Week 6

February 8 - 14, 2004

PHOTOS BELOW of Panorama Semi-Finals Day

First, the results (large bands category only):

1. Exodus, 458
2. Witco Desperados, 450
3. Phase II (I knew they'd improve for semis...gotta keep our eyes on them), 447
4. Redemption Sound Setters, 438
5. Neal & Massey All Stars, 436
5. Skiffle Bunch, 436
7. Amoco Renegades, 428
8. Fonclaire, 418

Not making the cut to Finals:

9. Solo Pan Knights, 416
10. Katzenjammers 412
11. BWIA Invaders, 410.5
12. Hatters, 410
13. PSC Starlift, 404
14. Pambieri, 399
15. Birdsong, 398

Press reports: Exodus Widens Panorama Lead

And now the pictures...

1) On the way to the Savannah for Semi-finals, we passed the Promenade, the heart Port of Spain. It's early on a Saturday, and so the streets are clean and empty. Most of the time, this place is a real zoo, with taxis, maxi taxis, pedestrians, push carts, vagrants, working people...everyone. Today, the action is at the Savannah, so on we go...

2) I took a picture of this little ramp last week. This time, the place looks a lot different! The stands are full of people. This is the main grandstand that you see here. People who want to just sit down and listen to the bands' performances sit in this stand. The other side is the North Grandstand, which is where the big party is. It looks very much like a European soccer match, with people waving banners, drummers playing, and people dancing from wall to wall. Rum flows like a cascade in the North Grandstand. But when the steel band competing is announced, even these folks sit down and listen. One of the medium-sized bands is rolling their racks up the ramp in this photo. Medium-sized bands go first, then they move on to the fifteen bands in the large band category. It will be hours before my band goes on this day; we drew tenth position.

3) The band's location once they're ready to play. They face to our left, where the judges are sitting. If you look carefully, you can see the people holding the banner on the right side (the back) of the band, and a flag-waver on the left side of the band. These are common additions to the bands to add pagentry and hype (and, often, to appease sponsors).

4) Back to the Exodus holding area, where the members are chillin' out before we have to be on our feet for several hours straight. From left to right is a scratcher player named Don (super nice guy), a tenor player that makes an extra buck by always having goodies to sell at Exodus rehearsals (candy bars, nuts, cigarettes, etc.), and two of our "iron men." The iron, originally a simple brake drum off of a car, is a key instrument in the band. It is played with metal rods, and the piercing sound carries long distances and clarifies the rhythm for those on the outside edges of the band. Exodus has five iron men, four scratcher players, two drumset players, two conga players, one timbale player, and a tock tock (wood block) player. Together, they constitute the "engine room" of the band.

5) Me in my official Exodus Semi-finals gear. I felt kind of silly in the bandana, but I would've felt a lot sillier not wearing it. I would later learn how to tie the bandana correctly, which gave me the intimidating presence they were after (I've never been much of a headwear guy, but you get the drift).

6) Two photos of the street scene as we make our way from the holding area to the entrance of the Savannah. It is a long path, and all the bands make the trip. During the process, which takes hours, the street is congested with pan racks and floats for as far as the eye can see. As a band finishes their performance at the grandstand and moves off, the line moves ahead about 50 yards, then stops. When stopped, most bands do play-throughs of their tune just to stay warmed up.

7) The closer you get to the end of the line, the more crowded the street and sidewalks become. People gather to listen to the bands warm up, take photos and videos, say hi to friends in the band, and size up the competition. They are also there to eat, drink, and be merry. Trinidadians use Panorama events as a warmup for themselves for Carnival (still two weeks away).

8) And this is what it looks like at the end of the line. We are about to go up and leave our hearts on the stage after eight minutes of intense pan playing. The north grandstand is visible in the background; it is absolutely packed and pulsating. Our banner is stretched across the ramp, ready to lead the parade onto stage. I am minutes away from my first experience on this stage, something I've dreamed about for many years. Several of my bandmates caught me grinning widely just after I took this photo.

9) In the loading area after the performance, Exodus's lead Flagman insists that I have my picture taken holding his Exodus flag "as proof that you were here, and that you were with us! Now you have proof, Mon!" I really just wanted to finish my bake n' shark and take a shower at this point, but I am kind of glad I have this picture (I still have a little bit of that grin on my face, don't I?).

10) Later that night, from my apartment just up the street from the panyard, I heard loud horns honking and people shouting. It turned out to be the Exodus motorcade making their triumphant return back to the yard.

Finals are in two weeks, on the 21st of February, at the Savannah again. Exodus will waste not a moment in getting back to rehearsals. No days off for the remaining stretch...not even tomorrow.