For many Caribbean islands where tourism is the primary revenue earner, the coronavirus-sparked ban on large gatherings as well as airline and cruise travel has brought widespread postponements and cancellations to the region's spring/summer music festival season. From the Bahamas chain just below Florida's southern tip to Trinidad and Tobago, many Caribbean islands utilize music festivals to attract visitors to their shores, especially during the slower spring and summer months.
The far-reaching scope of Caribbean music festivals extends beyond homegrown reggae and soca, salsa and reggaeton, to showcasing blues, rock, country, jazz, hip-hop and electronic acts, attracting anywhere from 1,000 to upwards of 40,000 patrons.
New York City-based Julie "Lexy" Brooks, CEO/president of VIP Connected Entertainment, a booking agent for concerts/festivals throughout the Caribbean including the St. Kitts Music Festival and the Dominica World Creole Festival, says the absence of festivals will bring financial devastation to many Caribbean territories. "If we here in the U.S. are being stressed by the coronavirus, can you imagine what's going to happen to these little islands when they can't have their events and people don't come in to support their economies?" asks Brooks. "Where do these cancellations leave people? Do the promoters move all these events to 2021, when people feel comfortable again?"
Many festival promoters are doing just that. The 2020 Saint Lucia Jazz Festival Produced in Collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center, scheduled for May 7-9, headlined by Chick Corea, Patti LaBelle and Chucho Valdés, has been canceled. Founded in 1992 as the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival featuring local, regional and international jazz acts, the event expanded to 10 nights with "jazz" as a catch-all label for an eclectic lineup. Previous performers include the late Amy Winehouse, who spent several months in the eastern Caribbean island, French-Caribbean supergroup Kassav and KC and The Sunshine Band. "As we approach 30 years of Saint Lucia Jazz, we remember the many mishaps, including headliners' last-minute cancellations, inclement weather, even challenges with airlifts to/from St. Lucia, yet the festival has happened annually since its inception, until 2020. The financial fallout from cancellations by hundreds of visitors who planned to attend this year is still being tallied," comments Lorraine A. Sidonie, CEO, Events Company of St. Lucia, Inc. which plans, produces and executes all national festivals and events for the island.