How to Enjoy a Jamaican Festival Like a Local

How to Enjoy a Jamaican Festival Like a Local

Here comes summer! It’s festival time and Jamaica has plenty: musical, cultural, herbal, literary and culinary: animal, vegetable and mineral.

We love a festival in Jamaica! Our most famous side dish for fish is called festival! A tasty, twisted, deep-fried, cornmeal dumpling! (Think, three-inch hush puppy.) (Tell me you ain’t hungry now!)
When it comes to music we’ve got festivals like dirt: Decades before Tessanne Chin won season five of The Voice, Jamaica had an annual Festival Song Contest. Winners had explosive titles, like: “Bam Bam”, “Ba Ba Boom” and “Boom Shacka Lacka”.
Desmond Dekker was right; Jamaica had “Music Like Dirt!”

Reggae is a dish best served hot. There’s nothing like being outdoors, as a throbbing bass and soft scratching guitar pump lilting rhythms of reggae. You hug your honey; swing your sweetie and rock to the rhythms as the stars cluster in a moonlit sky.
Top of my chart: Rebel Salute, a high class, old school, reggae celebration where all the artistes are conscious even if some audience members are unconscious.
Reggae SumFest festivities last a week, with beach parties, boat parties and a couple of massive concerts: Dancehall Night and International Night. Which to quote Lionel, go “all night long!”
Go early evening. Pack a picnic, get a good vantage point to see the stage, reach the restrooms and find your friends again. When I say “good vantage point”, don’t set up camp six feet from the stage! You’ll get trampled! Set up, in the middle of the field, where the crowd thins and there’s less of a crush.
There are alternative seating arrangements, like VIP areas, the elevated boxes at the back and side of the field, but you’ll need friends in high places to get in.

There are high places you can watch the show with hangers on. Literally! The cheap seats are the tree seats, where nimble people don’t pay; they simply climb up and hang out for the night. Hopefully not like Keith Richard: fall asleep and out the tree.
Once ensconced, buy a bucket! Not to pee in! To put beers on ice, keep your rum cool and chill a couple of energy drinks to get you through the night. That way you don’t have to keep going back to the bar.
There’s plenty of time to relieve your bladder, rest your feet, see and even make new friends or buy a cardboard reggae bed and take a nap between acts.
Not saying band equipment changes take long but a friend of mine conceived and gave birth in between Ziggy Marley and Third World one year.
Marvel when flames light the night sky as festivalgoers light the spray from Baygon canisters. I thought I’d been transported through a cloud of Ganja smoke and come out the other side in Game Of Thrones, the first time I saw this! “Dragons!”
Leave early morning. As dawn breaks and the last acts wraps, return to your hotel for breakfast, a swim and sleep the day away. Then do it all over again.

If you want something more than mere music, we have Ganja festivals like: Stepping High and Cannabis Cup. You can see, smell, sample and smoke Sensimilla. As Bob Marley sang: “Excuse my while I light my spliff. Spliff!”
Remember, contrary to popular belief Ganja is not legal in Jamaica! So, don’t buy loads and carry it with you. You can always get more wherever you go!

If you get the munchies, visit Portland’s culinary Bussu Festival. Bussu are snails. Do you like calamari, squid and octopus? You’ll love Bussu! If you don’t then definitely do not ask what’s in our local delicacies: Mannish Water, Cow Cod and Cock Soup!
A definite date for your diary is the Calabash International Literary Festival in St. Elizabeth. It takes place every two years, so you’ve got time to plan. Next stop 2018.
Be blown away by the St. Ann Kite Festival; go to a carnival of carbohydrate at the Trelawny Yam Festival and experience the energy that made Usain Bolt; dive in to the Denbigh Agricultural Show; see films at the Greater August Town Film Festival, and the list goes on.

Whatever flavour of festival tickles your fancy, Jamaica has one to suit you!

Tony Hendriks;
Jamaican Paleface talking.
Blessed loveliness.

by Tony ‘Paleface’ Hendriks
Illustrations by Marlo Scott

Check out our Events page for information on all the festivals happening in Jamaica!