Irie Vibes Flowing at West Palm Beach Jerk and Caribbean Festival

For months there had been plenty of anticipation for this year’s West Palm Beach Jerk and Caribbean Culture Festival. After all, this festival is the only remaining major reggae festival in Palm Beach County. For the past 15 years, this incredible festival has been a gathering place for positive vibes that bring with it a day where the community gathers to celebrate their various island cultures without regard as to what color or creed one is. The festival is where you go see old friends and make new ones. There is something truly special about Caribbean culture that is unlike others; the people are warm, welcoming and friendly.

Maxi Priest – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

In its 16th year, and held annually on Memorial Day, the festival provides a complete day of activities and is clearly designed to be kid-friendly. The countless rides and activities, including face painting and games, kept the kids busy while the parents were treated to an incredible selection of both local and international Caribbean flavors and tropical drinks typically found on the islands. Of course, this festival included the annual Jerk contest, where food vendors had a chance to present their best specialty dishes or varying types that included the traditional jerk infusion of flavor. The judges consisted of a panel of three experienced local restaurant industry leaders who judged the food on two main criteria: taste and presentation.

Jerk Contest Judges – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

As it was a typical hot summer South Florida day, the later-arriving crowd began to show up around 5 p.m., finding themselves waiting in long lines to enter the festival grounds. It was clear that the late-arriving crowd wanted to miss the hottest part of the day and arrived just in time to enjoy the start of the live music performances. Spread the Dub, a local reggae band, got things going as those arriving settled in. Those who came hungry found a varying selection of authentic Caribbean foods including the traditional jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk lobster, spicy jerk shrimp, and something you don’t see often: the ever-popular jerk ice cream. If you were thirsty, and many were, based on the temperatures that hovered in the high 80s, there were plenty of drink options, including beers, wines, and traditional pineapple drinks that seemed to be the popular choice.

I-Octane – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

A big part of this festival is the music. In the 16 years of the festival’s existence, there has been a consistent list of the top reggae and soca a-listers that have graced the Jerk Fest stage. If there was one flaw during the festival, it was that the artists had arrived later than they were scheduled. Perhaps it was a scheduling misunderstanding, but that led to the sets being reduced for each of the remaining artists scheduled that night. First up was Romain Virgo; the Stepney, Jamaica, native is the next generation of lovers of rock-style reggae who has quickly gained notoriety among the reggae community. Virgo opened his set with “Wanna Go Home (Rain Is Falling),” followed by fan-favorites “Taking You Home,” “I am Rich in Love,” “Love Doctor,” “Beautiful,” “Walking Out On You,” and “Mama’s Song,” closing out the set with a cover of Adel’s “Don’t You Remember.”

New Kidz – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

With the music vibe in full steady flow, Maxi Priest took the stage for a brief set and instantly got everyone moving and groovin’ to his legendary voice. The London-born Priest opened with a cover of Cat Steven’s 1971 hit “Wide World,” then followed up with “I Believe in Love” from his 2005 album 2 the Max. For “Crazy Love” he and the band were joined on stage by New Kidz to sing “Bubble My Way,” and he closed out his short set with “Have You Ever Been in Love.”

Romain Virgo – Photo: Rick Munroe MFN

The final act of the night was from I-Octane. Those who love the longtime Jamaican reggae and dancehall legend were treated to a incredible set of his very best. The delay in the performance schedule limited the co-headliner to a 28-minute set, but, to not disappoint, I-Octane brought his very best to the big stage. Clearly, this is a man who knows how to engage with his audience to create a high energy level from the front to the very back of the crowd. The highlight of his set was when he jumped off stage and climbed over the barriers to be with his people, his adoring fans who had waited till late night to see him perform. Surprisingly, many of the 6,000 plus who attended West Palm Beach Jerk and Caribbean Culture Festival remained, considering most had to be at work early Tuesday. Next, he brought two ladies on stage to twerk while he sang one of his biggest hits, “Once More.” I-Octane continued singing many of his hits, most shorter versions to get as many in as possible.

For now, the 2019 West Palm Beach Jerk and Caribbean Culture Festival has come to an end. It was a day filled with praise, respect and love. It brought friends and family together as one to celebrate their cultural heritage on a very important day that is usually reserved to respect the fallen. It is very clear why this festival continues to grow and draw the crowds that it does. It is the kind of festival that leaves you feeling good and feel like your part of something truly special. One can only wonder who will be headlining next year’s festival, and there will be plenty of anticipation for the West Palm Beach Jerk and Caribbean Culture Festival in 2020.

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