St Kitts Music Festival 2018: A Magnificent Experience

Thanks to the generous hospitality of St Kitts Tourism and the superb coordination of its US based Public Relations Manager, Cathy Preece, I was invited to attend the recently held St Kitts 2018 Music Festival. Having visited St Kitts on two prior occasions, the most recent just this past November, as a first time Music Festival attendee however, it was for me an experience that could only be described as magnificent.

Now in its 22nd year the St. Kitts 2018 Music Festival, which took place June 27 to July 1, was a rousing success. This year’s festival attracted record numbers of attendees, and for the first time in the event’s history, its hashtag #SKMF2018 was trending on Twitter.

Staged at the Island’s Warner Park Cricket Stadium, which is conveniently located in the heart of the capital city Basseterre, the Festival kicked off on June 27 with the Grammy-nominated Nailah Blackman giving a soulful and energetic performance that set the tone for the remainder of the event. Calypso stalwart Destra followed with an out of this world memorable performance that took the energy levels into the stratosphere.

So much so that the record-breaking first night crowd must have been left wondering as to whether Kes the Band, as the evening’s next headline performers, would be able to keep up the pace. From his opening rendition of his recently released Hello, Kes however easily managed to do just that in his own inimitable style.

Spice then brought everyone to a stand still during her somewhat “racy” performance, while local bands Nu Vybes International and Small Axe Band closed the show with a bang.

The second night’s theme was reggae with industry greats such as the respective opening and closing acts Chakademus & Pliers and Sizzla Kalongi, providing outstanding bookend performances to the satisfactory delight of yet another impressively large audience. In between Isahwna had left many of those present cheering as she brought her unique talent to the stage. Wayne Wonder and August Alsina both kept the energy going while upcoming local talents Byron Messia and Dejour had everyone singing along to their music.

The vibrant energy and outstanding performances displayed during the first two Caribbean themed nights, set the stage for a final evening that will now likely be long remembered by those who have by their repeated attendances deemed themselves as Festival Regulars. The Saturday final night performances were headlined by Rhythm of the Beat, featuring a mix of original songs and cover hits. They were very quickly followed by Grammy, Hollywood Walk and Songwriters Hall of Fame artist Patti LaBelle, who wowed the crowd many of her top hits, including “Lady Marmalade,” “Right Kind of Lover,” and “When You Talk About Love,”

After a bit of an unusually long delay in between sets, Lauryn Hill eventually appeared on stage and proceeded to “kill us all softly with her songs” as she reeducated everyone present of her immense talents. The evening and the Festival fittingly came to a rousing conclusion with the Grammy-nominated rap artist Fetty Wap leaving the audience begging for more! “

Following the three nights of performances, the event closed with the Africa-themed White Sands white party at Carambola Beach Club on Sunday, July 1 that was a spectacle by itself! “Far more like a pageant than a party” was the rather apt description given it by one of our Media group’s female journalists!

Our evening attendances at the three nights of Music Festival performances was only one part of our overall “official” media duties during the our St Kitts Tourism hosted six day stay, accommodations for which were at the luxurious St. Kitts Marriott Resort. Throughout the stay our activities were efficiently coordinated by the assigned Media Liaisons, the US based Cathy Preece who had been responsible for pulling together the international media party and her local St Kitts Tourism associates Jennifer Hensley and Jonette Boyd. Our 15-member group also had its own bus and three dedicated Drivers: St. Clair Maynard, Lee Matt and Chris James who rotated their duties assignments to our group.

Myself, Cathy Preece and Quesi Rose had arrived on the same June 27th flight via Miami. We were picked up at the airport by Lee Matt. After a seamless check in to my spaciously impressive Marriott Hotel room it was off the Music Festival Media Welcome Reception at Christophe Harbour Marina.

The Welcome reception was hosted by the island’s Minister of Tourism Lindsay Grant and its Tourism Authority’s CEO Racquel Brown. It was held in the Christophe Harbour courtyard in front of the under refurbishment renovations Customs House.

The Customs House has been described as the building that defines Christophe Harbour to the West Indies, and possibly to the world. Its edifice is at the heart of the island’s Marina Village. In the not too distant future, when the planned development has eventually been completed, narrow streets will radiate outwards from its pedestrian square into neighborhoods that will be built with the natural topography on the hillside overlooking the harbour.” Luxury shops and an al fresco coffee bar are already frequented by visiting super yacht crews, guests at the new Park Hyatt, and visitors from elsewhere on St Kitts and Nevis. Christophe Harbour’s ultra impressive marina is a full-service affair with a fuel farm and slips for yachts up to 250 feet in length.

