Staged Shows by Jamaican/Caribbean Nationals

I enjoy attending most staged shows by Jamaicans. Pretty much any where because I know I will get that authentic Jamaican/Caribbean vibe. Now, a part of that authenticity may extend to – hmmm – late starts, long band changes, and even being subjected to a boring, and in some cases extremely boring emcee. Or, worse, promoters emceeing their own shows for what is considered long periods on stage. What’s that all about? The narcissistic complex at play?

The end of May and in particular Memorial Day weekend is typically viewed by northeasters as the beginning of summer. Whether one is in school or not, after months of wearing jackets and coats, the two months of July and August is generally viewed as a time of fun and joy by all ages, race and ethnic groups!

In many American cities, during the hot summer months, the City’s Parks & Recreation Departments provide numerous FREE concerts and only ask for a donation in many cases. In New York City , for example, the annual SummerStage held in Central Park have been the home for numerous international and world-class acts in the performing arts. These acts can range from music, plays, spoken word, dancing, etc. to comedy acts. In Brooklyn , Borough President, Marty Markowitz continue with the concerts at Wingate Field and there is Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Over the years these free concerts are known to host numerous Caribbean acts…

After many years in the business, few can still understand my hobby of attending staged shows and the ensuing passion. Moreover, my ability to evaluate productions that I personally attend and in some cases am involved in and equally enjoy myself. That, I have come to realize is the true essence of Caribbean professional culture and guess what? It’s priceless! But more important, it can be taught. I welcome any students.

Penn Relays ( Philadephia , PA ) – Scatty’s Rating – Excellent! 10 fingers up!
My summer actually begin at the end of April (which is really spring) with the staging of Penn Relays at the University of Pennsylvania . While this staged athletic show is not run by Jamaicans per se officially. The unofficial Jamaican motto of ‘we run tings’ attitude and, in this case, it’s literal as young Jamaican athletes run to break records and take over Philadelphia for the Penns weekend.

Known as – the largest track and field event in the U.S.A. – and affectionately referred to as “Penns” bys Jamaican track and field fans, I bundle up along with a group of friends and descend upon Philadephia in a sea of green and yellow. This trip to the youth athletic mecca in Philadelphia has become an annual pilgrimage for many track and field coaches, fans, professionals and anyone associated with the sport. The summer is on for me!
Really, Jamaicans have made such a mark on this event it’s also called the Relay Carnival! Go figure? – is what they say in NY. I recommend it to any Jamaican – even, Jamaicans living in Jamaica .

It is a sight to behold when our – and I say it with such pride – I repeat – OUR young Jamaican athletes are on the track – and OUR nationals all get up to cheer on any high school out of Jamaica. Whilst the “Champs” secondary school competitiveness lingers on for many, it’s a matter that any win is a win for the ‘land we love.’ No digital or ‘photo moments’ can give you that experience to see the entire Ben Franklin Stadium swathed in green and yellow. We excitedly await each outcome on the finish line and the curve of the back stretch for either a 200m or a 400m and as for the cacophony of cheers. It’s quite an experience…and like the JTB ad associated with Jamaicans – it’s hard to talk about. It’s a matter of “once you go, you know” – smile.

Can you imagine my amazement and extreme joy when I saw a few from yard in the stands earlier this year? Some even told me it’s become an annual trek for them, too, straight from yard. So for the die-hard track and field fans you already know about this pride and joy amongst Jamaicans, but for the fringe Jamaicans who want to get involved in seeing our up and coming athletes in action before they hit the world stage – it’s a mus – come to Penn Relays. It’s the biggest green and yellow experience in all of North America ! And usually the start of the brilliant sport careers on the stateside of our young athletes. Pretty much a natural progression from the annual Boys’ and Girls’ Championships; affectionately known to us as “Champs” and Gibson Relays – both held in Jamdown, of course.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity here to congratulate Asafa on his world record win, Veronica Campbell on how well she did at the World Championship and all our other athletes. Also, special mention of this year’s 2007 Penn Relays is St. Jago, anchored by Johan Blake, who ran 39.96 for a Penn Relays record, the first sub-40 ever at he Penn Relays.

