Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Oh Boxing Day, where is thy Sting?

Published:Thursday | December 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Isaiah Laing
Tony Rebel
Ninja Man
Bob Marley (centre) urges then Prime Minister Michael Manley (left) and then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga to shake hands at the One Love Peace Concert at the National Stadium on April 22, 1978.
A section of the Sting crowd enjoying Sting 2012 on Boxing Day at Jamworld, Portmore, St Catherine.

It is 12 days to go before Boxing Day 2016 and the season does not feel right without the rumblings of Sting in the offing. There is no launch lead-up with its attendant bling, bluster, bare backsides of promotional girls and barely there attire of fan ladies. There is no large poster with the images of the performers in the various categories with, most likely, a bee somewhere in the collage. There is no hailing or cussing off of Supreme Promotions' Isaiah Laing, there is no quick-fire release of songs as the real deal and wanna-bees jostle for clash attraction.

Yup, it is 11 or 10 days left for Christmas shopping and there are so far no Sting tickets in sight to fill that Christmas stocking.

Let us not forget that earlier this year, the One World Sting plan for 2017 and beyond was announced, with the event to be franchised globally on its regular Boxing Day date (including a Jamaica event), after an August kick-off in London.

Fair enough, but in the here and now, not too long after the big 30th anniversary celebration, there is a void. Sting has been around since 1984 so, if we speculate that the youngest dancehall fan who attended the first one was 18 years old (although more than likely there were a few younger than that), then there is certainly no dancehall fan under 51 who has not had a chance to attend.

That is a hell of a record.

Still, there were already signs of Sting losing some of its stranglehold on Boxing Day entertainment in Jamaica, and it is not only from the performers who have publicly taken issue with the event over time. The waning power has been evidenced by the promoters who have dared to stage events on December 26, going up against the Sting behemoth for audience share. This year, the very popular retro music session,

Yesterday, is set for Mas Camp on Boxing Day.

I have no doubt it is going to haul in hordes of people ready and willing to skank their feet off.I will not speculate on the reasons for Sting's muteness in 2016, but for someone who has covered most stagings since 2001, the lack of Sting activity feels weird. I will maintain, though that the lack of clashes hurt the event.

Controversial they may be, but that is Sting's unique selling point, what sets it apart from other shows, regardless of the anxiety of sponsors and criticism by people who generally do not attend stage shows. Not that it precludes them from having an opinion, but it is the persons who pay to attend, who determine if there is a sizeable audience at Jamworld on Boxing Day.

On the matter of events, there is a development on the horizon which holds immense significance. Smile Jamaica will begin on December 2, 2017, and subsequently staged annually on or close to the anniversary of the December 5, 1976, concert at Heroes Circle, Kingston. It will be held at Grizzly's Plantation Cove in St Ann, so now there are three high-profile annual concerts/festivals on the North Coast - Smile Jamaica and Rebel Salute at Grizzly's and Reggae Sumfest at Catherine Hall in MoBay.

Now here is the rub. Rebel Salute occupies a special place, its general attraction not determined by who is on the line-up (although, of course, special moments like Beres Hammond in January this year making a noticeable difference) but the overall experience. It is pinned to Tony Rebel's birthday, so there is a consistent anchoring point, and has always presented primarily Jamaican acts anyway.

Smile Jamaica is designed to be associated with the triumph of Marley's performance after being shot at 56 Hope Road two days before the concert and will have overseas performers. This year Sumfest, under Downsound Records' Joe Bogdanovich's new stewardship, went for an all-Jamaican performer format which I was fully in agreement with and worked out quite well.

Now, with Smile Jamaica going for overseas act and the heavy pull of the Marley family, will Sumfest suffer? It has no emotional anchoring point and is not artiste driven, as the Tony Rebel-led Rebel Salute and Marley family-led Smile Jamaica are. On the other hand, it is in Montego Bay during the summer and was always designed as a tourist puller, as much as for locals (especially Dancehall Night). The Jamaican artistes-only stance, was never cast in stone, so will Smile Jamaica prompt an early return to bringing in some Americans? I hope not.

So now there are three major events on the North Coast for the year, with a couple of smaller standing and inconsistent stability (Jazz and Blues is a case in point). The next couple years should be interesting.