First published June 5: When Pan-O-Rama begins at 4 p.m. Saturday and the sounds of steel drums fill the air in Cruz Bay, St. John’s July 4th Festival will begin in earnest.
Of course, preparations have been underway since last year’s spirited carnival season, but the lingering effects of Hurricane Irma have led to some changes for the slate of upcoming events.
The bike race scheduled for Saturday, June 15, has been canceled, according to Leona Smith, one of the team of volunteers that coordinates the events for the festival. Smith said the event’s organizer no longer lives on island, and it was too late to make alternative plans.
The next scheduled event is the Royalty Pageant, set for 6 p.m. Saturday, June 22. The big question has been, where will it be held? For the past several decades, the Prince and Princess Show, and the wildly popular Queen Show, have been held on the baseball field adjacent to the Julius E. Sprauve School.
Immediately after last year’s shows, however, construction began on the field for the installation of modular units to replace the classrooms damaged by Hurricane Irma. Those units have been completed, and the field no longer exists.
That led festival organizers to request the use of the Virgin Islands National Park’s ballfield adjacent to the park’s Visitor Center. However, that field is not ready for public use, according to VINP Superintendent Nigel Fields. After the hurricane, that field was used by the U.S. Army for several months. When the military left, BBC, the Missouri-based company hired to assist WAPA with power restoration, took over the site.
BBC moved to a new location, in Chocolate Hole, at the end of December 2018, but Fields said the ground was still not clear of debris. The Park Service purchased a metal detector to locate metal lodged in the earth and is in the process of replacing the fencing around the site, but the site won’t be ready for public use in time for carnival events.
Virtually the only place large enough to accommodate the crowds for the Royalty Pageant is the site of the former Lumberyard Complex, a few steps from the Cruz Bay Creek. David Olson, who manages the property for Legacy Development, was pleased to announce on Tuesday that the owners were willing to work out an agreement to use the paved, 0.78- acre site for the Royalty Pageant.
This year, two contestants are vying for the title of festival queen: Jakiya Gregoire, a 19-year old student at Johnson & Wales University in Miami; and Lenisha Richards, a 17-year-old graduating senior at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.
Two contestants are also competing for the title of Junior Miss. They are Je’nique Sylvester, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Kean High, and Tamyra Bartlette, a 14-year-old student at the Julius E. Sprauve School.
Only two children entered as contestants for Prince and Princess, Elizabeth Farrell, a 3rd-grade student at the Gifft Hill School, and Lemuel Liburd III, a third-grader at JESS. They will still go through all the elements required for the competition at the show, according to Enid Doway, who coordinates the event. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
The Festival Food Fair and Coronation will take place the next day, starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 23, at Frank Powell Sr. Park, across from the ferry dock. Special guests Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights, the St. Croix quelbe band that has performed together for almost 50 years, is scheduled to appear.
Smith said the maximum number of permits for vendors had been issued, but some recent cancelations may result in some openings.
This year, both the Food Fair and the Village are being held in honor of the members of the St. John July 4th Festival Committee, past and present, who have volunteered their time throughout the years.
Smith said that after this year, carnival activities throughout the islands will be managed by the Department of Tourism, and the “same 25 dedicated members” who organize events on St. John year after year may not be as involved in the future.
Smith said she particularly wanted to honor the memories of Sheila Liburd, the renowned cook and proprietor of Sheils’s Pot, who died in April, and Frank Powell Sr., for whom the Cruz Bay park is named.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, June 23, the Festival Boat Races will be held near the Cruz Bay harbor.
Another vexing question has been the location of the Festival Village. For decades the village has been in the parking lot across from the post office, but this year the lot’s size has been cut in half to store construction materials for the re-construction of a new Customs and Immigration facility.
Smith said the piles of concrete blocks will be removed in the next couple of weeks and booth owners will be able to begin construction of their booths by mid-June for the Village opening on June 28.
The new two-story parking structure in Red Hook next to the ferry terminal is slated to open in time for the Festival, according to Monifa Brathwaite, VIPA’s public information officer.
Named “Membersville” in celebration of the festival committee volunteers, the Village will remain open until 1:30 a.m. July 5.
The Children’s Village, sponsored by the St. John Rotary Club, will be held at the small parking lot next to the National Park Ballfield starting June 29.
There are no major changes expected for the Emancipation Day events scheduled for 1 p.m. July 3 in the Village. St. Johnians are already in rehearsal for the traditional play that commemorates the day of July 3, 1848, when slavery was abolished.
A new event is planned for the evening of July 3 – a torchlight parade.
“Since this is our 65th anniversary of carnival, we’re reflecting on the past,” said event organizer Enid Doway. Past carnival royalty are especially invited to participate as the steel band Pan in Motion leads revelers through the streets starting at sundown.
At sunup on July 4th, J’Ouvert revelers will fill the streets, and when that event ends, it’s just about time for the big Festival Parade, slated to begin at 11 a.m. The day concludes with a fireworks display over the harbor at 9 p.m.
The current Festival schedule lists two other events, but one of them, a concert on July 6 billed as Musical Mix 2019, will probably be cancelled because of lack of sponsorship, according to organizer Lucinda Jurgen. Jurgen is working on replacing the event with a Wet Fete, but details are still being worked out.
The final event of Festival 2019 is a poker run scheduled for noon on July 7.
The theme for this year’s festival is, “Sixty Five Years of Mas, Pageanty, and a Cultural Scene.” Visit their website.
The Village musical lineup is:
Friday, June 28
Ah We Band
Saturday, June 29
Sunday, June 30
Monday, July 1
Tuesday, July 2
Bunji Garlin, Fay Ann Lyons and Asylum Band
Wednesday, July 3 (Sponsored by Presidente)
Awesome Jam Band
Nadia Baston & Sass Band
Thursday, July 4 (Sponsored by Stoli)
Deh Zone Band
Cool Sessions Brass
The sponsors of the festival village include, Captain Morgan’s Rum, Coors Lite, St. John Brewers, the Virgin Islands Port Authority, the V.I. Lottery, the Department of Tourism and the Water and Power Authority.