“Best of the Best” Reggae Concert – Bicentennial Park – Miami , Florida -Scatty’s Rating – None
So the usual signal of summer in North America for the staged musical shows, the end of May, Memorial Week-end bash of staged reggae shows is apparently reserved for South Florida . Whereby, northeasters descend on Miami like you know when those crabs crawl across streets during their seasons. Certainly not my favourite time for Miami of course! Therefore, having attended a few of those Memorial Week-end very “touristy” shows it would have to have someone real special for me to attend. Not even Buju Banton (who can usually draw me to any venue, hmmm, pretty much, anywhere) can now pull me back to that particular styled show at that particular venue for that particular time of the year.

And so, I did not attend this year’s holiday opener but I heard numerous comments by friends and read at least two articles with very polarized views

A Miami Herald writer/journalist? Evelyn McDonnell wrote that, “Buju Banton, one of several Jamaican artists who have been boycotted for encouraging violence against women,..”
Many of us who have followed reggae’s happenings over the years do not remember any boycott of Buju due to his lyrics encouraging violence against women? I understand some concerned reggae fans wrote the Miami Herald challenging Ms. McDonnell’s statement. I don’t recall anyone receiving answers from her or the newspaper.

On the contrary women tend to enjoy Buju’s songs because he talks about nuff women issues including their looks, body, romance wid a Jamaican rude bwoy, women’s powerful sexuality and the competitive nature of women to each other and in the Jamaican scenario what it takes to “keep a man”. McDonnell article ended, “Best of the best? How about worst of the same old.”

Jonathan Cunningham referred to “Best Of The Best” as a star-studded reggae extravaganza and wrote that, “Buju Banton was the artist who stole the show ..” He ended his article, stating, “Best of the Best was off the chain, and with Bounty and Movado, closing it out, it’ll be a long time before Miami sees another reggae show like that.”

Hmm, let’s see, one is scheduled for early October on Carnival week-end.

Westchester Reggae Fest (NYC) – Scatty’s Rating – 1 thumb down!
It was a toss-up between two thumbs down or one. And to spoof off of Assassin – him ‘no wan no boring gal’ and in my case man or show! I chose one thumb because there were some memorable performances. So while not being the artistes’ fault and I must take this opportunity of complimenting our Jamaican artistes – they never fail to make us happy. That’s really the crux. Our numerous excellent and professional artistes tend to save the disgraceful productions and bad promoters.

Of the acts I saw, Buju Banton, Marcia’ Griffiths and to some extent Shaggy saved this overall “pop down” show of extensive band changes, seeing the same act of a young protégé far too many times on stage during “prime time” and not to mention the boring emcee of his own extremely unorganized and boooring show. So even though it was a 10th Anniversary of this show, no less, it would have been, in this case, that less is more!

Reggae Sumfest ’07 ( Montego Bay , Ja) -Scatty’s rating – Good – 2 thumbs up!
And Excellent! 10 Fingers for the Mary J performance – ‘diggety diggety bomb Bomb’, Jack Bauer “24” style!
I was fortunate to be in New York on a trip in June for the North American press launch at S.O.B.’s for this annual Jamaican summer event scheduled for mid July. The organizers announced a line-up to whet any reggae appetite and then some! I looked forward to attend not only because Buju, Morgan Heritage, Ninjaman, Lady Saw, Chaka Demus & Pliers, and Half Pint to name a few of the big reggae acts were scheduled but because Mary J. Blige would be there!

How awesome! The last time I saw Mary J perform in person was at a Ralph McDaniel’s birthday party in New York City in the mid- 1990’s when I worked for WYNC-TV and Video Music Box. (Oh, I also saw her perform one song for a live-to-tape performance while I worked at a NYC television station for Top of the Pops English chart.) Ralph’s Video Music Box was off the charts in the 1980’s and 1990’s and possibly still is – in the big apple showing the strong eastside of rap and hip hop – hey Biggie Small was shooting up the charts then.

The six Grammy award winner, Mary J. did NOT disappoint. Mary obliged Jamaica with her special brand of hip hop soul and left her indelible stamp on the island as to why she is called the Queen of hip hop soul and R&B. Her performance was, as my friend would call a “24” show, the ‘diggety diggety bomb Bomb’, Jack Bauer “24 stylee!

