I spent a perfect Saturday night swaying to sweet reggae music at the inaugural Grenada Music Festival 2019. This event is not to be confused with another event, with a similar name, that ran in Grenada from 2016 to 2018, but more on that later!
Grenada Music Festival 2019 (GMF 2019) took place over three nights from Friday 7th to Sunday 9th June 2019. Tickets prices were (in Caribbean EC dollars) $70 in advance for Friday & Saturday and $50 on Sunday. A 3-day Season Pass was $200 and VIP tickets started at $400.
Watch My Vlog On You Tube: https://youtu.be/yXvi0PYt0M4
The three nights were themed Rythm and Soul on the Friday, Reggae Fest on the Saturday and Soca Fusion on the Sunday. Friday featured local Grenadian, Solid the Band with Jeverson Ramirez, Grenadian, Eddie Bullen and international artists, Keri Hilson and Freddie Jackson.
Saturday featured Grenada’s Pride Drummers And Dance Troupe, Grenada reggae artist Thamara St Bernard and international artists Ky-Mani Marley, Maxi Priest and Busy Signal. Sunday featured a number of top Grenada Soca artists including Lavaman, Lil’ V’ghn and Wuss Wayz. International acts were Trinidad’s, Patrice Roberts, Blaxx and Teddyson John all supported by the D’ All Starz band.
The location was a Grenada peninsular called Quarantine Point, a large, sloping and fairly wild park area on the South West coastline of Grenada. This park is popular with both locals and visitors alike who visit day and night (be careful at night) to enjoy spectacular views across the water towards the town of St George’s. A rather magical space which inspires relaxation and reflection.
And magical is how I would also describe my GMF 2019 Reggae Fest experience. I attended on the Saturday only because on the Friday I had another engagement and I was planning to drop by on the Sunday but after arriving home at 4.30 am Sunday morning, and after not much sleep and cooking Sunday dinner, I was too darn tired!
Official festival flyer courtesy of Grenada Music Festival 2019
On Reggae Fest night, my friend and I parked in an area called Wall Street. Whilst it may share the name with another famous Wall Street this one is a side road with a few local shops. On a Friday and Saturday night it is transformed into a liming spot with a number of food trucks and music always blaring from somewhere. People tend to gather after the clubs or a concert and stay until the wee hours of the morning eating, laughing or just shooting the breeze.
We chose to park in Wall Street – and not the designated parking location which was approximately a six minute walk away – because we anticipated lots of traffic at the end of the night and it was our attempt to beat the crowds.
At the designated parking area – opposite the multi award winning Spice Island Resort – is where we caught the shuttle bus to the festival location. As we arrived at the car park we were pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous sounds of steel pan music delivered by Cordel Byam, and Republic Bank Angel Harps. The bus service was very much welcomed because the road to Quarantine Point is uphill and rather bumpy as building works is currently in progress. On foot it is a brisk 15 minute walk, and the last thing that you want to do when dressed up for a good night out.
At the first main gate to the festival we disembarked from the bus and joined the queue to have our tickets scanned. Suddenly everyone stopped moving because in the distance we could hear the strains of the National Anthem. And so we all remained motionless to pay our respects. I also had butterflies because the anthem let me know that the night had officially begun.
After scanning our tickets we walked up a short path towards the official entrance to the festival, a vibrant and colourful construction made of bamboo with red, yellow and green panels. I now wish I had taken a picture of myself in front of that entrance because it was stunning.
As we stepped inside the vibe was warm and relaxing . The hypnotic sounds of drumming – from Grenada’s Pride Drummers And Dance Troupe – filled the air creating a welcoming atmosphere. And then there were the pretty lighting which added to the magical experience.
To the left, under stringy lights, were food vendors and to the right were bleachers, already full with music lovers, and further on bars to buy drinks. In the distance, I could see the stage with two big screens on either side and what appeared to be an already huge crowd.
We made our way to the food vendor area which was nicely decorated with bamboo and had picnic tables dotted around. First I visited the bathroom which continued the bamboo theme on the outside. I can never get used to those portable toilets, even when clean they feel grimy. But I was in and out as quickly as possible but not before washing my hands using the foot pump tap which is always amusing.
I then bought myself a meat patty with the intention of buying more to eat later and we made our way to the bar. To purchase a drink you had to first buy a drinks ticket from a separate booth which is always a good idea for a swift service. With beers poured into a cup we would make our way down to the stage. I say ‘down’ because the area in front of the stage was on a slope. This was advantageous because it meant everyone had a clear view, even if you were at the very back! I was pleased to see that the crowd was not as dense as it first appeared from a distance and so we were able to find a fairly close spot.
To our right was the VIP area. On our way down I peered briefly through the fence to see they had nicely dressed tables and chairs and a flow of food and drinks. They also had direct access to the front of the stage. I remember thinking that one day, for the right artist, I will go VIP so I can get up real close but for now I was happy liming with the big crowds.
