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Showdown at Despers USA Corral - 2012 Band Launch

Thunder, Lighting and Rain can’t stop New York steelbands

Another When Steel Talks Concert Review

Rain at Despers USA’s 2012 Band launch
Rain at Despers USA’s 2012 Band launch


Despers USA open up their 2012 Band launch
Despers USA open up their 2012 Band launch

Brooklyn, New York - Even as a bright and sunny weekend now looms ahead for the always-anticipated annual steel band music panorama competition in New York, many steel band music connoisseurs do not have to think back too far, to when rain seemed to be the order of the day—or make that evening—in steel band launches.  So much so, that if you were a patron at the events, you were pretty much resigned to maybe getting a good soaking to go along with your sweet sessions of steel band music.  Just asked the music lovers who were at the Despers USA band launch two weekends ago.  It turned into another veritable ‘wet fete’ preceded earlier in the evening by lightning streaking across the sky, and inevitably followed by showers of rain which began while Pantonic Steel Orchestra was in musical charge of pan lovers’ attention.  It had been bone dry when hosts Despers USA opened up earlier that evening, followed by New York Pan Stars and ADLIB Steel Orchestra.

Pantonic plays while the umbrellas come out
plays while the umbrellas come out

When the rain made its reappearance, umbrellas came out—a bit hesitant at first, while some defiantly tried  to ignore the fact that the raindrops were becoming decidedly heavier as they found their mark, hitting people as they danced to the music.  When the rain became a definite factor, some moved in closer to the band while others took what shelter they could under the tents covering the band as it played.  However nothing can stop some diehard pan people and it was only a matter of time before some just gave in to the euphoria of the music and opted to prance in the rain, while others huddled around the huge panyard, under pan racks and what shelter they could find.

With the rain at that point showing little signs of abating When Steel Talks (WST) took an early departure with at least three more bands still expected to perform before the band launch was over.  And even as WST was leaving, some undeterred steel band music lovers under their umbrellas were sighted entering the launch - believe it.  Sonatas had begun to play by then and were taking no prisoners.  Reportedly the band played no ‘slow’ pieces, but laid down a blistering jam session; they kept the music tempo hot, making sure that the reason folks were soaked to the skin was also due to  sweat, and not only because they were dancing and jamming in the rain.  Pan lovers also heard from CASYM and Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation before the launch ended.  It was a showdown between the Steel pan and soaking rain.  And Steel pan won!

Anyone who came and went at Despers USA's band launch, could not help but feel at least on this rainy, lighting-filled and thunderous night that the glass was half-filled, and moreover ‘Pan music’ was in safe hands.  Indeed, the forbearers of New York Pan have successfully and safely embedded and transferred the essence of our culture, defining rhythms and musical DNA into our youth - and in of all places the unforgiving concert jungle known as the Big Apple.

The event was billed as the ‘mother of all launches’ for 2012 at which, it should be added, what turned out to be the ‘mother of all panyards’ for the season, in terms of size—no less than nine lots of land—and on Atlantic Avenue between Classon & Franklin Avenues, just a few blocks away from the newly-built and much-heralded Barclays Center Arena.    Essentially, a sizable collection of the New York steelband community was slated and confirmed to perform at the music gathering.  Despers USA, D’Radoes, ADLIB, Pan Sonatas, CASYM, New York Pan Stars, Steel Sensation, East Side Symphony, CrossFire, Harmony, Pantonic, Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation and more.

ADLIB Steel Orchestra
ADLIB Steel Orchestra

The unmistakable sweet tones of Despers USA opened the show.  New York Pan Stars dropped a superb version of Stevie Wonder's As.  ADLIB delivered a haunting version of Marvin Gaye’s What's Going On?, Pantonic opened with the Beatles’ The Long and Winding Road, while Sonatas lowered their musical boom with Ganges and The Nile; all this with CASYM, Crossfire, Utopia Pan Soul et al setup and ready to go, rain or no rain.

No such event would be complete without the presence of recognizable faces on the steel band music scene.  Sonatas’ arranger Yohan Popwell was present with his family.  So too were the venerable and proud ‘old guard’ of the historic Trinidad & Tobago Solo Harmonites Steel Orchestra, whose members laughingly organized themselves and ensured they got their ‘pic,’ acutely aware that there was not always an opportunity to catch a number of them together.

Solo Harmonites Steel Orchestra steel pan music veterans
Solo Harmonites Steel Orchestra steel pan music veterans

Large airbuses were spotted flying directly overhead in the night sky for a significant period, approximately one minute apart as their flight path took them to La Guardia airport.  The number of aircraft seen was probably the result of a residual backup from the first early round of inclement weather.  But it was all good, as it appeared that as the Pan music soared, each plane was personally serenaded as it dropped out of the sky over the Despers USA band launch:  “Welcome to New York, the City of Pan!” 

Despers USA’s “2012 Band Launch” - in Pictures
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