As COVID-19 Looms When Will Reggae Festivals Return

Reggae Festival Rototom Sunsplash
Reggae Festival Rototom Sunsplash

by Howard Campbell

[KINGSTON, Jamaica] –¬†In April, as COVID-19 put the summer reggae festival scene in uncertainty, Copeland Forbes predicted that it would be more than a year before things got back to normal. Eight months later, his prediction remains dire.

Forbes, a veteran booking agent and tour manager for reggae’s elite acts including Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and Third World, foresees another slow year for the reggae artist and musician.

“If anything is going to happen it’s going to be 2022. People have to realize that these festivals take months to plan,” he said. “I think you are going to hear a lot of announcements (from promoters) by February.”

Europe hosts the biggest reggae festivals including Summerjam in Germany, Rototom Sunsplash in Spain and Reggae Geel in Belgium. All were cancelled this year due to COVID-19.

Major reggae festivals in the United Kingdom, Poland, France and Sweden were also forced to pull the plug. In the United States, it was the same with Groovin’ In The Park in New York, Reggae On The River in Northern California and the¬†California Roots Music And Arts Festival.

Even with the recent green light for a vaccine to fight the pandemic, Forbes is not optimistic for a busy summer reggae schedule, especially in Europe where thousands of fans travel from neighboring countries to attend shows.

“If a country is experiencing a spike (in COVID-19 cases) and people are coming from all over to attend a show the government is not going to allow that,” he stated.

But Cabel Stephenson, former manager of The Gladiators and Toots and The Maytals, has a less gloomy forecast. Based on conversations with promoters on both sides of the Atlantic, he foresees a possible return of live shows in late 2021.

“Come summer next year some markets are going to open and I think the US wants to lead. They’re determined to get their economy going,” he said.

The reggae summer festival circuit has been a steady source of income for reggae acts and musicians for over 45 years. Tosh, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Culture, The Gladiators and Inner Circle are just some of the artists who are regulars in Europe and the US West Coast.

It’s not only reggae events that have been affected by COVID-19. Some of the biggest music festivals in the world such as Glastonbury in the UK and Coachella in California, were cancelled this year. There have been no announcements about a 2021 comeback.

In Jamaica, only one major event was held in its traditional form. Rebel Salute was held in January before the global lockdown while there were virtual stagings of Reggae Sumfest and Reggae Sunsplash.

Jamaica Tourist Board Sponsored Rebel Salute Delights Reggae Music Enthusiasts
Camile Glenister, Deputy Director of Tourism, Marketing at the JTB (left) and Safi James-Barrow, Destination Marketing Manager at the JTB pose with Rebel Salute festival principal Tony Rebel

South Florida Caribbean News

The SFLCN.com Team provides news and information for the Caribbean-American community in South Florida and beyond.

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