|Originally written for So Yu Goin to Carnival Magazine in 1997, the feeling communicated by well known and respected NYC Carnival journalist still holds up, even if the circuit is a bit dated.|
by Glenda Cadogan
So Okay! Maybe hopping around from carnival to carnival isn't your idea of a hobby.
this reporter, "ain't no better way" to spend the summer. So whereas most other
folks are a bit picky with their carnivals and may attend just one or two of the larger
ones, when it comes to carnival I "doh" discriminate. Big or small, I
getting' on bad in all. Well maybe the getting on part is a little
exaggerated. In fact, I view my role in the carnivals I attend as 75%
observer and 25% bacchanal.
As the true carnivalist that I am, I prefer to observe the trends, the structure, the growth of the old carnivals and the impact of the new ones. And of course I like to check out the movement of the Brooklyn posse. Some people may dispute my position on this issue but I firmly believe that what I call the "Brooklyn factor" is key to the success of many a North American carnival. Moreover, recent trends show that the carnival posse of the entire New York area is having a great impact on the mother of them all, Trini Carnival. But that is another story. The story of today is the chronicle of this reporter's carnival experience.
|This summer I visited a total of eight
carnivals in this region but for the purposes of my sanity, we'll only discuss seven.
(That is because I am still irate about my July 4th search for what was suppose
to be Plainfield, NJ carnival, only to find a few Hawaiian dancers and Orion band at the
end of a long trip).
So first stop was ATLANTA for the Memorial Day Peach Carnival. With Olympic fever in the air, the city was indeed living up to its re-christened name - Hot-Lanta. At every turn, from the plane ride to the parties, the talk was -- Olympics! Olympics! Next door to the carnival venue at Fulton Country Stadium, Peter Minshall and the rest of his crew were under a
veil of secrecy as they prepared for the opening ceremonies. But even with the Olympic fever in the air, I was unable to catch anything, much less a carnival fever. The carnival, having been around for at least eight years, should have been much bigger than it was. Even with the big city atmosphere of Atlanta, the carnival came off like a small town affair. Again I come back to the Brooklyn factor. For whatever reasons, New Yorkers are not big into the Atlanta thing. Maybe some opt instead for Orlando Carnival which takes place on the same weekend, or just stay at home to enjoy the unofficial start of the summer season, or go west to San Francisco. However, their absence was felt.
Another fact, which I think contributes to a lukewarm Atlanta carnival, is the absence of big name brass bands. My apologies to all the carnival purists. But the fact is that, live music bands have become the lifeblood of many carnivals. There is just not the same energy without the big bands. However, I did put in a few percentage points of my bacchanal time with "a half wine and a chook" with The Jam band, which was about the only live music available. Therefore I sum up my whole Atlanta experience as a desperate search for water. The Atlanta route is one in which there are no vendors and not even a corner store in sight, so your choices are -- dehydration or sticking it out until you get to the Stadium. Of course there is always the option of walking with your own water if you know what the deal is. Or the one I elected which was to beg, and I mean beg a woman for a drink of her bottled water. So a word to of advice to those wishing to visit Atlanta Carnival - walk wid yuh own water!
|Despite the disappointment of Atlanta, I was all "gung ho" by
the time WASHINGTON D.C. carnival rolled around on June 29th. So like the old Gulliver,
I was on the road again. (Or should that be Ronnie McIntosh?) This was my first visit to
the Capitol State for their carnival and I was hooked. Of all the carnivals in the region,
I think that Washington is one of the most diverse in terms of mas presentations. There
was a representation from almost every popular masquerade tradition - A " Wild "
Indian band complete with tassa drummers, a band of chutney dancers, a group of African
drummers with masquerades dressed in African prints and the best and biggest mud band I've
ever seen in these parts in recent times. Of course there was the traditional plumes and
feathers mas, interspersed with a touch of Hawaiian, a little ole' mas and of course an
"off duty" military mas and a traditional midnight robber. But in my opinion,
the mud band was the band of the year in Washington. Numbering about 100 strong, the band
was enticing. Like mud volcano they picked up steam as they proceeded along Martin Luther
King Boulevard. Washington was indeed a one day wonder, So look out D.C., Von Martin and
crew, I'll be back!
July 27th was the staging of the first ever JERSEY CITY Carnival. Nuff respect to the Jersey City organizers for their efforts. With a large contingent from Brooklyn lending support, the first time carnival came off great. Whether it was by design or chance, it was nice to see the parade being led off by African drummers accompanied by a beautifully dressed ancestral-like figure. This set the tone for what was indeed a beautiful day. What Jersey City also has going for them is their route. In fact, I'll be tempted to say they have one of the best carnival routes in these parts. Even Joyce Quamina of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association in New York was impressed by what she called a "fantastic route". The carnival culminated at Journal Square Park just overlooking the Hudson River. The water and the view all add to the ambiance. Watch out for Jersey City carnival in the next five years.
Next stop was EAST ORANGE carnival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary on August 17th this year. Again, I was disappointed in the ten-year effort. Instead of growing, the carnival seemed to have gotten smaller. And again there were no live music bands. In years past, KC and the International was much looked forward to in the Carnival. For whatever reason, this year, the local James Brown did not participate in the carnival at the level and he was missed. The show, which follows the parade, certainly needs a lot of work if East Orange is to continue attracting visitors. Its time that the organizers invest in having a proper sound system so the show could hold the interest of the eager spectators. If not, it may soon be "sour" Orange carnival.
Boy, did I have a ball in BOSTON. I believe that in Boston alone I may have used up my 25% bacchanal time. Boston had all the right ingredients that in this writer's opinion make a good carnival - live music, bands, street vendors, plenty mas and lots of visitors. The number of buses alone that pulled out of Brooklyn on the morning of August 25th could have filled the streets of Boston. Then there was Traffik, and Roy Cape and Burning Flames all providing sweet, sweet, soca music on the road. To top things off, there was also live steelband music from at least three bands. Also present were all the top big sound DJ's trucks from our parts including Sound Vibration and Massive Tony Soul. Though I enjoyed the carnival parade itself, the highlight of the day was when Police confiscated several cases of beers that were being sold illegally from the basement of a church on the parade route. If de priest could play, who is we!
Now that the "Soca bell done ring" in good old Trinidad and Tobago, it's time for all carnival massive to get ready for February. As for me, I'll continue to monitor trends in carnivals and plan to target at least ten next year. So if by chance you spot someone in a band with one foot in the air and pen and paper in hand, look out, it just might be me.