I’ve been enjoying Carnival on St. Thomas for most of my life, but Thursday was the first time in more than a decade – I think the last time was my senior year in high school – that I actively participated in the annual J’ouvert celebrations.
It’s no secret that J’ouvert for the past few years has been a mixed bag, with violence marring the fun and freedom of just being able to get out there and dance in the streets. You never know what to expect, so as a safety precaution, many residents have started joining troupes that allow them to party together in designated areas, rather than joining the bigger crowd that marches up with the band trolleys. After participating with one of those troupes this year, I have to say that this is definitely the way to go.
And not just for the safety. I remember years ago heading downtown when it was still dark out and being as far up the street as Windward Passage before the sun started to peek through the clouds, but this year, the big trucks didn’t start to roll until 8 a.m. The troupes, however, had their own independent stands, with DJ’s and speakers blasting music that kept everyone – even the crowds waiting on the sides of the road – dancing during the lull.
At the J’ouvertnation stand, a water truck blasted heavy sprays into the streets to keep the yellow-clad revellers cool and I was surprised to find how easy it was to get out there, talk to people I didn’t know, and just have fun. Even better, most of us looked to be around the same age, so the DJ wasted no time in playing all those old Carnival tunes that we grew up with – I think I even heard a Violators hit or two – that had us not only dancing, but singing in the streets at the top of our lungs.
I also saw faces under the J’ouvertnation tent that I hadn’t seen in years. Every time I read a news story about J’ouvert, I always notice how many people say the event allows them to reconnect with old friends and that was definitely the case for me Thursday. Some were taller, some were leaner, some were on the brink of getting married and starting their own families, but what hadn’t changed was how comfortable we were with one another, and how quick we were to fall back on old jokes or talk about funny memories while in the middle of the street.
Those following the big band trucks joined us when the trolleys finally started to move up the streets, and the DJ’s on the aprons stopped spinning to let the live music flow the down the route. The spirit of everyone together, moving to the rhythm, not thinking about anything, was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe in my life.
You could see the police, of course, and the federal agents moving through the crowd, but from where I was, everything appeared to be peaceful. Sadly, police reports released after the event spoke about a stabbing near the Legislature around 10 a.m., but fortunately, most of J’ouvert had wrapped up a little before.
It was surprising seeing the street empty around 9:30 a.m., with just three bands going up the route, but thankfully, the DJ’s allowed the troupes to fete for a few hours more. Since the bands had gone, many groups moved up the street to join ours, and it was wonderful seeing everyone move together again.
I can’t wait for next year.