Jamaican Jerk Festival weathers the storm

Observer senior writer

Friday, November 09, 2018

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With rain affecting its groove the, last three years, Eddy Edwards, principal of the Jamaican Jerk Festival event hopes the weather will be accommodating for Sunday's event at Markham Park in Sunrise, South Florida.

One of the marquee shows on the South Florida West Indian calendar, the Jamaican Jerk Festival will celebrate its 19th anniversary. In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Edwards admitted that unstable weather has stalled its progress.

“The festival has not really grown much over the last five years. We have been hampered by inclement weather for the last three years and look forward to a great event this year,” he said.

On the bright side, Edwards stated that the show has grown beyond its West Indian base, especially with the growing popularity of jerked food in the United States.

“Over the years we have seen an increase in more whites, Hispanic and a younger age group attending the festival. The selection of the main stage acts is structured to have an appeal to various demographics, as well as the food has a universal appeal that crosses ethnic and racial boundaries,” he said.

The entertainment package is one of the Jamaican Jerk Festival's drawing cards, with top names in dancehall/reggae and soca performing on it. This year Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths, The Mighty Diamonds, LUST and Chino are the main acts, alongside a gospel package that includes Prodigal and Sister Pat.

Since its launch, a number of jerk festivals have sprung up across the US. Edwards is also involved in major shows in Washington DC and New York, while promoters in Atlanta, New Jersey and Philadelphia stage similar events.

Edwards, who grew up in Harbour View, has lived in the US for 39 years. He disclosed that the Jamaican Jerk Festival costs US$700,000 to produce and “employs 300 persons directly and 700 persons in some capacity through and past festival day”.

When it started, jerked food was rapidly moving from Jamaican restaurants in West Indian-strong boroughs of Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens in New York to high-end eateries in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Edwards believes the Jamaican Jerk Festival's greatest accomplishments are projecting Jamaican culture and maintaining high-profile sponsors.

“The festival has shone a light on jerk foods and brought an awareness into the South Florida community. Major supermarket chains like Publix, one of our sponsors, as well as Grace Foods, our title sponsor, can see an increase in sales around the jerk festival promotions; and there is a trickle-down effect to other businesses,” he said.

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