BUZZING! First day of Jamaica Rum Festival 2020 pulls 7000 patrons

Word to the wise for those attending the Jamaica Rum Festival (JRF) today: Reach early.

The buzz surrounding the second staging of the JRF is spreading like wildfire, so much so that organisers were forced to cut off entry to prevent overcrowding at the Hope Gardens venue on Saturday night (Feb. 29).

What was expected to be a turnout of 5,000 on each day of the weekend festival, turned out to be 7,000 patrons on the first night, which had traffic jammed along Old Hope Road, and car-owners scurrying to find alternate parking spots from the roadside, outside people’s homes to the University of Technology, Jamaica.

Though the afternoon showers contributed to most patrons arriving after 5pm, festival director Valon Thorpe and his team were already reassessing plans for a smoother day two when he spoke to BUZZ last night.

“We’re oversubscribed and we had to cut the gate off, so we have a lot of work to do for tomorrow (today) and we’re going to have to reformat when it comes to areas like the food court to manage the bigger crowd, but we’ll be good,” he said. “Everybody worked through the rain and I’m proud of the team. We have a good festival, the sponsors are happy, and hopefully tomorrow the sun is out so we can have more of a full day.”

The patrons didn’t seem to mind the thick crowd when it came to soaking up the evening’s performances. With their mugs in hand, energy replenished with a variety of rum blends, and that one responsible friend in the group in case one member began staggering too much, it was truly a fiesta at the JRF.

A limited line-up provided time for acts to deliver unrushed sets.

‘Indigg King’, Protoje, proved to be a crowd favourite, and the rollout of the entire Indiggnation Squad comprising Sevana, Lila Ike, and friends Jaz Elise, Jesse Royal and Mortimer, was the evening’s crescendo.

Dubbing it his “send-off party” before he readies for tour in Europe, Protoje pulled out all the stops from stage production (using visuals from his projects and others), to his song selection, covering records from the Grammy-nominated A Matter of Time, Ancient Future and Seven Year Itch albums, to even his swag, rocking a black leather Rasta crown and black trench coat.

The crowd waved side to side as he sang JA, Who Knows (which features Chronixx) and roars could be heard as far as the end of the venue for his live rendition of Blood Money.

The cheer rang louder for Lila Ike, whose Second Chance and Where I’m Coming From had people belting every line as if their life depended on it.

Sevana, too, had her own effect, effortlessly ensuing some 1000-plus female choir for her smash, Nobody Man, which she flavoured with Vanessa Bling’s One Man.

She also oozed those velvety vocals on Sudden Flight, for which Jesse Royal joined the par.

Sevana performed at the inaugural JRF in 2019, and was pleased with the love shown to the Indigg fam.

“Once Protoje said he was gonna do the show, he called for me, so all of this was planned,” she told BUZZ. “Seeing the whole crowd vibe to my song Nobody Man was definitely nice, the song is really going on, and it’s really how I feel so it was a great night.”

Purple-haired Jaz Elise had her moment with Fresh and Clean, and Mortimer did no wrong when he joined Proto on stage for Protection.

Mortimer had earlier delivered an emotionally and soulfully immersive set, even shouting out to his wife in the crowd before dedicating Lightning to her. He also performed songs like No Lies and Fight the Fight.

Also baring his soul was Bugle, who shared his awe-inspiring musical journey in Life Saviour, for which Noah Powa and Norman Alexander joined the stage.

He also did songs like Nuh Compatible, Doh (which features Serani) and dedicated Pearly Gates to female victims of violence.

Ding Dong and the Ravers Clavers started a dancing frenzy with tracks like Flairy, Lebeh Lebeh, Syvah and Fling, and Ding Dong turned it up a notch, climbing a scaffold to the excitement of the crowd.

Heyday, 90s enthusiasts could not miss closing act Spragga Benz, who took patrons down memory lane with Mi Nuh Like, She Nuh Ready Yet, Dolly House and Tiny Tot.

Tessellated, Naomi Cowan and Dance Xpressionz also performed.

The line-up tonight includes Capleton, Ky-mani Marley, Cocoa Tea, Freddie McGregor and Indie Allen.