It begins, as it does every year, in the dark hour before the sun has even thought about rising. It ends seven hours later in a pumping, writhing mass of humanity that has snaked its way through Frederiksted and spent itself at the north end of town at the entrance to the festival village.
J’Ouvert 2012 drew thousands of people Wednesday morning to the west end of St. Croix for its annual, uninhibited romp as part of the Crucian Christmas Carnival.
A few minor scuffles were reported and quickly quelled by the heavy police presence, but unlike last year, no incidents or violent outbreaks caused the V.I. Police Department to shut it down before everyone reached the end of the route. At least 40 police officers were clearly in evidence throughout, and the police had promised there would be some in the crowd as well.
But that certainly didn’t mean it was tame.
The first blasts of music were heard echoing across the west side neighborhood at 5 a.m. as participants ignored the early hour and began gathering at the staging area adjacent to the police headquarters building on Hannah’s Rest Road. By 6 a.m., with the sky beginning to show traces of pink, the music had become a steady pulsing drum beat, calling to people – and they responded. By twos and threes, they flitted through the half-light, heading south toward the gathering point. Then the twos and threes became larger groups, then a steady stream of foot traffic.
Many of the participants came – as they usually do – dressed for the occasion, either as teams – there were many mesh outfits, and pink, and holiday red satin with white trim, but the four women in the shockingly bright lime green wigs and leotards were hard to miss. There were also more tutus than you’d see at the Bolshoi Ballet, and at least one pirate.
The jumping off point was beginning to shake as more and more people came in and the excitement increased. One girl held up trembling hands and said, "I can’t control it, and that’s the truth!"
As the first truck was ready to roll just after sunrise, a brief tropical shower sent people running for cover. Even the pulsing drum machine beat cut out; but the rain lasted only about 10 minutes, and in no time at all, the crowd came back out.
Only two of the six bands taking part – UMB Soldiers and the Exclusive Band – appeared to have their name on the side of their trucks, but all of them were putting out all the decibels they could muster as the parade crawled up Hannah’s Rest Road, drawing more and more audience members as it went. Water, talcum, and a red powder flew through the air as the procession continued.
At the post office the line of trucks lumbered left down Fisher Street, then right onto King Street. It was about a block and a half after the turn onto King that the parade of dancers reached critical mass. At that point, buildings on both sides came down almost to the street, squeezing the crowd and the trucks into a narrow defile. For reasons never explained to the crowd, the second truck n line chose to pass the first, and police frantically forced the crowd to the sides.
That didn’t really slow the crowd down much. The dancing continued, just in a much tighter pack. Inside the throng the temperature probably rose 10 degrees.
The crowd ranged in age from babies in strollers – sleeping despite the sound pouring out of the six sets of speakers! – to seniors – although most appeared to be in their teens to early 30s. Spotted among the gyrating humanity were a college professor, a bank official, and at least two government employees.
It was noon by the time the last truck carried the last band to the end of the route, but that wasn’t the end of the parade. Back on the road, a crew from V.I. Waste Management was sweeping the streets, pulling debris out of culverts, and putting trash in cans to be hauled to the solid waste transfer station.
"This is the end of the parade," one of the men said.
The Crucian Christmas Carnival continues this weekend with Latin Night Thursday at the Festival Village in Frederiksted, the Children’s Parade Friday, the Adult Parade Saturday, and the at Races Sunday.