Reggae festival debuts in Steinbach
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This article was published 04/03/2022 (267 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Steinbachers driving down Main Street this weekend may notice dome tents exuding Caribbean music and the smell of jerk from afternoon until night in the Solomon Furniture parking lot, all under the watchful eye of carefully crafted snow sculptures marking the perimeter of the party.
That’s because a winterized version of the International Reggae Afro Caribbean Latino Music & Arts Festival will be overtaking the town, a rural take on the multi-day festival popular in Winnipeg during the summer.
For four days residents will have the chance to take in music and entertainment for all ages as well as enjoy Caribbean cuisine, courtesy of Di Reggae Grill, in one of the two heated tents hosting the festival. At night, things will simmer further with performances catered to adults and a licensed area for alcohol sales.
After the IRAL Festival became a mainstay in Winnipeg over the last few years Neville Hamilton wanted to bring the celebrations to his home of Steinbach.
“We’re getting so far out of touch with interaction with people,” Hamilton, the festival’s director and CEO, said.
“Humans are not supposed to be like that, we need community and we need each other.”
Hamilton had longstanding plans to bring the festivities to town, but with the record-setting snowfall and constant subzero temperatures pummeling the southeast he grasped the opportunity to organize the event outdoors, saying it was a way to make use of what he had in front of him.
“People still need to come together in winter.”
The ticketed event combines food, entertainment and family-friendly activities to celebrate Caribbean culture and bring awareness to underrepresented communities rife with talent, some of which are rapidly increasing in size according to Hamilton.
While last year garnered a sizable turn out in Winnipeg, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to pivot operations from a single festival to a virtual celebration and smaller gatherings which still allowed for musical talent to perform and the Indo-Caribbean community and those curious about the culture alike to take part. Last year the festival also made its Brandon debut for an outdoor event.
The festivities, however, go beyond entertainment.
IRAL Festival also holds a contest for budding entertainers, called the IRAL Rising Star, for a chance to win cash, prizes and a chance to perform at upcoming events. The festival also lends the opportunity to learn about Caribbean cuisine and cooking through it’s YouTube series, IRAL Melting Pot.
“There really is going to be something for everyone,” Hamilton said.
The music promises to be authentic, too.
Hamilton, who also owns the city’s first Jamaican restaurant Di Reggae Grill, enlisted help from musicians he knows out of Montreal and his home country of Jamaica to ensure the festivities have a bona fide Caribbean feel. The line up of musicians for the event stands in the excess of 15.
The IRAL Dance Crew, an award-winning group of dancers, will also be performing for crowds.
Motorists of Main Street may have also noticed snow sculptures popping up on the edges of the parking lot for the festivities. The carvings are a collaboration of Hamilton’s ideas and the work of three sculptors including Lona Hill, a Marchand resident who retired from sculpting for Festival Du Voyager to pursue personal projects.
One of the sculptures, a lion still in progress, was found vandalised early Monday morning but Hamilton said they will continue on with the sculpting project in the name of keeping the festivities going.
In bringing the IRAL Festival to Steinbach Hamilton hopes the waning threat of the novel coronavirus can be forgotten in favour of connecting the community which he says has been in dire needs of connection.
“We need something different than what we’ve been doing for two years,” Hamilton said.
The IRAL Festival runs March 3-6 in the parking lot of Solomon Furniture. Tickets can be purchased at www.iralfest.com.