The first Act was Grenadian, Thamara St Bernard who put on a stellar performance and showed the crowd that local artists are as talented as those from overseas. She was followed by Ky-Mani Marley who, even though I am not familiar with his music, was very entertaining. He performed a few numbers by Bob Marley, which was to be expected, but it felt especially nice because of the family connection. He has a great voice and there were times that he sounded just like his father. It occurred to me that maybe ALL of Bob Marley’s children should come together and put on a concert, now wouldn’t that be something!
The special surprise guest, introduced by Ky-Mani, was Jamaican songstress, Etana. I was delighted because I have seen her perform live before and she is world class. She sounded so good I didn’t want her to leave the stage and I made a note to myself to see her sing live again as soon as it is physically possible.
The next artist to set the stage alight was the individual I was really there for, Maxi Priest! Now Maxi and I are from the same neck of the woods, Lewisham in London, England. In fact I knew Maxi before global fame! It’s always an odd feeling when someone from your part of the world is world wide famous.
Well Maxi did not disappoint, in fact he sounded better than ever. I have seen Maxi perform live a number of times and I can say, hands down, that this was one of his best performances. Not only was he looking particularly fit and healthy – with his melt your heart signature grin – but his voice was super strong and clear and each number was delivered to perfection. I did smile at the Paddington Bear hat and oversized dark glasses but when an individual embodies that much talent, the choice of dress becomes irrelevant and you are caught up in the mystical moment.
I could be wrong but Jamaican dance-hall artists record A LOT of songs! Well Busy Signal is no exception to that and it seemed like he was determined to perform ALL his songs that night because he was on stage for, what felt like, a long time (insert smile emoji here!)
That was OK though because Busy gave an amazing performance and was the right act to close the night. He burst on to the stage like a rock star and the energy levels went up around ten notches. He spat out some high energy numbers, most of which I was not familiar with, but I was captivated all the same.
Later he would transition smoothly from high energy to groovy, the atmosphere was relaxed and chilled and felt more like an intimate nightclub, with people grabbing their loved ones to rock to each tune. And I was nicely surprised to hear he had a good singing voice sounding very close to his records. Much later, when we realised he was never going to leave the stage (again, I’m smiling) we made our way back to the food vendors to watch the remainder of his set on the big screen whilst chowing down on some delicious chicken along with ice cold beer.
All in All, Grenada Music Festival 2019 gave more than its moneys worth that Saturday night. It definitely exceeded expectations. It felt professional and well organised, the atmosphere was both chilled and electric, the crowd was just the right size, the food was delicious and the entertainment was top notch.
Remember I used the word ‘inaugural’ earlier? Well there was another event called ‘Pure Grenada Music Festival’ which launched in 2016 but was cancelled in 2018. Some people either didn’t realise that it was cancelled or thought that maybe they had changed their minds and brought it back. No, it is still very much cancelled as announced on their own website https://bit.ly/2XjcpVt .
I was wondering who this new entity was and have since discovered that GMF 2019 was delivered by Q West Productions – https://grenadamusicfest.com – which I believe is owned by Grenadian promoter, Steve Duncan.
I have a soft spot for the first festival because I both worked and volunteered with them and so when they announced the cancellation it not only came as a surprise but I was also very disappointed. I believe an international music festival is exactly what Grenada needs. It could become a valuable and very important product in Grenada. I liken it to the Olympic Games, a real headach to organise, with people working around the clock to exhaustion and (at first) bleeds money but the national pride gained from it is tenfold. For the record, I also worked with London 2012 Olympic Game organisers so I know a lot about working to exhaustion!
The music festival product can help to boost the economy, bring the local community together, can really put the island of Grenada on the tourist map as well as help raise the profile of sponsors and local businesses. Local acts are not only exposed to an international audience but get to rub shoulders and learn from music veterans in the business.
Q West Productions must have thought the same thing because they did not miss a beat announcing the launch of their music festival in April 2019. And the huge crowd in attendance shows how much people welcomed it.
And with a few tweaks, in a few years, Grenada Music Festival will be able to stand toe-to-toe with more established festivals across the world. As long as they have a tight team and the attitude remains professional, the possibilities are limitless.
Nobody asked for my two cents but here are the tweaks that I hope they address to ensure the festival remains a safe environment as it grows in popularity. It includes a better crowd management system, especially around the shuttle buses which had people jostling with each other to board both before and after the event. Better lighting between the the entrance to Quarantine Point and the official entrance to the festival.
More cups at the bar. I believe they must have run out because they started to hand out bottles which was then left strewn all over the park grounds. Not only was it a tripping hazard but if there were to be some kind of crowd unrest the perfect weapon is right at their feet.
They should also consider more Green initiatives, for example paper instead of plastic cups, to leave less of a footprint. I was also surprised that no one checked our bags, or persons, as we entered the venue and that we were not given a guest tag for our wrists.
That being said though, I look forward to Grenada Music Festival 2020 which has already been announced on their social media and I am crossed fingers that this event will have a long and successful life on our beautiful Isle of Spice.