On Friday evening, I spent $500 to see a worl-class show in Kingston. It ran on time, there was ample parking for the many persons who turned up (no one said ‘a me a watch it y’nuh’), the performances were guaranteed, and a couple surprises topped it off, there were no safety concerns, I had a whole section to myself, heard one and two big tune, I carried my food, spread out, had a whale of a time and got home before 10:00 p.m.
It was ‘Trials’ time at the National Stadium and I was in the bleachers, my favourite place from which to watch the action. I was there last year when Shericka Jackson ran 21:55 in the 200 metres (I was all alone in one section right at the starting position), I was there on Friday when she clocked 10:65 to take the 100 metres. The only difference was last year I had a free show, as the bleachers were opened to the public. And, still, not many people came.
So, I spent $1,000 on Friday, as I took my son with me. That was what I paid for myself only to get into the grandstand on Thursday, as there was no bleachers option. And, at 12 years old, he reinforced the value of the bleachers’ entry fee. He had a ball, walking around in a part of the stands that was totally empty (close to the 200 metre starting position, very familiar territory for me) from the cycle track side to the top. At one point he looked over to the grandstand and said they paid so much money to not have much space. I was reminded of something that Mutabaruka said at a concert I covered many years ago. He looked at the people in the VIP section and commented that they had paid a lot more money to come into a smaller space, while those with regular tickets had the whole outfield to roam at their leisure. Of course, he said it in a much more effective way than I have recounted.
Every year that I go to ‘Trials’, I am amazed that so few persons attend in the first instance (the grandstand was far from full on Friday night) and that such a tiny number opt for the bleachers, which cost one fifth of the grandstand entry fee this time around. Yes, TVJ carries it (slightly delayed, so persons who are there can have the thrill of calling someone having the television experience and say “yow, a yute name Roshawn Clarke jus mash up de 400 metre hurdles! Record run!”. Or they could call an say “yu woulda neva guess who win de 100! A no Seville. No, a no de likkle Blake an memba sey de big one pick de start yessiday. Guess no man!? But that is no comparison to being there and watching the 400 metre hurdles unfold, seeing Rushell Clayton steam down the backstretch in an outside lane, trying to establish some distance from persons she cannot keep an eye on.
And, there is the music. The PA system is not a ‘big sound’ and the deejay does not mix hit after hit, but Beres Hammond’s ‘No Goodbye’ hit the spot on Friday, as did a trio of Tina Turner songs on Thursday. Persons in the grandstand do the singalong with some gusto and there can be funny moments of interaction with the track announcer, like when the deejay played the Mavado line “we deh yah pon de gullyside” a few times and the track announcer broke in to say “we are not on the gullyside, we are at the National Stadium”.
For those who are into the long haul, ‘Trials’ actually begins in the morning, so if you want to you can do the equivalent of a night at Reggae Sumfest or Rebel Salute. Not that they are anywhere near close to even being vaguely similar in terms of consistent entertainment value. But, then, the least expensive Saturday night ticket at this year’s Sumfest costs US$65. Do the conversion and comparison.
There is a $500 music ticket in town, not far from the stadium, as when it is held at Curphey Place in Swallowfield that is the entry fee for the Rae Town session. Of course, when it is back at the Capricorn Inn in Rae Town it is free to everyone on the street. But on a regular basis there is simply no beating ‘Trials’ as an entertainment value propositioni In the bleachers, of course, on a Friday night when the shortest sprint caps off the evening. Now let is see if they will ‘fly de gate’ for the bleachers on Sunday this year.
Mel Cooke covered Jamaican entertainment as a print journalist for almost two decades, overlapping with his MPhil research on dancehall and experiential marketing with the Institute of Caribbean Studies, UWI, Mona, where he is now working on a PhD while lecturing in the Bachelor of Arts, Communication Arts and Technology (BACAT) programme at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech, Ja.).