Wednesday, August 15, El Salvador night was filled with worry for the festival organizers and Jorge Martinez, the representative of the El Salvador Tourist Board as the ballet troupe and the band were stranded at the airport in San Salvador. The airplane they were to board was down-sized and no seats were available. After many conferences, festival chairman Felix Ayuso, Jorge Martinez and TACA representative Tony Diaz arranged for the band to fly to Guatemala City; from there the festival chartered a jet and had the band flown to Belize City. They arrived on the island in time to sound check their equipment and instruments, take a shower, eat dinner and rush to the festival grounds and give a great performance. Paloma Martin and the mariachis stayed an additional day and serenaded the audience until El Salvador arrived. The music of El Salvador has always been a festival favorite - the crowd loves salsa and cumbia. René Alonso and his band Lasser were no exception. Some say they were the festival's best.
(Photo by Kay Scott)
Festival fans witnessed another first on Friday night. La Balet Folclorico Nacional from Honduras made their first appearance at the festival. The beautifully costumed dancers pleased the audience. People commented on the common history of the countries participating and marveled at the beauty of the dances and the music and costumes. Next on stage, for the fifth year, was La Gran Banda. The eighteen member band more than lived up to the crowds expectations. Every year they have appeared at the festival, they have exceeded their previous year's performance, 1996 was no exception - according to the audience, La Gran Banda is the greatest!
Saturday, August 17 was Belize Caribbean Night. Entertainers and dignitaries arrived all day. His Excellency Sir Colville Young, Governor General of Belize was the honoured guest. Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow and Minister of Tourism Hon. Henry Young were invited guests and speakers for the special night. The audience was treated to an all star show beginning with the Leomar Dance Group, Sunita Castillo, Miss San Pedro Ceci Lara, Peter "Poots" Flores and his band and then the international stars - the Garifuna Kids. The attendance was a record breaker for the festival. The crowd was estimated to be between 3 and 4 thousand. A sudden rainstorm around 11 p.m. sent the audience scurrying under the tents, the skies cleared and the festivities continued til three. San Pedro hotel rooms were full. Boats took people back to Belize City at 4 a.m.
Santino's Mountain Bike Classic kicked off Event Day, Sunday August 18. Riders started the race at Central Park, they road through San Pablo and to the end of the island, then back through town to the park. After the race, floats, and dancers and bands prepared for the Grand Parade. The parade went through the streets gathering the crowd and ended at the festival grounds. The festival committee set a gate price of $5 and kids were free. A large audience enjoyed the body building competition, performances of Burbujitas and Pelofina, the clowns from Mexico, Memo and His Band and the San Pedro High School Band. The audience was relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon and evening. Groups sat and talked about the five nights of wonderful entertainment and enjoyed the music of the high school band closing the festival. It was an especially moving performance for the band as it was the last time the original band would perform together - Alex Noralez and Claudia Haylock, the singers and Perla Nuñez the drummer have graduated.