ISLAND GETAWAY: Nigerian musician Joeboy performed at this year’s Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival, which took place April 30 to May 12. (Karen Bliss / Staff)

Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival is produced by the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority

The idyllic Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, with its landmark twin mountains, the Pitons, and world’s only drive-in volcano where one can bathe in mud from the Sulphur Springs, is also a top draw for music lovers.

The Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival was created in 1992, and has hosted a wide-range of artists over the decades, including Amy Winehouse, Rihanna, Seal, John Legend, Diana Ross, Lauryn Hill, Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Mary J. Blige, The Jacksons, Harry Belafonte, Boyz II Men, Herbie Hancock, Luther Vandross, Ja Rule, Ashanti, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and UB40.

Last year, Sting and Shaggy headlined. This year — April 30 to May 12 — included Babyface, Air Supply, Machel Montano, Jon Secada, Beres Hammond, Davido and Samara Joy.

The Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival is produced by the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority, in collaboration with the Cultural Development Foundation and the Events Company of Saint Lucia.

During the two weeks of the festival, the top-drawing music event in the Caribbean — with dozens of local and international artists ranging in genre from afrobeats, jazz, pop, rock, R&B, gospel, calypso, soca, reggae, zouk, and rap — presents community jazz with creole programming in small towns Vieux Fort, Fond D’or and Babonneau, Soufriere, and Monchy, while larger mainstage shows were at the 5,000-capacity Mindoo Phillip Park, 1,000-capacity Indoor Pavilion on the Ramp – Rodney Bay, and the marquee 10,000-capacity Pigeon Island National Park.

The park, once, as its name implies, was an island, until it was connected in 1971 by a causeway to north Saint Lucia. It is a few minutes walk from the adjacent Sandals Grande Saint Lucia Beach Resort & Spa or accessible by vehicle or water taxi from other properties, such as the Windjammer Landing Resort & Residences.

Hon. Dr. Ernest Hilaire, Saint Lucia’s Minister for Tourism, Investment, Creative Industries, Culture and Information, and Deputy Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, tells VenuesNow they are intent on making travel to the island more accessible for Americans and Canadians, with increased or more direct flights from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Air Canada, JetBlue and WestJet. He was interviewed onsite before Hurricane Beryl touched down in the region. There was no damage to the island and the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm.

He also spoke about Pigeon Island and booking the festival. They will soon be starting to book 2025.

MUSICAL MINISTRY: Ernest Hilaire, Saint Lucia’s Minister for Tourism, Investment, Creative Industries, Culture and Information, and Deputy Prime Minister of Saint Lucia. (Karen Bliss / Staff)

VenuesNow: Tell us a bit about the history of Pigeon Island, where the main concerts take place. I walked by a canon.
Ernest Hilaire: Pigeon Point is a national landmark. It is actually a protected area. It has a very rich historical narrative behind it. It was the lookout point for Admiral Rodney during the colonial wars, who used it as a staging post to see the French Navy when it left Martinique to go to attack Barbados and would be able to intercept them. They would signal all the way down to the harbour to see that the French are coming and the French would fight for Saint Lucia, so they can get that spot so they can see when the English Navy is leaving Barbados to attack Martinique. So, it is a very significant place. It has a rich history for us.

In the contemporary times, Pigeon Point is also well known as one of the most idyllic wedding and sports institutions. It has been used for the jazz for over 30 years. It is used occasionally for some Carnival concerts, for some of the bigger shows, but it is not a venue that is used every week for concerts. As you can imagine, it is a conservation site so it is used sparingly. But, it is the home of jazz.

The Rolling Stones just played the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival…
Can we get them?

A lot of jazz and blues festivals have long expanded outside their genres, including the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. Will that continue?
We have moved away from pure jazz. Right now, we have two nights of pure jazz, one night of gospel, one night of Caribbean music. We have a night of what we call world beats, music from different parts of the world, and what we call the ultimate celebration: we always have a band that is a sing-along band. So, (this year was) Air Supply so everybody can sing along to all their songs. And, of course, we would have another featured artist, which was Babyface. So, we have structured the festival in such a way that it has moved beyond just jazz. It is essentially a music festival, but the destination of jazz is historical.

And who does the booking?
The Saint Lucia Tourism Authority. There is a committee headed by the chairman of the Tourism Authority and the other ones that would speak to all the agents and do all the bookings and negotiations. So, as soon as this festival ends, within two weeks, we start planning the line-up. Because we launch the line-up either in December or January. So, we don’t have much time to do all the bookings.

I’m sure there are a lot of U.S. and Canadian artists that would love to come play. It’s beautiful and the people have such a great time. The vibe, energy, weather, food, hospitality. Is it supported by Ministry of Tourism dollars?

Yes, it is supported by the government. The Tourism Authority has its allocation for the organization of the festival. It is a massive marketing tool for us and, also, for bringing visitors to the country.

Destination festivals are very big. Coachella, Rock in Rio, Glastonbury, Montreal and New Orleans jazz festivals. Is Saint Lucia more for the wealthy?
Put it this way, Saint Lucia is a premier luxury destination in some ways. We are the world’s leading honeymoon destination (as per World Travel Awards). But when it comes to the events, we have a range of options from significant home accommodation, as well as villa accommodations and, of course, resort accommodation. The villa accommodation is really exciting. Literally, you can get a three-bedroom villa, group of view, private pool. You can get your private chef and you could literally have a fantastic time. And, of course, if you want the home accommodation, which is a little more intimate, you’re sharing with families. Saint Lucia has numerous options.

And tickets are for sale for the full festival and individual nights?
You could buy the four shows. And if you add the two pure jazz shows, you’re really talking about six nights of jazz.

Are you trying to keep the ticket prices low?
Yes, as much as possible. But, of course, artist costs is going up; suppliers costs are going up. So, it’s always a struggle to keep it as low as possible. We’re not an event that will have 40,000, 50,000 patrons. It is still very intimate.

View of a bay on Pigeon Island, a small island off Saint Lucia Island in the Caribbean. (Getty Images)

What is the capacity of Pigeon Island?
It’s just over 10,000.

What would you like the American industry, the agents, the managers, to know about the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival — mainly that you exist?
We exist, but also you almost have to get your artists to be in Saint Lucia and be part of the festival. Like I said, it’s not going to be the largest festival, but it is certainly one of the most intimate, one of the most exciting festivals. You can’t get a better crowd than the Caribbean crowd enjoying themselves in this weather. And, your artists literally have to come to Saint Lucia.

Are there daytime activities and secondary stages?
In fact, the festival lasts two weeks. The first week is a lot of community festivals in different parts of the island. These are even smaller, very intimate, and then we go on to the larger shows. There’s so much to do.

One drawback is there’s only one road for thousands of people to enter and exit. They’ve paid money; they’re excited for the show; they shouldn’t miss any of it because of traffic or bottleneck to get in.
It is a problem. This venue is a little unique because this was an island that they joined to the mainland. So it literally is one road to the island and it causes a lot of challenges for us because of the sheer numbers. But we are working on it to improve it as much as possible.