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The SCENE Magazine

PAN JAM Steel Drum Festival Is A Beat Away

Mar 22, 2012 03:44PM ● By Domino Taylor

Festival this weekend! March 24 & 25

The annual spring festivals are around the corner, but the premiere event that defines the changing of seasons and literally shakes off the winter blahs is the Kemah Pan Jam Steel Drum Festival. Pan Jam is a two-day event, March 24 and 25 that is a true celebration of the history and preservation of steel drum music. The party of the season will be located at the Kemah Visitor Center & School Museum Parking Lot (6th & Bradford) in Kemah. Saturday festival hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday is 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

Even though it is free admission, the line-up of music is worth the cost of a major concert ticket. This year the organizers are bringing back Freddie Harris III as headliner and will include sets from a Gulf Coast favorite, Jerry Diaz and his band Hanna’s Reef and also a first time appearance of The Rhythm Project. Additionally, an eye-pleasing treat will be the Pele O Polynesian Fire Dancers, dancing to drums with fire at dusk on Saturday evening for an impressive hip shaking performance.

Freddie Harris III was born in New York but raised in Trinidad after his folks moved back to the islands and as the saying goes, this apple didn’t fall far from the tree, his father is the famous Freddie Harris Jr., the guitarist and arranger for Harry Belafonte. Freddie began playing the steel drums at age 4, when most tots are pretending to play musical instruments Freddie was mastering the steel drums and by age 6 was playing with the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra in St. Thomas. He returned to the U.S. in 1990 and continued his international music career touring and winning numerous national steel drum competitions including 1st  place in the Miami Florida Pan Solo Competition.  Freddie has a big fan base and they are eagerly awaiting his performances, Saturday (3/24) afternoon and evening and Sunday (3/25) afternoon. His most recent CDs are Steal Explosion and Misty, and he has always been happy to autograph them and visit with the fans during the 973-801-1331breaks.

This music festival showcases steel drum bands from all over the country, and this year, Pan Jam will introduce a very special group of young musicians, The Rhythm Project All Stars. The Rhythm Project was found in 1996 in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the program serves over 100 students from 4th to 12th grade in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth. The Rhythm Project All Stars is the program’s premiere performing ensemble. They have a wide repertoire that ranges from the calypsos to the arrangements of classical compositions and pop music with many Caribbean favorites.

Known for their traditional authenticity and high-energy performances, the group has two CD recordings and a live DVD as well as being named winners of the 2009 and 2010 Grand Champion of the annual PANorama Caribbean Music Fest in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Rhythm Project All Stars have performed throughout United States and Canada and has performed at two of the world’s largest tattoos. (A tattoo is a centuries-old Scottish tradition of celebrated performances of pipes and drums). The All Stars have also opened up for Gladys Knight. This band also conducts the yearly event, Rhythm Live, a full-staged production outlining the evolution of the Caribbean Steel Drum and Calypso music to an audience of over 1500 elementary and high school students in Southeastern Virginia, and they serve as the primary community engagement program at the Virginia Arts Festival. The director of Rhythm Project is Sophia Subero and Associate Director is Dave Longfellow, whose dedication ensures that this talented group’s mission of multi-cultural artistic excellence and educational outreach is realized.

Jerry Diaz, a long-time favorite along the Gulf Coast and his band Hanna’s Reef will be performing Caribbean hits during Pan Jam. Jerry, a soloist and songwriter, founded the band Key West in 1993, and then after much success and tours started his current band Hanna’s Reef in 2002.  A favorite of “Parrot Heads,” his Jimmy Buffet styling always has the crowd up and dancing. Born and raised on the Texas Gulf Coast, Jerry’s songs reflect the lifestyle along the coast, highlighting boating, beaches, bars and babes. Jerry Diaz and Hanna’s Reef CDs are Reef Madness and Deja View.

Pan Jam Founder and Chairman is Sandra Williams of Boardwalk Fudge and Co-Chair is Carol McCants of Hula Hut and Brass Parrot Bed & Breakfast, all in Kemah.

“Pan Jam’s main objective is to support steel drum music by raising money for scholarships for the area colleges who have steel drum music departments,” said Sandra. “These talented and dedicated college bands perform every year and are a large draw to the festival.”

Pan Jam uses this opportunity to sponsor and raise awareness to the Bay Area Pet Adoption (formerly the SPCA). Every year this event raises funds with raffles to help this nonprofit agency to provide a temporary home for our homeless furry friends.  A pet contest is scheduled that always is a crowd pleaser. Pet food donations are accepted at several donation boxes as well.

“Don’t forget to visit the Bay Area Pet Adoption booth during the two days for adoption information and giveaways,” Co-Chair Carol McCants stated. “We also will have kid’s activities with inflatables and fun rides with lots of great food, arts and crafts, beverage booths and vendors with fantastic merchandise.”

The night before the big event is the annual Pan Jam Kick-Off Party at Zone 504 (located at 504 Kipp Street in Kemah) on March 23 from 6 to 9 p.m. with food, drink specials and live reggae music to get the party started. No admission charge to attend the kick-off party.

For more information and up-to-date scheduling, visit For sponsorship or vendor information call 281-528-4165 or 281-615-3187.  Hey Mon! March 24 and 25, Pan Jam Festival is the place to be!

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