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Thousands Enjoy Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival

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Thousands of patrons, from babies to grandmas and grandpas, floated in on the unmistakable aroma of the world renowned Jamaican jerk that permeated Markham Park in Sunrise at the 9th Annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival which took place on Sunday, November 14.

The event delivered on the promise to be bigger, better and spicier, as the organizers put together another excellent gastronomical and cultural experience for lovers of jerk foods, Caribbean culture, music and entertainment. The park was abuzz with activities all Sunday long with a diverse crowd in a kaleidoscope of colors, as they became a part of the melting pot of culture at this exciting event.

Patrons waited eagerly to sample the wide variety of jerk foods from scores of vendors, who lined the promenade. These cooks prepared their spicy jerk meats, seafood and chicken over beds of hot coals to deliver authentic taste to the indigenous Jamaican fare. Patrons feasted on dishes from the popular jerk chicken and jerk pork to the more exotic jerk lobster and jerk ice-cream — a treat which becomes more popular each year.

The hypnotic rhythms of Caribbean music — reggae, soca, calypso and dancehall blared synonymously from various booths where vendors sold clothing, trinkets, DVDs and so many other products. Companies displayed their goods and introduced people to their services as they walk by.

Families sat on blankets and towels on the lush grounds enjoying the food, music and activities across from the Kidz Fun Zone, which was definitely the kids’ favorite place to be. With bounce houses, slides and other fun games and activities they were kept happily occupied.

Patrons who stopped by the Grace Village were treated to cooking demonstrations by Chef Mazie Miller who taught spectators a few tricks in the trade, as she cooked up a storm with Grace products and her exceptional culinary skills.  Aspiring stars walked away with prizes after participating in Jerk Karaoke Idol, which proved to be a popular feature of the Village.

It was a fiery contest for the famous Publix Jerk Cook-Off in which returning champion, Chef Robert Wong, staved off the competition with three delicious jerk dishes — Jerk Roast Mangrove Snapper, Jerk Alaskan King Crab and Jerk Prime Rib. When ask how he felt about winning the competition for a second time, the proud chef, clutching his golden Dutch Pot Trophy, said, “It feels like the first time.” Michelle Jones snagged the silver Dutch Pot, and Mark Robinson, the bronze.

NBC6’s Sharon Lawson reclaimed her title in the Celebrity Quick Fire Competition … leaving longtime rival, Miami Heat’s DJ Irie in the smoke of her delectable Jerk Salsa dish. A beaming Lawson was all smiles as she walked away with her own Dutch Pot Trophy. Other competitors were former Miami Dolphins player, Kerry Glenn; and Tanya Oliver of Teleamerica’s Comcast 88.

Sporting Activities & Cultural Stages

The authentic cultural display on the Western Union and Digicel stages was demonstrative of the care taken in selecting everyone from the emcees, Andrene Bonner and Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley, to the performers such as the CariMer Theater Dance Group, dub poet Malachi Smith and the models of Ashanti Fashion by Kulture Klothes. These and other performers kept throngs of spectators entertained with dance, music, comedy, poetry and fashion. Adding a special touch were the tributes to the late cultural icon and scholar, Professor Rex Nettleford. The caliber of performances exceeded expectations.

Musical explosion on the Main Stage

A number of local performers blazed the stage and prepared it for chart-topping performers Jamaica’s R&B and Reggae singing stars, Nadine Sutherland and Ritchie Stevens. Sutherland, donning a fashionable bustier and trendy jeans, performed a medley of cover songs and some originals like “Anything For You,” “Action” and “Please Me” to an appreciative crowd.

However, Ritchie Stephens really hit the high notes with his top notch performance, in which he interacted with the crowd and exhibited his excellent range. He performed songs from his new album Reggae Evolution including “Salt of the Earth (Let’s Drink)” and borrowed the Beres Hammond classic, “Step Aside.”

But the man of the night was unmistakably the reggae, rocksteady veteran himself, John Holt. The former Paragon really delivered “1000 Volts of Holt” with hit after crowd-pleasing hit, ensuring that his audience did not have a dull moment during his performance. He entered the stage with the classic, “Love I Can Feel” and moved deftly into “Stealing Stealing.” And, like only this veteran can, he segued seamlessly into “Ali Baba,” much to the delight of the audience. Other songs like “Tonight,” “Wear You to The Ball,” “Tide is High,” the militant “Tribal War” and “Sweetie Come Brush Me” only cemented Holt as one of the undeniable greats — a living musical legend.

The indelible Fab Five band was the last to hit the stage, in the stead of Byron Lee’s Dragonaries.  The band started with a cover of Tarus Riley’s “She’s Royal,” then moved into one of their classics, “Jamaican Woman.” This one was a favorite of the Jamaican women who screamed when the band sang of their parish and traits. Fab Five mixed it up with old and new tunes taking the audience to a crescendo, which closed out yet another excellent staging of the Annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival. Patrons left satiated with delicious jerk, authentic culture and the musical explosion that is the hallmark of this top class event.

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival. It will be interesting to see what the organizers have planned to top the outstanding events they have been producing for the past several years.

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