THE 2013 Magical Bambanti Festival held last January 27 to 30, 2013, was my first time in Isabela. Half-asleep, half-awake after our 10-hour road trip from Manila, I was pleasantly surprised by the Isabela that welcomed us upon our arrival. The province was progressive, it had beautiful roads, the people were friendly and extremely helpful, our hotel – Hotel Sophia, which just opened the week that we arrived – could compare with the best boutique hotels around the country, and the Bambanti Festival was full of fun and excitement.
Only on its second year, the Bambanti Festival, spearheaded by the Provincial Government of Isabela led by Governor Faustino ‘Bojie’ Dy III, captured the spirit of the Isabelino people, as it vibrated with one exciting activity after another. Aside from the back-to-back major crowd-drawer, the Bambanti Festival Street Dance Parade and the Grand Dance Showdown of the contingents coming from the different cities and municipalities of Isabela, the Bambanti Festival also highlighted the bountiful products of the province in an outdoor Agri-Eco Tourism Trade Exhibit, harnessed the innate talents of Isabelinos in the Search for the Isabela Singing Idol and the Best Dance Crew Compeition, and treated all fun-loving Isabelinos to live concerts featuring Jed Madela and Vina Morales one evening and Sarah Geronimo with Bamboo, Christian Bautista and Jon Santos on another evening.
AN ABUNDANCE OF PRODUCTS
That Isabela is the country’s Top Corn Producer and Biggest Rice Surplus Producer is a given, but there’s certainly more to Isabela than just corn and rice, and this was what the Agri-Eco Tourism Trade Exhibit held in the Provincial Capitol Grounds. The different cities and municipalities in the province set up their own booths to highlight their own products. Each booth had its own concept and appeal, thought up to draw visitors to come in and take a closer look at their products, which included bugnay wine, fruits and vegetables, peanuts and native delicacies.
Each booth also had its own giant bambanti (scarecrow) attraction that went with the overall concept of the booth. The City of Cauayan, for instance, put together a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs concept for its booth, with members of the organizing team really dressed in Snow White and dwarf costumes, and its bambanti taking the form of a giant dwarf. Palanan was another attention-getter with its mermaid bambanti. There was also a superhero bambanti and policeman bambanti, aside from all the beautiful bambantis made of natural materials such as corn husk and corn cob.
At the end of the four-day festival, the best agri-tourism booths were selected, with the City of Cauayan taking first place, Palanan landing second, and San Isidro making it in third place.
While the Bambanti Festival Street Dance Parade and Grand Dance Showdown that followed drew the crowds in to the Isabela Sports Complex in Ilagan City on Monday night (January 28, 2013), where the winners for the Giant Mask Competition and the Search for the Festival King and Queen were also announced, Tuesday night (January 29, 2013) saw the convergence of great singing and dancing talents from among the people of Isabela.
Held in the same venue, the awesome Isabela Sports Complex (which was similar in size, design and magnitude as the Quirino Grandstand in Manila), was another back-to-back event – the Search for the Isabela Singing Idol and the Best Dance Crew Competition. The singing competition had 12 individual contestants proudly representing their respective cities and municipalities, and the dance contest had eight competing teams.
To make the flow of the show fast and smooth, the two competitions alternately took the stage. The first four contestants of the Singing Idol opened the show, followed by the performances of the first four dance crews, then another four singing talents made their presence felt, followed by the dance routines of the last four dance crews, with the last four Isabelino singing sensations closing the show.
The pace was fast. There was no room for boredom, especially since the contestants – both of the Singing Idol and the Best Dance Crew competitions – performed at their peak level and impressed the full-house crowd so much that shrieks and screams were heard throughout the twin competitions.
But, as in any other competition, there should be winners, and the winners in the Search for the Isabela Singing Idol turned out to be the young man from San Manuel in first place, the young lady who represented Tumauini in second place and the teacher from Benito Soliven in third place.
As for the Best Dance Crew Competition, adjudged winners were the futuristic group from Ilagan City in first place, the MOD team from the City of Cauayan in second place, and the Isonic Spin from Roxas in third place.
POWER VOICES, PURE ENERGY
Towards the end of the back-to-back singing and dancing competitions, the singing contestants and the dance crews came together in a grand production number on stage which, when done, opened up the concert featuring Jed Madela and Vina Morales.
It was sheer talent and pure energy when the two powerful singers took the stage together, singing a few numbers together and working the crowd into a frenzy before taking their individual sets – Jed first and Vina next – and then coming together again in powerhouse duets and production numbers that rocked the entire stadium that was full to the brim up to the highest bleachers.
Both veterans in entertaining crowds of this magnitude, Jed and Vina got the crowd up on its feet, dancing to the beat of the music and singing along with every song that they sang. Even Isabela Governor Bojie Dy and his beautiful wife Mary Ann, plus 2013 Bambanti Festival executive committee chairman Tonypet Albano, who were in the crowd, happily gave in to Vina’s request for them to sing along to her song, You’ve Got a Friend, and they were also caught on cam swinging along with the crowd as the night grew deeper and the show got more exciting.
The media group left the following morning on yet another long road trip back to Manila, but I could imagine how huge the Wednesday (January 30, 2013) concert of Sarah Geronimo must have also been, especially since she was in the company of equally talented concert performers such as Bamboo, Christian Bautista and Jon Santos.
Four days in Isabela and then I was back home in Manila. But that initial taste of life in Isabela left me wanting to someday be back again. Maybe in the next Bambanti Festival. Maybe for another event sooner than that. Maybe for no reason at all. Perhaps for a plain and simple food trip to the coastal towns of the province to indulge in its seafood? I’d love to feel Isabela’s vibe once again.