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
With reggae musicians jamming in the background, Jodian Samuels, of Jamaica, served up dishes that included curried goat, ox tail and jerk chicken. Samuels was visiting the area for the annual People’s Festival: A Tribute to Bob Marley and working at a food stand run by Paradise Palms, a restaurant on King Street in Wilmington. It’s great to educate the community about Jamaica, she said. “It’s lovely,” Samuels said. “It’s really lovely to share our culture with others.” The festival is now in its 18th year. Wilmington was the first American home for Bob Marley. The event to honor him features music, vendors and food stands, and organizers expect to attract 5,000 to 7,000 visitors to Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park this weekend.