I had the pleasure and immense honor of attending Anguilla’s first ever Folk & Blues Festival on the gorgeous beach of Rendezvous Bay last month. It was an amazing experience, made even more memorable when I combined it with exploring unknown parts of the island in my rental car and eating fresh fried fish, while enjoying Anguilla’s other more popular blues, that of its clear waters.
Getting to Anguilla is as easy as 1, 2, hop on a boat. From St. Maarten all you have to do is either get on the public ferry leaving from the terminal in Marigot (capital of French St. Martin), which leaves every 30 minutes or take one of the private charters leaving from right next to the international airport on the Dutch side. I prefer the latter. The ride is much nicer and best of all, some of the boats offer wifi on board to better enjoy the 20-minute or so fast ferry ride.
There are three independent charter companies operating out of the Ferry terminal on Dutch St Maarten but Calypso is by far my favorite, and that is not only because of the rum punch they serve on board. They have one of the best captains from Anguilla who has been navigating the channel between St. Maarten and this British isle for over thirty years. Whenever the seas are a bit rough (and that happens more often than not) I trust no one else but Captain Pepsi (best nickname ever) with my life.
Arranging Transportation once you are on Anguilla is incredibly simple. You either walk straight to one of the many car rental guys impatiently waiting by the exit of the terminal, or to one of the few car rental kiosks on the side. My preferred option however,is to book the car ahead of time. It’s simple and hassle free. Just one email and it’s done. For this trip I decided to go with Excel Car Rental. André the owner is reliable and very pleasant to deal with. The whole thing was super easy, fast and painless.
Exploring and discovering
The hotel I was staying at was at the east side of the island while the festival activities were all happening on the west side. So a car was a necessary luxury. While I had this car I might as well take the opportunity to explore some places I did not get to see yet, right?
I love Instagram. It is my got-to source of information before any of my travels and it is via this social media platform that I learned about Anguilla’s natural arch. I just had to get pictures of it. So, find it I did, and the picture below became one of the best performing photos on my Instagram feed.
Did someone say fried fish?
You can muster up quite an appetite from all that exploring. A stop at the famous Sunshine Shack was in order for some fried fish made by one of my favorite Anguillans, Garvey, no last name needed. A true people’s person, Garvey started the Sunshine Shack back in 2007 after 13 years in the hospitality industry. I honestly think leaving his employment at one of the island’s most well known resorts to make his passion a reality, was the best decision he has ever made.
The Sunshine Shack on Rendezvous Bay offers its guests a true Caribbean experience. You can enjoy flavorful dishes with a tasty rum punch on the side all while you sit with your feet in the softest sand possible and staring at one of the most breathtakingly blue waters in the world. It doesn’t get better than this. Well, unless I can get a second plate. Please.
Ever since experiencing the Nevis Blues Festival last April I have become somewhat of a self proclaimed Blues fan. So, when the chance to check out Anguilla’s first ever Folk & Blues Festival arose, it was an opportunity I could not pass up on.
The Festival itself had a packed schedule, with quite some activities like the blues picnic, a blues brunch, a blues cruise and even a rum tasting. I decided to keep it simple and attended the opening dinner party at the beautiful Cuisinart and the closing jam session at organizer Bankie Banx’s The Dunes Preserve.
It goes without saying that both events were filled with music by very talented performers such as the legendary singer, guitarist and songwriter Scott Holt from Tennessee, Big Mike Aguirre & the Blue City All Stars from St. Louis, jazz violin sensation Heather “Lil Mumma” Hardy from Tucson, Felicia March from New York, soulful singer Betty V and saxophonist Connis Vanterpool from St. Maarten and Anguilla’s living legend, Bankie Banx himself.
Felicia’s raspy deep voice was enough to give me and the rest of the audience pleasurable goosebumps and her sound makes your heart beat faster. It really does. Bankie is quite the character. His Jack Sparrow-esk swagger does not prepare you for the brilliance that comes from his vocal cords once he opens his mouth. Scot Holt was just amazing. There really is very little words in my limited English vocabulary to describe his genius.
But to me, the real blues did not start until Big Mike Aguirre and the Blue City All stars took the stage. It was love at first sound for me and from there I just fell deeper and deeper for their music.
Whether they were playing at fancy Cuisinart or at the eclectic Dunes Preserve the artists gave each performance their all. They wowed and charmed the pants off of the audience, some of them barefoot and all. Hey, it is after all the Caribbean and the musicians were not immune to the island’s magic either.
The scene for this blues fest was memorable to say the least. Turquoise waters, clear summer skies, gentle breeze carrying the Blues tunes from one end of the beach to the other. It was certainly magical.
Main organizer Ada Lo has already started working on next year’s festival, tentatively scheduled for June 29th to July 1st of 2018. Partners Cuisinart and the Dunes have already indicated that they will definitely be a part of this phenomenal event again.
Holding the blues fest in the heart of the slow season has its perks. Less people on the beach and clearer as well as warmer waters. The organizers of the Blues fest are hoping however to extend Anguilla’s high season with this Festival and make it a staple that attracts its own followers, just like the popular sister event Moonsplash is able to do with its strong repeat crowd every year in May.
*My trip to the Anguilla Folk & Blues Music Festival was made possible by the organizers of the festival and its sponsors the Sunshine Shack and Cuisinart, Calypso Charters and Excel Car Rental. Although this blog post was partly sponsored, all opinions expressed above are my own.