Reggae Sensation Shaggy Brings the Boom(bastic) to Florida Jerk Festival
One of the most anticipated Caribbean festivals of the summer, the 18th annual Florida Jerk Festival returned to the South Florida Fairgrounds in West Palm Beach on Independence Day for the first time since 2019. Thousands of local, national, and international visitors descended upon South Florida and got exactly what everyone came for: an all-night affair filled with irie vibes and the very best in reggae, dancehall, and soca music. For the past 17 years, this festival had been held on Memorial Day; the pandemic brought on several changes to the highly attended festival, including a change to the date that pushed the festival a little deeper into summer, leading to a hot, shirt-soaking humid night. With the sounds of fireworks from nearby communities serving as a backdrop and heat ranging in the low 90s, the hot temperatures had many of the festival-goers arriving a little later in an effort to try to escape the extreme heat. With many anxiously awaiting the return of live in-person gatherings, the crowds at this year’s Florida Jerk Festival appeared to be the biggest in recent memory. The festival marked the return by being the first Caribbean music-themed festival in Florida this year. As the crowd settled in for a night of music, the smells of grilled jerk chicken permeated the air along with other traditional island favorite foods, including nearly everything jerk, even jerk flavored ice cream. The family-friendly festival kept the kids entertained in the kids zone while their parents danced the night away. The festival is much more that just music: it’s a gathering place for positive vibes that brought together a community to celebrate the rich island heritage that represents so much of the diversity found in South Florida.
The festival featured five-time Soca Monarch-winner, Trinidadian-born singer/songwriter Skinny Fabulous, who opened the festival and delivered a non-stop, high-energy set for those who came early and endured scorching heat to catch him. He wasted no time and quickly got everyone out of their chairs and dancing to his powerful island beats. He closed out his 45-minute set with perhaps his most recognized tune, his Soca anthem “Famalay.” It was quite fitting for this gathering, where the crowds were indeed family. Next up was reggae mega-talented quartet L.U.S.T., who each took their own turn in the spotlight showcasing his own vocal ranges. The combination of varying vocal ranges merged flawlessly to create a harmonious melody that was easy to enjoy. It’s clear to see why L.U.S.T has become such fan favorites.
As the sun set, the night brought some relief from the scorching sun. The heat may have been a bit more tolerable, but that’s when things on stage began to ignite as two-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Shaggy who came decked out in three layers of clothing took the stage at 9:30, as most of the crowd had waited nearly four hours to see him perform. For nearly two hours, Shaggy, who has a unique sense of humor that cannot be overlooked, tends to mix in his humor during and in between his songs, keeping the crowd engaged the entire time. He played a non-stop set of his very best and most recognized songs, including a series of his most notable original hits “Bombastic,” “Oh Carolina,” “In The Summertime,” “Angel,” and “It Wasn’t Me.” His supporting band was exceptional; although the have played with him for years, yet very little is known about them. Shaggy also included a couple of covers, including the 2013 single by DJ Snake and Lil Jon “Turn Down For What” and paid homage to the late DMX with “Party Up (Up In Here).”
As the festival came to a close, the thousands who attended left satisfied; perhaps it was all the jerk chicken they consumed, but more likely the music was the filler. The buzz remained in the air and could be felt as the people made the long walk to their cars; it was a day that brought together people from varying islands that all share one thing in common: the love of island music. There is no question that the Florida Jerk Festival continues to be the premier Caribbean music festival, drawing record crowds each year. The Orlando version of the Florida Jerk Festival scheduled for later this year, although the lineup has yet to be announced. For nearly two decades this festival never disappoints, and there will be great anticipation of who will headline in Orlando later this year.