What it’s like to play mas with a first-time band in Toronto Carnival

Dream Carnival's inaugural year was far from smooth, but bandleader Brittany Dardaine delivered a solid experience at the Grand Parade

In its inaugural year at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, Dream Carnival made a splash for the wrong reasons.

The non-competing band that NOW profiled in our Carnival cover story – and played mas with during the Grande Parade on August 3 – turned out to be a nightmare for some customers who dealt with excruciatingly long wait times to pick up costumes and in, some cases, simply missed out on what they were sold.

Due to delayed shipments, bandleader Brittany Dardaine and her team had days to finish what should have taken weeks. They scrambled to fix and assemble costumes, delaying pick up schedules and leaving customers with five-hour wait times. Most customers expecting feather work did not receive them. Many opted for full or partial refunds.

Other bands like Tribal had issues, but the stories about Dream Carnival spread fast and furious, after the band’s Instagram became a forum for complaints and rumours. Even CityNews reported on the disappointment. While other bands disabled comments on Instagram, Dream kept it going.

“They need a place to vent,” explained Dardaine, when I checked in a day before the Grand Parade. She understood her customer’s disappointment. She was feeling it herself. She also looked decimated from lack of sleep as she huddled in the back of her mas camp while her team pieced together costumes for the frustrated crowd out front.

The following morning, slightly more than half of Dream’s expected 500 revellers turned up. Many used refunds to buy last-minute costumes from other bands. (However, Dream’s numbers seemed hefty compared to fellow non-competing band Atlantic Mas, who had maybe 10 to 20 masqueraders.)

Yancey and Miriam arrived from Ottawa, waited five hours to pick up their costumes, and ultimately threw out the drapery that came with it because the cut was poor. Kela Thompson arrived from New York, went to pick up her costume from the Dream camp at 1:30 am and still waited three and a half hours as Dardaine’s team put together feather work that wasn’t quite as fluffy and large as advertised.

But while Thompson was disappointed in the process, she was ready for a good time on parade day. “I have drinks in my system.”

Many masqueraders who endured long waits generally kept optimistic.

“Honestly, the costumes came out so gorgeous,” says Jaekel Furlong, who along with her friend Sarina Vargas arrived in featherless costumes.

“We’re going to be dancing,” says Vargas.  “We’re going to go on bad. It’s Caribana. It’s everyone’s birthday. Everyone is vibing and dancing. We forget about the troubles we went through. We’re just here to have a good time.”

Toronto Carnival 2019

Samuel Engelking

Spectators who didn’t pay to be part of a band flood the parade route on Lakeshore West.

The revellers were eager to jump up, even as they doubted whether they would get food or see soca artist Machel Montano on Dream’s truck, as promised. But while the costume pick-ups proved disastrous and the parade itself was extensively delayed, Dream Carnival delivered an enviable road experience.

There was lunch by Alijandro’s Kitchen followed by Eva’s Original Chimneys for dessert. Issa Snack star Nessa Preppy was dancing away on Dream’s truck, decked out in Dardaine’s fantasy designs. Montano performed for the revellers in the evening, singing his Trinidad Road March-winning song Famalay, which I’m pretty sure was Toronto Carnival’s anthem judging from the number of times I heard it.

There were also stormers, a perennial problem where spectators who didn’t pay to march crash the parade route. They ground the parade to a slow crawl by early afternoon and frolicked among masqueraders to a point that finding Carnival costumes on the road was like playing Where’s Waldo? Even people biking along Lakeshore West joined in. Why doesn’t this happen during the Santa Claus Parade?

Almost two hours late, big band Carnival Nationz was the first act to arrive at the staging area, where they would be judged as part of a competition. But they couldn’t enter the stage with all the stormers hanging on to their truck. The DJ turned off the music, had masqueraders sit down and practically begged for the stormers to get away from the truck.

Meanwhile, Dream Carnival gave masqueraders a vision of what it’s like to play mas uninterrupted thanks to a large security team that kept the band roped off throughout the day. Guards swiftly and efficiently plucked stormers away from Dream’s masqueraders to keep the vibes going. It’s a setup other bands may want to learn from.

Dream released an official statement to its masqueraders for the disastrous costume situation. “No apology or refund will be enough to compensate,” it reads.

The statement also indicates Dardaine and Dream aren’t ready to throw in the towel.

“We look forward to working with each of you to continue to grow Dream Carnival Mas Band and provide an even better experience in 2020.”

Check out photos from the 2019 Toronto Caribbean Carnival Grand Parade here.


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