Music
April 10, 2013 • 05:17:50 p.m.

Steelpan festival organizers hope instrument gains popularity in area

By JAMI KUNZER- jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Potts & Pans (Photo provided)

Great Lakes Steelpan Festival

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 13

WHERE: Hannah Beardsley Middle School, 515 E. Crystal Lake Ave., Crystal Lake

INFO: An educational festival presented by Potts & Pans Inc. for musicians, aspiring artists and fans of steelpan music. Event will showcase various workshops and clinics. Cost ranges from free to $25, depending on the workshops and concerts attended. For complete itinerary, tickets and information, visit www.steelpanfestival.com or call 815-245-3624.

With an upcoming steelpan festival in Crystal Lake, organizers hope to turn the Chicago area into a hub for enthusiasts of the instrument.

Offering both entertainment and education, the Great Lakes Steelpan Festival is only the beginning, said Matt Potts, event organizer, as well as the founder and performer for two featured bands.

“This is a world-class steelpan concert that will be happening in Crystal Lake, with guest artists that will likely not be on the same stage again probably ever,” he said. 

“Everybody will be able to enjoy it, whether they’ve never heard the steelpan before or whether that’s their favorite instrument.”

The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 13 at Hannah Beardsley Middle School, 515 E. Crystal Lake Ave.

Those who attend will be able to hear from a performer known as the “father of the modern steelpan instrument.”

Among musicians performing and hosting a workshop is Elliot “Ellie” Mannette, originally from Trinidad, known to be the first to use a 55-gallon oil barrel as well as the first to sink the top of the drum into a concave shape.

With the surface providing different pitches, modern steelpans fall into the idiophone family of instruments and are played using sticks tipped with rubber.

“We’ve only got a few years left where the men who created them are going to be still alive and we can actually get firsthand information from them and not just read it in a book,” Potts said. 

“We have the opportunity to hear from them,” he said. “That’s the biggest reason for me on why I wanted education to be an important part of (the festival).”

Along with Mannette, the festival will feature workshops, as well as a concert, with Gary Gibson and Clyde “Lightning” George. Other performers include Potts’ two bands, Potts & Pans (pottsandpans.org) and a District 155 steelpan band made up of high school students. 

Potts, who owns the online business, The Steelpan Store, had attended other steelpan festivals throughout the nation, including a smaller festival in Virginia Beach. While there, he spoke with fellow steelpan enthusiasts about the need for a Chicago area festival.

“There’s really nothing close to the Midwest area,” Potts said. “We wanted to start setting the groundwork for a Chicago steelpan festival.

“We wanted something educational, and possibly having the option for a competition, but the focus is educating people on the steelpan, educating performers on how to be better performers and the history of the instrument.”

A young instrument with its origins in Trinidad, many do not know the story behind it, he said. 

Now 26, Potts began playing about 10 years ago, his interest in music beginning at the age of four with piano and later with percussion in his fifth-grade band. He discovered the steelpan his senior year of high school and taught himself how to play.

“The more I played, the more I fell in love with the instrument and wanted to learn more about it,” he said. 

He soon learned to build and tune his own steelpans, a skill only a handful of people in the United States are qualified to do, he said. He started the band Potts & Pans about two years ago after college. 

Investing in numerous instruments at the time, he now uses those same instruments to teach and perform with high school students in the roughly seven-member District 155 band. 

His goal is to bring steelpan to as many people as possible.

“The steelpan filled me up and now I’ve got to share it with more people because I ran out of room,” he said.

•••

Great Lakes Steelpan Festival

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 13

WHERE: Hannah Beardsley Middle School, 515 E. Crystal Lake Ave., Crystal Lake

Cost ranges from free to $25, depending on the workshops and concerts attended. For complete itinerary, tickets and more information, go to www.steelpanfestival.com or call (815) 245-3624.


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