Caribbean superstar, Machel Montano and the HD Family brought the flavors, sounds and overall vibe of the Caribbeans to the Nikon Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, NY for their first annual Caribbean Fest concert this past Sunday. I arrived at the theater around 2:30, determined to be there when the doors opened at 3pm. However, I discovered that I was misinformed just like many other concert attendees. I watched them approach the gates with excitement, only to turn around and walk back to their cars mumbling something about “rushing all the way over here,” and “could've slept for another hour.”
Despite the wait, I found enjoyment in people watching; I checked out the different flags hanging from people's back pockets, saw women wearing every color of the rainbow at once, and witnessed groups of friends who clearly “linked up,” to pre-game before coming out to the show. You would think that as I am Caribbean-born that the accent and mannerisms of the concert-goers would be regular for me, but I held back giggles each time I heard a “big up yuhself,” and a “big tune” from the guests.
We were finally ushered into the gates of the groups and led to a V.I.P tent positioned right by the boardwalk. The tent housed tables and chairs, a makeup artist who specialized in Caribbean carnival makeup, flags big enough to wrap a small child in, free coconut water and food from a Brooklyn spot called Super Wings. Super Wings is the Caribbean version of Buffalo Wild Wings and I selected my combination of wings out of pure curiosity, disregarding the well-known fact that islanders throw pepper on almost everything. I could've grabbed a ONE coconut water juice box but I stayed true to my beliefs that coconut water should only be enjoyed from a coconut, and opted for a five dollar bottle of water instead.
The show didn't actually begin until about seven and ended around ten thirty. As most shows do, Caribbean Fest featured a DJ playing soca and reggae and opened with some rising artists from the Caribbean. I took this opportunity to talk to some of the audience members. I approached a girl holding a CHARGED.fm towel and introduced myself but was caught slightly off guard when she embraced me and yelled her name. Was this girl some long-lost cousin I hadn't met yet? Or did she just really love CHARGED.fm? I assume the latter. She proceeded to tell me, “I can't wait til these opening acts finish up. I came to see Machel.” I nodded and after talking to three other people, including a couple from Connecticut and a couple who weren't Caribbean, but Hispanic, I found that this was the overall crowd sentiment. Despite this, the crowd waved their towels and flags and danced and jumped and had a grand old time. With each successive song, the crowd grew more and more hyped and seemed to be moving closer and closer towards the front of the stage.
I-Octane appeared and performed and by the time ladies man, Baby Cham came on stage, there were several women hovering behind me trying to snap photos of him. He came out on stage singing the popular song “Ghetto Story,” whose remix featured Alicia Keys (Funny how he has a slightly resemblance to Swizz Beats!)
As all the performers before him did, Baby Cham recognized the different islands in the building, which ranged from St. Lucia to Barbados to Jamaica and Trinidad, even Panama. He even brought out a special guest, a girl named 'O' who is the voice on two of his latest songs. Despite her singing about “wining,” or dancing, she wasn't much of a dancer and simply did a weird sway with her hips every time she sang the chorus. I didn't feel bad for critiquing her dancing so much because the girl next to me kept shaking her head and yelling, “take she off the stage.” Tough crowd.
I should've known Machel Montano was up next when a group of little girls came and batted their eyelashes at me to get my spot. I ushered them in front of me, and then heard the MC ask the audience if they were ready for Machel Montano. “Get ready for soca!” he yelled and what seemed like an audience of a couple hundred just hours ago sounded like thousands. Nikon Beach Theater has a capacity of 15000 people and is obviously a huge spacious theater. Although it wasn't entirely full, there was no open space where I stood. I had a little girl jumping on my foot multiple times when she heard the beat to Machel Montano's, “Advantage” song drop, while another women kept hitting me with her flag as she waved it. And I loved it. You suddenly didn't seem to mind that your neighbor was dancing on your leg or her flash was blinding you. The intimacy of the crowd created an energy I've never felt at any other concert. You can watch a video of the energy god himself and his adoring fans below.
I have to credit Machel Montano for creating most of that energy however. He is known to fans as the soca energy god and I finally saw why he earned that name. His connection with his audience was there in every song, and it was especially evident when he pointed his mic at the audience and asked them to assist him in singing a verse in a song. There wasn't a person not singing along. Machel Montano oozed confidence and pride and claimed that he “felt like he was from every Caribbean country.” I looked at the girl who had hugged me earlier and saw her smiling from ear to ear. Machel Montano was celebrating his 30th anniversary as a performer and commemorating Jamaica and Trinidad's 50th year of independence. Performers like Kerwin Du Bois, Patrice Roberts, Farmer Nappy and Walker also came out to help Machel Montano celebrate. He will continue his celebrating at the Atlantic City Caribbean Carnival later this month.