Jazz 2011: If it ain’t broke . . .

If I could pay so much for my outfit to come here, organizers can afford to put out some money to up the wow factor of Jazz,” a friend remarked as we made our way around the Pigeon Island National Landmark at Sunday jazz. It sounded funny, but it made sense. Anyone who’d attended the festival for a consecutive amount of years would have realized by now that not much has changed—and for an event that’s supposed to be the 20th anniversary of St Lucia Jazz, the ‘same old’ was pretty much a letdown.
Could it be that the Tourist Board is resting on the fact that the numbers will come so they don’t bother to put together a wow show? If it ain’t broke dont fix it, type mentality. It was all a little too predictable, but then again, jazz isn’t really for locals anyway, right? So what does our opinion matter? That’s the furthest thing from the truth because the fact of the matter is a large number of international patrons of the St Lucia Jazz Festival are repeat guests, and obviously they’re going to notice they’re paying more money for the same thing, or less as Jazz progresses.
One of the key features from years prior was left out of the mix this year. At jazz events over the years people have grown accustomed to, and even looked forward to see the ladies decked in carnival wear, promoting one of the island’s biggest events to people from all over the world.
Apart from the music on the side stage and short clips on the viewing screens, carnival promotion didn’t seem much of a priority this year. Not that carnival promotion should overtake the festival’s main intension, but as organizers have said before, it’s the perfect opportunity and time to market carnival and for that reason it should either be done in a memorable way, or not at all.
Perhaps the fact that the site is a national landmark and there must have been limitations as to just how much could be done to spruce up for Jazz should be taken into consideration. And surely the set up must have been affected by the fact that some parts of the grounds were waterlogged from recent rainy weather and not really fit for use. That would probably explain the precarious set up of the bathrooms.
Amid everything else were complaints that the bathrooms were too small. “What is this?” one woman remarked. “I’m seeing your toes; you’re seeing mine, what kinda thing is that?”
At that point I couldn’t help cracking up almost throwing my Blackberry into the bowl in my balancing act. Whoever had set up the bathrooms had done so in a manner that made you feel like you were about to topple over once you got in. Ah well, small matters. It was kept clean and freshly disinfected for the most part, and if relieving one’s self while off balance wasn’t your thing, you could simply walk a bit further to the park’s main washroom!
As with everything else, Jazz had its ups and downs, but when it was down, it really was a hopeless situation. Like at Saturday’s show when Trey Songz was about to come onstage. The front lines were littered with a number of young faces, some under sixteen and the force coming from the back from people who wanted to come up front was so intense that some of the girls were getting injured from being pushed hard against the metal barricade.
The MC stepped in before anything really tragic happened, and after what seemed like eternity the crowd calmed down enough for Trey to come on. Never in any other show have I seen such force used to calm down a crowd, it was pure mayhem for a while there, but then again those screaming girls were tough to control!
While officials tried their best to contain the crowd, there were confrontations between security and police officers and above it all I heard someone shout, “That’s not the place for that!”  At one point in the press area, during the melee before Trey Songz got onstage, one of the event’s security personnel approached a man who was also in the press area asking him roughly: “What are you doing in here? If you’re not taking pictures you can’t be in here, you have to get out!”  Now mind you a large number of people in there didn’t have cameras.
The press area was not only supposed to be made up of cameramen, but journalists and reporters as well. The man showed the security his pass and the guard said no more. The man he’d tried to embarrass was one of the members of John Legend’s band and he was holding an all access pass, which the security could have clearly seen if he’d taken the time to.
With a confused look on his face and the other band members looking on now uneasy because of the exchange, the musician remarked: “Is that how things work around here?”
The media was briefed beforehand that they could only record the earlier part of Trey’s performance and everyone was warned against flash photography.
Needless to say some didn’t comply and got the royal boot from the press area. Sadly though, even those who followed the instruction were soon kicked out of the press area as well in a pitiful case of Peter pays for Paul.
At another juncture, an official from the Tourist Board rounded up the press for a backstage interview with Yellowjackets. After their performance it was announced that they’d be conducting an interview after their CD signing.
We were all instructed to stand by for about 15 minutes and that we did—for almost half an hour. By that time the next artiste was about to take the stage and photographers and video people couldn’t exactly be in two places at once, again due to the limited, recently reduced (again) amount of passes media had in the first place. We waited outside the backstage entrance for a prolonged period until I finally got one of the security guards to ask what was going on. “The interview is already in progress,” she returned saying.
“But we’re supposed to be in there as well,” I explained. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
The only response from the female security was that she couldn’t let us in and rightly so because we didn’t have backstage passes, but where was the person who was supposed to escort us in?         “She’s busy now,” the male security said after going in to check for a second time. Frustration had already begun to set in, but we stuck around and finally the tourist board official came to speak with us. The interview was indeed already in progress and no, local press would not be a part of it.
We were informed that the band had to make their way back to the hotel and was only doing two interviews, one of which was an exclusive with international press, so what were we, chopped liver?
The whole thing was disorganized to say the least, and even officials didn’t seem to know what was really going on.
We took the incident for what it was, another let down not entirely unexpected. But the show went on, wowed some, disappointed others, but one thing that could not be disputed was the impact the Festival had on the island’s entertainment scene.
A vibrant mix of people from all over the Caribbean and the world had come to see performers Haiti, Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, Cuba,  Jamaica, St Lucia and more.
As one frequent Jazz goer told the STAR after the show: “Jazz was great. I mean in the few years of the festival it has become less about jazz, more the meeting together of minds, physical body and spirit of Caribbean people. It’s a melting pot. It’s less to do with the music than just hanging out together and enjoying life, which is a gift.”

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