The little tropical island of Jamaica is famous for many things including the food, people, beaches and of course the music.
The country may be most known for reggae music but did you know that they can be credited for seven different music genres? The ones you may know of are dancehall, ska, mento and of course reggae.
With such a rich musical history, it’s no wonder that some of the most epic music festivals happen annually on the shores of the tiny Caribbean island. Some Jamaica festivals were born here while others brought to the shores by music visionaries who love the island and its rich culture.
In this post, I’ll share some of the must-do concerts on the local music scene that includes everything from the biggest reggae festival this side of the world to the local street jams with an awesome local vibe.
This weeklong reggae festival just celebrated 25 years in 2017. It happens every summer in Montego Bay and usually boasted one Dancehall night and two reggae nights with local and international acts. It’s since been extended to include a beach party, a sound clash and a street jam.
Superstars like Rihanna, Beyonce, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and many other big names have graced the stage in previous years. The new owners of the festival, a local booking company, have now taken the brave decision to feature only Jamaican acts on the Sumfest stage and this was met with a massive crowd and rave reviews that year.
The festival is kept outdoors and you’re encouraged to dress comfortably and bring a chair as it will go on till the sun comes up. The 2018 lineup already includes Grammy winner Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley, Beres Hammond, Maxi Priest, Popcaan, Aidonia and some of the hottest Jamaican names out right now and is sure to sizzle this summer.
There are several food courts depending on your chosen section and it is vast, offering up a wide array of some of the best local street eats to be had like jerk chicken and pork, goat soup, roast fish and ital stew. The new Sumfest Cafe also made its debut in 2017 serving up healthy takes on sports bar foods such as wraps, smoothies, chickpea salads and thin crust pesto pizzas.
The festival is streamed live on the internet for those who can’t make it. Tickets go on sale well in advance for this highly anticipated event and nearby accommodations fill up rather quickly.
Rebel Salute also celebrated 25 years in 2018 and is another hugely popular reggae festival on the local lineup. This festival was started by local act Tony Rebel and is held every January on or around his birthday. He is a Rastafarian and all the performing acts are usually of the roots, rock and conscious reggae vibe.
No alcohol or meat kind is served at this festival however you’ll definitely smell the strong odor of marijuana in the air. The two-day event is now held in St. Ann, close to Ocho Rios and again will be all-nighters so bring a blanket and a chair. The vibe is awesome at this festival, promoting peace and love and a general good time. Profanity and lewd behavior on stage are discouraged as a nod to greats like Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Bunny Wailer who all promoted and performed clean music.
If you’re a fan of true reggae music, you’ll love this festival and the vibe it brings. In previous surveys by the Jamaica tourist board, they found that over 30% of patrons here where visitors. It’s one place to get the truest reggae vibe right here in the genre’s birthplace.
Shaggy and Friends
This concert is also held at the start of the year and started out as a benefit concert by international reggae artist of “It Wasn’t Me” fame, Shaggy. The proceeds benefit the only local children’s hospital this side of the English-speaking Caribbean and do amazing things for the hospital every year.
It has blossomed into an amazing premium event that is sold out every year. It’s kept on the lawns of King’s House, the residence of the island’s governor general in Jamaica’s capital city Kingston. Folks dress up and enjoy an evening of local and international acts who are all friends of the smooth international reggae pop crossover. The staging in 2017 included an amazing performance by Sting, a lively set by Wyclef Jean among local reggae and dancehall sensations.
If you’ll be visiting Jamaica anytime soon, keep your ears to the ground for the lineup of the next event and help give back to an amazing cause. Recently they were able to donate over $800,000 to the children’s hospital which serves the entire Caribbean.
If you’re looking for a truly immersive cultural experience then check out the Tmrw.Tday festival that happens every year in May on the shores of the beautiful beachside town, Negril.
This festival is a vegan, natural living, rasta-loving hippie dream. Not only does the lineup include the best of reggae and electronic beats, the experience includes a cannabis garden and yoga on the beach.
There’s a reggae river tour that I encourage you to experience as the hosts take you through the Negril hills in a jungle-like terrain to get to the river. The will also take you to their farm where you can explore some options for alternative plant-based medicines.
The festival features several talks and workshops throughout the days on wholesome living, conscious awareness, plant medicine and so much more plus a picturesque farm-to-table dinner night at another nearby farm. With so much of Jamaica’s fame being the spicy food, the fresh vegan take on the local jerk and spicy treasures is a must try.
The concert at night is a mix of local reggae acts such as Beenie Man and Kabaka Pyramid with an array of DJs and artists hailing from all over the world. This festival is a must for anyone seeking a truly unique experience in an island paradise.
Negril, usually a very sleepy, laid-back town has become the home to several triathlons, marathons, reggae festivals and food events. Dream Weekend is one of the pioneers of this awakening of the town.
Party central explodes in Negril every August for the Jamaica independence holiday. This 4-5 day festival draws a younger crowd with a fast-paced high energy set of musical events featuring hardcore dancehall acts.
The festival started over 10 years ago and has since evolved into an international delight for Jamaicans home and abroad who make the trek home every year to party away in the usually sleepy town. It may have started with mainly college-aged students on break making the trip every summer but these kids have grown with the festival and it has exploded into what it is today.
Book early for this one as the whole town will be sold out long before summer from the beach shacks to the luxury all-inclusive resorts. Young and young-at-heart converge on the town to indulge in hedonistic events ranging from water parties at the aquatic park, day parties on the beach and night time music festivals with the best of our local hardcore dancehall acts.
If you love a good party, add this one to your list and come see a different side of Negril.
Jamnesia at Wickie Wackie
This isn’t a huge music festival, more of a monthly reggae jam session but it bears mentioning for the good vibe. Young reggae artists and bands get together here to perform on the beach. You can go there early to get a surf lesson in and stay for the good eats and good vibe.
The likes of Protoje and Chronixx were regulars here before they blew up and the next generation of big reggae stars are probably hanging out there today.
Wickie Wackie is just outside of the Kingston city limits and promises some good roast fish and the highest grade of herbs if you’re into that. If a jam session isn’t happening when you visit, ask about Dub Club, a similar vibe in the hills above Kingston that happens regularly on a Sunday night.
There’s something for every type of music lover in Jamaica and so much more not mentioned here. Like the annual Major Lazer concert in the heart of Kingston city every December, the explosion of carnival in Jamaica every April that attracts revelers and soca lovers from near and far and that time the R&B greats came and shut down Montego Bay.
Have you ever been to a music festival in Jamaica?