract from that by becoming ‘part’ of the artists’ presentations.

Performing Artists: St. Veronica’s Youth Steel Orchestra, Pan Majestic Youth Academy Steel Orchestra, Positive Vibrations Youth Steel Orchestra, DC Pan Jammers, and hosts Pan Masters Steel Orchestra.

The Performances

Pan Majestic Youth Academy Steel Orchestra (PMYASO) opened the jamboree with a spirited performance that covered a variety of popular tunes.  The group has improved greatly since last year.  However, they were unintentionally, but nonetheless adversely impacted by the DJ’s mic placement, mic choice and volume.  Other than the DJ’s obtrusiveness, their performance was on point.  The arrangement of Pan Majestic’s final piece “Oil and Music” was real cool and connected with the audience.

Steelband management have to understand that they are solely responsible for every aspect of their performance - and most of all the sound reinforcement, if and when used.  One mic in front of a steel orchestra - however well-intentioned - without some sort of sound check, is not a good idea.  There are no “do over's” in a live show - everything counts - everything matters.  We will make no further comments on this issue.

Next up: Positive Vibrations Youth Steel Orchestra (PVYSO) - They ran a full gamut of musical genres that showcased not only their wide repertoire but additionally their skill set and musical sensibilities.  From “Big Band” to Soca to Bell Biv Devoe - there was a comfort level and maturity they had not presented with in the past.  Musical diversity aside, Positive Vibrations succeeded in raising the bar on expectations and let it be known that they are not prepared to play second fiddle to anyone.  They have a great stage presence and know how to work the crowd with drama and theatre.  Be assured they are becoming the consummate artists.  Check them out and you will not be disappointed.

Then it was the turn of St. Veronica’s Youth Steel Orchestra (SVYSO) who were very impressive.  While youthful in looks, there was nothing youthful about their approach to their craft.  Look for these young musicians to have a real impact soon.  All too often we forget what pan music is all about.  St. Veronica’s made people get up and dance and sing - indeed the greatest compliment to a performing musician.  The faces of the crowd said everything.  They captured the spirit of pan and put on a command performance.  From Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” to soca classics like Black Stalin’s “Black Man Feeling To Party,” SVYSO connected well with the audience.

The spotlight was next on the stageside representation of the New York 2008 Panorama Champions ADLIB Steel Orchestra - they simply performed overall as the well-seasoned musicians that they are.  Moreover, they had the foresight to perform without the DJ’s amplification.  The result was pan gratification - sweet pan to the ears.  The audience was clearly pleased with the riddance of the sonic distortion the previous bands suffered with.  ADLIB put on a great performance.  They were like fine wine.

ADLIB was followed by DC Pan Jammers which has a great blend of youth and mature players who put together a solid performance.  Pan Jammers showed that you can still capture the imagination and the fancy of the crowd by going ‘ole school’ as they did with Lord Kitchener’s “Rain-O-Rama” right after dropping Ne-Yo’s smash jam “Miss Independent”  - if it is arranged and performed well.  Talk about stretching the ages.  DC Pan Jammers also dropped some very interesting arrangements.  In fact, this group has a track recording of putting down noteworthy performances at past jamborees.

Pan Masters Steel Orchestra (PMSO) closed the show.  WST has watched a transformation of Pan Masters Steel Orchestra over the years.  In addition to being the host of the event Pan Masters is also a performer in the show.  And that presents an interesting dichotomy for the organization.  Pan Masters has learned to handle it well.  Simply put, they now make sure that they are the finest steel orchestra on the night.  As gracious a host as PMSO is, clearly no one was going to upstage them on their home court.  Pan Masters served notice that their name must be entered when there is any discussion about the top orchestras in Northeast USA.  From their version of Tarrus Riley’s “She’s Royal” to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Till You Get Enough” - Pan Masters clearly were in their zone and the audience followed.

The Pan Masters Steelband Jamboree is clearly a collaborative effort on the part of members of the organization.  WST saw many of the members putting in superhuman efforts to make sure things got off the ground smoothly from early o’clock.  Special thanks must go to Mr. Marcus Adams and crew for constructing the hi-rise media booth which WST press personnel used to the fullest.

Got to hand it to Pan Masters - they are not ducking, dodging and/or hiding - least of all from the WST ‘critics’ -  every year they just keep on getting better.

click to see video performances

contact Pan Masters at info@panmasters.com; www.panmasters.com

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