Aug. 25 2010 12:00 AM

LCC’s Caribbean Festival turns Lansing into Port-au-Prince for a day

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    Lansing is already a hub — that’s why it’s here.
    But this Saturday, Michigan’s capital will transcend
    mere state-itude and blossom into a rainbow-hued,
    grooving international crossroads.

    With the biggest and most diverse music lineup
    yet and a sprawling marketplace
    and food bazaar, the 16th annual
    Caribbean Festival is expected to
    draw tens of thousands of people to
    the campus of Lansing Community
    College from noon to midnight
    Saturday.


    In 15 years, the festival has
    grown from a one-hour Wednesday
    break with punch and cookies to a
    day-long bash featuring six bands representing “the
    whole African-Caribbean music diaspora,” according
    to festival co-organizer Denise Harris.



    The only thing this popular, populist festival
    doesn’t have is a cattle pen full of elite VIP boozers.
    “We exist on the vibe and the love of the day,” Harris
    said. “We don’t have to have a beer tent.”


    Master of ceremonies Rootsmon Bird, always a
    bright and beaming presence, said there’s a big difference
    between a mere party and a “celebration” like
    the Caribbean Festival.


    “A party American-style is when you get a group
    of people, some food, and get together,” Bird said.
    “A celebration has a connection with the past. You’re
    celebrating the ancestors and life itself.”


    At last year’s festival, Bird watched a cohort of
    grandmas set up chairs around 11:30 a.m. They
    stayed all day as the kids and mid-lifers danced
    around them.


    “They were so cool about it,” Bird said.  “They’d
    only get up to go to the bathroom or get more food.”


    When it comes to languages, food and music, the
    Caribbean is a nexus of dotted lines stretching across
    the blue from Africa, Latin America, India
    and Europe.  To navigate the waters, the
    festival called on Bird, host of WLNZ-FM’s
    “Natty Dreadlock Rock Show.”


    Bird picked a musical line-up that covers
    the waterfront pretty well. Representing
    Trinidad and Tobago, the Trinidad Tripoli
    Steel Band has played the festival every year
    since it began, developing its own fan base
    along the way. “They are the foundation, the
    gluten of our festival,” Bird said.  On the Latin side,
    Orquesta Tradicion will serve up salsa in classic and
    updated form.



    How updated? “I heard them do a hot cover of an
    Alicia Keys tune that just blew me away,” Bird said.



    Kids are sometimes rendered saucer-eyed by the
    stilt dancers and drummers of Zulu Connection, representing
    Haitian history and culture, but apprehension
    usually turns to fascination.


    The meat of the festival
    for many will be a two-hour thump session with reggae favorites Fyah
    Wyah, Donovan and the Universal Roots Band. For a closer, Detroit’s
    Universal Expression will break out a dance-intensive mix of reggae,
    soca and calypso.


    “They will have you roll your belly and do the helicopter,” Bird said.


    Grandma will probably be in bed by then.


    Over
    the years, the festival has turned into a “brand” for Lansing Community
    College, Harris said. It kicks off a new academic year, shows off the
    campus, and draws a broad cross section of the community, many of whom
    vote for LCC millages.


    Harris
    said two marriages and one child “have resulted from” the festival (is
    the music that sexy?) and many out-of-town visits are scheduled around
    it.


    Each year, more
    and more folks come for the ginger beer, fried plantains, curry goat,
    ox tail, Jamaican jerk chicken and other Caribbean delicacies that are
    becoming as American as pizza and chow mein. When T.G.I.Friday’s, a new
    vendor this year, introduces a Caribbean menu, you know the culture is
    going mainstream.


    Racial
    commingling is one thing, but the Caribbean Festival even has
    management and labor jamming together. This year, the list of sponsors
    grew to include Lansing’s GM Delta Grand River plant and two UAW locals
    (602 and 652).


    “Politicians
    talk diversity, but they can’t bring it,” Bird said. “Here is the
    festival that brings diversity without a struggle.”


    Caribbean Festival. Noon-midnight Saturday, Aug. 28.

    Washington Square Mall, Lansing Community College. www.lcc.edu