With the 2003 New York pan season now officially underway there is lots of band activity on the weekends, and on Saturday July 12 Crossfire Steel Orchestra's launch was at its pan yard on East 45th Street in Brooklyn. Pan people turned out for both a serving of barbecue and pan music, as the launch was also a fund- raising event for the steel orchestra.
An improved Pan Phonics, first in the lineup of guest steel orchestras set an energetic pace for the evening, with pan lovers comprising in some cases three generations of families, making the most of the weekend weather, available eats and of course the music. As the sun began to go down Despers USA who had their own launch last weekend, graced the 'stage' with their particular feel for fine pan playing as the next guest artistes .
The southern end of East 45th St. had been closed off with vehicles and CASYM Steel Orchestra was fully set up at that point, with Sonatas Steel Orchestra pans also at the ready inside Crossfire's actual pan yard. Radoes Steel Orchestra and Utopia Pan Soul: the Next Generation who rounded off the advertised list of guest steelbands, were expected to put in an appearance later on.
Without knowing exactly what arrangements were made, and which permits were acquired by Crossfire management prior to hosting this event, it is not possible to make factual statements on the later turn of events. But based on how an evening and night of sweet pan music that brought together the young and old of a community, eventually came to a 'close', some re-working on arrangements for the hosting of steelband-related events in general may well merit a second look.
The first signs that problems were afoot were New York Police Department cops making CASYM pack up their pans, and moving inside the pan yard, and re-opening the street, which led several patrons to ask if a permit to block off 45th St. for the Crossfire event been secured. Nevertheless, CASYM moved briskly inside, and Pan Phonics, whose pans were still outside after their session, also vacated the sidewalk. The NYPD's final request for the moment was every pan patron clear the sidewalk completely, and that no one remain outside. As the organizers struggled to comply with this rapid-fire round of directives, Sonatas began their stint inside Crossfire's now over-crowded pan yard, with a couple hundred pan people vying for a space along with CASYM who were now fully re-located inside in preparation for their performance. Accommodating and adjustable as pan people are, they settled in to make the best of a rapidly changing situation.
Sonatas wasted neither the time nor the attention of the pan connoisseurs, as they made sure that every musical minute counted. However even though the band had the ear (and feet) of almost every person in attendance, about twenty minutes into their performance, it became obvious that the NYPD's impact was becoming a major factor.
There was still a spill over of people on the sidewalk because of the crowded conditions inside, and there was an interruption in Sonatas performance as the organizers tried to get across to the crowd that an NYPD shut down of the launch was imminent if the sidewalk was not cleared immediately. Even stepping outside to take a cell phone call sans steelband music, was enough to turn the attention of NYPD to me to inform that I had to "go inside". It was at the point where their 'clearing of the sidewalk' outweighed any common sense.
Sonatas was eventually able to complete their set, but an obviously disappointed young set of CASYM pan players (one looked merely about seven years old) who were onlookers while Sonatas went through their paces, never got to play but were forced to dismantle their pans and pack them back into the U-haul van - much to the chagrin of the patrons as well. CASYM had now set up and taken down their pans twice - without being allowed to play a single note.
Needless to say - Radoes and Utopia never made it to the launch, as the word spread fast that things were not going as hoped. Hosts Crossfire Steel Orchestra who would have been the evening's final entertainers of course did not have the opportunity to play either. This fundraiser/launch had been advertised to run until 2:00 AM, but with NYPD's shutting things down completely just after 10:00 PM, some pan lovers were once again questioning if the organizers actually had permission to go until that time.
In the end it did not matter - as the law prevailed. So disappointed grandparents and grandchildren, parents and children, aunts, uncles, friends, teenagers, etc. were all forced to call it a night.
It might be possible to have some paperwork evidencing that events like this have been officially sanctioned - of course with the pre-requisite actions of approaching the relevant Precinct and obtaining necessary permissions. This way hopefully all concerned maybe in the loop. Additionally - by now, all organizers are well aware that this is not "Trinidad" and people spilling over onto the sidewalks (no matter how small in number) along with music - especially attract the ire of the NYPD, and attempting to cajole a group of disinterested cops at a steelband event may not be the effective. Finally - instead of having an advertised wide window of time e.g. 12 Noon to 2 AM - maybe a tighter time frame and earlier finish - would be more in keeping with Mayor Bloomberg's "Operation Silent Night" which is now in full effect.
Otherwise - with other upcoming steelband launches there could well be more disappointing but not altogether unexpected developments such as what occurred at the Crossfire launch. And let us not forget that Operation Silent Night predicates similar NYPD interventions at nightly practices sessions in New York pan yards until Panorama (August 30, 2003).
By CP - Basement Press Release Writer
Some young pannists from Pan
Pan Phonics on the sidewalk
and in the street
A short distance away from where Pan Phonics played, Despers USA set up in the street to entertain the onlookers, seated and standing
Despers USA was the second band to play
Youngsters look on as Sonatas
With supporters crammed