It was pouring hard Saturday, but in Post Office Square on St. Thomas, nobody moved. Instead, they camped out for hours, pulled out umbrellas and raincoats, and waited for the 2016 Adults Parade to start.
Despite attempts made by the V.I. Police Department last week to get all troupes in line for the parade on time, the first set of cars did not hit the square until well after 11 a.m. Even then, multiple showers in between caused additional delays as some groups pulled to the side to wait it out instead of sending their performers into the streets.
But once the parade really got going, it was hard to stop the energy that filled the air. With their double decker trolleys bouncing to the rhythm and youthful energy, the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra was the first group to set the tone, as they sent dancers dressed in the traditional red and gold uniform down the route. Once those performers hit the square, they immediately started moving to the sound of Jam Band’s “Inspection Lane,” beginning a tribute to Jam Band that also included the 1990 Road March winner “Horse Chip,” and “Showtime,” the song that inspired this year’s Carnival theme.
With so many groups playing “Showtime” this year, even parade commentators were wondering if Jam Band could come back and win Road March (usually the song played by the most entries at the final judging station in Post Office Square,) but V.I. Carnival Committee members clarified Saturday night that the organization’s bylaws only gives the title to songs released in the “current year.”
As the Rising Stars continued with their tribute, the crowd moved and cheered, and the trolleys continued to jump, sending streams of rainwater from the roofs of the vehicles onto the crowd. Even the top tier pan members had to take a quick few minutes to dump water from their instruments, but once it was out, they got back into the routine and as the group started down the road to Lionel Roberts Stadium, the crowd was ready for the first set of troupes to debut.
Leading the pack this year was the University of the Virgin Islands, which brought the parade’s first mocko jumbies into the streets. Following close behind was a newer entry by the St. Croix-based group Simply Sophisticated, whose organizers said they were excited to come over and throw their hat into the ring on St. Thomas after winning the award for Best Troupe (150 members and above) during the most recent Crucian Christmas Carnival.
“We are tired, and it’s wet, but we are having so much fun,” Simply Sophisticated founder Shamari Haynes said Saturday. Haynes said the group, whose theme was “Exotica,” normally has more than 300 members, but about two dozen made the trip over Saturday.
“We are excited to share a little bit about what we did on St. Croix, and have some fun with the crowd,” he added. “It’s been great, it’s mas, and as we all know, rain never stops the Carnival.”
That thought was echoed Saturday by most of the troupes coming down the route – even those with members toting heavy props or costumes. Coming into the square Saturday, the Eagles Carnival Troupe celebrated the Caribbean’s diverse culture with costumes that paid tribute to each island nation, including elaborate headdresses bearing that island’s state bird, or another distinct – such as an Eiffel Tower for the island of St. Barths – feature. The group’s second section was a tribute to America, and group members came into the square waving full-sized American flags on tall poles.
“The Eagles this year represented the many islands of the Caribbean coming together on our own small island and creating the melting pot of culture around us,” said St. Thomas resident Melina Paiewonsky, whose own headdresses bore the territory’s own eagle and bow. “And even though it was raining, the whole experience was so amazing. The music was pumping, the people were dancing and everyone was in the Carnival spirit. There is nothing better than that.”
Celebrating their 64th anniversary this year, the traditional Gypsies Carnival Troupe also paid tribute to Caribbean culture by recognizing local media icon Doris Miller Orie, who passed away last month at the age of 96. According to group members, Orie hosted one of the territory’s first talk shows, and in her honor, the Gypsies’ costumes this year were showgirls, singers and directors, with matching props. Once again, Jam Band’s “Showtime” accompanied the performance, which included Rockette style can-can lines on both sides of the square.
The distinct costumes of each troupe is part of what makes them stand out each year, and for the traditional Jesters, the time spent by each member actually making what they wear is a large part of the process. According to organizers, this year’s theme of Bollywood brought “a part of India to the Caribbean,” and to get into the spirit, the group organized its annual “workshop” that gave members a chance to create everything from peacock feathered turbans to gold sequined shoes.
While this year’s group was not as large as in years past, organizers said the enthusiasm of the approximately 55 individuals on the parade route Friday more than made up for it.
“We are feeling bright in our greens and blues, and so excited because really, this is something that we look forward to every year,” longtime member Judy Richardson said. “This group is like a family, and being a part of this together, from when we start making the costumes up to now, is definitely one of the best parts of the year.”