From jazz and blues to rock, reggae and soul, you’ll find a music festival in the Caribbean that will keep your toes tapping and your hips swaying.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Reggae Sumfest heats up Montego Bay July 16-22. Saluting the genre that was born in Jamaica in the late 1960s, the island’s biggest week-long festival attracts thousands from across the globe who make the pilgrimage to hear a roster of reggae and dancehall megastars like Sean Paul, Beenie Man and Sean Kingston. Staged in an open-air field called the Catherine Hall Festival Grounds, the main events are marathon-length concerts that start at 9 p.m. and wrap up after 7 a.m. the following morning. Pack a folding chair, blanket or “reggae bed” (a sheet of cardboard) for a nap as the headliners often hit the stage after 2 a.m. Must-do’s for diehards include the Sumfest Beach Party on Tropical Bliss Beach, All-White Party and the crowd-pleasing Heavyweight Sound Clash at the Pier 1 Entertainment Center. Resorts like Half Moon, Hilton Rose Hall and Round Hill sell festival packages. Summing up the longevity of the Caribbean’s largest music festival, event producer Joseph Bogdanovich observes that “an authentic reggae experience where the music was born, lives and breathes can only be had in Jamaica."
In the parish of St. Ann, what started as a single show to celebrate the Jan. 15 birthday of reggae hero Patrick “Tony Rebel” Barrett celebrates its silver anniversary in 2018. Taking place Jan. 12-13 at Grizzly's Plantation Cove, Rebel Salute is a two-day homage to roots and reggae, with a nod to the Rastafarian lifestyle. The no-meat and no-alcohol policy makes the festival family-friendly with vendors dishing up vegetarian options to fans of all ages.
Renaissance Festival Plaza is action-central for the 11th edition of the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival (Sept. 15-16). The lineup is a hot list featuring salsa singer Ruben Blades, funk and soul jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker, Habana Vieja All Stars including Cuban sax player Eduardo Proveyer, and a special tribute to Aretha Franklin performed by Dutch Caribbean vocal powerhouse Shirma Rouse.
Get your groove on at the Soul Beach Music Festival during the Memorial Day weekend May 24-29, 2018. Now in its 17th year, thousands pack the beaches and the Soul Beach Amphitheater, Havana Beach Club and Hard Rock Café in the capital city of Oranjestad to hear an international line-up of rhythm and blues and sultry American soul music acts. Early-bird hotel and concert packages sell out fast.
There are plenty of snappy tunes and mellow musical storytellers at the Country and Blues Festival, Sept. 27-30 at Pigeon Island National Park, where vendors scatter around the edges selling ice-cold Piton beer and tart green-mango juice. As part of the Soleil Saint Lucia Summer Festival, other visit-worthy parties include the Food & Rum Festival (Aug. 24- 27) and the Arts & Heritage Festival (Oct. 28-29). It’s all about jazz at St. Lucia Jazz (May 6-13), although the wildly popular fete also piles on calypso, reggae, soca, steel pan and French-Caribbean zouk. With the dramatic Piton peaks in view from virtually everywhere on the island, stages are set up at Pigeon Island, Derek Walcott Square (named for the island's late Nobel Prize-winning poet), Fond D’Or Heritage Park and the fishing village called Gros Islet. Be sure to check out side shows like Sulphur Springs Jazz at the world’s only drive-in volcano and Jazz Rhythms at Rodney Bay Mall.
It is jazz for a good cause at the Barbados Jazz Excursion (Oct. 6-8). Hosted by island-born soul jazz saxophonist Elan Trotman, the fourth annual Columbus Day weekend event includes Grammy-winning guitarist Norman Brown, Brooklyn-born R&B vocalist Will Downing, Trotman & Friends with Barbadian soca singer Alison Hinds and smooth jazz saxophonist Marion Meadows. Executive producer Trotman sees the event as “an opportunity to introduce people to the charity I support that provides music education for elementary school students in Barbados.” Partnering resorts include the Crane, Hilton Barbados and Ocean Two.
The World Creole Music Festival is the signature event on the “Nature Island” between Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the popular festival (Oct. 27-29) ignites Windsor Park Sports Stadium in the capital city of Roseau with performers spotlighting genres like Haitian dance music called kompa, jump-up carnival beats known as zouk and the bluesy sounds of Louisiana zydeco.
Marking its third year, SXMusic is the island's first and only electronic music festival. Named for the three-letter airport code (SXM) of the Princess Juliana International Airport, performances take place March 14-18 on both sides of the dual-nation island, including Kontiki Beach, Loterie Farm, Port De Plaisance Country Club and Le Dreams Beach Bar. The five-day fest has attracted a global line-up, from Welsh DJ Jamie Jones and Cuban-born electronic spinner Maceo Plex to Dubfire, Iranian-American Grammy winning record producer. The hip and happening head to after-parties on the beach, in lavish villas and on super yachts that keep the vibe alive all night long.
What started more than a quarter-century ago as an intimate jam session on the beach is now the longest-running independent music festival in the Eastern Caribbean and the hottest ticket on the island. Taking place March 15-18, Moonsplash is beach reggae greatness at the Dune Preserve Beach Bar. On the sand at Rendezvous Bay, the blowout at the funky beach bar cobbled together from coconut trees and old shipwrecks is hosted by reggae hero Bankie Banx and is a showcase for international reggae artists, a proving ground for new talent and a musical reunion of many of reggae’s finest. Tickets sell out early as the 2018 lineup is announced closer to show time.
With St Kitts in view across the channel, the Nevis Blues Festival (April 13-14) is center stage on the coconut-lined beach at Oualie Bay. The best soul, funk and blues heat up the stage steps from the water’s edge. Gates open at 7 p.m. with no more than 1,000 music fans let in each night. Fan favorites have included British bluesman Ian Siegel, American guitarist Kirk Fletcher, Belfast-born singer Simon McBride and the bluesy Rhythm Chiefs from the Netherlands.
On the lawn of the Port Louis Marina, Pure Grenada Music Festival kicks off a third season April 13-15. Performing a mixed bag from soca and steel pan to reggae and rock, local performers and international name acts like Joss Stone, Tarrus Riley and Angelique Kidjo have played to enthusiastic fans at the super-yacht marina just outside the pretty capital city of St. George’s. Check the website for the three-day lineup closer to festival dates.
Legions of loyal fans get down at the three-day St. Kitts Music Festival (June 28-30) with a top-shelf lineup and a diverse menu from reggae, soca and blues to dancehall, soul and calypso. Shows are non-stop at the Warner Park Stadium in the capital city of Basseterre with more music at lunchtime concerts, dance parties on the beach, catamaran cruises that keep the beat and a host of late-night after parties in the clubs around town.