Sun | Oct 17, 2021

Robert Russell lauds Bogdanovich’s foresight for Sumfest’s $billion weekend

Published:Sunday | July 28, 2019 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small - Gleaner Writer
Vibing at Reggae Sumfest All White Party 2019 are Robert Russell (left) and international R&B star, Ne-Yo.
Evon Mullings, general manager of Jamaica Music Society
Patrons enjoying Sumfest
Romain Virgo (left) and Christopher Martin perform at Reggae Sumfest 2019.
Joe Bogdanovich

Record-breaking reports follow the close of last week’s Reggae Sumfest. Calculations from Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett’s office are that based on average room night’s stay of locals and visitors and taxes, the music festival generated J$1 billion. There could arise many explanations and justifications for the impressive figure, but what people seem proud to highlight is that the billion-dollar generating music festival developed using only local talent - a mandate introduced by Joe Bogdanovich.

Reggae Sumfest’s billion-dollar weekend comes three years after the brand changed hands from previous owners to Downsound Entertainment, led by Bogdanovich. The new management took the then-controversial decision to eliminate international acts from the line-up. “Normally, we would have brought in overseas acts, which would have created a crowd, but that crowd would have originated from Jamaica. Overseas acts won’t appeal to the American visitors because our reggae and dancehall is appealing to them. People came from Russia, China, England, and the rest of the Caribbean,” Robert Russell told The Sunday Gleaner.

Pull Power

After the Reggae Sumfest brand changed hands, Russell was the only transferee from the previous pool of principals. “I was the only one who stayed on. A lot of naysayers figured it wouldn’t do well. But he had already taken the conscious decision not to import. Joe’s foresight saw that it wasn’t necessary to import entertainment. He saw that we have the calibre of acts who can attract visitors from overseas. He was proven right.”

Russell is not alone in pointing out that billions rolled in as a result of the pulling power of Jamaican entertainers.

Jamaica Music Society’s (JAMMS) general manager Evon Mullings pointed to the line-up as well.

“The festival really has grown in the last three years, since having been taken over by Downsound Entertainment. The marketing has improved considerably. They have managed to repackage Reggae Sumfest, so it has become even more attractive to event goers. That, on its own, was an additional pull as well as the line-up and the overall presentation.”

“There was record attendance on each night. Local talent can pull an audience. That is to say two things: 1. Our talent is good, once it’s organised and put in a nice package. Secondly, on the macro level, the economy is, perhaps, contributing. All signs are suggesting that the economy is on an upward growth path,” he said.

Economic Boom

Figures from Russell declare that there were approximately 8,000 overseas visitors, and many locals filled all the hotels, bed and breakfasts and AirBnB accommodations in Montego Bay for Reggae Sumfest’s billion-dollar weekend. He then estimated each visitor’s average spend at US$1,500 per person for food, transport, and tickets. “There were literally no hotel rooms to be had. If you reduce the amount of spend to be less than US$1,500, you still end up in the billions,” Russell said.

Considering the local consumer, Mullings shared the opinion that there have been economic booms in some sectors and industry and that this has generated more disposable income, which people are plugging into entertainment.

“It’s evidenced by what’s happening in Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios. Quite a number of venues are developing for night-time entertainment. That is testament to the fact that there is a market for that form of entertainment. We’re not hitting the five per cent growth, but people feel like they can partake in more than they could have previously,” he suggested. And as the locals are better positioned to seek out leisure, Mullings agrees that the decision to eliminate international acts was a correct one.

The Buju Factor

“This year was arguably the largest Reggae Sumfest in terms of attendance from both local and overseas guests. On the visitor arrival side, we saw approximately 10,000 people coming to the island for the festival which is an increase of 3,000 over last year,” said Minister Bartlett in a release. There does exist the opinion that this apparent growth in Reggae Sumfest is directly tied to Night Two’s closer, Buju Banton. Mullings, however, doesn’t believe that factor played up these numbers.

“Night One gives credence to that,” he reasoned, “because it pulled record numbers in attendance, and he was not on Night One. A few months ago, he had his own set, and a considerable number attended that show. Most who went would have seen him already.”

Russell agrees, and gives rationale for 8,000 overseas visitors coming in for the festival. “It’s the fact that we streamed worldwide last year. Because it was free, a lot of viewers were influenced by that. Those who had no knowledge of the festival were able to see what it was firsthand. Added to that, the lineup included Buju Banton, Beres Hammond, Chronixx, entertainers who appeal to our overseas visitors.”

Russell supposes that some visitors didn’t care for the line-up at all. Instead, they are simply ‘seeking a space’ in anticipation of good music, food and security – all the ingredients to go towards making a festival successful.