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.