In fact, we got more than a performance and according to Mary it’s a therapy session for both her and audience. What a musical cleansing! What a professional! What Talent! I smiled, I laughed, I cheered and I wiped the tears from behind my glasses not wanting to fog them up and miss anything. I was mesmerized. Mary held us spell bound and in court. When she finally belted out the strains of one my faves – Love Me As I Am – I was in musical hysteria. I usually listen to this song alone in my car loving every single line in that song and to see her on stage, right in front of me, – it was all over for me! She gave. We, the audience just simply took. We gave back in our thunderous cheers, applause and full appreciation of this mega-talented woman who did not skip a beat on stage. To each of us much is given. Mary got a lot and she gave a lot.

Press matters were attended to by Marcia McDonnough who did a great job in ensuring the press was taken care of before arrival in Jamaica , upon arrival and for the duration of the event. I spent four days in Montego Bay . Big up Marcia and her team!

My main contention these days, however, regarding the area reserved for the press of these staged shows is what is becoming, apparently, the practice of the industry, to include press and VIP in the same area. A similar problem was encountered at Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues earlier this year as well. Not good or additional precautions need to be taken to ensure a good working environment for the press. Here are individuals at work and especially for photographers the hand bouncing that is endured is well, bothersome. It cannot be the same expectation for a patron who spent plenty money – even the free ticketholders – smile – and deservedly so, to not jump and dance and not expect them to place their chairs any and which where?

The gate from the Press and VIP areas in to the front of stage area was, and I mean, no exaggeration here, one extremely small gate for a huge throng of crowd to pass through. It led to numerous bottle necks before and after the popular and major performances. Extremely annoying, especially to the press who needed to move to the Press Tent quickly to conduct follow-up interviews. Oono mus can do better, lawks man.

But that did not detract from the overall quality of this well-produced event for that matter. Overall, Sumfest is still to me a “tourist” show. Getting to be a much likeable tourist show but still a tourist show. The acts tend to be short on dancehall night. (So, Sting still takes that trophy of being the best one-night dancehall show on earth – it’s mega watts dancehall when it comes on to Sting at Christmas in Ja.) This dancehall format, however, works for the Sumfest crowd, it would appear. Really, who can guage that audience response when more than likely each year the make-up of the audience is probably quite different as visitors change from year to year.

It is also a well organized affair which is to be expected after so many years. So, all in all, I had a fantastic time in Jamaica’s second city and moreso, because I worked in Montego Bay for some time in the hotel industry and came to enjoy Jamaica’s West. I had a great time this year as I met up with friends living and working in North America along with my bonafide Jamaicans – you know ‘in de struggle’ daily; living and working in Jamdown!

August – Independence Celebrations for Jamaica & Trinidad & Tobago
There are numerous Independence celebrations for both countries all over. Choose one. Some have more of a cultural bent than other.

For the end of August in New York City I saw the age-old problem among reggae promoters of 3 back-to-back reggae concerts scheduled in less than a week apart. Reggae Carifest at Randall’s Island, a Hot 97 On The Reggae Tip concert for Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan and what has become an annual Irie Jamboree in Queens . And, interestingly, the line-up was pretty much the same artistes.

I did not attend Carifest or on the Reggae Tip. Mixed reviews were reported by friends. Carifest, I understand, which was coming under scrutiny by a particular group said they enjoyed thoroughly Buju’s and Ninjaman’s performances. They felt attendance was great. Others said attendance not so great.

Reggae Tips’ attendance I heard was good and the concert fine.

Irie Jamboree ( Queens , NY ) -Scatty’s Rating – 1 Thumb Up!
I attended and came away with mixed feelings unlike last year’s when the highlight then was seeing Buju and Beres on stage performing together.

The anticipated marquee performer, Stephen Marley’s performance was short-lived and we heard only 3 songs. In fact, friends begun leaving from early. And, under duress from my friend I, too, was walking out of the park during Welcome to Jamrock grumbling and complaining. The concert then ended.

West Indian Day Carnival ( Brooklyn , NY ) – Scatty’s Rating – 1 Thumb Up!
Labour Day Week-end in New York of course cannot be mentioned without the Parkway….no reggae trucks…was the cry of the people?

