The Bequia MusicFest continues to be a leading earner in this country’s tourism product. The team of volunteers who, year after year, continue to toil doing “a whole lot with very little” was able to successfully pull off another annual Bequia MusicFest – six events over a five day period – which ended last Sunday.

The events saw the usual quality of musical talent on display that the Festival has become known for over its 20 year existence. On offer was jazz and jazz fusion, rock and roll, pan and soca music in elegantly intimate settings, as is expected on the little island that rocks. The concerts flowed smoothly, with well timed stage management and top quality sound and event ambience effects.

Sita d Lyrical diva performing

The hospitality was on par with Bequia’s world famous reputation and the patrons ANN caught up with all seemed to be having a rollickingly good time.

Every good, living thing must grow and the best stewards would want to help guide that growth as best as possible. This potential for growth was recognized by Tourism, Sport and Culture Minister Cecil Mckie. In one speech that he presented he is said to have made mention of his vision to see the Bequia MusicFest grow into “the biggest festival in the Caribbean.”

This vision is also shared by festival director Sabrina Mitchell who describes the Festival as having “tremendous potential” while recognizing that to get to the level of growth envisioned would require more resources.

In an exclusive ANN interview, Mitchell who is also the Bequia Tourism Association’s Chairperson fingered budget financing as one of, if not, the single largest obstacle that needs to be overcome if the dream of growing the Bequia MusicFest is to be realized.

Mitchell pointed to the fact that part of the Festival’s most appealing features – its small and intimate venues – hamstrings its current earning capacity. “You have to value your investments, as an advertiser or a sponsor, how much can you really get out of a market of this size? I feel like we have maxed out whatever we can get through that avenue,” Mitchell said.

She also noted that of the other revenue increasing options available the least possibly liked would mean hiking up admission prices for the events. That is something nobody wants as the planning committee is careful to “ensure that our locals can afford our tickets and that we do not price ourselves out of our own market.” To that end no such ticket price hikes are even being considered.

The SVG Tourism Authority as well as the National Lotteries Authority both coughed up some financial support along with other partners for the 2020 Festival production. Valuable as these contributions are Mitchell is mindful that sustained growth would need more. But for now, the subventions provided do not quite match up to neither Mitchell’s nor the Minister’s vision.

“Don’t get me wrong, we are grateful for the support we do get but we cannot grow without greater input” Mitchell told ANN. Whether such investments are to come from the government here or through grant funding from regional sources, they are vital to the Festival’s development.

Patrons at the opening night dinner and concert ‘Jazz, Vibes and Candlelight’ gala event were greeted with majestic sounds from Vincentian master Violinist Darron Andrews and veteran jazz musician Boo Hinkson from St. Lucia. This event was oversubscribed, so much so that patrons had to be turned away for want of capacity. Undoubtedly the ‘Friday Nite Live’ concert hosted at the Bequia Plantation Hotel best captured the essence of the Festival. Given the calibre of entertainers – Canadian Shuffle Demons, Barbados’ Kevan Sahai and the Crashers and Vincy’s Rodney Small and the RS Band – who melded together to make the rock & roll night an energetically memorable one.
Rodney Small was “incredible, absolutely amazing and so well received,” ANN was told, that it is little wonder he has become an annual fixture, this being his third appearance on the Festival stage.

Rodney Small and the RS Band

Rodney Small was “incredible, absolutely amazing and so well received,” ANN was told, that it is little wonder he has become an annual fixture, this being his third appearance on the Festival stage.

Then, for the first time, two days of the Festival were proliferated with Vincentian entertainers. ‘Fete Night at D Reef’ was headlined by Trinidad and Tobago’s Olatunji with support performances by Jamesy P, DJ Addicted, Chewalee and the K-netik Band with front men Jace and Keith Currency. Then the climatic ‘Soca Sunday” saw Sita, Bequia Kids on Pan, Magikal, Caspa G, Rodney Small and more taking to the Festival stage.

Chewalee Johnson performing at the Music festival

By all accounts the Vincy entertainers acquitted themselves well and “were all wonderful” according to Sabrina Mitchell who said she was “honoured to have worked with the local cast” this year.

“It is always a challenge to match an eclectic mix of musicians… but that’s precisely why it’s called a music festival and not a jazz festival. There is always a proliferation of tastes to satisfy.” The Festival Director explained mindful that the Bequia MusicFest is, in its purest form, a celebration of a multiplicity of musical genres. Mitchell advised further that the idea was not to replicate another carnival style event given the profusion of mostly soca artistes. But the idea behind these bookings served a two-fold purpose.

Quite a few of the talents featured were making Bequia MusicFest debut appearances. The goal to expose them to a hitherto untapped market was achieved. They were also courted with a level of hospitality and professionalism by the Festival committee that matches what is expected internationally of a Festival host and their sundry guests, particularly the entertainers. A bevy of liaison officers were assigned to ensure the artistes’ easy assimilation of the Festival’s culture. Welcome packages with clearly defined notes were provided and more.

Then there was the matter of budget control. Mitchell admits to having “ran a deficit last year” which was rectified this year due to the lowered expenses incurred. In the immediate term and upon the advice of other Festival partners, the idea of shopping for local talents was adopted as a cost cutting measure with added benefits. In reality it would have cost more to attract some of the more popular Vincentian artistes, Mitchell told us. “The kind of prices that some of the big names here charge, we cannot begin to dream about paying.”

Then there was the patron turnout on those two days. It was said, and had to be queried, that those were two of the least attended days for the Festival in sometime. “Yes, the expenses were lower but so was the turnout,” Mitchell remarked when asked about festival attendance. Generally though the events were well attended and the high rate of persons returning to experience the Bequia MusicFest’s sundry charms is still a trend. She also noted there were lots of first time visitors. “People are already rebooking their rooms for next year and some are so excited to be here that they are already making deposits,” said Mitchell who is also Bequia’s Tourism Association Chairperson.

2021 is already set to follow what was an “adjustment year” for the Festival Committee. Now, they are better poised to figure out how exactly to “give the people what they want.” This year one resounding request was for some authentic Jamaican reggae experience. To provide this, ANN understands, is another costly undertaking as not only are booking fees and miscellaneous taxes to be paid but travel expenses are projected to be astronomical due to the nature of flights to and from that destination.

However the committee remains steadfast in its pledge to “bring different types of music to the festival” and for next year the emphasis would be on reggae. It’s too early to name the 2021 cast but within the six months that these unpaid volunteers work to produce yet another stellar edition of the Bequia MusicFest, their hope is to continue to attract more big names across multiple genres of music.

jp.schwmon.vincy@gmail.com

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