Where to Listen to Reggae in Jamaica
You can listen to reggae everywhere in Jamaica, from dancing barefoot in the sand in Negril while a live band plays, to impromptu jams throughout the island. Real reggae aficionados should plan their trip around Sumfest, Jamaica Jazz, Rebel Salute, or Bob Marley Birthday Bash—just a few of Jamaica’s best music festivals.
Bourbon Beach, a popular beachfront music venue on Negril’s Seven Mile Beach, hosts local bands, reggae artists, or themed parties on an almost-nightly basis, to the delight of tourists and locals. People-watching at Bourbon Beach is great, the drinks stiff, and you get to dance in the sand to live reggae in Jamaica. The music starts up around 10 p.m. and continues until 2 a.m. Upstairs, a wide-open deck is open for stargazing or getting away from the crowd. Cover charges are only collected on nights when a recording artist performs. Alfred’s, nearby, is another longstanding option, offering live local acts three times a week for a US$5 cover.
Say “Jungle” and every Jamaican will have heard of this nightclub, one of Jamaica‘s longest-standing and best dance spots, located across Seven Mile Beach. The animal-themed indoor and outdoor club--with the slogan “Unleash the animal"--is a favorite among locals and tourists, and attracts its fair share of sports and music celebrities. The most popular night at Jungle is--you guessed it--ladies’ night, on Thursdays. Throngs of all-age women line up outside in their best club gear to party free and the men follow for a small fee. The laid back, unpretentious and security-tight club has multilevel floors--including a top outdoor deck with its very own bar, DJ and jerk corner. It can sometimes get unbearably crowded indoors after 2 a.m., and the easiest escape from the madness is to take one of two staircases to catch a breeze upstairs. There are pool tables on the ground level, though most seem interested mostly in the drinks, the people watching and the rotating tunes, from dancehall to house music. It’s always a good time at Jungle. The club also hosts live Reggae concerts and recording artists regularly--check for billboards outside the gate on Norman Manley Boulevard, known as the “beach road.”
You haven’t quite experienced the most authentic Reggae concert in Jamaica until you’ve been to Rebel Salute. While Sumfest gets all the press and is more commercialized, Rebel Salute—held every January—is Jamaica’s largest strictly-Reggae all-night show, headlining every single big Reggae music name you can think of. Now held on the north coast, on the picturesque grounds of Grizzly’s Plantation Cove, this well organized, alcohol-free event welcomes everyone from families to couples. Camp out by bringing your lawn chairs and blankets to indulge in the best of Reggae all night long, under the starry nights of the south. Food and soft drink vendors are present, of course, as are souvenir sellers. Tour operators do arrange group round trips to the event—inquire with Clive’s Transport--and hotels near the venue offer deals.
Jamaica Jazz and Blues, held just outside Montego Bay, is one of the Caribbean’s most well-known festivals. It hosts some of Reggae’s top stars alongside a host of well known American artists--past performers include the likes of Gladys Knight, Celine Dion and Maroon 5. The three-night concert is not a strictly jazz affair, but it’s a great time and one of the most fabulous international events in Jamaica. The large stadium accommodates several VIP tents for those who pay to receive all-star treatment, hopping from one all-inclusive food and drink tent to another, sampling local dishes from top chefs during or after performances. Part of the festival also includes a shopping village, showcasing some of the best art and other handmade Jamaican crafts. The large space and manicured lawn makes it ideal for strolls while the music plays on.
A favorite live music venue among locals and tourists in Negril, MXIII attracts a variety of big and smaller names onto its outdoor stage throughout the year. It also hosts the well-known annual Bob Marley Birthday Bash festival in February. Located on the cliffside of Negril, the venue is run by active, longtime resident entrepreneurs who are passionate about keeping the West End’s authenticity and entertainment vibe alive. Look for posters around town or billboards outside the venue for upcoming performances.
Pier 1’s greatest appeal is its setting: The open-air restaurant and nightclub occupies a pier that extends out into the Caribbean in Montego Bay. By day and into the early evening, the restaurant draws visitors and locals interested in a good meal with a stellar water view. At night, regular parties start late and run into the wee hours of the morning. Skip the noisy chain restaurant-bars down the street and try something more Jamaican, instead.
A4, Bull Bay, Jamaica
If you’re staying on the east coast or close to Kingston, Wickie Wackie Live! is the place to be for some live reggae on the beach. For just a small entry fee, you’ll get to enjoy excellent local performances seaside—often held on Saturday evenings, 8 p.m. until midnight. There are onsite food and trinket vendors, as always, and the atmosphere is one fit for a wide audience, including families. Wickie Wackie is one of only a few live venues in Jamaica where up and coming artists get to show off their skills. Many made their debut here before rising to stardom.