The St. Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival

A week long celebration of music, culture and the arts

••• R Kelly performing at the 2013 St. Lucia Jazz Festival. © Bill Mortley for the St. Lucia Tourist Board

The St. Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival isn’t just a concert -- it’s a week-long celebration that suffuses the entire island of St. Lucia, with nightly performances everywhere from big stages to parking lots to local bars. All with the backdrop of one of the most dramatically beautiful islands in the Caribbean.

Now in its 22nd year, the St. Lucia Jazz Festival is about more than jazz -- in fact most of the headliners in 2013 were R&B and hip-hop artists like the Jacksons, Ginuwine, Akon, and R Kelly.

That may disappoint jazz purists, but you will find traditional jazz performers among the opening acts at the main concert venue on historic Pigeon Island and -- better yet -- at more intimate spots like the Fire Grill in Rodney Bay, where chef owner Bobo Bergstrom brings in world-class artists every night during the week of Jazz Fest. It’s a great place to dine on an Angus steak, sip some of the best rums in the Caribbean, and enjoy a mellow night with some smooth jazz.

Like most of St. Lucia’s hotels, the majority of Jazz Fest events take place on the north end of the island. The Pigeon Island venue sprawls over several acres, with a stage set at the bottom of a gentle slope that affords good sight lines from many vantage points (several side video screens augment the views). Scattered around the grounds are various booths selling Chairman’s Reserve rum drinks, Piton beer, fast food, and even some fine arts and locally made crafts.

New in recent years is the addition of more non-musical arts, as reflected in the event's name change from the St. Lucia Jazz Festival to the St. Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival. In addition to the art gallery at Pigeon Island, the week-long festivities included a fashion show and a visual-arts exhibition at the Baywalk Mall.

The crowds vary from day to day (and night to day), depending in part on the artists performing. Afternoons and Sunday shows tend to attract more families, and at all shows you’ll find a good mix of St. Lucians and foreign visitors. The atmosphere is friendly, with most people focused on the music and socializing with friends. You can work your way through the crowd to the front of the stage to join the masses for an energetic dance party reminiscent of a local “jump up,” or hang back and just soak in the music and atmosphere.

The prices for the headline shows aren’t cheap -- the US$80/EC$200 price tag this year was out of reach for many St. Lucians (although there were also plenty of free tickets making the rounds among friends, island-style). The biggest shows are held on the final Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Jazz Week at Pigeon Point and at the Gaiety event venue in nearby Rodney Bay. However, the festival schedule includes dozens of "fringe" events held across the island that are free of charge.

Those who can afford it can purchase special gold passes that permit entrance to party tents sponsored by Heineken and wireless providers Lime and Digicel, where the drinks and snacks flow freely.

There’s also a beautiful VIP area within some ancient ruins at the top of a hill where you can get a drink, grab a table, and watch the show through the windows of a former British fort built to spy on the French in nearby Martinique.

St. Lucia may only be 27 miles long, but it’s mountainous and steep, so it takes a while to get anywhere. So if you’re planning to attend Jazz Fest it makes sense to stay as close as possible to the concert venues. We stayed in the Bay Gardens Beach Resort (Book Now) in Rodney Bay, which was about 15 minutes from Pigeon Island by cab; there’s also a water taxi that runs to the island. The resort -- along with others like Blu (Book Now), the Ginger Lily (Book Now), and the Royal by Rex Resorts (Book Now), are also within a short walk of the bars and restaurants of Rodney Bay, including beachfront spots like Spinnaker’s, eateries offering everything from steak to Indian to Chinese cuisine, and of course rum bars and clubs that offer drinking and dancing till 2 a.m. on weekend nights.

JetBlue has daily nonstop flights to St. Lucia from New York’s JFK Airport, while American flies nonstop from JFK and Miami. (Compare Prices on St. Lucia flights) St. Lucia is home to some of the most beautiful high-end hotels in the Caribbean, such as Ladera (Book Now), the Viceroy Sugar Beach Resort (Book Now), Cap Maison (Book Now), and Rendezvous (Book Now). But it’s also possible to get more reasonably prices rooms for the week of Jazz Fest in Rodney Bay and elsewhere, especially if you don’t mind a brief walk across the street to the beach.

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