St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival
David Alphonse was all smiles reclining on the lawn near the St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival’s main stage. An island native, he raved about the afternoon’s performance by guitarist and fellow St. Lucian, Ronald “Boo” Hinkson.
“This is our local guy, and we appreciate that,” said Alphonse. “He’s our own, and it makes you feel proud.” Many in the audience swayed and bobbed their heads to Hinkson’s mellow, fluid riffs, often compared to the stylings of George Benson. Another night included a stirring Jazz performance by Branford Marsalis.
But as the blistering sun sank low and a welcomed breeze cooled the crowd, buzz at the seaside venue was for another performer: R. Kelly. You might not expect an R&B and Hip-Hop headliner on closing night of a jazz festival. However, his presence underscored the eclectic nature of this 12-day event, which focused on more diverse entertainment than in years past. There was something for everyone — from R&B and Hip-Hop to Reggae and Soca to spoken word and dance to drama and fashion shows.
And St. Lucia beckoned from outside the performance venues, the lush island named for a 16th-century saint known for her generous spirit. To enjoy the Jazz & Arts Festival is to indulge in the music and culture while also finding time to explore the island’s natural beauty. Here’s one way to do it, with contact details included at the end.
Performances were spread across St. Lucia, but verdant Pigeon Island was a particularly stunning venue. The stage sat before a sloping knoll of open lawn that accommodated up to 8,000 attendees, many shielded from the sun by orange, red and blue umbrellas. The beach was just a short walk away, its sands fringed by soaring palms. Boats bobbed in the calm, indigo waters.
Ply the Caribbean Sea. Cruising those waters to view St. Lucia from the sea is a treat. Our group took a boat along the west coast from Vigie Cove to the City of Soufriere. The vessel was a charter from Captain Mike Hackshaw’s Sport Fishing & Whale Watching Tours). Green mountainous landscape and dramatic oceanfront cliffs looked all the more alluring while motoring past on a bright, clear day.
Our helmsman made a slight detour into Marigot Harbour, a pocket of pristine beach that the author James Michener called the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean. A highlight was seeing the iconic Pitons, formally Gros Piton and Petit Piton, come into view. The rugged pyramid-shaped mountains are in fact long dormant volcanic “plugs. Despite the names, the Petit (“small” in French”) Piton is the taller of the two. The shorter Gros Piton has a larger base.
Fly through the skies. The prospect of zip lining above a tropical rain forest sounds great in the brochures. Having a Soufriere Hotwire Rides staff member strap me into the harness is another matter. My jitters increased as we hiked to the first of eight towers from which we were to push off into the great wild blue. But being in the trees surrounded by encouraging companions squelched my fears. Soon, I was sailing across the beautiful grounds of the Morne Goubaril Estate as the great Pitons loomed in the distance. The course includes eight cables, laid out to give birds’ eye-views of the Pitons and the town of Soufriere.
I’d zip-lined before, but my St. Lucia experience came with history lessons. As we zipped from platform to platform, our guide shared some of the island’s history. France and Great Britain fought bitterly to rule St. Lucia, each country wresting control from the other seven times in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
Drive through a volcano. A short drive from the Morne Coubaril Estate is the Sulphur Springs. Covering more than seven acres, this crater resembles a rugged moonscape and is known as the Caribbean’s only drive in volcano. Typically, such areas are natural wonders to ogle from afar. Anyone with motorized transportation and a tolerance for the expected rotten-egg smell can explore here. The Springs and the Pitons are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Visit the market. Castries is St. Lucia’s capital, and the Castries Market provides a nice flavor of islanders, their music, food and talents. Located in and around a cavernous warehouse, it was voted the third best market in the world by National Geographic Magazine. The expanse of local vendors sell the standard souvenir items to satisfy nieces and nephews back home — T-shirts, sundresses, and the ubiquitous beaded necklaces and bracelets.
But if you duck down enough aisles, you’ll strike gold in St. Lucian art – paintings, tapestries, carvings, pottery and sculptures, whose whimsy will tease a smile from the most travel-weary tourist. The wall of one craftsman’s stall displayed multiple rows of statues he’s painstakingly carved from wood. They are fluid, sinewy figures that dance in their stillness. Outside, vendors, mostly women, have assembled rows and rows of food carts, laying out bananas, pineapple and coconuts. And lots of hot pepper sauce and home-made rum.
Check out more art. The “Arts” in the Jazz and Arts Festival’s name can be found all over the island in markets, galleries, small shops, large stores and prominently at the Pigeon Island performance venue. Just beyond the main entrance are white canvass tents housing a wide array of indigenous artwork. The tropical beauty of the island was brought alive in paintings and photographs.
My favorite art was craftsmen Paulinus Herman’s metal-wire figures of musicians, athletes and every day people. Also on display were Vincent Joseph Eudovic’s distinctive sleek wood-carved sculptures of elongated people and abstract shapes. They sat on a table near a bold painting of red, yellow and green crotons by Peter Walcott, son of St. Lucian Nobel Prize Winner, Derek Walcott.
Embrace Serendipity. We heard traditional jazz for the first time while walking back to our hotel from a local ice cream parlor one evening. The Fire Grill and Lounge Bar sat just yards away from the Bay Gardens Resort, but we would’ve missed it, if someone in our group hadn’t craved a chocolate cone.
Owner and Chef Bobo Bergstrom is serious about his jazz, packing islanders and tourists into his combination bar-restaurant nightly to hear well-known local performers. Bergstrom is so dedicated to the genre and local talent that he holds charity auctions to benefit the St. Lucia School of Music.
The night we visit, a quintet is jamming for a packed house. A few patrons sidled up to the long, impressively stocked bar. Rum reigns supreme. From the accolades given by a companion (an expert of the distilled beverage), rum aficionados would weep with joy at the vast selection.
St. Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival
Captain Mike Hackshaw’s Sport Fishing & Whale Watching Tours
PHONE: 1-758-452-704 or 1-758-484-3661
Soufriere Hotwire Rides at Morne Coubaril Estate
Fire Grill Lounge and Bar
Reduit Beach Avenue in Rodney Bay Village