6th Annual Jamaican Jerk Festival ( Fort Lauderdale , FL ) – Scatty’s Rating – Good – 2 Thumbs Up!
Possibly now, the true end of summer Jamaican/Caribbean staged show in North America is the Jamaican Jerk Festival – South Florida’s Biggest Caribbean Food Festival – held in Fort Lauderdale . This year’s 6th annual event and sponsored by Air Jamaica , is my third festival and it only gets better. Each year I see a team aggressively addressing the various issues after each event. Patrons’ entrance and exits from the venue, parking, corporate relations and the entertaining of the various age groups taken into consideration. And, of course, the availability of good jerk food and so one does not hear by 7 p.m. or there abouts “food run out, food done!”

They offered much for a ticket of $7.00 and children FREE. That’s the magic word really for any consumer in today’s 21st century – Free – and as we would say, “it cyan come better dan dat!” It’s a mus on the Caribbean South Florida calendar for September and a fitting end to the summer staged shows.

This year gates opened early at 10:00 a.m. with cricket, netball and a domino tournament. They did not start exactly at that time but all organizers of each event were seen in place getting ready for the day. By noon the domino tournament was in full swing with some engrossed men and women ready for competition. Music was everywhere you walked. By midday the two cultural stages opened and I was so happy to see young Nadje Leslie on violin along with comedians, Ity and Fancy straight from yard. Jamaica Cultural Revue is never one to disappoint. By then the crowds were everywhere.

In fact upon discussing the merits of this event I enquired of a friend while we walked around the festival grounds last Sunday if they had ever attended a high school bar-b-q in Kingston or a high school fete back home. They person looked at me little dubious as if to ask where I would be taking this comparison.

I explained to the person that back in the late ‘70’s when I attended high school bar-b-q’s which was a known fundraising tool employed by high schools and even churches. I remember the many years roaming the Liguanea areas to sell bar-b-q tickets to my neighbours for the Sts. Peter & Paul Church bar-b-q.

Back then the Campion College bar-b-q was quite the thing. In fact, a pretty similar group of youngsters attended both the Campion College bar-b-q’s and the Sts. Peter & Paul Church’s bar-b-q. Maybe this was so, because they were both held at the same venue on the Campion College school grounds. But every high school bar-b-q had it’s own following and each year they vied with each other for the best in entertainment. I guess the food was always good.

Our older relatives/folks were known to literally park themselves at one of those picnic benches usually as far up or as far back as they could stand the volume of the music and proceeded to enjoy the night’s activities. Many of these youngsters, me included, never saw the members of their families throughout the night, except in passing and many others, too, deliberately stayed far from those benches, until the end of the bar-b-q.
Well, the Jerk Festival is a perfect cross between that ole’ “high school bar-b-q” experience, a high school fete (it didn’t last till the wee hours of any Saturday or Sunday morning unless the school was not Catholic), a good garden party (this I’m made to understand from older folks), a variety concert, throw in some good cultural performances and to top it off a Jamaica Carnival atmosphere of ‘lift u leg up’, ‘wine u waist now’ and led by Jamaica’s carnival maestro Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires. It then becomes quite an experience, not just associated with jerk and Caribbean carnival but also the weather – Hot, Hot Hot!

While many waited in vain in the rain to “Roll It Gal” Allison Hind’s style, Ms Hinds to her and the organizers credit waited for over one hour during torrential downpours hoping that the original Barbadian princess, Allison Hinds ( I guess we can call her Queen now due to experience, motherhood and maturity and leave Princess for the other Barbadian songstress, the young Rihanna.) We sure could have used some “umbrella’s,” and according to my less than three-year old cousin ‘ella’s, ‘ella’s” then and there. However, Allison’s performance was not to be and I can personally attest to the fact that Allison Hinds was very disappointed that she could not perform due to the weather and in fact, was looking forward to a great performance as evidenced by the energy of the crowd.

Surprize guest artiste, Sizzla Kolongi tore the place down! Freddie McGregor was seen quite at home because South Florida is his home, moving through the crowd especially back stage where he was seen greeting numerous friends and professional colleagues. He was not billed for the show, but without a doubt, Freddie is one of Jamaica ’s musical icons and many call a true reggae ambassador. For me, Freddie ‘big ship rolling on the ocean’ McGregor is the epitome of a Reggae Statesman. He was seen engrossed in conversation with last year’s Digicel Rising Stars, One Third backstage giving, I’m sure, some tips on how to survive and sustain longevity in the reggae business.

And so, another summer finally ended of staged shows known for their high entertainment value and brought to you by authentic Jamaican/Caribbean Nationals.