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June 30, 2005

 St. Kitts in June – does it get any better?  Despite organizational and logistical challenges, the festival took on its own life when the music started.  I was just happy to have been invited to my very first Caribbean music festival representing Toronto, Canada.  I didn’t know what to expect except to report on the festival as seen through the eyes of a Canadian.  I can tell you one thing right off the top, the island of St. Kitts is one of beauty – both in the people as well as the landscape.  The hotel that hosted the festival was the St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino – an incredibly striking and sprawling piece of land on the coast of the island.  While it took awhile for us all to settle in properly, we eventually were able to start enjoying the richness of St. Kitts.  

Amongst a large entourage of both veteran and rookie journalists (I fall into the ‘rookie’ category) representing all types of media from many different countries, it was apparent from the start that the festival was looking for global exposure.  With reporters and television crews (including satellite television), Internet radio, local and global radio, and many more entities, we all set about the matter at hand – coverage of the 2005 St. Kitts Music Festival.  Access to the artists was very difficult to accomplish so instead of clamouring to do that, I decided to capture photos of most artists either from our press conferences every morning or during their performances.  Click on any highlighted names to get to the artist’s sites or related sites.  Let’s begin the adventure …

Day 1 – Wednesday, June 22

I was on the same flight (7:00 am!) as the tour band for Keshia Chante, the sole Canadian artist scheduled at the festival thanks to Ivan Berry, one of the founders of the festival and Keshia’s manager.  Keshia’s tour band is represented by some of Canada’s finest musicians - Orin Isaacs, David Williams, Mark Patterson, Deryck Roche, Andre and DJ Scratch all complimented by Keshia’s dancers.  She would be performing on Saturday night. 

On board our flight as well was the team from the OMNI.1 show, Caribbean Vibrations (airing Saturdays at 2:30 pm) including Alain Arthur, Royette Baptiste, Marissa Cameron and videographer Parfait Nsanze - a group that would soon become my Canadian allies and friends.  They got great video coverage so be sure to check out their show!  Upon reaching our hotel, myself and the other media reps were whisked off to dinner at Sprat Net in its fun, casual atmosphere located right on the ocean.  Delicious chicken and ribs!  Off we went again to return to the hotel for a relatively early night after networking and a full day of travel (12 hours!).

Day 2 – Thursday, June 23

After breakfast at the BET Soundstage, a press conference aired live on radio where we met and were encouraged to question the artists selected for the line-up that evening where the theme was soka and reggae music.  The buzz about the line-up gripped the island as the genre’s heavy hitters came out including David Rudder, Roy Cape All Stars, Black Stalin, Grandmasters, Machel Montana & Xtatik, Small Axe Band (natives of St. Kitts), and Rupee and the Dot.Com Band Grandmasters did not perform and it was never fully explained why they didn’t perform but were at the press conference speaking about their upcoming show.  Rumour had it that their order in the line-up changed at the last minute and they decided not to perform at all. 


Lunch was at Bambu’s – an outdoor restaurant full of Caribbean cuisine where, once finished, we were taken shopping in the downtown of Basseterre.  The sun was practically melting those of us unaccustomed to the heat of St. Kitts.  Our loyal and faithful driver, Vincent Branch, a veteran employee of St. Kitts Tourism for 10 years, then took a few of us on a private tour of the island with sites that one would only believe existed on a postcard. 


People were winding up all night at the venue of Fort Thomas and much later into the night at the after parties held at either the BET Soundstage and/or Crystals.  Before the symptoms of jet-lag took over completely, I managed to get off a few shots of the performances for the night.  The vibe was electric amongst the patrons of the festival.  This was ‘their’ music and the partying commenced to launch the four day festival.


Day 3 – Friday, June 24

St. Kitts Tourism reps took us on a catamaran cruise (including snorkelling and swimming) on the Spirit of St. Kitts during the day in order for us to capture the island’s magnificence by water.  Drinks and food abounded, as did lots of reggae and calypso.  Rod Strickland, now retired NBA player of the Houston Rockets and a former Toronto Raptor, joined us on the cruise and we were able to hang out.  The scenery was unbelievable with waters as blue as a clear piece of turquoise. 


While temperatures soared even throughout the evenings, so did the crowds who came out to see Friday’s line-up, which consisted of T.O.K., Ludacris, Bamboo-B and Tornado Band, Christian Laviso, Keshia Chante and John Holt Although Keshia was the least recognized name on the bill, big things are expected for this girl who is now reaching global exposure.  Keshia had a very ‘big’ show with full accompaniment and five dancers.  Despite the audience not being aware of her body of work, Keshia stayed focussed and brought her R&B flavour to the night and eventually captured the St. Kitts audience.  One of the many comments I received was that she’s on her way to stardom.  T.O.K. made the young girls insane and as they jumped into the scaffolding surrounding the stage to get closer to their audience.  Screams surrounding the media photo pit which made it difficult to hear!  They’re heartthrobs for sure!  And what can you say about the reggae legend John Holt.  Mr. Holt was very candid and funny at the press conference in the morning bringing a levity and true sincerity that he is known for.  The audience’s adoration of him was clear as he rang out some of his classics.  And then there was Ludacris who was rumoured to be a no-show but I’m happy to report that he definitely showed up with his southern rap and wound the crowd up even more.  Somehow he managed to make the transition from John Holt’s lovemaking reggae to his Hotlanta hip hop seamless.  A hot night indeed! 


