South Florida Jerk Fest Still Sizzling Hot at 13
by Mahagony Sylvester, Investigative Reporter…….
In spite of a cloudy November day punctuated by heavy showers early in the morning and intermittent drizzles throughout, the heat at the recently staged family-oriented 13th Annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival would not be cooled. Thousands of men, women and children made their yearly “pilgrimage” to experience top class entertainment from the likes of Tarrus Riley, Inner Circle, Luciano and Duane Stephenson, mingle with old and new friends and of course consume traditional jerk “Food on Fiyah (fire) according to Chef Irie,” even venturing into exotic items such as jerk conch, jerk tofu, concluding with jerk ice-cream and jerk pies for dessert.
Clearly at 13, South Florida’s largest Caribbean food festival has grown up. There is a well-seasoned machine that builds momentum for this signature event months ahead of time, providing incentives in order to ensure that a great number of tickets are pre-sold. It is well known that people who already have invested in tickets are more likely to show up even in bad weather due to the sunk cost already incurred, compared to those who choose to purchase tickets at the gate.
Sponsorship is now well established, starting with the title sponsor Grace and other corporations such as Publix and Western Union. This event has also become an essential annual source of revenue for numerous food and craft vendors. Boston Jerk makes the annual trek from Portland, Jamaica each year. At an exchange rate of US$1 – J$113, this must definitely be worth it for the folks from Boston, Jamaica. The consistent backing of large business entities (Grace has been a sponsor for 11 of the 13 years) along with steady support from small vendors like Kingston Delight (12 of 13 years) really should have made the preparation process easier with respect to ample working capital for necessary upfront expenditures.
Another important development that cannot be ignored is the parallel growth of mobile phone ownership and social media utilization that provided a spicy online meal for the jerk festival organizers. #jerkfest went viral on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram as guests already at Markham Park provided constant updates to others “on the way,” trying to make up their minds if they should venture out in their fresh hairstyles and 6 inch stilettos….. The response, “sneakers, raincoat, umbrella, cap – outfit of choice….. The jerk chicken sweet so till, mi mouth on fiyah (my mouth is burning me).”
Year 13 of the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival has proven that come rain, come shine, the South Florida Caribbean diaspora and many others “love jerk”. Under the challenging weather conditions, the estimated attendance of 8,000 was a bit less than last year’s record crowd, but still reasonably good. The Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival will continue to cook its way through puberty and enjoy the spicy taste of the teen years. Kudos to CEO/Co-Founder Eddy Edwards and his talented team for pulling off yet another successful jerk festival.