Awards season is over, which means music festival season is finally upon us. And what better way to kick it off than with the Caribbean's esteemed Moonsplash festival?
Founded in 1991 and curated by legendary reggae musician Bankie Banx, the three-day music extravaganza, which took place March 13 through 16 this year, featured live Caribbean music played by the industry's most intoxicating stars at CNN's #1 rated beach bar, The Dune Preserve, on the island of Anguilla. In addition to the event attracting island enthusiasts and international tourists from across the globe, celebrity guests including John Mayer and Jimmy Buffett have also managed to bless the Moonsplash stage in the past with surprise performances.
Among this year's lineup of performers were Banx himself and his son, former professional cricket player Omari Banks. The 31-year-old rising musician recently chatted with The Huffington Post about how he plans to contribute to his father's musical legacy, and how he feels about Moonsplash being the longest-running independent music festival in the Eastern Caribbean.
After years of watching Moonsplash develop into the festival that it is today, how did it feel to perform at this year's event?
Moonsplash was something that I really grew up around. I’d actually like to say that I'm a Moonsplash baby. I remember its inception and I've performed at Moonsplash since I've been 7, 8 years old. I was a child at the time, but I would get up and do one or two songs. But it's always special for me to perform at the Moonsplash festival. It's my dad's festival, so I've seen the hard work and sacrifices that he has made to ensure that Moonsplash is successful. Getting up onstage to do my thing is something that I always appreciate and [I] love to get positive feedback from the crowd. As an artist that's an amazing thing.
Are you involved with assisting your father in planning each year's festival?
Not as much. In terms of planning, you have to be involved, in the sense [that] if my dad has an idea he’ll bounce the idea off of me, etc. But for the past, I would say, three to four years -- seeing that I'm an artist now -- I try to step back in terms of performing. Because even my dad sometimes, he's the one who's worked so hard for Moonsplash. But for me, I actually try to focus on the music, which is performing. And make sure that I'm in the right frame of mind to go up onstage to perform. But my dad always knows that he can ask me whatever it is to organize the event., and I'm open to that all the time.
How important would you describe the importance of Moonsplash remaining as the longest-running independent festival in the Eastern Caribbean?
I think it's very important. We as Anguillans, we like to have a stake in our own. If you ask anybody, not just myself, Anguillans are proud people. They're proud to say that they own the land of the country. And that's important when you have a business which is our main industry in tourism. I think that goes hand in hand to say that my dad understands that it's important what he does. From the acts that he brings in, my dad is somebody that's socially aware and he tries to bring in acts that can have an impact, not just draw crowds, but also fit into the theme of Moonsplash. Moonsplash and the Dune Preserve always [have] a positive spin. And my dad is always looking to bring in someone who has a good influence and make a great contribution to Anguilla in that way.
It's important to him, because Moonsplash is part of his legacy. And it's important that he keeps it independent, because it's part of his legacy and I'm sure he wants to play a role in shaping his destiny.
In recent years, John Mayer, Buju Banton and Jimmy Buffett are some of the special guests who have graced the Moonsplash stage. Where would you like to see the festival evolve in years to come?
Personally, I'm an artist who can appreciate all kinds of music. And my dad is the same. Some of his biggest icons or people that he [likes] as artists are people like Bob Dylan who inspire him. And those guys aren't necessarily reggae singers. So I think my dad is open to all genres. It's really about music and the art form. And that being said, it's generally a reggae festival, but it's more about the message and positive vibe that's affiliated with Moonsplash.
In terms of your music career, last year you released your debut album, "Move On." Looking ahead, would you be interested in recording a collaborative project? If so, with who?
That’s definitely something that I would want to do. Possibly with Nas or Jay-Z. I don't do rap music in the sense that I’m not a rapper, but from the lyrical content or even within my reggae vibes we have a style called dub, which is similar to rap music. It's kind of a chant kind of feel ... I also like John Mayer and Lauryn Hill. I like Lauryn as an artist. I think lyrically, she's awesome. I love her "Miseducation" album. As an musician you hear so much and you’re inspired by so many.
The idea for Reggae Fest started 22 years ago, while Jim Jenkins and Bill King were on a bicycle tour of Jamaica. The business partners, who five years earlier acquired The Historic Trempealeau Hotel, wanted to bring that music and cool vibe to Trempealeau.
Since 1991, Reggae Fest has established itself as an early gem on the Coulee Region’s summer festival calendar.
“It holds certain risks to have an outdoor event in May, but we wanted to jump-start the summer,” said Jenkins, who sold the hotel to Amy Werner last year. “We’ve had Reggae Fest on days with 90 degree weather but also when it was only 50 degrees and raining. The fans, at least, never seemed to mind.”
Reggae Fest is always set for the Saturday before Memorial Day. This year, the long-range weather forecast is for temperatures in the low 70s and mostly sunny skies, ideal conditions for an outdoor festival.
Events such as Reggae Fest have a positive impact in a small village such as Trempealeau — fans regularly outnumber Trempealeau’s population of 1,500 — and boost business at local hotels, restaurants, bars and gas stations.
“The hotel has a long history of having great music and attracting visitors from metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities, and these visitors sharing their Trempealeau experience with friends, families and coworker, is the best marketing we as a community could ask for,” said Village Administrator Travis Cooke.
