Reggae Heat Wave: Jamaica’s Sumfest Concerts in Montego Bay

Jamiaca_2013_Reggae_Sumfest_Half_Moon....08“Come back to Jamaica” is not just a branded slogan for the indigenous and cultural island, it’s a welcoming message of freedom, exploration, and methodical stress release from the hectic demands of metropolitan life and exaggerated work hours required from corporate America. My soul yearns for life-everlasting tranquility, my body craves warmth and clear waters, and my heart desires the palpable rhythms and spiritual lyrics of Reggae music. For this very reason I try to rendezvous to the island of “One Love, One Heart” as often as possible, especially when Reggae Sumfest is in town.

“Reggae in the morning, Reggae in the night” was the theme for the multi-staged music festival in Montego Bay that took place the third week of July. Now in its 21st year, Reggae Sumfest is consistently earmarked with both legendary artists and local newcomers whose debut at the Catherine Hall Entertainment Center can either send them into stardom or back into the Parish from which they hail.  Last year, neophyte Tommy Lee Sparta sparked his movement dubbed “Gothic Dancehall,” and created a name for himself with deep, dark, and wicked lyrics. This year, Sumfest rewarded him with proper stage placement and timing, meaning a later set when the stadium is bit fuller and more energized. Another young artist on fire is Chronixx who is winning over the youth with his culture tunes and positive vibes. Actually, I have been jamming to his “riddim” ever since I left Jamaica.

Jamiaca_2013_Reggae_Sumfest_Half_Moon....38When you land at Donald Sangster International Airport, you must leave all anxieties on the plane. Jamaica is a laid back country and is in no rush, especially for tourists. Going through customs is always hot and muggy and can take up to an hour before you’re curbside, in which taxi drivers and locals will overextend their welcome for an opportunity to transport you to your destination. If the service is not required then simply say in one quick and polite phrase “mi good man!” Typically I come to Jamaica the day before the first Sumfest concert which is Dancehall Night and kicks off on Thursday. Friday and Saturday are reserved for International Nights 1 and 2.

My good friend Chokey Taylor, also a musician, always meets me upon arrival in his Dodge Ram van. We typically head directly to Island Juices in Parkway Plaza off of the main road (Rosehall Road) for fresh pumpkinseed shakes and Ital grub, which is Jamaica’s version of vegan food. All dishes are freshly prepared and use all natural ingredients. So you won’t find white rice or enriched breads here. However, if you fancy the animal kingdom for protein make sure to become acquainted with Jerky’s which has some of the best Jerk Chicken on the Mobay side of the island. The greatest factor with hanging with a local is that you get to experience the people and places that you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet or see at a resort. For example, Chokey lives in the Wooland Hills of Hanover Parish. Up top I get to drink from purifying, young coconuts and eat bananas from his trees and run a few miles up the steep roads with the residential children. There are not too many places in the world that bring me more inner peace and fulfillment.

Jamiaca_2013_Reggae_Sumfest_Half_Moon....23Back down in civilization I typically stay in one of three places: Rosehall Hilton, Half Moon, or Iberostar. Each has its own unique style and amenities based on your expectations. The all-inclusive Iberostar is designed for relaxation and romance; whereas the Hilton is active, family oriented, and features a lazy river and water slide. The kids absolutely love it there! Half Moon, my property of choice for 2013’s Sumfest, continues to impress with its rustic cottages which are footsteps away from the beach. The village styled property is a community of happy and satisfied tourists. Half Moon features five restaurants, the Fern Tree Spa, an 18-hole signature golf course, a Dolphin Lagoon, a kids pool and lap pool, multiple tennis courts, a world-class weightlifting gym, volleyball nets, and private fitness classes for an additional fee of $25 a session including spinning, yoga and Pilates. The 197 guest rooms and suites and 31 private villas are designed to make you feel right at home. Around for more than 50 years, the luxury Caribbean resort sits on two miles of beach and 400-acres! For more details visit www.halfmoon.rockresorts.com.

By day there are a variety of activities to involve yourself in before the concerts begin. You can enjoy the luxuries of your resort, go to Negril for the day and hang out at Rick’s Café watching kids dive off of cliffs and boards; cruise up to Nine Mile in St. Ann Parish to pay respects to the “King of Reggae” Bob “Nesta” Marley while exploring his childhood home and burial place (so they say); or climb Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios. Return before sunset, fuel up on a decadent meal, and then head out to Easy Skank on one leg all night. Gates usually open at 9 pm but featured singers won’t take the stage until much later. In prior years there have been Sumfest concerts that ended after the sun rose! This year Jamiaca_2013_Reggae_Sumfest_Half_Moon....28Dancehall Night was headlined by I-Octane, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Lady Saw, Macka Diamond, Kip Rich, and many more. Prices are $35 at the gate and $55 for VIP which only gets you inside a small, crowded and fenced area of the field in front of the stage. Personally, I like roaming free checking out the vendors and speaking with showgoers. Chokey gets us backstage when we need to chat with some of the performers. Friday’s International Night 1 was headlined by Flo Rida (not sure why), Berres Hammond, Barrington Levy, and Tarrus Riley, the son of the popular Jimmy Riley. Last year I had a chance to meet them both and fell in love with the younger Riley’s music after he set the stage on fire. At Sumfest he absolutely crushed the microphone. For sure, Tarrus is here to stay. Saturday’s International Night 2 was entertained by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Miguel, Chronixx, and Romain Virgo, the ladies’ man.

Once again Jamaica and Montego Bay lit up the fire inside for Reggae Sumfest. It’s an experience I venture upon annually whether it’s with a group of nomadic friends or with the wife and kids. Mark it on the calendar because it only gets better!

Words by Kimatni D. Rawlins