#Events: Goombay Festival spreads its wings

#Events: Goombay Festival spreads its wings

Those of you who attend regularly might have noticed that the Goombay Festival has seemed different lately. There is good reason for that. It has been run by a different set of organizers for the past two years. The changeover from longstanding local facilitators to a new group led by Rodney Gullette has been a controversial one.

Gullette’s wife is in the military which means he is a military spouse, keeping himself busy with his own career in IT, volunteering with several local organizations, most notably the Rotary Club, and raising the couple’s two children. When the family was first stationed to Key West Gullette was keen to involve himself in the community; he is not one to waste time. Initially, he sought out the local African American community which in turn led him to Bahama Village. A few steps further along in his journey he became involved with Goombay, the long running festival celebrating Bahamian island culture. This is where things became complicated.

Gullette is a self-described leader and he recognized some problems with the organization as well as other opportunities to make the annual event better. His attempts to right a ship that he found in need of repair stirred feathers and this came to a fraught political impasse quite quickly. Before he knew what had happened Gullette, other local business leaders and a group of Rotarians had assumed management of the festival.

Despite the tumultuous journey, Gullette is eager to focus on the good news about a festival that he believes has been made significantly stronger.

“This year,” he tells me, “the Goombay Festival is going to be better than ever.”

What, in particular? Well, wi-fi!

Even though Gullette is especially happy about the children’s carnival which returns with “an incredible stage and more performances than before” he tells me that people attending will really appreciate the free wi-fi that will be available to everyone both days throughout the footprint of the festival.

In years past people attending would use up a lot of their data plan time uploading photos and posting to Facebook and social media. Now that will all be easy to do and available for free thanks to a partnership with Key West Broadband. It’s great immediate exposure of what is going on. So too is the live streaming of the festival that will happen on its website.

A lot of Gullette’s professional know-how and a great deal of time has gone into making the Goombay Festival more technically sophisticated, for the public and in terms of the event’s back end administration – booth scheduling etc. It’s something Gullette insists is necessary in this day and age.

Still, Gullette who is a serious and sober individual becomes visibly emotional when he thinks about the Junkaroo Parade, a decidedly low-tech part of the festival that involves a marching band and larger than life men on stilts. For him this is when everyone stops in awe, watches and appreciates what a special event Goombay is.

That, for him, makes it all worthwhile.

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