By Andrea Milam
Today I’d like to introduce you to something on St. John that is a true embodiment of Caribbean culture, that has had me enamored from the day I moved here, that brings smiles to the faces and movement to the waists of so many visitors and residents. I’m talking, of course, about the Love City Pan Dragons.
The band has been around in varying iterations since the late 1990s. For a long time, the band was strictly a youth steel orchestra, with an offshoot for younger members known as the Baby Dragons. Then, being the only steel band on the island, Pan Dragons decided to open its doors to adults as well. Today, Love City Pan Dragons is made up of approximately 20 members, ranging in age from 6 to 70. Most are children or young adults, and students from Gifft Hill School, Julius E. Sprauve School, and Ivanna Eudora Kean (a high school on St. Thomas) are all part of the band.
As is true for everyone living on St. John this past September, band members fully felt the effects of Hurricane Irma. Some lost their homes completely. But that didn’t stop some of the members from gathering at their Cruz Bay pan yard, which miraculously survived both storms, just three days after Maria struck to start setting back up the pans they’d packed away for safety. They set to work learning a new song, David Rudder’s High Mas, whose opening lines include the phrase “everybody give praise,” an idea that resonated with the band’s instructor and arranger, Ikema Dyer, after the storms. The band built up their repertoire with recent soca hits too, like Ultimate Rejects’ Full Extreme and Kes the Band’s Hello, all while practicing in a sweltering pan yard. Lack of electricity meant no fans, and a roof from a neighboring building had settled on the pan yard’s exterior wall, blocking windows and any hope of a cooling breeze. Still, the band pressed on, and they made their first post-storm public showing on Thanksgiving at the Rotary Club of St. John and St. John Community Foundation’s dinner in Cruz Bay.
In addition to playing the first Saturday of each month in the Frank Powell Park and kicking off St. John Festival at Panorama on June 2, the Pan Dragons performed at the opening of Festival Village on June 28, and of course, they will make a grand showing in the St. John Festival parade on July 4. Nothing fills my heart with pride for this island more than seeing the band’s double-decker trolley making its way down the road, swaying with the enthusiasm of the steel pan players and their music. It is a truly beautiful sight, and the music is infectious and uplifting.
If you’re interested in seeing the band play, follow their Facebook page, where all upcoming performances are announced, and if you happen to miss them while you’re on island, check out their YouTube channel, where videos of most performances are posted.
I should mention at this point that Love City Pan Dragons is a registered non-profit that relies solely on donations, grants, and fundraisers to keep their doors open. Though the roof that was blocking breezes has long since been removed, the pan yard is still quite hot, and the band’s wish list at the moment includes air conditioners that run on 110. To support the Love City Pan Dragons, visit www.paypal.me/lovecitypandragons.