Caymans touts festival roster

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GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- The Cayman Islands -- noted abroad for recreational diving and offshore banking -- could soon add festival organization to the list of national pastimes.

Attendance at the Cayman Jazzfest on Grand Cayman last month was indicative of the burgeoning interest in festivals, particularly music-related ones, throughout the Caribbean. In just its second year, the music event drew nearly 2,000 visitors to the islands for three days in December.

George Duke, Ravi Coltrane, Earl Klugh and Al Jarreau performed alongside dozens of local musicians who drew upon a range of genres, including steel band and reggae.

Jazz is not endemic to the Cayman Islands, so festival organizers were cognizant of the need to present a lineup that would draw in locals and give the event a more organic feel, said producer Shomari Scott.

The 2005 iteration of the festival added more side attractions apart from the main stage events and also varied the overall ambience and setting, The second annual Cayman Jazzfest, held on Grand Cayman last month, drew more than 2,000 people. Photo by Eric Marxwhich ranged from an intimate, late-night jazz club atmosphere one weekday evening at the Westin Casuarina Resort and
Spa to open-air, beachfront settings for weekend performances. 
The Friday evening venue was the Tree House site, just south of the starting point of Seven Mile Beach.

Scott estimated that 40% of festival attendees were Caymanians and -- encouraged by increased sponsor support and broadcast coverage by Black Entertainment Televisions BET Jazz network- said the jazz festival will now be an annual event.

However, dates for the 2006 Cayman Jazzfest have yet to be determined.

Last years festival was bumped from June to December to give more time to hurricane recovery efforts leading into the high season; Hurricane Ivan struck the Caymans in September 2004, and the destination has been in recovery mode since.

But the picture today is a much brighter one than it was a year ago, with condominiums and hotels -- including the new 356-room Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman -- reporting solid bookings this winter.

By March, more than 1,500 guest rooms will be back in the Caymans accommodations inventory -- a number surpassing pre-Ivan levels, according to Pilar Bush, director of tourism.

On the airlift front, the launch of Spirit Airlines nonstop, daily service Feb. 9 from Fort Lauderdale to Grand Cayman will make the destination more accessible to middle-income U.S. travelers, according to Bush. Business-class fares will cost what economy fares used to cost, Bush said. The arrival of a low-budget carrier will help boost our visitor numbers.

Spirit Air is going to make the Caymans, Bush predicted.

On tap for February in the Caymans is a bi-island arts festival, set for Feb. 8 on Cayman Brac and Feb. 10 to 18 on Grand Cayman, as well as a Mardi Gras blowout on Little Cayman on Feb. 18.

Other upcoming happenings include:

  • Cayman Food & Wine Classic 2006, March 3 to 5, Grand Cayman. This epicurean event will showcase international culinary fare, signature island drinks and local dishes. The Westin Casuarina developed a special dinner menu that will be served at its Casa Havana restaurant during the event. For details, visit www.westincasuarina.net.

  • Cayfest, the National Arts Festival, April 20 to 29, on all three islands.

  • Little Cayman Cookoff, May 13, Little Cayman.

  • Summerfest celebrations, July 7, Little Cayman.

  • 10th annual Pirates Week Festival, Oct. 27 to Nov. 5, Grand Cayman.
  • For a full calendar of Caymans festivals and events, visit www.caymanislands.ky.

    To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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