22 May 2010

Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival: "Where's the Beach?"

Posted by Robert Gibson

Today is Saturday May 22nd, 2010. The Southern Caribbean island of Aruba is preparing for a Soul Beach Music Festival that will not be held at a beach. Where is the beach in “Soul Beach”? Good question!   This year the location for annual Soul Beach Music Festival has been designated to San Nicholas – better known as the “Sunrise City” and “Chocolate City” as it sits on the end of the island that greets the rising sun and is home to the islands largest population of Black islanders (the politically correct designation: Afro-Caribbean) who migrated to Aruba as the workforce demands increased at the expanding refinery throughout the late 3o’s, 40′s 50′s and 1960′s.

San Nicholas is also the home of the island’s first true economic boom as oil refining became the backbone of Aruba’s economy in the 20th century until tourism began to surpass it in the 1970′s and 80′s.   As the economic pendulum swung north and west towards Oranjestad, Eagle Beach, and Palm Beaches.   The area “Below the Bridge” slowly was pushed aside and forgotten, left to rust, decay and fade away as all focus and almost all development dollars flowed north and west.  San Nicholas became the “ugly duckling” only to be remembered in election years with hollow promises of rebirth swapped for votes, and an annual Carnival celebration that is constantly mired in controversy.

2010 saw hope rise like a Phoenix as the new Minister of Tourism Otmar Oduber gave the nod to “Soul Nicholas” as the rightful venue location for this high caliber and successful music and entertainment event.  Unfortunately, instead of staging the main events in the area of Boca Grande Beach and the escarpments of the Grapefields, or the area of Baby Beach, or in back of, or in front of the former Nanki Club of the old Lago/Esso refinery,  the choice was made to situate the venue in the San Nicholas Stadium.  Thus, taking the “beach” out of the Soul Beach Festival.

Major time, effort, and dollars are being invested in revamping the stadium when it could be better spent developing the public recreation and beach areas of Seroe Colorado, Boca Grande, and the Grapefields.   What a magnificent setting it would have been to stage the festival’s events in any of these areas.  With their stunning, sweeping, scenic seascapes and landscapes that encompass this underexposed end of the island.  A tremendous chance to showcase  Aruba’s new “Go Green” wind farm at Vader Piet.  Not to mention ease of traffic logistics, the boundless parking, spacious seating, expansive general audience area available, and endless opportunities for retail booths and refreshment stands.  A huge opportunity lost to display the majestic beauty of this southeastern island gem and begin a rebirth and open future economic doors to reinvigorate and refresh this neglected district.  Even the small businesses of San Nicholas and the surrounding area would have benefited more with the increased traffic flow over the whole time frame of the festivities.  Thereby directly increasing the  total amount of prospective clients and customers visiting on a daily and nightly basis.  Better business and better quality exposure, a surefire combination that will not be realized.

Instead, the crowds of tourists, travelers, locals, musicians, photographers , photojournalists, cinema photographers, and the world at large will be exposed to a bash in the middle of a standard uninspiring stadium, night after night.  People will be bused in, and those that drive will search for parking spots in a maze of unguarded areas that will become a thieves paradise. Parking and traffic will be a scene of chaos. Frustration and disgust will abound.  Tempers will flare.  And a tremendous advantageous moment to garner positive publicity and worldwide exposure will be squandered.

Yes, the stadium needs to be refurbished, and it’s use maximized, but not now, and not for this reason.  Years of mismanagement by the controlling stichting and former governments are responsible for the sad condition of the stadium. Yes, administration and management of the stadium needs to change hands.  In that there is no doubt nor disagreement.   But in the end, the island once again is left with a better, more viable economic alternative  never being explored and seized.  Nobody wanted to act intelligently and make an educated, outside of the box proposal.  A clean slate was and is available to be utilized, upgraded, maximized and exhibited.  And a new phenomenal venue for prospective concerts, events, and public use could have become a reality today instead of the same old hollow promises of tomorrow.  Economic opportunity and stimulation below the bridge could have been kick-started in May of 2010. Instead, stupidity and folly triumph once again in Aruba.  Shame on the the powers that be who concocted this stadium location decision.  It is just one more example of the short sightedness and incompetence that continues to flourish and be rewarded on Aruba.

Make no mistake though, the music and performances will be sensational.  A tremendous lineup and show has been put together as usual.  The disappointment will be in the venue itself and opportunity lost. ” Where is the beach?”  San Nicholas, festival attendees, performers, and the people of Aruba deserve better.  Aruba Libre!

Robert Gibson

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