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Review of 2013 Great Lakes Steelpan Festival

Here is a review that somebody wrote up about the first annual Great Lakes Steelpan Festival.


Steel would Pan out nicely wouldn’t it?
Raff Stapp

Festivals have always been around. Whether you are part of the star-trek society at college or the lead singer in an infamous hip hop band from New York, you will find a festival which suits your needs. However, when the issue of steelpan education in the Chicagoland area was concerned there was no answer; that is until the Great Lakes Steelpan Festival.

The Great Lakes Steelpan Festival is definitely a one-of-a-kind festival and on April the 13th, this became a solidified fact. Yes, there are many more which take place around the world however not many can boast names such as Gary Gibson, Dr. Ellie Mannette and Clyde”Lightning” George. Yes, a doctor indeed! We will explain who these people are later on in the article.

Education through the medium of enjoyment and entertainment was on the agenda when this enthralling event took place in Crystal Lake. It provided the people around the area of Chicagoland an opportunity to educate themselves on the Steelpan, its roots and how much of a vibrant ruckus these instruments can actually cause. The simple fact that these artists shared the same stage is a colossal achievement in itself!

The Potts & Pans Steelband, owned by Matt Potts, are known for their work in the surrounding area. They are educators of the instrument and were there to distribute both their theoretical and practical knowledge to all attendees. Their Midwest premier performance of Andy Akiho’s ‘Alloy’ took the crowd of 200 by storm with some feedback describing the performance as ‘absolutely mind-blowing’. This was undoubtedly one of the greatest highlights of the festival. However, more was to come…

The fact that the Steelpan in itself is a very young instrument, the idea of it being so versatile with its creation and its utilisation is what drew in the crowds. It had an educational focus and was the first to take place in Northern Illinois – for a first time festival; it did not do too badly at all.

In addition to the evening concert there were educational workshops running, which is unique to this festival alone. Dr. Ellie Mannette ran workshops which explained how his innovative skills allowed him to create the instrument. The attendees were glued to the advice and stories which Dr. Mannette had to share as he explained his involvement and the evolution of the instrument to what it is today. People would later talk of how it was phenomenal to physically meet such a personality. Alongside Dr. Mannette, Clyde “Lightning” George provided workshops where he shared his approach on playing Jazz on the Steelpan. It may seem like a far outcry to be playing jazz on such an instrument but this is what made the festival as magical as it was memorable. The creative flair which was surrounding the festival took everyone by storm, and when a performer is nicknamed “Lightning”, you know you are in for a world of entertainment!

As the sun began to bid farewell and the evening drew in, the festival came into its prime. All the featured guests performed unparallel pieces and compositions. Amongst many enthralling performances, one which will stick in people’s minds for years to come was the Potts and Pans performance, and Midwest premier, of Andy Akiho’s ‘Alloy’. The reaction which this conduction received is beyond words.

However, this was not the only attraction of the night. Ellie Mannette would practice what he had preached earlier on in the day and would display what can only be described as stunning. After discussing the struggles he underwent to create the different voices of this instrument, it was time to hear these different voices. Dr. Mannette did not disappoint. His performance beautifully combined together the contemporariness of today with the Trinidadian roots of the Steelpan itself. Clyde “Lightning” George would watch with nothing short of humongous respect for Mannette as he played away an original composition of his. ‘I had no idea the Steelpan could be played in so many different ways’ is what a member of the crowd told us.

Finally, to place the cherry on the cake, the Potts and Pans Steelband accompanied the world renowned Gary Gibson (composer and educator of the instrument) and Clyde “Lightning” George to perform pieces which the crowd will talk about for years to come. These renditions, compositions and performances saw people draw out their phones, already pencilling in the date for next year’s festival. This festival was definitely a unique and informative outlook towards the Steelpan itself, the history behind it, and how it has evolved to become what it has. When Gibson, George and the band carried out their collaborative efforts, one was clearly able to recognise the sentimental value of the steelpan.

If you are to imagine a lot of noise, from both instruments and the crowds of people, then mould the noise of the instruments into a melodic routine which one can relate to, then as a result put a smile on everyone’s faces – you will come to a conclusion which screams ‘The Great Lakes Steelpan Festival’. The crowds thoroughly enjoyed the event and gained invaluable knowledge with regards to the instruments themselves. It was a beautiful and brilliant festival which the Midwest region was asking for and hopefully within the near future, Crystal Lake, IL will be come to known as the steelpan hub for the entire region!


There are some errors in there, but for an outsider with no previous knowledge of the steelpan this was great to see!

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Comment by Bertel Gittens on May 8, 2013 at 7:06am

I look forward to this, my wife has some interest here, maybe you will see us at the next.

Comment by The Steelpan Store on May 6, 2013 at 8:05pm

Thanks Bertel, it was quite exciting! Maybe one year you'll be able to make it. :)

Comment by Bertel Gittens on May 6, 2013 at 11:16am

It sounds like you had something exciting Matt. Congrats!

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