'Grand Kapamilya': Pilgrimage to the stars

MANILA, Philippines - The jeepney stops at the red traffic light as half its passengers alight. Amid the gathering crowd outside Quezon City Circle’s entrance, some are more measured in their stride, but others, more than eager, hardly able to contain their excitement at what would become a total revelry beginning that Saturday afternoon.

All roads led to that Circle, as ABS-CBN celebrated its "Grand Kapamilya Weekend" on October 5-6 to mark the network’s 60th year in Philippine broadcasting.

In its long narrative, starting from two enterprises in the postwar era (the Quirino family's ABS and the Lopezes' CBN), ABS-CBN has secured its place in the country’s modern history, social milieu, and pop culture. The Grand Kapamilya Weekend was another milestone in the network’s continuing story.

Apart from the 14-year interruption of the Marcos dictatorship (from 1972 to 1986), ABS-CBN has evolved into such a complex multimedia machine, keeping up with today's cyber-era. But the small screen remains the network’s heart and soul - and its world is now extended here on the Circle grounds.

Once again, the network’s audiences take part in this world that they appreciate mostly from a distance.

The crowds struggle their way through their own confusion, in this otherwise serene circumference of green on an ordinary day.

They soldier on - one remembers the Latin phrase, “ad astra per aspera” (to the stars, with difficulty) - because this was clearly a determined pilgrimage to the stars. A frenzied one, too - potentially reminiscent of the fatal “Wowowee” stampede of 2006. That episode is yet another chapter in the network’s modern history, but that was farthest from everyone's minds and nobody wanted to spoil this party.

The faithful

Erlinda is seated on a stone bench, surrounded by screaming fans. It’s the first night of this anniversary celebration, and she’s smartly dressed among the crowd, wearing a black button-down with floral prints and black slacks.

Her hair is cut in a layered style a little above her shoulders - fashionably modern, yes, if somewhat droopy from the heat.

The 57-year-old Erlinda hangs around here to reward herself somehow - making the most out of her bus trip from Imus to Quezon City. It’s a Saturday, after all.

She said she had been in the Circle grounds since early morning, to avail herself of free medicines from the “Salamat Dok” program for her 78-year-old aunt who's in her care.

 “Nagpagupit ako diyan [I had a haircut there],” Erlinda said, pointing at another booth that offered such free services. “Ayos ba? Libre lang yan. [Great, isn’t it? It’s free.]”

TIME OFF. Erlinda takes care of a 78-year-old aunt in Imus, Cavite.

After obtaining free medicines, she takes part in the revelry to unwind

She watched a free screening early in the afternoon, and then the concert later that evening. Although she doesn’t relate very much to Daniel Padilla, Erlinda is full of fascinated appreciation at the screaming crowd around her.

Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos were teen stars themselves once.

“Iyon, iyon ang mga ka-level ko [They’re my generation],” said Erlinda. “Sana dumating naman yung mga idol ng panahon ko, wag lang yung mga bagets.” (I wish the idols of my time would be here, not just the bagets.)

Erlinda clapped her hands together with the crowd.

Oblivious to the frenzy

Children are playing in this crowd. Their mothers look after them as if on auto-pilot, part of their juggling act in fulfillment of their duties as fans who had to be here and as parents bringing their children along.

Security here is stricter to the elders but more lenient to the children, who breach the barricades separating audience from performer, or run into in any situation that has the potential of a stampede.

A mother and child find themselves in a tug of war. The child tries to break free from the grip of her mother, whose eyes are glued to the free outdoor screening of “It Takes a Man and a Woman.” John Lloyd Cruz’s toothy grin and the cotton candy for sale are two enticements dividing their attention in this Kapamilya event.

The children are, of course, oblivious to the frenzy of this celebration. But they will grow up and perhaps will follow the idols of their era after Daniel Padilla.

Communion

Joan and her friends have been here at the Circle grounds since noon. They wait by the steel barricades separating them from security.

“Kanina pa kami, at dito lang kami hanggang mamaya [We’ve been here for some time already and we’ll stay here until later],” she said as she smoothened her hair.

She wasn’t complaining at all. “Kasi darating si Enrique Gil at Daniel Padilla!” (Because Enrique Gil and Daniel Padilla are coming!)

