The Port of Spain Carnival Parade is dying!

2,000 “masqueraders” in a band cross the stage downtown on Carnival Monday and not one of them is wearing a costume. The largest Carnival band in all its glory crosses the big stage in the Savannah on Carnival Tuesday and there are no spectators in the stands to see it.

The people jumping up all day in the middle of a large band are undoubtedly enjoying the experience and the bandleaders are laughing all the way to the bank, but the fact remains, the “world famous” Trinidad and Tobago Carnival has become a farce.

Masqueraders are in the minority
Most of the visitors who come to Trinidad for the pre-Lenten Carnival do not play Mas’. Most of the people who come to Port of Spain from the other districts on Carnival Monday and Tuesday do not play Mas’ either.  For most of the people in the city on those two days, the Carnival experience is mostly off the track, and it follows that most of the economic returns from the Carnival parade come from non-masqueraders. Foreign visitors alone spend over US$50 million, probably a half of what could be earned through simple improvements in the quality of the product.

The marketing of Carnival in recent years seems largely intended to increase the number of masqueraders on the road, and the growing numbers suggest that this marketing is indeed succeeding. But ironically, this very success is the undoing of the spectacle that the Carnival parade is supposed to be, and undermining the entire Carnival experience.  “Show” and “spectacle” indicate a visual experience.

More people might be playing mas, but even more people want to see Mas’. And that does not mean seeing a party in the road, but a parade of masqueraders passing by and putting on a “show”. Furthermore, when they are not actually looking at the parade, these customers want services, security and facilities where they can enjoy the off-track Carnival experience. That enjoyment, even more than the spectacle, is what will make them come back for more.

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The Carnival Loop® is a river of masqueraders and music trucks/steelbands that flows at a constant speed along a fixed route through the city and loops back on itself.

Only the music and the masqueraders are on the move. Drinks, food, washrooms, First Aid, cooling sprays, massages, etc. are provided by licensed, independent operators at fixed points called “stations” and “pit stops” along the route. Large drinks trucks – and “wee wee” trucks - are reduced in size or eliminated.

The bands are evenly spread around the Loop in manageable segments

The bands are classified as very large (1,000+), large (600+), medium (250+), small (50+) and mini (11-49). Each segment consists of one large – or very large - band followed by a medium band and a number of smaller bands.

All bands in the Loop start to move at the same time; move at the same average speed, and finish where they started.

The bands assemble by 7:00 AM, start to move at 8:00 AM, stop for lunch at noon, move again at 1:30 PM, and get back to their starting points at 6:00 PM. If, for example, the Loop is ten kilometres long, the river flows for ten hours at one kilometre per hour. (On Carnival Monday, the Bands assemble by 10:00 AM and the parade begins at 11:00, lasting for seven hours with no lunch break.)

The bandleaders draw their starting points each year six months before Carnival

They will thus know, well in advance, at what time they will be crossing each major stage and can plan their presentations accordingly.

All bands in the Loop have to move along the route at the same average speed.

The large bands have to arrive at each Timing Point on the hour, followed by the other bands. There are heavy penalties for arriving late – and heavier penalties for delaying the appearance of the next band; the bigger the band, the heavier the penalty.

The whole parade is coordinated from a Central Command Centre

This includes a specially designed Loop Management System – including GPS tracking of the lead trucks in the large bands and mobile communications - to control the flow of the masqueraders between the Timing Points along the route.

For more information:

E-mail: gbfrankson@gmail.com
Tel: (868) 759-0994

The Carnival Loop

The Vision: At exactly 8:00 o’clock on Carnival Tuesday morning, all around the city, every driver in every truck in every Carnival band blasts his horn; every DJ pumps up the volume, and a great roar goes up from the crowd. The Trinidad Carnival Parade has begun! At every point along the route, a stream of masqueraders starts to flow. As the day progresses, the stream will grow into a river, and then into a flood: a steady, well-organized, ten-hour flow of music and masqueraders in one continuous loop: The Greatest Show on Earth.


Congestion is killing the Carnival parade
Congestion on the road is directly and indirectly diminishing the Carnival experience in many ways. When the parade comes to a standstill and alcohol is flowing, the masquerade inevitably becomes a party, which is not what people have come to see. But for a whole generation of young people the party has replaced the parade, and if the party is all they know then party is all they will want. But the observation “that is what they want” can hardly be an excuse for allowing the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival to deteriorate and the centerpiece “Parade of the Bands” to become a farce.

No parade means less creativity
Creativity in Carnival is expressed in costumes that move. When there is no space to move, the creativity will dry up. You don’t need a Carnival costume for a party; you just need to look pretty. And so it is that prettiness has displaced creativity, and wining on each other has replaced dancing along the street. With fewer opportunities to parade there is less incentive to be creative, and in a classic vicious cycle, with less creativity on show there is less reason to parade.

