Review & Photos: The 2015 Palm Beach Jerk Festival

This year, the 12th Annual Palm Beach Jerk and Caribbean Culture Festival was held on May 25, 2015 at the South Florida Fairgrounds. Once again it was sponsored by 1800 411 Pain and by Full-A-Vybez, Inc. This was the second year that the event was hosted at this venue. While this event has become one of the seminal Caribbean events on S. Florida calendar; it seems to be falling victim to it’s own success. The venue left much to be desired, especially in comparison to Meyer Amphitheatre where the event was held for many years. While I understand that there was an issue obtaining the permit for Meyer in recent years, The Fairgrounds is a poor replacement considering where the bar has been set by the Amphitheatre. The lovely sloping lawns and the graceful swoop of the Amphitheatre make it hard not to look at this flat, square and sandy backdrop with a sinking feeling.

Right up front, there was a sign advising “No Beenie Man. No Rides.” No rides?!?  What kind of festival has no rides?!?!  I mean, who ever heard of a festival, in Florida without a bounce house or kids area. At least they let you know about Beenie up front, which was more than some other promoters do…but I digress. .”  I could also really go on a rant here about Beenie’s No-Show and how this is the third time I have personally experienced this with Beenie and how as a former die-hard Beenie fan, I am completely disgusted with him and almost don’t want to see him anymore anyway; but – I will refrain from ranting.

So, having said all of that, the approach to the festival was decidedly less than thrilling. Once inside, one is immediately struck by the lines. The lines were something. The lines for everything. This is really the crux of the issue for this event. Each year, the lines to buy food and beverages gets longer and longer. This year, I know of one concert-goer who stood in line for food for 3 hours before giving up and leaving the festival to buy food elsewhere. I stood in line for 1 hour to get lemonade and we also ended up leaving to buy food. Even those food vendors who typically serve media from the back so we can avoid the lines – were so overwhelmed that they couldn’t do that either.

So you are probably asking about the performances. They were good. Nothing to write home about just… good. The people who were nearest the stage had mostly arranged seating for themselves and rarely did the crown seem moved, en masse to get to their feet. It was adequate, and just that. As anyone who has ever done anything in front of a group of people knows, the energy you get from the audience determines a lot about how your performance goes. True also here. While none of the performers totally bombed, so none distinguished themselves. As such, I will not bore with blow by blows. I thought Morgan Heritage would have probably been worth seeing however by 9:30 pm, with no options for food, we had to leave; so sadly I missed their performance.

I sincerely hope that the organizers do a better job with next year’s festival. Drop the vendor fee by 40% and get twice as many vendors. There is plenty of space at the fairgrounds to make that happen and if the food and drinks weren’t so difficult to get to, it would have been far simpler to overlook the comparatively drab and uninspiring venue.

So the Palm Beach Jerk and Caribbean Culture Festival will likely hold it’s sway on Memorial Weekend in South Florida for the next year or so but I caution that unless organizers step up their game, they will likely find that fewer and fewer Caribbean people will patronize the event as years go on. There is nothing Caribbean people hate more than feeling like second fiddle. We are a proud and boastful people and events that leave us dusty, tired, hungry and hot will not continue to draw us. Folks may come out for another year or two just because we like to support anything that is promoting our culture. If, however the harassment of supporting it gets too much we will stop coming. Let’s see how they do next year. I know I am rooting for them to get it right.

About the author

Deborah 'Adwa' Donovan