Sat | Oct 1, 2022

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Big-ups for the greatest reggae show on earth

Published:Tuesday | July 23, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Patrons at Reggae Sumfest 2019 at Catherine Hall, Montego Bay, St. James

And they said a reggae show needed foreign acts to be successful. They said it needed American headliners to pull a crowd. Goes to show just how much ‘they’ knew. The Reggae Sumfest venue was so full on Saturday night, the fire marshal had to instruct people to fold up every single chair on the grounds to create breathing space. Catherine Hall was corked beyond capacity. You truly got an appreciation of the numbers when you took a look at the aerial images captured by the drone cameras. All you saw was a molten network of happy heads fused together with good vybes and a baseline.

In July of 2015, I wrote:

“Perhaps a reggae show shouldn’t have two international nights. Perhaps the organisers can consider a dancehall night, reggae night and international collab night [so] those who have journeyed miles for an authentic slice of paradise still get it – unadulterated.

“Traditionally, the international acts who have got the biggest ‘forwards’ at the show either have cameos in their sets by reggae artistes, or they perform reggae or dancehall songs themselves. Maybe it should become a stipulation to justify their inclusion in a reggae festival. It’s an issue for Sumfest to consider in a bid to be true to the identity it communicates.

Sumfest, for the last few years, has given me my heart’s desire. A 100 per cent authentic Jamaican event. Hats off, bravo, well done to Joe Bogdanovich and his team for executing an amazing event, for proving to the world, and to unconvinced corporate sponsors, and, to ‘doubting Thomas’ Jamaicans that reggae and dancehall are good enough on their own.

I also celebrate the Jamaica Tourist Board for putting in the work. Visitor arrivals were at a record high. No surprises there. And once again, there was no room in any inn throughout all of Montego Bay. Hoteliers and Airbnb owners were smiling ear to ear.

Kwasi and I were in heaven. We had ackee and salfish, plantain and fried turned breadfruit, and a sweet, dry pear. He washed it down with two Red Stripe beers; me with a couple of Red Stripe sorrels. We turned up the surround sound, found the youtube Downsound Entertainment feed on our bedroom TV and danced.


You read right. You see, Sumfest 2019 dispelled yet another myth: that if the live stream is available online, people won’t go. This was the first time in almost a decade that I had missed attending the festival. I had every intention to go in person, but plans changed. Both Friday and Saturday, I was tuned in from the very first to the last act, and I sang along and danced with longing. Next year will not miss me.

There was running commentary all night on Whatsapp among me, my friend in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and another friend in Canada. We all felt like we had gone. We all wished we had physically been there.

Perhaps on Facebook, I’ll share my artiste round-up, but Beres deserves special mention. During Beres’ entire performance, I wept uncontrollably. The man sings to my very soul. I can’t thank him enough for sharing his magic with the rest of us.

There is space for another show that marries reggae music with the appeal of the chart-topping foreign acts. That’s a space for a show that isn’t billed as the greatest reggae show on earth. A more ‘fun in the sun’ type of positioning. The live-show scene in Jamaica is surviving only because of Sumfest and Rebel Salute. Everything else died: Sting, Jazz and Blues. I did appreciate the exposure to foreign acts, just not at the ‘greatest reggae show on Earth’. Wrong time and place.

We also are in desperate need of venues. Plantation Cove is a fantastic option, but we need more. Sumfest has now outgrown Catherine Hall in its present state. The showground needs expanding, and it needs parking. I see more possibility than problems, though, and I look forward to the next chapter. Sumfest, Big-ups! You did Jamaica proud.


Patria-Kaye Aarons is a confectioner and broadcaster. Email feedback to and