Reggae Sumfest was always on my list of desired experiences, but the desire was stronger this year for its 25th staging. My attendance came from another instance of deciding I wanted to go, without working out the ‘how’. Luckily, 2 sets of tickets were obtained less than a week before the show, including VIP for the main night! Now, Montego Bay would host me for the first time in 2 years; the anticipation was high for what was to come during the weekend.
Things To Note
After 2 nights and dozens of performances, these are the key points picked up from my first Reggae Sumfest at Catherine Hall Entertainment Complex. If you plan to attend for the first time next year or after, hopefully these will help with your planning:
- Midnight is not the start time
In Jamaica we’re accustomed to arriving to an event after midnight; that’s not the case here. If you arrive to Reggae Sumfest at midnight or after, you’ve likely missed a performance from a popular artiste. The stated time by the event was 8pm – 6:30am.
- There’s a lot of traffic
Driving along the Howard Cooke main road after the sun has set almost guarantees traffic. You’ll be among a 3-lane standstill going towards the venue for at least 30 minutes.
- There isn’t enough designated parking for everyone
On both nights, the parking lot was said to have been filled to capacity. Roadside curbs and nearby lots as far as one could see were also densely populated.
- Nearby parking lots are expensive
If you don’t feel comfortable parking on a curb, there was the option of a nearby parking lot. An over 100% interest ($500 JMD) on what I’d usually pay for a similar service was a deterrent.
- Quality performances
When finally in the venue, you’re blessed with the great music of our country. Sadly I wasn’t able to see all performances on either night, but most of the ones seen were commendable.
- Performances are 30 minutes on average
Each artiste got to perform a fair selection of songs, almost every song you wanted to hear.
- A number of cameo performances
Some artistes invited others to share the stage with them, much to the pleasure of patrons. The ones I witnessed included Aidonia ↔ Deablo, Stephen Marley & Jo Mersa Marley (his son) ↔ Capleton, Queen Ifrica ↔ her son, Sean Paul ↔ Chi Ching Ching, Tory Lanez ↔ Popcaan, Jah Cure ↔ Fanton Mojah.
- Mostly local artistes
In previous years, headliners for Reggae Sumfest would be international artistes. It was so refreshing to have a mostly local lineup, and the few international acts all had music influenced by ours.
- Nights separated by local genres
Reggae Sumfest was categorized into ‘Dancehall Night’ on Friday and ‘Reggae Night’ on Saturday, a change from previous years which had been dubbed ‘international nights 1 & 2’.
- Dancehall night had a bigger crowd
The locals really came out for this one! I was surprised at the major difference in crowd size of both nights.
- VIP is closer to the stage
The difference between general and VIP admission is a fence. Though you are in closer proximity to see the performances, unless you’re near the front (unlikely), it’s not that great of a difference to me.
- Thick Crowd – Got the best view at back
Ironically, though I could actually see the performers while in VIP, I enjoyed my view from the back of the audience more. There was more space to move around, less view obstruction, and the high-definition display screens at the sides of the stage were sufficient.
- Vuvuzelas are present
If you can’t stand the blowing horn that gained popularity in World Cup 2010, you’ll be annoyed all night.
- Cursing expectation
Ahead of the show, it was announced there’d be no tolerance for cursing. I honestly didn’t expect that would’ve been realistic for Dancehall night, but lyrics were mostly kept clean from what I saw until towards the end.
- There is a lengthy band change between each performance
What was found most annoying was the time between performances. The vibe in the venue immediately plummeted after a performance as you had to wait 30 minutes on average for the next performer. This, of course, instigated sleep for many patrons, who could be seen finding comfort in their chairs, ‘reggae beds’ (cardboard), newspapers, and beds of grass.
- Band changes sped up as it got later
It seemed that the pending performances flowed more quickly as time went on (trimmed to roughly 10 – 15 mins).
- Intermission is populated by jingle ads & presentations
As patrons waited for upcoming performers, they were entertained by sponsor advertisements and presentations to directors of the show.
- You could catch a vibe at booths
There were a number of booths at the back and side of the venue equipped with a DJ to help keep the vibe going.
Throughout the Events
- Strategic performance schedule
The organisers wanted you to be at the show as long as possible, understandably so. Reggae Sumfest didn’t do the usual method of placing smaller acts at the beginning and bigger acts towards the end. From beginning to end, there was a fair mix of medium and largely anticipated acts so you could enjoy the show no matter if you came early, left late, and vice versa.
- Party ‘Til Sun Up
Some of the most anticipated performances were expectedly toward the end of the show. Reggae Sumfest didn’t end before 7am on either night, so chances are you may have seen the sun rise if you stayed long enough to see all the artistes you wanted to.
- You should walk with something to rest your legs
With the lengthy performances and band changes, legs will get tired of standing after a while.
- There will be vendors, inside and outside
Leading to the venue, and inside, you could buy fold-out chairs, food, snacks, drink, apparel, and souvenirs. This was a good money-making opportunity for creative vendors, especially chair vendors, one of which was heard to be selling chairs “equipped with wi-fi and AC”.
- Food & drinks are expensive
I was appalled, to say the least! I did expect the prices would be inflated for the event, but me never prepared! The few prices readily displayed on signs by food stalls shocked me, and with the numerous stations I didn’t have the energy to ask the others their prices based on what I had already seen. A small serving (equivalent to a foldout KFC server dish) of jerk chicken and 2 slices of breadfruit + a domestic beer = $1300.00 JMD! No sah, ah wha coulda cause dis?!
- The bathrooms are on one side of the venue
To get to the bathrooms on the extreme left of the venue, one had to walk on the outskirts of the crowd. For some, that was quite the walk for someone who needed to ‘go’.
- Keep belongings close
This should go without saying. A few persons seemed to have lost their belongings, after hearing numerous announcements on stage asking to identify and collect items found throughout the venue.
Top Performance Picks
Of the performances I was present for, here are my top 3 for each night:
She commanded the stage! Her performance was full of creativity and held the crowd the whole time
Legendary artiste took us on a timeline, slinging hits after hits from the 90s onward. He didn’t fail to also inject humour (whether on purpose or not) with his naturally amusing personality; truly one of a kind
A mix of sex appeal and roughness, he crooned and had the ladies as well as the fellas enjoying his set. He brought both his RnB and dancehall inspired hits and style to the stage.
You could tell Stephen Marley genuinely loves the music as he obviously felt the power of the lyrics, shown in his gestures, throughout the performance. Every song was a hit, and he shared the stage with his son, introducing us to another generation of reggae music. The stage caught fire as ‘the fireman’ Capleton briefly appeared to turn the energy up 3 notches in a spirited, ‘more fyah’ type performance.
Not only did she sing, but spent much of her time sharing some of her strong views. Her words garnered positive feedback from the crowd, and sparked even more ‘forward’ as she tied the points with her lyrics.
This was reminiscent of the 90s, probably our most colourful era of the dancehall genre. The performance and lyrics were clean and the delivery was top class, you could ‘bruk out’ without being a complete sketz (lol).
I thoroughly enjoyed my first time at Reggae Sumfest, and am so grateful that I had the opportunity to attend both nights. Many persons who couldn’t physically attend had the option to watch the entire show for free via live stream.
From what you saw (in person or not), what was your favourite part? Let me know in the comments.