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Is the Economy Braking New York's Reggae Summer?

Is the Economy Braking New York's Reggae Summer?

Is the Economy Braking New York's Reggae Summer?

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Clouds gather over the New York reggae summer scene

New York summers are generally a bustle of various cultural exposés and with Reggae music being an integral inclusion in this mix, each season large numbers of music lovers converge equally on concert and party venues in the city and its outer regions. This year however, seems to be the exception. At least one major concert has been cancelled due to insufficient ticket sales and only a few - if any - are realizing any profits and sold out crowds.

Driving through Nakasaki International to report for MC duties this past Sunday, I was struck by the availability of spaces in the usually overcrowded lot. It was past the designated show time when I entered the venue, yet Pluto Shervington, the featured performer and New York’s radio icon and the event’s promoter, Ken Williams, were still seated in the dining area of the multi level building. A quick personal estimate yielded a head count of approximately twenty-five Pluto faithfuls and by the end of the night it was blatantly evident that Mr. Williams had suffered immense monetary loss. Pluto had given a superb performance in front of an almost empty lounge.

The proprietor of Nakasaki International, Paul Lyn, recalled the previous summers and the flock of patrons that habitually crams the popular Long Island establishment. Visibly dejected, he predicted that this season has already died since “it’s already the end of summer”.

Although this may have been an over exaggeration, the statement reflects the general pessimistic attitude of promoters toward this year’s Reggae season. Earlier that day, promoters of the more than a decade old CARIFEST C.A.R.E. stage show had posted a cancellation notice on their website due to insufficient ticket sales .

The show which plays annually to a full capacity audience at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Forest Hills Queens would have featured a non traditional but nevertheless internationally appealing and diverse lineup. From Slightly Stoopid to Matisyahu and icon, Lee Scratch Perry, the reaction of Reggae music patrons toward this event and the eventual decision by the promoters to cancel is a reliable indication of a plethora of economic woes that currently hovers over the nation. Carifest’s management announced that with the “economic recession and very bad weather forecasts for the day of the concert, very few tickets [had] been sold” and forging ahead under these circumstances would “in no way benefit” even their charity.

Fueled by the crash of the real estate and financial markets, the outlook by experts is gloomy while the price of gas and other commodities remain high. Nowadays, even ardent Reggae people must make prudent financial choices and it seems that many concert goers may be forced to settle for the few gratuitous public offerings that barely feature any Reggae Acts.

Central Park Summerstage is still the most prestigious of this category. On Sunday July 27, Putumayo will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary with a predominantly non Jamaican lineup but which includes The Skatalites. Apart from Wyclef Jean – a close enough representative of the genre - on August 12 and the showing of Perry Henzel’s film, “The Harder They Come” with music by I-Wayne on July 10, the Reggae pickings within the non tariffs are sparse. There are however a few cases where promoters are optimistic and audience turnout is expected to be strong.

The annual Irie Jamboree Concert slated for Sunday August 18, - Labor Day Weekend – should break the current spell of cancellations and losses. With a confirmed bill that includes Elephant Man, Sizzla, Tarrus Riley and Cocoa Tea thus far, one can only hope that the seemingly cancerous cycle of cancellations and promoters’ losses will enter into remission.

According to one of the promoters, Stephen “Yello” Williams, Irie Jamboree should attract a paying audience of 30,000 to 35,000. Additionally, he is confident that the 2nd Annual Yam Jam Festival on July 27 featuring Byron Lee and The Dragonaires, comedian, Oliver Samuels and Reggae Music Ambassadors, Third World will do well. “Yello’s” projections are based on previous experiences and statistics. Nevertheless with concert tickets priced at $25 to $80 and the state of the American economy, Reggae entrepreneurs must prepare to ride the tides of hardship.

What does all this mean for New York’s Reggae Industry? One can only adapt a wait and see attitude with the self assurance that still, “Reggae Rules the World with One Love”.

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