To warm things up on Friday night, Madison’s DJ Hardworking Lover pulls out his favorite records and spins music from old school to dance hall.
The first act on Saturday is Dred I Dread. With members from Jamaica, Mexico, Turkey and the United States, the band combines myriad styles around a solid core of Jamaican reggae.
The second slot is filled by reggae powerhouse Gizzae. These Caribbean, African and American musicians — Rocket, Ruphael, Clem, Evans and Ralph — have been performing for more than 30 years.
“When you play reggae in different parts of the world, you notice more similarities than differences between the fans,” said Brian “Rocket” Rock.
“Our musical influences are quite diverse,” said Sedar G., Gizzae’s lead guitarist. “They range from Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan to The Clash and Mutabaraku.”
Headliner T.U.G.G. plays at 8 p.m. Reggae Fest also is the official release party for the La Crosse-based band’s fourth full-length EP “Maze.”
“We’ve grown into our song writing as a group,” said lead singer Andy Hughes. “We tried to make the album have a flow. It turned out to really weave in and out of reggae-rock and rock-ska. The hotel has one of the most beautiful backdrops I’ve seen for live music. You have the gorgeous Mississippi River behind the wooden open-air stage — it’s just so serene.”
Werner said she and her staff look forward to Reggae Fest each year.
“Folks are done with winter and want to listen to warm tunes and celebrate outside amongst nice people,” she said.
The Buckroe Beach Reggae Fest brings together fans of Jamaican-flavored music and culture for a day of fresh air, good grooves and laid-back fellowship.
It might not be obvious at first glance, but the event is also meant to appeal to children. In addition to live music, the festival offers activities for youngsters including sand soccer and face painting. The atmosphere is intended to be family-friendly.
"To be honest, that's the reason I wanted to start the festival," said Kevin Purnell, one of the event's founders. "I wanted to make something for the kids to look forward to, something positive … That's No. 1 on the list, the kids."
Purnell, the father of a 12-year-old son, takes pride in the growth of the Buckroe Beach Reggae Fest, which returns Saturday for a third run.
As many as 8,000 music lovers crowded Buckroe Beach Park last spring for the event and organizers are hoping for an even bigger turnout this time around.
"The energy is different," Purnell said. "We've worked so hard to promote it, it's almost like the first one again."
Local reggae enthusiasts including Purnell, Seko "Blackstarliner" Francis and Cindi Lewis-Brown launched the event in 2011 with a mostly local set of performers including Tuff Lion, United Souls and Stable Roots. A crowd of about 5,000 turned out for that first edition.
While last year's festival, which featured Nature's Child, Bimini Rd and Bambu Station, drew a bigger crowd, some of the fun was tainted by wet weather.
This year, the Buckroe bash offers music from local favorites United Souls and Session Rockers along a set from a full-fledged headliner, Culture featuring Kenyatta Hill.
The band is credited with helping to define the roots reggae style. Kenyatta Hill took over leadership of Culture after his father, Joseph Hill, died in 2006.
"Joseph Hill's devotion to the traditional Rastafarian values of purity, simplicity and justice is exemplified by Culture's lyrical themes," a bio for the band explains.
Milo Miles, writing for The New York Times, once named Culture "the leading exponent of 'conscious reggae,'" meaning that the band's messages are often uplifting and socially relevant.
That's part of what makes the music appeal to Purnell.
"I've been seeing them since the late 1980s or '90s, in Washington, D.C, California, Europe," Purnell said. "Having them down at Buckroe, right in my neighborhood, is going to be amazing."
Want to go?
What: Buckroe Beach Reggae Fest
When: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, May 11
Where: Buckroe Beach Park, 100 S. First Street, Hampton
11-11:45 a.m. Machet Reggae Band
Noon-12:45 p.m. Destined Nation
1:05-1:50 p.m. Tonahope
2:10 -3:00 p.m. United Souls
3:20-4:05 p.m. Session Rockers
4:30-5:15 p.m. Antero
5:45-6:45 p.m. Jahworks
7:15-8:45 p.m. Culture
What: Boss Sounds Festival 2012
When: October 12 and 13, 2012, 11pm-3am
Where: World Headquarters Newcastle .
Anthony B, Brother Culture, Pangea Sound System
Direct from Jamaica Anthony B is one of the world's biggest reggae stars, regularly headlining major European Festivals. Draped in the rich colours of African cloth, his trademark staff in hand, and his dreadlocks wrapped regally on his head, Anthony B embodies all that it is spiritual and proactive about Reggae music.
The 21st Garance Reggae Festival kicks off tomorrow with four days of must-have reggae vibes at the Arthur Rimbaud Park at Bagnols-sur-Ceze.
The Garance Reggae Festival celebrates the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence and pays tribute to what a release from the organisers described as a 'remarkable island whose influence has reached the four corners of the globe'.
Following a record attendance last year (48,000 tickets sold), this year's Garance Reggae Festival has adapted to accommodate its ever-growing public, offering even safer and more reliable facilities.
The festival has become the not-to-be-missed event for reggae and dub aficionados throughout Europe. As always, the festival will showcase the very best in reggae legends, revelations and surprises.