Washington, DC has long been recognized as a capital city with a large reggae following. A city that has hosted almost every major and emerging reggae act from Bob Marley & the Wailers @ Capital Centre in Landover (1978) to Peter Tosh live at the Bayou in Georgetown (1979). Bunny Wailer has played the MCI Center in Chinatown and Third World has frequented various different venues in and around DC. Reggae music thrives in a politically driven city with a remarkably diverse mix of culturally and conscious music lovers, making it perfectly fitting that the capital city hosts a definitive festival showcasing Caribbean culture. An annual event giving locals and tourist the opportunity to taste delicious island jerk cuisine while watching performances from an array of reggae artists. The Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival does just that – placing DC on the map among reggae festivals nationwide and continuing to grow each year.
Now in it’s third year, the DC Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival 2018 continued to deliver an excellent showcase of reggae artists, delicious island cuisine, cultural exhibitions, and a Caribbean themed marketplace – making it the largest Caribbean Food Festival in the country. Held at the RFK Stadium Lot – this years sponsors included: Grace Foods, VP Records, Shoppers Food, PNC Bank, Giant Food, Guinness, and Ablazin Radio. Festival-goers enjoyed free cooking demonstrations and food tastings from various celebrity chefs at the Shoppers Food Culinary Pavilion. Along with a host of Jerk infused dish options offered by food vendors from many different Caribbean eateries based in and around DC.
This years festival presented a powerhouse line-up of both veteran and emerging reggae heavyweights – Third World, Elephant Man, Alison Hinds, New Kingston, and Xyclone. Additional performers included Sounds of Culture, DJ Ricky Platinum, and the Malcolm X Drummers & Dancers.
Vendors lined the festival trail around the transformed stadium lot with beautifully hand-crafted merchandise and memorabilia. But it was the inviting aroma of island cuisine that permeated throughout the festival, luring festival-goers to experience delicious jerk dishes from Caribbean eateries representing the entire DMV and beyond! Offering up savory dishes of jerk chicken, curry goat, oxtail, rice & peas, jerk shrimp, and almost any island dish you could imagine. The festival also included a beef patty eating contest in which one lucky young winner walked away with the $500 grand prize!
On a weekend where the forecast called for thunderstorms and heavy rain, the festival endured under a cloudy overcast setting without a single drop of rain – making the perfect setting for this years Jerk Festival! Festival organizers did an excellent job of transforming the huge RFK Stadium Lot into an island-themed park complete with a cozy VIP area and impressive stage sound and lighting set-up.
Opening the show were the locally-based Sounds of Culture and the Malcolm X Drummers & Dancers, setting the vibes early providing an excellent cultural demonstration of percussive song and dance representing the sounds of the African diaspora. Another local act, Xyclone warmed up the growing crowd with selections from his Billboard chart hit release. In between artistst sets, DJ Ricky Platinum kept the swelling crowd moving spinning reggae and dancehall favorites. Emerging young group New Kingston delivered an inspiring set bringing their trademark sound to the DMV audience. The group, based out of Brooklyn New York, consists of three brothers (Tahir, Courtney Jr., and Stephen Panton) along with their father (Courtney, Sr.) and are rapidly making their imprint in the reggae community.
Reggae artist Xyclone (top left); Malcolm X Drummers and Dancers (top right), and New Kingston performing at the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival, RFK Stadium Lot, Washington, DC 6/10/18
Veteran reggae legends Third World opened their set with a medley of chart topping hits from their extensive catalog of music which spans some 45 years. Many festival onlookers sang along with the group on hits such as “96 Degrees in the Shade”, “Now That We Found Love”, “Try Jah Love”, and “Committed”. Founding member Stephen “Cat” Coore later performed a heartwarming solo rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” on cello – honoring past reggae legends Bunny Rugs (former Third World lead vocalist), Peter Tosh, Bob Marley as well as dedicating the tune to former president Barack Obama. Third World continues to deliver their signature classics and bring the energy and crowd to its peak. They still remain true “Reggae Ambassadors” as their signature song implies.
Third World performing at the 2018 Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival @ RFK Stadium Lot, Washington, DC 6/10/18
The Caribbean Queen – Alison Hinds brought the crowd to it’s feet with high energy soca hits including “Roll it Gal”, “High”, and her newly released “Shellings”. Hinds, the Queen of Soca, delivered a sizzling set transforming the festival into a frenzy of soca dancing. Closing out the show was “The energy God” Elephant Man. His electrifying performance transformed the festival into full dancehall mode with popular hits including “Signal the Plane”, “Pon Di River”, and “Sweep”. Towards the end of his set Elephant Man called audience members onto the stage to show off his signature dance moves, but it was his daughter Haley who stole the show taking center stage and showing the jerk festival that she had a few dance moves of her own.
The energy and crowd turnout undoubtedly made this years Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival one of DC’s most successful Caribbean themed festivals this city has ever hosted, leaving fans eagerly anticipating next years festival. For those who may want to experience this high-energy event or who may have missed out on this years DC festival, Grace Foods will host another installment of the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival at Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica-Queens, New York on July 22nd followed by a closing Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival on November 11th at Markham Park in South Florida.
For more info: (NYC Festival) www.jerkfestivalny.com
(South Florida Festival) www.jerkfestival.com
Special thanks to all of the hard-working festival staff for brilliantly coordinating and executing a remarkable day of delicious food, amazing live entertainment and cultural awareness. Of note, we would also like to thank Richard Lue (VP Records) and Naisha Nicholson (Urban Relations) for graciously allowing Urban Heat Advisory access to this years amazing festival experience!
– Jamaal Bailey (Urban Heat Advisory)