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Sample the best of Jamaica at Jerk Festival

Shaggy performs for the crowd at last year's Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival at Roy Wilkins Park. Photo courtesy VP Records
TimesLedger Newspapers

Jamaica celebrates everything musical, edible and traditional from its Caribbean namesake this Sunday at the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival in Roy Wilkins Park.

Big-name performers such as Shaggy, Christopher Martin and Fab 5 come together with Queens cultural groups to entertain during the jerk cuisine feast.

“This festival brings to the Queens area an event that looks to entertain the entire family, food being the major product that we are selling and entertainment to enjoy the food,” said Sydney Roberts, vice chairman of Jamaican Jerk Festival USA Inc.

Jerk, a traditional Jamaican style of cooking in which dishes are marinated in a spicy seasoning mixture, will be dressing a variety of foods in this “jerk everything” event. The festival culminates in a jerk cook-off, hosted by actor Leon Robinson, when about 15 local restaurants compete in the competition.

While taste buds are being slathered by all things jerk, presentations of spoken poetry to drum beating, Jamaican storytelling and folk farm dancing will further immerse one into the island’s culture. A Kid’s Zone will be hosting activities such as face-painting, games and rides for the family-oriented event.

The Jamaican Jerk Festival first began in 2001 in Miami. After years of success, chairmen of the Miami-based company sought to bring the celebration to other cities inhabited by Jamaicans. In collaboration with VP Records, a record company based in Jamaica, the first festival was held in Roy Wilkins Park in 2010.

“In the second year hosting the event, the attendance doubled. The first year we had 5,000 people, the next 10,000,” said Neil Robertson, live events and touring coordinator at VP Records.

Robertson helped coordinate the entertainment, choosing a range of reggae artists that would please a crowd of all ages.

“Fab 5 has been around since the ’70s, Christopher Martin is young and upcoming and Shaggy hits across the board,” said Robertson, who started the live division of the company four years ago.

The event employs more than 250 people from the general area and brings a large crowd to support local vendors, according to Robertson.

The festival hopes to bring Jamaicans a taste of home and expose Queens residents to the island’s lifestyle.

“We want everyone to become more familiar with the jerk cuisine,” said Roberts.

If You Go

The Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival

Where: Roy Wilkins Park, 177th Street, Jamaica

When: Sunday, July 21, noon to 8 p.m.

Cost: $25 in advance, $40 at the door, free for children 12 and under

Contact: (718) 425-1177

Tickets: available at jerkfestivalny.com or at selected retail outlets.

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