Pan Evolution - A Steelband Grows in Brooklyn

A Review

by Garvin Blake

Provided with the expressed permission of: the Author

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn 2022 flyer

Brooklyn, New York, USA - Saturday, June 11 was etched on my calendar since BRIC (Brooklyn Information & Culture) released their Celebrate Brooklyn schedule in late April. Pan was again taking center stage at the borough’s biggest and best summer festival. Adding to the anticipation, this spring the fabled outdoor performance space was renamed the Lena Horne Bandshell in honor of the Bedford-Stuyvesant-born singer, actress and civil rights activist.

It’s been a few decades since Renegades turned Prospect Park upside down. This year it was Pan Evolution Steel Orchestra’s (PESO) turn to shake-up Park Slope. With about ten pan players, bolstered by a rock-solid rhythm section, PESO presented a well-rehearsed set of reggae, R&B, Latin, soca and calypso that reverberated through the historic neighborhood.

The leader, Wayne Bernard, addressed the audience and gave the band the cue, then it was showtime. The music flowed and the crowd began to sway. Feeding off the energy of the audience, the group’s youthfulness kicked into overdrive. The frontline danced and shimmied and commanded the spectators to clap and sing along. The crowd, however, needed little encouragement to become part of the act. They were already singing. And by the time the band unleashed Blaxx’s “Mash Up,” there was a full chorus from de Trini Posse.

Despite their exuberance, PESO’s performance never crossed the line into gimmicks and buffoonery that can be distracting. The arrangements and song selections were thoughtful, offering the diverse audience familiar tunes like Bob Marley’s “Who The Cap Fit” with a different spin.

While I marked June 11 on my summer things-to-do list, PESO clearly bold-stamped the date on their calendar as a golden opportunity to make a statement and push the culture forward. And they succeeded in both. It was well-executed, feel-good music – entertaining and uplifting.

The audio engineers did a remarkable job. The power and clarity of the small group exceeded the quality often heard at Brooklyn’s Panorama, where some bands have close to 100 players. The lone bassman seemed like he was summoned up by de Mighty Shadow. The deep richness of his sound cushioned the lead instruments as they weaved through their lines. The mid-range pans had a warm, natural tone that’s seldom heard when a steelband is amplified.

Seemingly lost in the music, the band played for an hour nonstop. Realizing their time was up, Mr. Bernard quickly introduced the group. I didn’t catch all the names, but I’m sure we’ll be hearing who they are in the future.

PESO was the opening act for the veteran reggae-fusion band Third World. And although most of the crowd came to hear the legendary group out of Jamaica, they were also treated to a blossoming steelband out of Brooklyn.

Pan Evolution at BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn 2022
Pan Evolution at BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn 2022

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