Looking Forward to Festival
by Dean Greenaway
BVI Festival and Fairs Committee Chairman Marvin Blyden has helped make The August Emancipation Festival a success for over 30 years.
All of us eagerly look forward to the annual August Festival activities, highlighted by the festive August Monday Parade of colorful troupes, floats and bands, parading along Waterfront Drive before thousands of residents and visitors, under the sweltering Caribbean sun.
The annual celebration marks the emancipation from slavery for the British Colonies that came into effect on August 1, 1834 which also happened to be a Monday. Activities begin with the opening of the Festival Village on the last Friday in July and run for 16 days, culminating with the Carrot Bay Cultural Fiesta, which brings the curtain down on this year's activities on August 10.
August Festival is a major social event. Not only visitors come to enjoy the nightly entertainment in Festival Village, the August Monday Parade and the early morning Rise and Shine tramps in Road Town and East End, but many residents return time and again for these activities and rekindle friendships and relationships. They also enjoy the East End-Long Look Festival and horse racing in Sea Cows Bay at the Ellis Thomas Down. Then, the sleepy north coast village of Carrot Bay comes alive to close things out with the Carrot Bay Cultural Fiesta, highlighted by the donkey race through the narrow streets at water's edge.
Like many who revel in the various fêtes, Marvin "MB" Blyden, my BVI High School classmate, former track and field team member who went on to becoming president of the BVI Basketball Federation and was appointed Chairman of the BVI Festival and Fairs Committee two year ago, has been making contributions to the annual festival for more than 30 years.
Even before he became involved in festival in the 70s as a participant with Corrine Brewley's troupe, which vied with those from Jasmaine Brewley, Roderick Borde, Beverly Hodge-Smith and Cecil "Chicken" Patrick's for the biggest in the August Monday parade, his first business MB's Ice kept August Festival revelers' drinks cold. It wasn't anything related to festival that spurred his venture into becoming a pioneer in serving up crushed ice year-round and at local festivities. While still in high school and working at Riteway Supermarket one Saturday afternoon in the 70s, the avid sports fan attended a softball game. Rennie "Panchie" Julius, who was also playing softball but had a truck selling drinks since there was no concession stands, ran out of ice and sent MB to get some. MB recalled going all over town trying to find ice to keep Panchie's patrons happy – but to no avail.
"My good friend Elliot "Booty" Hodge said, 'you know what? We could eliminate all this,'" MB fondly recalled Hodge telling him. "You buy an ice machine and a storage bin and put it by your house and I'll do the same," Hodge said.
"That's a good idea I told him. I went home and I jumped on that idea and went to work, but he did not follow up. So I went on and created MB's Ice."
The name "MB's" he says goes back to his school days when there were two Marvins in his class – Smith and Blyden. MB would be used to distinguish him from the other Marvin and has become a household name. He currently owns and is the Managing Director of Qwomar Trading Ltd., which he co-founded with the late Dr. Q. William Osborne starting with a 45% share. With his mother, he also co-owns A&M Laundry – the first laundry to open in Huntums Ghut – founded after she retired from working at Peter Island.
"Of all the businesses I've been involved in, I take MB's Ice very seriously, because that's my brainchild I created from scratch," he pointed out. "The other companies I had help in getting them started."
While he's no longer a festival parade participant, the successful businessman has had a hand in several aspects of festival before taking the reigns as Chairman. MB began his stint starting with Hon. Louis Walters in the 1980s when he was the Minister of Education and Culture, and has served under every Minister since, including Elieene Parsons, Lloyd Black, Andrew Fahie and now Myron Walwyn.
"Under all of them, I've served as either Chairman of the Festival Village, Parade or Calypso Committee," MB reflected. "I'm no stranger to festival. I've done my part."
The experience used in developing and creating his businesses serves as a blueprint in helping him in his role as Chairman of the Festival and Fairs Committee. MB knows what he wants to see and has started implementing a series of changes.
In his role, MB oversees all festivals in the territory and notes it has always been like that. "But, no one was really carrying out the mandate of the government," he pointed out. "It's only after Hon. Myron Walwyn took over, he asked us to revise the Festival Committee's Constitution and by doing that, we realized that the Chairman is supposed to oversee all festivals in the territory – from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke including festivals in East End and Carrot Bay."
This he said presented new challenges. When the festival in Road Town ended, past chairpersons, he noted, joined the other festivals as spectators. "In my position, I'm to ensure that the same caliber of festival takes place also in East End, Carrot Bay and Virgin Gorda," he explained. MB also sees a need for the committee to have an operational headquarters as well as a permanent Festival Village site.
MB anticipates a great 2013 August Festival, whose theme is: Looking back at 175 years of being fully free – "Our Culture, Our Heritage and Virgin Islands History." This year's slogan is: 2013 Festival Virgin Islands Style – "Celebrate Freedom with Territorial Pride."
The annual August Monday Parade of colorful troupes, floats and bands is being tweaked to give spectators a better overall product. In years past, all judging was done at the Festival Village site but several areas along the route have now become judging areas.
"Unfortunately, last year's parade was so big, that by the time we arrived at the Festival Village it was about 7 pm," he stated. "What we are doing to correct that is to ensure that the parade starts on time. Secondly, we are removing the judging station by Clovers so that the final judging is done in the Festival Village so it won't back up the parade. When we did that last year, the booth owners were very comfortable and happy with it."
Residents and visitors can expect to see a shorter parade than in past years as the committee has moved the children's parade from the Road Town Parade to the one at the East End Festival on Wednesday. "By taking the children out, it will cut down on the parade time," MB noted. "And, wherever children go, adults will follow."
The Chairman said activities at the Carrot Bay, which kicks off on August 8 with a fishing tournament followed by an opening ceremony later that evening, will have a greater cultural focus. "We don't want to micromanage Carrot Bay and say 'you can't have this or that' but, at the same time, when people book their passage they book for the festival in Road Town," he noted. "We are one of the only Caribbean countries that has three festivals," he added, pointing out he has been to Trinidad, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia. "All their festivals are centralized."
This year marks the 59th anniversary of the annual August Festival and plans are already in the works for next year's 60th celebration with the BVI Tourist Board marketing the event in New York, MB revealed. The 50th anniversary was named in honor of Eileene Parsons, who made significant contributions to the development of the annual event and with whom MB worked. He noted that government put funds into that celebration to help make it a grand occasion and he hopes that the government will do the same for the 60th edition.
With this and other new measures being implemented, MB sees an overall improved festival product. "Everyone's participation in all aspects contributes to making it a resounding success," he said.
All festival information is available online through the BVI Tourist Board's site. A full schedule of all events in Road Town, East End and Carrot Bay is also available on its facebook page. The BVI Festival and Fairs Committee also has its own facebook page http://www.facebook.com/virginislandsfestival.