It would be difficult for a music festival to best the setting that Bankie Banx’s Moonsplash in Anguilla offers. I’ve been to many music festivals from one day affairs to three day marathons with backdrops ranging from corn fields to the Chicago skyline but none of them could offer the setting and atmosphere that Moonsplash still continues to avail to its customers 25 years on. Taking place at one of the world’s best beach bars on one of the Caribbean’s most magnificent beaches, the Dune Preserve gets to shine even brighter than normal one weekend every spring as it becomes the center of the reggae universe and shows off what a surprisingly adept music venue it really is, smack dab in the middle of one of the most immaculate Anguilla beaches you’ll stumble across.
This year’s 25th anniversary show of Moonsplash took place a little later than the previous year. Typically occurring in mid-March, Moonsplash’s reggae revelry kicked off the last weekend in March. That didn’t stop reggae fans of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors from showing up in throngs and shaking what their mamas gave them, with a haze both manmade and natural softly settling just above the crowd like a low lying cloud, giving the whole scene a surreal party-in-the-sky kind of aura.
As is typical with anything and everything in the Caribbean, where everything moves on island time (You know how slow you move when you first wake up and are trying to get your bearings? That’s how I describe island time. “Rush slowly” isn’t just a saying – it’s a mantra), Friday night’s International show kicked off a little later than its schedule start time of 9 (or 9:30, depending on who you asked). One of the early highlights of the night was Natalie, an up and coming Anguillian talent who sounds remarkably like Alicia Keys. Her performance was backed up solely by her pianist, who passionately pounded away on the 88s as Natalie deftly sat atop the piano cabinet for most of her performance, concluding with her single “Perfect.” Next up was Mighty Mystic, a rising reggae star from the Boston area, whose energetic performance cranked the festival up to a sultry 95 degrees in the shade, one degree short of the temperature required for a Third World appearance. While Natalie and Mighty Mystic may have been part of the early bill this year, it is only a matter of time before they’ll be the after midnight headliners.
Following Mighty Mystic was the son of Bankie Banx, Omari Banks, who featured many of the tunes from his newest album, Move On, including “No Point to Prove” and “Run Around.” Omari surprised the swaying throngs of his fans, who by this point had closed the gap between themselves and the stage (there is no stage security at Moonsplash which contributes to its intimate setting), by bringing his dad on stage for a rousing rendition of “We’ve Seen It All.” While Bankie Banx casts an imposing shadow, there’s no doubt Omari is more than ready to stand on his own musical merits. Jah Cure closed the night performing all of his biggest hits and brought the first evening to a satisfying and fitting end.
Saturday was Legends night, starting off with a performance from Sheriff Uncle Bob, the self-proclaimed “Sheriff of good times” and one of the co-founders of Moonsplash. Easing into the evening as easily as his fingers glided across his slide guitar, the Sheriff’s performance was an introduction to American folk music for the mostly reggae fans that had gathered that night. Bankie Banx performed next, making a rock star entrance as only he could do, using a scissor lift to appear high above the stage behind the moon background, topped off with a blast of fire to get the crowd sufficiently warmed up. Even at his age, Bankie still commanded the stage like the best of them, putting on a show that only the owner of one of the world’s best beach bars could be expected to do.
Third World Band followed Bankie, performing for the first time at Moonsplash with their new lead singer, AJ Brown. As Brown, Cat Coore, Richard Daley and the rest of the guys sufficiently warmed up the festival to a sizzling 96 degrees in the shade, the stage was set for the night’s headlinger, Freddie McGregor. Performing hits such as “Big Ship” and “Push Come To Shove,” the longtime reggae veteran didn’t disappoint, closing out the second night of Moonsplash performances with a cool irie vibe, just as would be expected from one of the premier reggae festivals in the Caribbean.
Moonsplash’s Sunday shows started mid-afternoon and were free and open to the public. As boats and yachts filled up Rendezvous Bay, the performances moved beachside for the day and became less formal. Artists who had stayed around from the previous nights performed on a small stage next to the main bar at the Dune and included such highlights as Third World Band and Mighty Mystic’s spirited jam sessions.
There may be bigger and fancier music festivals in the Caribbean but you would be hard pressed to name one with a more serene and intimate setting than Moonsplash. Make plans now for next March’s Moonsplash and before you know it, you’ll be looking for excuses to use “Blessings, mon” in your everyday interactions. Depending on where you live, reactions maybe varied but just give them your coolest laid back look, flash the peace sign and reply with “Moonsplash, mon” and hopefully they’ll get it. If not, we’ll pray they get to experience Moonsplash in person one day and will finally grasp what the festival is all about – rushing slowly, irie vibes and blessings on those you care about.