It was nice to see Chris Ghita, my Ocean Terrace Inn Manager host from my previous, most recent, visit to St Kitts at the Welcome Reception. It was also a pleasure to be availed the opportunity of meeting both Minister Grant and CEO Brown in person for the first time. Following the appetizer laced and rum punch fuelled Welcome Reception, we were transferred to the nearby Reggae Beach for dinner, which was only the first of several gastronomical delights we would enjoy during our stay.

The Thursday June 28 official first morning of our tour was started with a Continental Breakfast in the Marriott’s St Vincent Conference Room. This was very quickly followed by a Media Briefing, before we sauntered over to the resort’s Antigua Room for the first of the daily mid-morning Press Conferences that would punctuate the Festival music performance dates.

No sooner had the Kes and Destra attended Media Conference ended that we were boarding the Lee Matt driven bus for the half hour long drive over the luxurious recently opened Park Hyatt. We were then treated to a comprehensive tour of almost the entire sprawling facility. A chef cooked, high end lunch, complete with some unpronounceable menu items that were needless to say mouth wateringly delicious, concluded our Park Hyatt visit.

The ultra luxurious Park Hyatt St. Kitts, the brand’s very first Caribbean based property, has 78 rooms and 48 suites housed in a series of dwellings which form an arc around the resort. Each of the accommodations face towards Banana Bay and have either a private balcony or terrace. Every room and suite is tastefully decorated in simple, chic décor, so as not to distract from the colors of the Caribbean and the Resort grounds. According to the Park Hyatt St. Kitts website, the property offers its guests full exposure to and enjoyment of the highest levels of luxury. Spacious guestrooms and suites combine contemporary architecture with a timeless, colonial feel that taps into the rich historic roots of St. Kitts. Many of the suites offer individual pools with private sundecks offering unobstructed views of the Caribbean Sea and the neighboring island of Nevis.

Following the Park Hyatt Tour we had a couple of hours to ourselves before it was time to get back on the bus again to head across to Warner Park for the Music Festival’s first night performances. Prior to the performances, which impressively started on time exactly at 8:00 pm as was scheduled; we were taken on a mini-tour of the stadium. The mini tour’s stated purpose was to allow us to become familiarized with the areas that were accessible to us as Media personnel, as well as those that were out of bounds.

Personally the only accessible area I much cared for was the Tourist Board’s generously supplied food and beverages VIP Tent. That was immediately adopted as my “branch” office for each and every night of the Festival.

The official tour for the following day, Festival Friday, was a return to Christophe Harbour. Our second visit featured an on site staff presented briefing on the property’s investment opportunities. We also went out onto the actual marina to have an up close look at its impressive multiple yachts berthing facilities.

Having experienced Brimstone Hill and the Black Rocks at least twice before on previous visits to St Kitts, I begged off from the Saturday activities with Cathy Preece’s kind permission. I might have been the lucky one in doing so as it wasn’t until well after 5:00 pm that those who had gone arrived back at the hotel. For them it was a therefore a bit of a scramble to get ready for the 7:30 scheduled bus transport pick up for the drive to that evening’s final night Festival performances.

I’d actually gotten into the habit of catching the first available shuttle back to the hotel, which left at 12 midnight. I did that for the first two nights, but as I’d said to Cathy, out of sheer respect to our wonderful St Kitts Tourism hosts, I felt obliged to stay until the very end on the final night.
I was glad that I did, not only because the performances were memorable but also for the opportunity it provided to join Quesi and a few of the group’s party animals in a late night visit to ‘The Strip,” St Kitts’ bar laden after hours entertainment district. It wasn’t until well after a 5:00 am daybreak that we found ourselves hilariously hitch hiking a ride back to the hotel.

Our final official activity was the Sunday 2:00 pm attendance at the previously described White Sands Africa themed All Inclusive at the Carambola Beach Club. Cognizant that our hotel pickup for the drive to the airport was scheduled for 6:00 am the following morning, I opted to leave the All Inclusive for the first available 7:00 pm shuttle back to the hotel.

And so it was that Monday July 2 found me heading back via Miami to Toronto’s realities after a six-day overly enjoyable escape in that little piece of paradise that I now regard St Kitts to be. As punctuated as it was with memorable musical performances, enjoyable day tours, one gastronomical delight after another and underlined by the outstanding hospitality of our St Kitts Tourism hosts, ably assisted as they were by Cathy Preece’s unflappable efficiency, it was needless to say an immensely enjoyable experience. One that I’d willing repeat any time I’m invited to do so.