HOW TO PARTY
The essence of reggae tourism is going to reggae shows and parties. Jamaicans take partying seriously and you're invited to do so as well while you're here. Learn about the different types of parties and how to find them.
Finding out where to party
Plan your reggae holiday and make sure you find out about a couple of stage shows and parties before you leave. Check our annual reggae events section. You might want to book ahead some places to stay close to the parties you plan to attend. You can never plan everything beforehand. Jamaican parties are often and plenty, and most of them are only announced a couple of weeks beforehand. When you touch yard, you will hear of more events and you will have to update your travel plans accordingly. Very exciting stuff! Include Kingston in your plan. You can go to Kingston at any time and party. Check out the Kingston events section.
When you are in Jamaica you can search for more events and parties by
- listening to any of the reggae radio stations
- looking out for billboards along the road
- checking the entertainment section in the Gleaner and the Observer
- asking anybody wha gwaan
General Party advice
As you will no doubt experience soon, Jamaicans party late. Even when the poster says 'come early', people come late. Whereas up until recently Jamaicans didn't come out to party before midnight, this has changed somewhat because of the noise abatement legislation. Some parties can only go on until 2 a.m. and if a police lockdown is expected people do come out earlier. So ask around. It's always a difficult decision. You might show up at a stage show at 1am and police will come and lock it down an hour later. You might go to a stage show at 10pm only to find out the big artists don't work before 5am.
Jamaicans hate rain so there is a decent possibility that an outside event will be cancelled if its raining. This is less likely for a big stage show that has been advertised weeks beforehand than it is for a regular dance or street dance. Beach parties, where it's literaly raining rum anyway and people wear trunks and swimsuits, are not affected by a little rain.
Paying an entrance fee (if it's not a free event) is often not a very formal procedure. Don't necessarily expect somebody sitting behind a table giving you a ticket. Tickets might be sold from a car with blinded windows. One window will be open just a little, you cannot see who is inside and you're expected to slide your 1000 JMD in. Don't worry though, you'll get your change and ticket. Also possible is that some person, not looking 'official' in any way, will approach you and say that it's a JMD 500 fee. Don't worry about him not being the 'real' guy at the entrance. He is. Just pay him.
For the ladies a practical but necessary suggestion is to bring along tissues to any party. Bathroom facilities tend to be sketchy at best. Don't expect there to be toilet paper.
The sun is out early in Jamaica and you'll probably be up early too. You already know that parties start late. The conclusion is that you need to rest during the day. Here's a possible party strategy. You get up anywhere between 8 and 11 a.m. and eat a decent warm breakfast. You go out and do something until about 2 or 3 p.m. You could visit a town, go for a swim or look for some CDs or records. You might go back to your guest house and have a beer or a spliff if that's your thing, turn on the radio and sleep. You could set your timer anywhere between 7 and 9 p.m., take a shower, and have dinner. Now you are ready for the night, which might start off slowly with a couple of beers in a bar. When midnight approaches, you can head out to that night's party or event.
The Stage Show
The most exciting type of Jamaican reggae event is of course the stage show. It's basically what you call a 'reggae festival' in Europe or the US. An outside venue, a stage, a bar, loads of people and lots of artists scheduled to perform. The quality and quantity of reggae artists will amaze you. A stage show would typically start around 10 p.m. with unknown and upcoming reggae artists and could last untill 7 or 9 in the morning.
A stage show can easily be a 9 or 10 hour marathon session if you want to see each and every artist. Remember that the big artists will only appear on stage way after midnight. Which doesn't mean you should not show up early. The early section of a stage show typically features up and coming artists. As a reggae fan, it's a nice experience to catch the early vibes: you'll hear some crappy artists, you'll hear some talented ones or you'll catch a tune you've been hearing on the radio the last couple of weeks. It's fun.
But surely you want to see the big names advertised on the poster and they will appear on stage late, or early depending on your time frame. It is not uncommon for a Sizzla or Bounty or Beenie or Jah Cure to perform at 6 or 7 a.m. when the sun is up. We do encourage you to go for the entire marathon at least once. It's magical to go in at 10 p.m. when it's dark and to leave at 8 a.m. when the sun is hot already. But yes: it is exhausting for sure. So mind your smoking and liquor. Do not expect to make it until the morning if you start drinking or smoking ganja early.
What makes the whole experience even more of an exercise in endurance is that there is no sitting. Expect to be standing up the whole night. Jamaicans don't sit on the ground and so you shouldn't either. Furthermore, Jamaican stage shows don't really cater for sitters, simply meaning that there's nothing to sit on. If this is a real problem for you there's a couple of ways out. First up, vendors do sell chairs! JMD 1000 or 1500 will get you a folding chair. Second, you could bring a chair. Many people do, it’s always allowed, so you could pick up one in town and bring it. Third option is to buy a VIP ticket. VIP guest sections are generally right in front of the stage and there will be chairs. Finally, at some stage shows vendors will be selling the poor man's version of a a chair: a piece of cardboard.
Food is the key to making it through a 10 hour musical marathon session though, never forget that. And soup in particular. There will be vendors, check them out and eat when you feel like eating. Eat soup. You will notice how great soup is: it sobers you up, it gives you energy. Anything jerked does so too. Did I mention to eat soup?
Finally some advise on clothing. If your going for an all-nighter, bring a vest or a jacket. It might be hot all day and even in the evening, but it might cool down anywhere between 4 and 6 a.m. And besides: that's the time when you might really be feeling tired so you will get cold.
The Birthday Bash
Lots of Jamaican celebs, be it reggae artists, DJ's, producers or dancers, organize an annual birthday party. They don't just invite some friends to their home and put on a little music, but throw a big party or stage show and put out flyers and posters. There might be an entrance fee. Sizzla, Charly Black and Ninja Man are some of the artists that keep amazing Bday Bashes. In fact, Ninja Man's bday party for example, is a fully fledged stage show from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. with about 30 or 40 artists performing.
The Beach Party
Beach parties are often held during the day and that's just wonderful. They could start anywhere between noon and 6 p.m. Do find out when they start because sometimes they finish at 10 p.m. already. They are a combination of sun, beach, sea, reggae or dancehall music, lots of alcohol and beautiful people. They are on the beach so prepare accordingly. You know, the obvious things: wear old shoes, consider going in your swim gear, pack some clothes, bring a towl. Some beach parties are 'all-inclusive' which means you pay JMD 1000 or 2000 to get in but all drinks are included. There will be DJ's playing dancehall music and there might be live showcases. Beach parties are organised anywhere on the Jamaican coastline. Check Priory beach when your on the north coast and the Hellshire party beaches when you're in Kingston or Portmore. And there's Negril of course.
Parties with DJ's, sounds or live artists are also held indoors in clubs, sports bars or any kind of venue as a matter of fact. Good to know is that in some cases the air conditioning is turned up to the max so that Jamaicans can party in style wearing more than just T-shirts, pants and shoes. As a tourist, you will have been walking around night and day in your T-shirt so that's what you intend to wear to the venue. You might freeze your ass off though so bring along a vest or something.
Go Go clubs
Go go clubs are strip clubs and a perfectly acceptable choice for your nightly entertainment. Jamaicans love the female body in all shapes and sizes so you will be looking at both skinny and fluffy dancers. They might be dancing enthusiastically or they might be holding on to both the pole and their phone. Famous Go Go clubs are Palais Royal (pronounce: polly royal) in New Kingston and Shades in Ochie Rios. But don't worry, there's Go Go clubs everywhere on the island, from the busiest city to the quietest village. Good entertainment but always let common sense guide you in your ways. Makes sense, right?