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Music and more with Mel | An event worth less than an experience

Published:Friday | June 30, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Marcia Griffiths
Agent Sasco

I had reason yesterday to read a bit about this year’s renewal of the annual Reggae on the Rover festival in California from August 3 - 6. What caught my attention was not so much the line-up (although Agent Sasco, Sly and Robbie featuring Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Cherine Anderson, Kabaka Pyramid and Junior Kelly is not to be sneezed at), but the circumstances around the festival that make it more of an experience than an event.

The organisers played up the camping experience, the environmental aspect of taking care of the river, even the opportunity of putting some sweat into the preparation of the grounds and the availability of high quality big screens for viewing. These elements, among other aspects of Reggae on the River, move it beyond an event to an experience.

It is the same for many music festivals outside Jamaica that I have read about, some of which are specifically themed around Jamaican popular music (such as Rototom Sunsplash in Spain) and those which often include Jamaican popular music (such as Burning Man in the U.S., which has the tagline, 'A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers.'

Of course, this took me back to Jamaica, where the emphasis is on events rather than an experience. Events are inherently short-term, depending on the impact of each staging to attract supporters. Experiences, on the other hand, build long-term relationships with audience members - the biannual Calabash International Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, and the annual Rebel Salute in Priory, St Ann - although the Port Kaiser, St Elizabeth, venue had an irreplaceable charm - come to mind.


Reinforcing the value of experiences is what persons have told me about attending Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay, St James, in the late 1970s and earlier part of the 1980s, especially. It has always intrigued me how, in a situation with far fewer motor vehicles on the road than at present, so many Jamaicans went to MoBay for Sunsplash.

Then I was told tales of eight and 10 – and maybe more – people in one sedan driving from Kingston to MoBay, as well as people who would take the regular bus. Why did they go to such lengths to attend Sunsplash? A common thread which ran through the responses of people I spoke to was simply the experience. Yes, there was music, but being at Reggae Sunsplash was an experience.

As we package Jamaican popular music for the big stage, we need to figure out how we can make events into experiences that generate enduring loyalty from audience members at home and abroad. This is tied in to venue and concept, so we shall see how the Smile Jamaica concert at Grizzly’s Plantation Cove works out in December. For while that facility is a good venue, the matter of making the events held there distinctive – it is the Rebel Salute venue, as well as the base of the Jamaica Sound System Festival.

How do event organisers using the same venue to make something which has the common elements of live performance and recorded music, sufficiently distinctive to make it a unique experience. Events come and go, experiences have more stamina and are sustainable, which is what we need.