St. Kitts Sets the Bar for Caribbean Music Festivals

This year was the Music Festival’s biggest to date

The 18th St. Kitts Music Festival has brought together some of the best-known Caribbean and International artists – including Kelly Rowland and Beenie Man – for three nights of pulsating partying in the capital Bassettere’s Warner Park Stadium.
Former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland and The Voice USA winner Tessanne Chin were the indisputable crowd-pullers of this year’s three-night event with Beenie Man and Chronixx providing some local flavor.

The opening ‘Jump Up’ night featured Trinidadian star Machel Montana in a showcase of soca and calypso music, followed by Destra, the Barbadian Queen of Bachanal.

Machel Montano’s high-energy 75-minute set saw him play his hits “Indian Gyal”, “Happiest Man Alive”, “Possessed” and “Pump Yuh Flag”, having taken the stage after the much-loved Small Axe Band, and duo, Deli Ranks and Meeko, who got the crowd pumped up to fever pitch.

Legendary calypsonian, Explainer – known for hits “Lorraine”, “Not Me” and “The Monarchy” – and Skinny Fabulous, an unmistakably energetic soca artist from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, closed the festival’s debut night on a high, just in time for its 3 a.m. curfew.

The second night saw reggae lovers treated to the multicolored stage presence of Freddie McGregor, Capleton and dancehall stars Beenie Man and Chronixx.

Celebrating his birthday, McGregor took to the mic to deliver a special extended performance, delighting the crowd (and no-doubt the organizers) by singing the praises of the festival’s set-up, saying: “Your country is on the rise… and the festival is excellent, production-wise.”

The ‘King of Dancehall’ Beenie Man was the highlight of the whole event for me. The Grammy award-winning Jamaican reggae artist played his chart-topping hit “Who Am I” as he strutted around the stage in a sharp, DayGlo yellow suit, working the crowd for over an hour. Pure class!

On the third and final night, Kelly Rowland got feet moving to some of her former group’s Destiny’s Child singles as well as a showcase of her own chart-topping solo tracks. She performed hot on the heels of Jamaican-born Tessanne Chin, who recently made history as the first West Indian to win NBC’s The Voice.

Chin – a freshly-signed Universal Music artist – started her set with an extended rendition of the hit song that brought her into the limelight in the first place, “Try”, before breaking into a heartfelt tribute to her fellow Jamaican, Bob Marley, wooing the crowd with a soulful rendition of the reggae legend’s iconic “Redemption Song”.

The festival’s penultimate performance was given by another of the line-up’s international shining lights, the Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter and Fast and the Furious actor, Tyrese Gibson.

The multi-talented Gibson, who won an American Music Award in 2000 for Favorite New R&B/Soul Artist and a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, delivered one last blast of star quality to a festival that international music lovers have come to look to as a showcase for the best in Caribbean entertainment.

While the St. Kitts Music Festival provides visitors with more than enough opportunity to party, eight hours a night for half a week, you’ll need some serious sustenance before you’re ready to head over there.

Eating out in St. Kitts means embracing your sense of adventure to seek out the very best local eateries around the island.

Dinner on my first night there was in Limekiln Bay at the open air Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant, where expertly-prepared lobster was served in front of a lively local band. Both the musicians and the staff were keen to get us into the mood for the bigger party to come, by keeping the Carib beer flowing for both diners and dancers enjoying the Caribbean sounds on its al-fresco balcony.

El Fredo’s lunch-only restaurant in Newtown was also a find, offering some respite from the scorching midday sun. This eatery is fenced off from the road with distinctive mosquito-net walls, and offers an authentic meal alongside the locals. Its proximity to the harbor means they get first refusal on the fishermen’s daily haul of wahoo, tuna and… my personal favorite, the delicious white-meat mahimahi.

Nearby Port Zante is a well-scrubbed and brightly-painted village of bars and shops selling clothes, postcards and even diamond rings to the 700,000 passengers who disembark there annually, hoping to experience a slice of the island, before heading back onto their city-sized cruise ships.

Wanting to get away from all that and back to the island’s roots, literally, I took a ‘jungle tour’ of the center of the island.

This started from the old Sugar Plantation at the Wingfield Estate, where a two-hour hike saw us traverse a couple of kilometers of beautifully lush rainforest, through rows of spiky Sandbox trees while a soundtrack of screeching monkeys and singing Elaenias birds echoed around canopy, high above.

In the evenings, before and after the festival, there was all manner of nightlife and partying going on down at the island’s ‘Strip’.

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