I can recall three years ago sitting on an HTS program panel to review the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival with host Teddy Francis. Louis Lewis, the Director of Tourism at the Saint Lucia Tourist Board; organizers of the festival, was also a guest on the recalled TV show. Asked by the host about my recommendations for the event going forward I did not hesitate to say that the final day was often too lengthy and should be cut down. My argument then was simple. The event ran for an average of ten days with many people taking in more than one event during the festival. Come the last day, many were worn out.
Having more than three acts, with an average of half an hour between set change-overs, also compounded the problem. And by the time the last act came on, some were too tired to fully appreciate the show, some were inebriated, while others simply wanted to head home to get ready for work next day.
Sunday’s Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts finale suffered all of the symptoms I highlighted back then, and more. The event featured six acts. By the time the headliner Maxwell came on he was singing to an almost empty Pigeon Island Park.
Earlier in the day BlueMango and Monty Alexander had soothed the audience with some wonderful jazz music. Then Tessanne Chin took the stage and it was all over. For many, including me, not only did she bring her star power to the event, but her performance was phenomenal. It could have ended right there. But, the Commodores were up next and these fellas from the sixties tried their best to get the crowd going with their bag of hits—minus Lionel Ritchie. They were okay.
By the time the Commodores got off stage sometime after nine, many waited for what they thought was the last act, R&B crooner Maxwell. But that was not to be. From what I heard, a certain fella with the initials PB negotiated with the SLTB for a certain unknown singer Leela James to come on ahead of Maxwell. That was the deal.
And so as she screamed, wailed and danced, some had had enough and started walking out of the park.
Maxwell’s stage arrival was a little after 10 pm and a few patrons and die hard fans had stayed on to hear their favourites including “Pretty Wings,” “Fortunate” and “This Woman’s Work,” among others. By the time he hit the final note, the audience was down to less than a quarter of the approximately five thousand attending that day. The numbers certainly paled in comparison to last year’s Pigeon island finale.
The 2014 Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival kicked off on April 30 at the Mindoo Phillip Park to record attendance. The crowd was estimated at just over nine thousand. The Caribbean Party featured Skinny Fabulous, Kerwyn Dubois, Evalucian, Mr Killa, Ricky T, Superman HD and DYP who kept the audience alive with their soca and party hits. The headline act Jamaican dancehall performer Popcaan, failed to pop and instead was a huge flop.
The real highpoints of this year’s event undoubtedly were the community events, including Soufriere Jazz with headliner Kassav, Jazz on the Bay as well as Fond D’Or Jazz featuring Morgan Heritage. Even Labowi promotions with Jazz in the South at Rudy John Beach Park must be commended for organizing a wonderful treat of creole and Caribbean jazz.
The arts component of the event has certainly mushroomed nicely too. Headphunk’s Blu Session, despite being somewhat lengthy, was a wonderful event at the courtyard. The mix of spoken word and original music worked well. Then there was the Saturday market in Rodney Bay organized by the CDF. Not only was this a great showcase for local artisans, but it gave visitors the freedom to buy local pieces away from the din at Pigeon Island. Having the arts at the entrance to main-stage events, as well as on the side-stage during change-overs was also a very good concept, and well executed.
And then there is Hot Couture. This fashion event has certainly found a place within the festival and is destined to become the premier fashion event in the region.
As far as main-stage events go, the Jazz showcase at Gaiety Thursday with Omar Sosa and Dee Dee Bridgewater was mind-blowing. This component has got to stay.
Friday night’s Caribbean Party at Pigeon Island on the other hand repeated almost the same theme as the opening. Organizers would do better with a music parade featuring an authentic New Orleans band like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, mixed with some local acoustic and drum bands. That said, Barrington Levy stole the top spot on the night with TJ and Alison Hinds in second. I’m still waiting to hear the strings from Alternative Quartet instead of a loud drummer and music sampling.
Amidst the excitement of Chef Nina’s cuisine on Saturday, Elvis Crespo brought the house down. I got to see and hear my personal favourite Kem perform “Love Calls,” among others even though I would have also appreciated “Glorify the King.” P-Square for what they were worth entertained the audience on Saturday. The Nigerian twins also brought to the fore the “bring back our girls” campaign, highlighting the problem facing their homeland while on stage.
And as I mentioned earlier, an oversaturated audience with high expectations turned out Sunday, only to be blind-sided by a finale that was an anti-climax.
Going forward I can only hope that my friends on the SLTB committee like Ronald “Boo” Hinkson, Thaddeus Antoine, Dwayne Mendes and Teddy Francis will have the gonads to put an end to the Sunday Jazz Finale chaos. They should instead recommend a leaner Sunday show with fewer acts and a more nostalgic headliner à la Air Supply, UB40 or Earth Wind & Fire such as we have had in the past.
The savings from this cutback can now be pumped into the arts component, culinary showcases, the community events and the well oiled Labowi promotions, thus creating a unique niche with a truly creole and Saint Lucian flavor, which can once and for all cement the rebranding of the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival.