Soak Up Sweet Sounds at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival

The best jazz festival in the Caribbean brings headliners from jazz, pop, R&B and world music to the island paradise.


The Caribbean region hosts several annual jazz festivals, but the 18-year-old St. Lucia fest tops the list as the most popular and internationally acclaimed event. St. Lucia Jazz, scheduled from May 2 to 10 this year, attracts thousands of visitors each night with a range of jazz, R&B, world and pop concerts across the tiny island. This year’s headliners include Amy Winehouse, Shaggy, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Michael MacDonald, Angelique Kidjo, The Wailers and George Duke. Enticed by St. Lucia’s lush landscape and the serene beauty of the main venue on Pigeon Island, music fans flock to the fest for a one-of-a-kind experience.

I’m heading to the festival this year, and will add my tips and insights after the event. In the meantime, for those able to plan a last-minute trip, here are the details for this year’s fest.

Main stage shows are featured from Tuesday, May 5 to Sunday, May 10 in the northern part of St. Lucia. The main venue, Pigeon Island National Landmark, boasts 44 acres of tropical forests and sloping grasslands surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. Smaller performances such as afternoon Tea Time Jazz, Jazz on the Waterfront at the Soufriere Waterfront and Jazz on the Pier round out the week on the rest of the island. Craft displays, late night “jump-ups” (street parties), and St. Lucian culinary specialties such as salt fish and green fig or zesty pepperpot soup add even more fun to the festivities.

Tickets are sold online through and can be purchased up until the week of the event, on the island from the Jazz Shop and at the venues. You can buy tickets for individual shows, which range from $36 to $63, a season pass for all six shows for $260 or a Pigeon Island pass for four shows at $195. Early bird discounts of 10 percent are available through April 17 for individual tickets and 10 percent discounts for season and Pigeon Island passes are available through May 10. Children under 5 years old are free; tickets are $20 for kids 12 and under (children’s tickets available only at venues). Seating is first-come first-served and limited. However, the most popular seats always seem to be blankets and lawn chairs.  

Hotel room prices typically go up 10 to 15 percent during St. Lucia Jazz, and accommodations across the island are usually filled, but fest fans can still snag a few bargains. Village Inn and Spa offers rates that begin at $120 for a standard room and Castles in Paradise Resort supplies a special festival rate for a two-bedroom villa with maid service for $150 a night. Other hotel promotions are listed at

Next: Review of 2009 St. Lucia Jazz Fest

The 2009 St. Lucia Jazz Fest provided lots of unexpected surprises. Record numbers of music fans flocked to the 18th annual festival, despite monsoon-like conditions that created flooding on parts of the small island. The first night’s show was canceled due to the heavy rains, and artists Angelique Kidjo and The Wailers could not reschedule.  Headliner Amy Winehouse delivered a painfully disappointing show, but none of these factors managed to dampen the enthusiasm for one of the Caribbean region’s most popular attractions.

Arriving in St. Lucia during a thunderous downpour set the unpredictable tone for the festival. For three days before the event’s start, the island was plagued by heavy rain. Streets were drowning in water and homes were flooded. After the first night was canceled, the overcast skies of the second night felt threatening for the open-air shows. No rain appeared as KC and the Sunshine Band performed a raucous set of ‘70s hits like “That’s The Way I like It” and “Get Down Tonight,” complete with shaking and shimmying dancers. The skies darkened as an excited crowd pushed close to the stage in anticipation of Amy Winehouse.

Watching Winehouse

Winehouse tumbled onto the stage in a tight, aqua-colored mini dress and trademark beehive. She mumbled and stumbled through a few songs and then bent down with her back to the crowd, flashing her panties as she removed her Louboutin stilettos. Rain fell violently onto the grounds, causing the lights on the stage to go off. Winehouse quickly walked off stage but the crowds boos made her turn around.

She sang in the dark until the lights were restored, but you couldn’t say the same for the singer’s performance. She chugged drinks onstage, looked confused and stopped songs midway. Despite some glimpses of her talent, such as a rockin’ ska version of the Sam Cooke classic “Cupid,” Winehouse could not sustain her show. The singer walked off abruptly without singing her signature hit “Rehab,” to resounding boos.

Magically, the rain evaporated after Winehouse’s performance and did not return for the rest of the festival. Acts like reggae icon Beres Hammond, ‘80s crooner Michael MacDonald, British pop singer Estelle and ‘70s super group Chicago, gifted fans with wildly engaging performances. Besides nonstop music, the fest supplied a healthy array of vendors. DVDs and CDs of featured musicians were hot sellers, along with Elena’s homemade ice cream and the Jerk Hut chicken and pork.

Once the sticky volcanic mud had dried, sunbathing on beaches lined with palms and horseback riding along the shore were popular activities. Warm-spirited St. Lucians welcomed fest visitors everywhere and a joyful vibe enveloped the island despite the initial gloominess.

Destinations: Saint Lucia

Activities: Arts and Entertainment

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