Family Fun
April 10, 2014 • 10:35:04 a.m.

Growing steelpan festival returns to Crystal Lake

By JAMI KUNZER jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Joel Townsend, 8, Carpentersville took part in last year's Great Lakes Steelpan Festival. (Photo provided)

Matt Potts wants you to think steelpan when you think Crystal Lake.

Based on the response to this year’s upcoming Great Lakes Steelpan Festival, he’s succeeding.

“The fact that we have five of the six bands participating in the event driving over six hours to come, we feel, is a strong indicator that we are achieving that,” said Potts, event organizer and band member of Potts & Pans, an internationally acclaimed steel band.

“We’ve got people flying out from all around the country, making the drive out, so we definitely feel we are well on our way to achieving our goal of having Crystal Lake become something people think about when they think about steelpan, not only in the Midwest, but in the U.S., in the whole country,” he said.

The Great Lakes Steelpan Festival starts at 9 a.m. with free band performances and workshops and concludes with an 8 p.m. concert April 12 at Hannah Beardsley Middle School, 515 E. Crystal Lake Ave., Crystal Lake.

It is promoted as the only music festival in the Chicago area specializing in the steelpan, also known as the steel drum, a musical instrument from the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago. The steelpan originally was made from 55-gallon drums formerly containing oil and other substances.

The drums now typically are built using sheet metal stretched into a bowl shape, with the notes molded into the surface using hammers, manually or with the help of air pressure.

The note’s size corresponds to the size of the oval. The larger the oval, the lower the tone.

Well-known steelpan performers and educators, including Gary Gibson, Freddy Harris III, Kurry Seymoure and Potts & Pans Steelband, will host events throughout the day at the festival.

In a new twist this year, all roughly 80 performers will come together at the end of the day to perform a song, Potts said. 

“As far as I’m aware of, I believe it will be the largest steel band to perform in the Illinois area,” he said. 

The performance of Harris III, of Chicago, also will include the blues, jazz and funk band Chez Butter, also of Chicago, Potts said.

And Seymoure, of Summerville, S.C., represents one of the best steel band players and educators in the world, he said. 

Potts & Pans will perform the world premiere of “Echo’s Revenge” by Bryan Garbe.

“We are continuing on with what we did last year with exposing new music that has been composed specifically for the steel band, which is always good for broadening the horizons of the guests that come,” Potts said.

Even those who’ve never been exposed to the steelpan will learn and gain an appreciation for the instrument and its capabilities, organizers say.

They wanted to fill a void in the Midwest, where steelpan performance and education events are limited, they say. The festival also gives bands, such as Potts & Pans, a closer option when it comes to finding places to perform.

Potts expects at least three times the amount of last year’s roughly 180 participants and attendees at the event. 

“We’ve got that in ticket sales already for this year,” he said. 


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