Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival brings taste, sounds of the Caribbean

When a heat wave gripped New York City at the end of last month, the ninth annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival was one of the events postponed due to health and safety concerns.

Those who had hoped to attend the annual celebration of Caribbean food, music and culture will get their chance when the rescheduled festival kicks off Sunday.

“All indications are that the weather should be fine, and we hope that people will come out and enjoy the festival,” event coordinator and executive producer Richard Lue told amNewYork. “We haven’t missed a beat.”

The original Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival, which launched in Florida 18 years ago, expanded to New York nine years ago after partnering with independent record label VP Records, Lue said.

The event grew out of a desire “to link the first generation of Jamaican Americans, Caribbean Americans, back home,” he said.

“There’s a lot of first-generation Jamaican, Caribbean Americans who have lost contact, so we wanted to have a festival,” he explained. “So what better way to do it than [with] food, music and culture?”  

This year’s festivities will feature more than 30 booths serving up a “wide cross-section” of Caribbean food — ranging from the festival’s namesake jerk chicken to vegan dishes, Lue said.

Celebrity chefs like Chef Irie, Chef Ji Cha, Chef Troy Levy, Chef Darlene B and Chef Sam Davis will be hosting tastings and demonstrations in the festival’s “Culinary Pavilion,” according to a release.

The musical lineup, meanwhile, includes performances by artists Fay-Ann Lyons, Christopher Martin, Shenseea, Capleton, Bunji Garlin and Naomi Cowan, the release said.

Lyons will be taking part in a “Celebrity Cook-Off Challenge” with former “Love & Hip-Hop New York” personality Tara Wallace, it noted.

“We were lucky enough to pull the same lineup together, and we’re ready to go for the 25th,” Lue said.

Actor and comedian Owen “Blakka” Ellis and activist Sharon Gordon, meanwhile, will pay tribute to iconic Jamaican folklorist Louise Bennett-Coverley, more commonly known as “Miss Lou,” who would have turned 100 this year.

The festival will also have a “Kids Zone” where youngsters can enjoy rides, face painting and games.

Festivities kick off at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens at noon and run until 8 p.m. Tickets cost $39 in advance, $49 at the gate and are available on the festival’s website. (Tickets purchased for the postponed July 21 festival will be honored.) Admission is free for children 10 and under accompanied by an adult.

If you go: The Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival NY is Sunday at Roy Wilkins Park from noon-8 p.m., at Merrick and Baisley blvds., Queens, jerkfestivalny.com, $39, children 10 and under, FREE.

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