Mon | Apr 24, 2017

Where is the party money coming from?

Published:Saturday | January 17, 2015 | 1:00 AM

It is no secret that the entertainment business is a great way to legitimise money that has been accumulated through crime - to wash the cash, if you will. It is not specific to Jamaica, although our history of growing marijuana, being an ideal transshipment point for cocaine en route to North America, and an incredible volume of recorded and performed music output makes us especially visible in this regard.

So, that is one explanation for the obvious hard, liquid cash which floats around the country on stages, in clubs, dancehalls and street parties. And let us not forget the sponsorship dollar, as it seems there is hardly an event these days without the banner or illuminated signage of some corporate entity's brand prominently displayed.

NOT CHEAP

However, that does not explain the crowds which turn up to the unending series of events across the country. And they are not cheap. The large outdoor concerts in the country for 2015 started last night with Rebel Salute in St Ann, and while there is a strong argument for it being good value for money because of the length and depth of the line-up each night, taken as a fraction of one's income, the ticket price is significant.

General entry for each night is $2,800 presold and $3,000 at the gate, with VIP costing $6,000. If we double each price, for a minimum of two people attending together, then it starts to add up. Put in food and drinks, transportation and, for some people, accommodation, and it is a hefty sum.

I believe it is good value - Rebel Salute is my kind of event.

But the Salute ticket prices pale to another experience in two weeks' time further along the highway in Montego Bay. The general admission Jazz & Blues ticket prices in US currency (you can use your cell phone to do the conversion) are US$80 for the first and third nights and US$120 for the second. Want to go VIP? It is US$120 for Thursday and Saturday and US$220 for Friday.

I won't even get into
the details of the multi-day passes, where it ranges from US$190
(general, weekend) to US$450 (season VIP). Add US$20 if you
will.

Forget about even me thinking about if it is
good value or not - I cannot even pay the parking fee plus gas to and
from Kingston. Forget about going in.

It goes on and
on, with the most extreme being the summer party series. Put it this
way, there are companies which offer loans to people so they can go
drink all they can at a string of parties on the North Coast. So one
company could report in early August last year that it had already
disbursed $1.6 million in party loans.

That's a hell
of a lot of money to flush down the toilet, which is where the booze
ends up.

Sumfest, which has the same multi-night
set-up as Jazz and Blues; Sting, which is in a class by itself - the
entry fees are not chump change. Carnival season with the weekly
parties, then the costumes for the Road March add up to a pretty penny.
Call it a contribution if you will, but many of the gospel events still
cost. Then there are the clubs, the all-inclusive parties, and the slew
of high-priced events between Christmas and New Year's Eve. It goes on
and on and on, one heck of a near non-stop party in a pauper
country.

Still, the events are full, even though
promoters invariably give away many tickets, party people are smiling,
and I am left wondering where the heck the money is coming from. How can
the economy be in such a bad state - as always - yet a significant
section of the population is having a jolly good time - as
always?

JAMAICA'S PROBLEM

Even though I
work as an entertainment writer, so all this partying and performance
provides me with a job, it says something about our mindset. I am
reminded of something I read in the early 2000s, at a time when
Trinidadian companies were buying heavily into Jamaica. A Trini company
representative and a Jamaican company exec walked into a bank and one of
the security guards there was sporting the then latest, most bling cell
phone. The Trini remarked to the effect that it was a general problem
with Jamaicans - champagne taste and bag juice
pockets.

Add to the champagne specific brands like
Moet and Hennessey, plus loads of Magnum, Guinness and whatever other
brew is selling.

Is there an economy I don't know
about? Chances are, but how it can explain year-round partying still
defeats me. There are those who pay and those who are paid for, but the
cash still has to come from somewhere. I suspect it bowls the tax
collectors over as well. It would be interesting to know how many of the
promoters, for one-off events as well as those who do it as a
consistent side job or full-time employment, file
returns.

It is highly likely that it is not only the
high-profile entertainers whose names are plastered over the press from
time to time for being in arrears, who are not the only ones whose
partying is not paying off for the
public.

melvillecooke@gleanerjm.com