Congestion in one part of town means empty streets in another. So even as more people play Mas’, less Mas’ is being seen. The spectators must either wait for the bands to eventually pass or go where the bands are piling up. Where the spectators go the vendors must go, and so the situation goes from bad to worse. Those bands that have chosen to avoid the congestion by snatching an early passage through those venues are just “opting out” – which is only hastening the deterioration of the whole Carnival experience.

The solutions are obvious
The creative space must be extended; the masqueraders must be able to move; the “parade” must take precedence over the “party”; the spectators must be able to spectate – and to do so in comfort and safety, and the facilities and services for the spectators must be greatly improved in quality and quantity.

The mechanisms for implementing the solutions are not obvious – and certainly not simple. They include distributing the parade evenly along the whole route; pacing the bands as they move along the route; putting the spectators (and the vendors) where they can see the parade and also access other services and facilities. This in turn means selecting the route well in advance so that the infrastructure can be put in place and the spectators advised about what they can expect.

No more free-for-all
This requires the full cooperation of all stakeholders – and especially the bandleaders - in changing what has heretofore been essentially a free-for-all. The bands have been free to start parading when and where they want; free to stop for lunch when and where they want, and free to change their routes if the circumstances do not seem to meet their immediate preferences. When the numbers were small there was enough space to allow this. It is obvious that as more people try to move around in the same space, more control will have to be exerted over their movements if chaos is to be avoided. One cannot have control without cooperation. We must all agree to follow the same “rules” – for want of a better word – or there can be no solution.

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Masqueraders are able to plan their whole day well in advance

From the starting positions, masqueraders will be able to calculate exactly where their bands are at any time. They can therefore choose to play mas for one hour or for ten; they can join where they want, when they want for as long as they want; thus they can jump for the whole day or play a “morning mas”, an “afternoon mas” or an “evening mas”. They can leave the band for a rest and take a shortcut to rejoin it.

With a fixed route, the masquerader is assured of ready access to washrooms and other services. The Pit Stops cater specifically for the masquerader, and afford a wider range of options in cost since the cost of the drinks is not included in the cost of the costume and the music.

Spectators know exactly where and when the bands will be appearing

They can plan to move around to see them wherever they like. Vendors will be able to optimize their positions for a steady flow of customers throughout the day.

A True “Parade” of Bands
Since the parade is a loop, every band will always be on display. Bands will fluctuate in size during the course of the parade, but bandleaders will want to ensure that a majority of masqueraders is in the bands when they cross the major stages. A band may choose to parade for only a part of the Loop, but points (and appearance fees) will be awarded for overall participation, so a band will want to pass through as many stages along the Loop as possible. On the other hand, a band may choose not to participate in the Loop at all, but the Carnival regulations must ensure that these bands follow routes that do not interfere with the smooth flow of the bands in the Loop.

The Loop is designed to ensure that the whole Carnival parade operates as a single, well-oiled machine. The result is a better overall experience for organizers, masqueraders, spectators and vendors alike.

An enhanced Creative Space
The Carnival Loop takes the spectacle of the bands beyond the stage to the road. With the assurance that their presentations will receive a proper showing in front of a larger audience, costume designers will undoubtedly rise to the occasion and take advantage of this assured and clearly defined creative space. As the years go by, this space will become more and more sophisticated and efficient. With the whole route a “stage” and more and more viewing stands opening up along the route, the Loop will allow unrestricted growth in the size, creativity and scope of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.


Advantages of the Carnival Loop:
1)  The total elimination of congestion – no two bands at the same place at the same time

2)  Continuous presentation – bands are on parade at all points along the route

3)  A bigger parade - an expandable route to accommodate more bands

4)  A better looking parade – more masqueraders, fewer trucks, a steady flow of bands

5)  Better presentations by the Kings and Queens

6)  Increased participation by small bands and individual portrayals

7)  More and better participation by steelbands

And what is more:
8)  Fairer competition - the bands will know exactly where and when they are going to be judged

9)  Comprehensive judging – since the bands are always on display

10) Flexible participation – masqueraders can choose when, where, and for how long to play

11) More spectators – since bands are on parade at all points along the route

12) More choices for spectators – who can choose where and when to see the bands

13) A better experience for spectators – who will be able to see more bands in all their glory with little waiting between presentations

14) Better returns for vendors – who are assured of a steady flow of customers all day

15) Easier advanced planning for all aspects of the Carnival parade

16) More efficient management of all aspects of the Carnival parade – especially washrooms and other facilities, security and vehicular traffic

17) A better “brand” for the Carnival – smooth, well-managed, inclusive, spectacular

18) Bigger financial returns to the national economy