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Broward Carnival Woes Begin Already

When it comes to the Caribbean carnival season in South Florida, there's usually no shortage of fun-filled drama affiliated with the weekend-long fete. Big parties, colorful costumes, and street parades are staples during the high-energy fling, which takes place each year during the second week of October. Carnival is almost always positive here, although there's a certain undercurrent of politics attached to it that can be annoying.

Ever since Caribbean nationals in Broward County began organizing their own carnival six years ago, infighting has soured some locals with regard to the weekend. People are forced to choose which event they want to attend, since Broward and Miami carnivals are held simultaneously. To some folks, it turns what should be a weekend of Caribbean unity into an event that's more divisive than anything.

This year, however, everything was shaping up to be relatively drama-free. At least, that was the case until several weeks ago. On August 30, the 2008 Carnival Warm Up, which was held at Miramar Regional Park, flopped for questionable reasons, leaving a number of folks who attended the event with an uneasy feeling.

When I first saw the flier for Carnival Warm Up (an annual event held over Labor Day weekend to drum up support for the main event), I initially thought it was going to be a great show. The lineup was stacked with talent and the faces of big-name acts like Sean Kingston, Baby Cham, Pitbull, Iwer George, and other Caribbean luminaries were clearly displayed on the flier. The lineup alone should have been enough to attract a big audience. For reasons that are still unclear, though, the Carnival Warm Up was underpromoted and seemed destined to fail from the beginning.

None of the big acts showed up except Trinidadian soca star George, and the turnout was atrocious.

A number of food vendors were especially ticked off by the low turnout, and they're now threatening legal action against InVibrations Communications, sponsor of the event. Vendors paid $650 for a booth plus a $91 food handlers license permit to be onsite. They expected to make money, but most took a tremendous loss.

"They said they were expecting 4,500 to 5,000 people for this event," says a miffed George Suarez of Good Eats catering service. "They were guaranteeing that many people would be here because they said they already had 2,000 tickets presold. I spent close to $4,000 on food and only made back $60. They used our money to fund this entire event, and that's not right."

It's unclear how many tickets were actually sold ahead of time, but by my count, fewer than 200 people attended the show — and that's being generous. The fact that so few of the artists on the "official lineup" actually made it to the event led lots of folks to feel they were deliberately deceived. "Baby Cham? More like Baby Scam!" chanted one passerby.

The vitriol wasn't directed at the artists, however, but at InVibrations and, indirectly, at Broward County Carnival.

Karen Durant, another vendor, was emphatic that she'd never do business with Broward Carnival again. "Never, ever, ever," she said on the night of the event. "They didn't promote this thing at all, and what they've done is make our people look bad... as if we don't come out and support our own events."

To be fair, it was raining off and on that day. But if, as the pitch to vendors went, 2,000 tickets were presold and if even half of those folks decided to stay home (and waste $30 per ticket), that left 1,000 who would have braved the weather.

When a few artists came out and actually performed that day, there were never more than 50 people in front of the stage.

What's troubling about Durant's remarks (and there were others echoing her) is that, according to Broward County Carnival Inc. President Andy Ansola, his organization had very little to do with this event. InVibrations (which never responded to numerous messages) sought an endorsement from BCCI and was allowed to use the company logo, with Ansola's permission. Ansola was perturbed when he heard the news of how apparent mismanagement by InVibrations, which is based in Miami, is now causing his beloved carnival here in Broward to be looked at unfavorably.

"This was not a Broward Carnival event," Ansola said via phone. "I put honesty and integrity and transparency as my key philosophy. We live on that philosophy."

Unfortunately for the folks who showed up at Carnival Warm Up, a certain level of damage was already done. But the big event is still coming up next month, so there's yet time to repair some of the damage. "Tell people they can call me personally to clear this up," Ansola says. "I will not have Broward Carnival dragged in the mud with all of my hard work because of someone else."

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Jonathan Cunningham