Some are content enough to be at the periphery, having found a convenient spot that they reserve for themselves, and reveling from afar - a fair concession to the more fervent fans like Joan and friends. But they and tens of thousands of others in this venue all scream their idols’ names in unison. They turn to the glare of the neon lights, hardly enervated as they wait for their idols’ turn to take the stage.

Seeing these stars in the flesh (and also flashed on the huge screen) is a phenomenon akin to a miracle or an apparition. The sight of their idols moves them to tears, or triggers an adrenaline surge to leap off the barricades and run to the stage, which some of the fans attempted.

PATIENCE.

These fans have been waiting since noon

Backstage

He stands behind the main stage, unfazed by the screams and the happy disorder out there. Such madness is all in a day’s work, and he has been in the music business for the past 10 years. He can carry a conversation amid the maddening thump and screech of the soundcheck, his ears already accustomed to the noise. 

After all this time - watching musicians take the stage, rubbing elbows with celebrities and industry veterans - Raymond Fabul is as enthusiastic as ever about this scene, as he catches up with musicians and artists, talking with them about potential projects.

“It’s amazing how these gigs can spur collaboration,” he said. Soon he was in conference with rap artist Loonie backstage, exchanging ideas, one freewheeling thought after another. “The last time we got to hang out with Loonie was during our 3-city tour with him, Bamboo, and Gloc-9 in New Zealand.”

Raymond is a band manager formerly connected with Pinoy rock bands Spongecola and Chicosci. Nowadays, he’s with Rivermaya, a band that has seen numerous personnel changes over its past 20 years.

ENCORE.

Rivermaya played 3 of their greatest hits that night, and returned for another set in the wee hours

Raymond bridges the creative sensibilities of any ensemble on his watch with the pragmatism required to stay afloat in a volatile industry. He enjoys music but wants none of the limelight, preferring to work behind the scenes.

The band performed at half past 10, and would return to the stage a few hours later. Accepting these gigs is a job, but performing is a passion. Weary from the high-octane 3-song set, Raymond and the band still look forward to their early morning encore, all for the love of music.

Adoration

Halfway through the program and there are signs of impatience among the crowd that has been standing and waiting for the main act.

But when the names of these young demigods of the small screen are called out, they are back to screaming their approval, the mass adulation of our time.

The first to appear onstage is Enrique Gil - Adonis in a trucker cap and with a sharp nose, sashaying with a swagger not unlike Justin Bieber’s.

Born to a Spanish father and Filipino mother, Enrique has Eurasian features and dance-floor skills that have brought him instant adoration among the TV-viewing lot. Like many other celebrities, he started out as a commercial model with bit roles.

HIGH FIVE.

Enrique Gil approaches his adoring fans

But the crowd was at its wildest when a boy in a page haircut and full cheeks took the stage, with a rabble-rousing performance of the Rivermaya original “Hinahanap-hanap Kita.”

They called him DJ, with voices filled with longing and excitement, the tone among the zealous in a divine frenzy. 

Daniel Padilla was the last performer to take the stage, his presence much anticipated, his name screamed louder than that of anyone else there that night. This was the Twitter craze transferred outside cyberspace to the actual crowd.

The pedigree and languid eyes of this teen star who hails from a family of actors are his ticket to the limelight. His father and uncles were matinee idols in their time.

THE LITTLE PRINCE.

Daniel Padilla serenades the crowd

In the fickle world of an industry obsessed with young love and making a sublime spectacle of adolescent angst, Daniel and Enrique are the high priests of teenage dreams, as they give their young faithful high fives the moment they descend from the stage to meet them. Their meek hellos, the obligatory photo-ops, and the split second of eye contact leave their adoring public with a mission fulfilled, as they look forward to that next rare encounter.

The promised land

It’s past midnight and the show has come to an end. The stage is littered with multicolored confetti and there are still traces of fireworks in the evening sky. So the pilgrimage ends, as the crowds retreat from this arena, the promised land of the starstruck. But they carry on their worshiping the next day when they turn on their TV and see their idols back on the small screen, singing, dancing, and playing “kilig” roles that will set their hearts aflutter.

To turn the everyman into a pilgrim, a talent into a demigod, a stage into a mecca - this is the enduring power of the mass media and legacy of showbiz. - Rappler.com

Marga Deona

As Rappler’s senior producer, Marga manages the live broadcasts and distribution platforms of Rappler’s videos. She also writes about the intersection of technology, culture, and businesses, with the occasional sports and music features.

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