Sacred Startime swansong - Beres cameo a tick on audience's performer wish list
If Saturday night's Final Chapter of Startime was a burial for the 31-year-old concert series, nobody remembered to tell the zinc fence-to-zinc fence, stage front-to-skybox audience at Mas Camp it should mourn. Instead, the approximately six-hour concert was remarkably devoid of regrets and, as Jamaican send-offs for the beloved tend to be, filled with dancing and general merriment up to Sanchez's rendition of Amazing Grace to inscribe the end on Startime in Jamaica at 3:20 a.m. yesterday.
Before that, though, the Startime audience got to tick off a highly requested performer, even if Beres Hammond's cameo during Marcia Griffiths' extended set for their duet Live On was way short of the extended showing that the concert's organiser, Michael Barnett, told The Gleaner fans had been demanding. As tends to happen, when Hammond entered the stage with a smile, smartphones were raised with the cheers, and white lights hovered above the moving mass of bodies as the moment was recorded from multiple audience angles.
Griffiths was one of the many performers to note Startime's end, quipping after doing The First Cut is the Deepest, "For me, this is not my last, this is my beginning." U-Roy, observing the younger generations of music lovers at the National Stadium venue, thanked them for coming out and said, "All a we, we a do this before your parents meet. Me really appreciate the I them come out." There was laughter when the penultimate performer, Leroy Sibbles, played on the pronunciation of 'last' and 'lost' to say, "It no los', it cyaan los'."
The celebration of the moment, rather than despair and demise, was especially striking as the concert's ending had been widely and repeatedly announced, unlike major events such as Reggae Sunsplash (which ended in the late1990s, a 2006 attempt to revise the brand in Ocho Rios, a one-off affair) and Sting, last held in 2015. During the early going of The Final Chapter, MC Tommy Cowan reminded the audience about the event's debut on June 30, 1988, at the Old Spanish Town Bar in the Oceana Hotel, Kingston, with Gregory Isaacs, along with Lloyd Parkes and We The People Band - the latter on the stand for the closing concert. Among the performers at the then monthly series that year were Cynthia Schloss in August and Delroy Wilson in December. Bob Andy, the October 1988 performer, was a guest of Griffiths at The Final Chapter, the two doing Young, Gifted and Black.
If the book theme were to be carried through, Startime's Final Chapter lived up to the pacing of a good novel with quality, from Cornell Campbell's opening, including Queen of the Minstrel, to Boris Gardiner's ballads, including a nod to Johnny Ace, Ernie Smith's humour and romance (an encore was demanded and granted), U-Roy's waking the town and telling the people, and Griffiths' extended run in which she stepped out of Babylon and also paid homage to those who inspired her to bring the concert to a peak.
After a break, the build-up started again with Horace Andy; his guest Half Pint brought Greetings. Leroy Sibbles put on a scorcher, and Sanchez brought the house down repeatedly, a praise-and-worship medley ushering some dancing, singing persons out of Mas Camp before his closing hymn.
"The place cork!" Cowan observed in the early going. Still, there seemed to be some doubt that Startime was really over in Jamaica as when Cowan asked, "Do you believe this is the final show?" there was resounding shout of "no!"