By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
I have always insisted that, regardless of who ran the carnival festival, the parade was always a hit; as spectacular and as magnificent as ever.
Which means that I usually give the credit to the people who design, build and present the lavish costumes that we have come to expect each year and which draw the crowds from far and near.
And, from all accounts, this year was no different as far as the spectacle was concerned, at least from those bands we were able to see. But, for those we were not able to see – the bands that were barred from entering the parade because of an imposed time limit – not so much.
But more on that in a while.
The crowds were indeed much smaller this year than in previous years. But there could be a number of reasons for this. The heat! Wow! Some of the experts say it was above 40 degrees. It kept the emergency services busy all day attending to parade-goers in distress.
Then, of course, there were the Olympics. Many people would have stayed home (or gone to their favourite watering hole) to view the events in which they were interested. A lot of Americans, whose athletes have been kicking butt (hey, Gabby Gibson) might also have passed up on their annual Toronto visit to cheer on their favourites.
And, sadly, because of the recent spate of gun crimes in the city, many folks may have just decided that it wasn’t worth taking the chance. Actually, we heard from some people who said as much. This last one should concern the organizers the most since it is a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away, unfortunately.
The other problem organizers will have to concern themselves with is the fact that a number of people might have stayed away because they are beginning to feel alienated from the festival. I have heard from people who said they don’t feel this is their festival anymore; it is not the same; those running it don’t seem to know what they are doing; there are too many changes taking place, moving the festival away from its roots and diluting its essence, etc.
There is, however, another one of which very little has been written. And that is the way the actual parade is being handled. This is not a new problem; it is not the fault of any one group of organizers, it is something that has gone on for years.
I am referring to the many delays that take place during the parade which would have bands actually parked at one spot for very long periods for no apparent reason, resulting in long delays between bands, for one thing. This has begun to make the parade very boring.
And, that is why some bands get shut out. The police used to shut the entrance to Lake Shore Boulevard at 6 p.m. so that the estimated three-hour-long parade will conclude by 9 p.m. while there is still daylight. This year, with no known explanation, the gate was shut at 5 p.m. leaving three bands stranded. That is not fair to those bands and the masqueraders who waited an entire year to participate and who spent their money like everyone else to enjoy the parade.
Many are placing the blame on the people responsible for parade management and security. I wonder, though, if some of the bands themselves – especially the larger ones – shouldn’t bear some of the blame.
Last year I stood at that stupid, ugly fence and watched one of the biggest and most successful bands parked just in front of me for close to an hour (at least that’s how long it seemed to me) as the bandleader just walked around chatting with band members while there was room ahead as far as the eye could see. So, why were they stopped there for so long?
A woman told me that when she went to one mas’ camp last year to pick up a costume for her daughter, a fellow there asked her which band she was playing with. When she answered him, and he realized it was a band that would follow his, he replied to her: “We go block all yuh!”
Is that what it is all about? And, if so, why?
While there has been a lot of talk about the bandleaders trying to work together, we have to wonder if that isn’t only talk. We know that they are very competitive and, of course, that is par for the course; this parade is also a competition. But blocking other bands or holding up the parade for whatever other reason is very wrong. Some say the large bands hold up the parade to wait for the crowds to show up to see their presentations. Others say it is to give their members more time to jump up and dance. While these may or may not be true, people have been coming up with all sorts of possible explanations for years because no one can understand why this is happening.
And, what about the organizers? You wanted to run the festival, now you have it, run it properly! Where are your marshals and security people? Where is the parade’s general manager who was imported (re-imported?) from Trinidad to run it?
It seems as though these new owners of the carnival are more interested in making money and finding ways to wring more money out of the carnival-viewing public than to ensure that the parade is well-organized and well-run. Or they are really out of their depth; they don’t know what they are doing. (Who holds an all-night fish-fry at carnival?)
Of course, we already know that they don’t care about the people who come to see the parade for free, but they should remember that these are the people who drop that $450-million into the economy each year, filling up the hotels at up to three times the regular rate, packing the restaurants, and availing themselves of many of our other goods and services. And the bandleaders should understand that if they don’t get their act together and begin to do right, people will stop coming to the festival, the money will begin to dry up; the donors will continue to reduce their funding and you will be out on your … well, you get my drift.