25 June 2007

Of Mud-Men and Feathered Booty: DC Caribbean Carnival 2007

Saturday, 23june07:

We left the house in the cool morning and headed up Georgia Avenue to claim a few feet of curb-space, anticipating quite a parade. It was the dawn of the 15th annual DC Caribbean Carnival, and Georgia Avenue would soon host a throbbing mash of some 250,000 spectators, 25 dance troupes, costumed revelers, bands, DJs, and random mud-covered pranksters, all leaping and freaking like dervishes reeling with seizures of ecstasy...

The parade covers a stretch of 35 blocks from Missouri Avenue in Brightwood to Barry Place at Howard University. It’s quite a haul in the summer heat for those dragging costumes with heavy wood frames and plumed wings that reach into the sky. These folks are true champions. But all that was still to come.

It was sometime after 1pm when the first float crept by our roost near the Petworth Metro, and by that time, the street was filled with spectators. The syncopated stomp of the first PA truck followed and within minutes, the cyclone was upon us:

Scores of people rolled down the avenue in a gyrating thundercloud; all manner of shapes, sizes and colored costumes, and throwing around all kinds of mad flesh. The spectators pressed in to snap photos as the dancers grinned at the sky, laughing into the music which seemed loud enough to shatter the bones of the pigeons which flew nervously overhead...

DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and his entourage marched by, tossing beads into the crowd and pausing to mingle and shake hands. Ward One councilmember Jim Graham was there as well, without his trademark bow-tie but brandishing an armload of beads, making sure he nailed anybody Fenty missed.

The music was a chaotic mix of traditional Carnival fare and modern fusions of Caribbean with the distinctive analog tweak of acid-house. In all cases, the tempo was hyper-frenetic, bordering on total madness. For my money, the place to be was in the space between the music trucks, where one PA mixed with another and vomited a jittering moire of noise into the air. THAT's the stuff.

Too much! Too much! We slipped into Morgan’s for some takeout seafood, then dove through an alley to find home, and eat in relative peace.

By the time we hit the streets again, the crowd had turned into a clotted mob of bodies, armpit to armpit from one curb to the other. It took about 20 minutes to creep down a single block. We looked at each other and whispered sweetly, "...we are about to die..."

We were behind much of the parade at this point and headed for Banneker Center, the apex of all this craziness. The music was still with us, pounding overhead and underfoot, and we began to spot victims of heat and fatigue. The scent of sweat, dope, and Hennessey was thick and we retreated to the grassy hill at Howard University, to look over the raging mob and get a little perspective.

One of the mud-men observed everything from his perch on the wall, looking for all his stillness like a drunken gargoyle...

After a pause there, we paid our $10 and joined the fray inside Banneker, where more music, food, and incense vendors awaited. And that was the most intensely crowded spot of all. The crowd was isolated to the fenced-in running track around the field, which meant the sheer density of bodies was FAR beyond capacity. Why the hell not open it up to the whole field? Eh?

Meanwhile, DC’s finest looked on, dreaming that this whole damned thing would be over soon, so they could get back to their cherished Segways. The horses seemed unimpressed.

...and then we retreated, stumbling north towards 14th Street, bleary with sunburn and an all-consuming need for a good brown ale in a quiet pub.

It was a good day, rite...more pix here.


Beverley said...

Just discovered your blog. Sounds as if you had a blast at last year's DC Caribbean Carnival. Hope to see you this year - June 28-29; check out their website www.dccaribbeancarnival.com. BTW, the reason why the Carnival is 'squished' onto the track and field portion of Banneker is that after having spent $$$$ to renovate the baseball field, DC Parks & Rec is reluctant to have the Carnival crowd jumping on it. The non-profit that organises the Carnival would then have to pay to repair it and that is not an expense that could be absorbed after paying DC Police+their overtime and DPW to clean the streets. Enjoy the Carnival while you can since its days are numbered as the city is rolling out every arcane regulation to keep this 'glorious insanity' off the new and revitalized Georgia Avenue.

IntangibleArts said...

leave it to Thee Regulators to punish the people for organizing a bit of fun. Thanks for the insight on the field business....and absolutely we'll be there again this year, sweatin' and freakin' with the masses....