In Queens, New York, the executive team for Irie Jamboree, the popular Labor Day weekend stage show, made the decision to forgo the show this year. The executive committee, comprised of Robert Clarke, Steven Williams, Louie Grant, and Michael Williams, sent out a notice on July 17, 2010 of their postponement and that they are planning for the 2011 year. They gave the following statement as to their cancellation this year:
There’s a well known adage in the Caribbean that “if America sneezes, the Caribbean gets a cold”. This has never been more severely evidenced than over the past few years as the economic recession being experienced by the U.S. economy has had a grueling disproportionate effect on the diaspora Caribbean community. The average Caribbean family has seen an average 20% to 30% decrease in household income when compared to last year, this according to New York State’s most recent unemployment data. As families strive to meet their basic needs, oftentimes under conditions of lost or reduced income, “disposable income” is slowly becoming an extinct concept. Families face the challenge of striving for economic survival in this insecure economy, while still facing the added burden of having to contribute support to family members back home who are also struggling to make ends meet. Where possible, saving for an unsure future is the prevailing mindset of most Caribbean households of the day. The sensitivity of these issues is not lost to us the organizers of Irie Jamboree, on having examined the possibility of reducing the entrance charge for the event we recognize that we would be unable to host the event without absorbing a significant deficit in 2010. Our access charges policy over the past 7 years has always dictated that we endeavor to keep admission to the concert at minimum cost to patrons.
Artists visa cancellation/incarceration
To restate the obvious, while Reggae is an entire philosophy, the heart of reggae is the music; the soul of reggae is that of the artists’ expressions. Reggae artists whose inspiring performances are usually at the core of any successful festival, have been affected by a number of well-publicized events that will hinder the delivery of an event that meets the usual high standards of an Irie Jamboree type, and the equally lofty inherent expectations of its concert goers. Primary among these are visa revocations and artistes incarcerations. Buju Banton- Incarcerated; Beenie Man-No Visa; Bounty Killer-No Visa; Busy Signal-No Visa; Movado-No Visa; Vybz Kartel-No Visa; Ninjaman- Incarcerated; Jah Cure-No Visa; Sizzla-No Visa and Luciano-No Visa.
Labor Day weekend is at the height of the NYC tourist season. Recreational and entertainment events during this period, including the staging of Irie Jamboree, positively impact the economy by generating millions in revenue for the city as thousands of people flock to the area to experience the best of Caribbean culture. The apparent (albeit debatable) absence of true regard for the contribution of the Caribbean Community to the economy by U.S. governing authorities is a matter of grave concern to the community at large. As a group, the Caribbean business community has been vocal about the visa/travel issue. This is a serious matter that we will continue to actively advocate through appropriate avenues as we invite discussions with the relevant authorities in order to ascertain conditions of the visa revocation process and opportunities for possibly reinstating travel privileges. This situation is becoming more dire and needs to be properly addressed so that fair and prompt resolution can be hopefully achieved. Meanwhile, we the organizers of Irie Jamboree continue to hold artistes to account for upholding a moral and ethical compass that will ensure standards of behavior that are respectful and compliant with the laws of varied governing jurisdictions.
The 8pm Shutdown
Irie Jamboree is staged at the Roy Wilkins Park in Queens. The New York City mayor’s office through the 113th precinct in Queens, has issued orders for events in area parks to be concluded by 8pm (EST). This puts tremendous pressure on particular promoters. The event is generally scheduled to end at 10pm. It is unreasonable to expect the team of professionals who plan and organize the concert, and whose resources are already strained to terminate the show at 10pm even under the best of circumstances. This 8pm cut off equates to nothing short of production suicide. Additionally, to limit performances in order to meet this timeline represents a gross disservice to patrons and artists alike of the event, and significantly affects a critical subscribing feature that has been created for Irie Jamboree, the reputable “brand” by which it is now widely known and respected.
The overall climate in the Industry
Overall, the reggae industry is at an all time low. The music seems to have become relatively stagnant. Those promoters (particularly in the Northeast) who have ventured to host outdoor events these past 2 years have reported significant losses due primarily to unprecedented low attendance numbers. Amongst other salient reasons, not unlike what Jamaica’s Usain Bolt did for the sport of track & field, the music industry needs to be potently re-energized; an adrenalin shot of sorts. Irie Jamboree is one of the many casualties of the arguably recent lull in the music, and by extension the industry at large that breathes life into it.
Irie Jamboree is produced as a collaborative effort together with valued partners whose sponsorship support is critical to its successful staging each year. Staging the number one reggae concert in the Northeast USA is amongst other things a very costly undertaking. All (not a few) but ALL traditional corporate sponsors of these type events have at best, dramatically slashed their marketing budgets, if not totally eliminating them. Irie Jamboree has not been spared the ravages of these budgetary realignments, not the least of which has been the recent acquisition of Air Jamaica by Caribbean Airlines which has resulted in the loss of one of the event’s greatest allies.
Recent upheaval in Western Kingston borne of the events surrounding the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke to the United States is an international incident that has had a plethora of adverse ripple effects throughout the Diaspora, and implications across economies, from which very few have emerged unscathed.
Suffice it to say that this has deemed this 2010 as being a less than opportune year for the concert promoting business. That said, we remain confident that Irie Jamboree 2011 will continue the trend in being the best, and most celebrated reggae concert in North America.