Moving to the Beat at Jamaica's Music Festivals

For about 4 days during the third week in July, during what might otherwise be a slow tourist season, Montego Bay comes alive with the pulsating sounds of reggae, thanks to a well-known music festival that seems to captivate the imaginations of virtually everyone in town. The event is known as Reggae Sumfest (, and it occurs amid the soundstages and jerk food stalls at Catharine Hall, a government-funded arts and entertainment development beside the Roseway Bypass in Montego Bay's industrial suburb of Freeport. Throughout most of the year, this site is usually littered, vacant, and dusty, but during reggae festivals, it's virtually overrun with grooving, jiving, gossiping, and flirting music lovers from throughout Jamaica.

The midwinter counterpart of this festival is Air Jamaica's Jazz and Blues Festival, which is conducted over a 2-day weekend in late January on the grounds of the Cinnamon Hill golf course at Rose Hall Resort & Country Club. Both events share the same promoters, who have managed to snag the musical talents of artists who have recently included Ziggy Marley, Cocoa Tea, the Melody Makers, Bares Hammond, the Mystic Revealers, and Morgan Heritage -- some of the biggest names in reggae, both from Jamaica and abroad. Many local hotels are fully booked for the festival, so advance reservations are necessary. Tickets to either event range in price from US$12 to US$45 each, depending on the event. Musical venues tend to begin at between 7 and 7:30pm, and many participants opt to bring blankets and folding chairs for placement on the lawns that surround the bandstands from which emanate highly addictive streams of jiving music.

Any branch of Jamaican Tourist Board can provide information about packages and group rates for the festivals and fill you in on other musical and cultural events held throughout the year in Jamaica.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.