April 28, 2003 Steel pan bands old and new took to the stage Sunday night at Lionel Roberts Stadium. Eighteen musical acts participated in this year's Steel Band Jamboree, with groups as familiar as the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra to newcomers like the Frederick Lutheran Church Steel Band.
Music fans, once crowding the stadium on steel pan nights, have yet to return in large numbers since the V.I. Carnival Committee started charging admission, but that didn't stop the performers from entertaining a few hundred parents, visitors and band boosters who cheered them on Sunday night.
Among those standing at the front of the stage was an executive from North Carolina who came to see what the jamboree was all about. "This is something unique to the islands, and I think the children take it for granted," said Priscilla Jordan-Williams. "They don't have anything like this in the States."
Backstage, one nonchalant performer left the stage covered in sweat, his drumsticks still in hand. Akeem Dawson and his fellow members of the Bertha C. Boschulte Burning Blazers Band had just blazed their way through three numbers, when an instructor from another band rushed up to Dawson to praise him. He accepted the compliments modestly.
Dawson has been playing the drums since he was in fourth grade.
The University of the Virgin Islands Family Life Center Steel Band rolled along on a trolley, and two more bands hustled pans into position on stage, getting ready for their turns.
It was close to twilight and six of the bands had already played, striking up in turn after a prompt program start at 5 p.m.
Sts. Peter and Paul Angels of Steel joined a list of pan perennials from Antilles School (Steel Hurricanes), Ulla Muller School (Panatics), Montessori School (Meteors) and E. Benjamin Oliver Elementary (Owls).
Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra followed, rolling in on a red and yellow, double-decker trolley lined with blinking white Christmas lights.
Rising Stars director John Hodge smiled at his students' efforts.
On Monday the pan orchestra will honor the director's father, the late Gerald Hodge, at a ceremony sponsored by the Territorial Court. This year's Carnival Village is named Gerry's Place in honor of Hodge, who died two weeks ago.
"We're supposed to play the national anthem, the V.I. March and some kind of tribute song," John Hodge said. "I don't know what it will be yet."
But the director said he was sure his father would approve, and would be there in spirit to enjoy the moment. "Who knows?" John Hodge said. "He may have the best seat in the house."
Seated on the rails of the backstage stairs, members of the group Hymns, Prayers and Praises waited to launch into a melodious medley in the footlights at center stage. Most of their songs had a classic theme, but other bands chose more festive numbers.
The V.I. Housing Authority Youth Steel Orchestra chose a calypso, "If You for Me," and a rendering of "Maria, Maria" by Carlos Santana.
The Charlotte Amalie High School Mellow Hawks, St. Thomas All Stars, and two new bands — Insomnia Knights and Frederick Lutheran Church Steel Band followed the VIHA group. Musical marchers from Pan in Motion wrapped up the night's events.
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