Canada's Keshia Chante performs

Ludacris and John Holt perform

TOK performs

Day 4 – Saturday, June 25

Saturday I missed a scenic history train tour in order to get my photos downloaded and get some work done on this piece for you.  They had us on a hectic schedule!  I was anticipating this evening – particularly the return of Boys II Men and the fact that Wyclef Jean, originally from Haiti, is a big fan of the islands.  Of course, the other artists on the bill were anticipated as well, including Kenrick Georges (who wrote St. Kitts National Anthem ‘O Land of Beauty), Lonnie Liston Smith, Paul Peress and T.I., who flew in just for the performance and then had to fly out immediately afterwards.  


As usual, each performer brought their own sense of flare to the hot and humid evening’s concert.  Paul Peress had some crazy musicians with him and tore up the stage with his Latin jazz band – I mean, craaazy.  Boys II Men performed to tracks but still enthralled their audience.  I saw kids 12 years old belting out the lyrics of On Bended Knee and End of the Road which is a testament to their longevity in this industry.  Their melodic harmonies can still make my knees weak! 

Paul Peress and band perform

Boyz II Men perform


But the highlight of the night for me was Wyclef.  About a minute before he hit the stage, the heavens opened and soaked the audience with torrential rain – yet no one moved.  Wyclef came out, went to the edge of the stage and said, ‘This is what I think about it raining,’ threw out his hat, and poured a bottle of water over his head saying, ‘Now I’m wet just like you all.’  The crowd went nuts!!  He proceeded his set while playing guitar behind his back and with his teeth – a secret skill known to a certain artists with flare!  I’m telling you, just standing near him, you could feel a presence that was overpowering – a real connection with the audience and you could sense that he truly loves his people! 

Wyclef performs


Day 5 – Sunday, June 26, 2005

At the press conference of our last working day, most people, including media, reps, festival and hotel staff were exhausted as the festival was drawing to a close.  It’s difficult to stay enthusiastic with such a hectic schedule but I knew that the line-up this night, while a fewer number of artists were performing, was promising still to be a good night.  Pieces of a Dream, Ronnie Laws, Atlantic Starr were being featured and while each eclectic in their own right, I had heard that many were anticipating one special guest.  A few eyes opened as the door to the press conference opened – and Kenny Rogers arrived in the room.  I, for one, was not aware how popular he was in the islands!  I saw staff scrambling at the hotel’s business centre to print a picture in order to hopefully get an autograph.  Lots of people, including the artists on the panel at the press conference had grown up in one way or another on Kenny Rogers.  He was funny and very warm – although he did not grant anyone interviews or photos after the press conference. 


I missed the performance of Ronnie Laws as a group of us took the late shift for dinner.  But let me tell you, Pieces of a Dream really brought quality music - again, the musicianship was incredible and the 30 years they have been together, was very evident in their seamless performance.  Atlantic Starr made you feel that you never left the 80s – from their choice of clothing to their style of performance and song selection.  They were great, however, it was a little too 80s for my blood.  Then Kenny Rogers was performing next and the set took quite awhile to change as an entire host of people scrambled to reassemble the stage according to Mr. Roger’s requirements.  The word then came down that he was not allowing photos so I only stayed for about three of his songs.  It was time to get back to the hotel and pack for a very early departure for Toronto. 

Atlantic Starr performs

Pieces of a Dream performs


There is lots of talk about next year's festival - their 10th anniversary and how the scope of the festival will be bigger with a stronger line-up.  From the Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Ricky Skerritt to the festival sponsors and organizers, talks of the importance of the success of the 10th festival seemed almost as heavy as the air surrounding us.  I would recommend this festival for 2006 as patrons of the festival were unaffected by the many glitches that the media encountered this year.  Despite that, I am still thankful that I was invited to attend and wish St. Kitts Tourism the best of success for 2006! 


I just couldn’t complete this piece without thanking some special people that made my trip much more enjoyable: 

Ivan Berry, olë, for initiating the offer for me to attend the festival;

Carolyn James, St. Kitts Tourism (Toronto) for being the first to reach out and get me accredited;

Brad Richards, St. Kitts Tourism (Toronto) for helping me not lose my mind when I still didn’t have a plane reservation a few days before the festival;

Cathy Preece, Adams Unlimited, who handled public relations from New York and for being on top of what she could as quickly as possible;

Rob Leonard, Fuji Film (Canada), for supporting my work and providing me with camera smart disks for the festival;

Angelina Brathwaite, you know why and for being a good friend;

Vincent Branch, St. Kitts Tourism (St. Kitts), for taking me under his wing when chaos at the festival made me crazy and generally going above and beyond every day!;

Fitzroy Clarke, St. Kitts Tourism (St. Kitts), for checking on my sanity every day;

To my new friends, the team from Caribbean Vibrations including Alain Arthur, Royette Baptiste, Marissa Cameron and Parfait Nsanze – who schooled me on previous festivals and were great to hang with (special thanks to Alain for introducing me to Presidente!) and for making me proud to be a Canadian at the festival;

To more new friends, the team from XM Satellite Radio from Washington, DC (EZ, Kaymen, DJ Sixth Sense) – for making the days much funnier despite the challenges;


William Bell, St. Maarten Tourism, for recovering my wallet in St. Maarten and for being the King of Customer Service!

To many others that worked on my behalf both before, during and after the festival, I thank you.