Celebrating 50 Years of Fun
Visiting Virgin Gorda is always a treat, but at Easter Festival time, it’s really something else because it feels like the entire island is having a party. As you step off the ferry, one of the first things you’re bound to see is an outdoor food vendor or a food van where you can pick up a bit of local flavor, which might mean anything from pea soup to stewed chicken to a chilled homemade mauby drink.
From there, you might take the short taxi ride or leisurely walk over to the festival village grounds, where you can get even more food and drink, play some carnival games, and hear live music. Depending on your timing, it might be a big-name Caribbean act, an energetic local band, or both.
So what sets VG apart in the Easter season? In part, it’s just the personality of the residents, says Franklin “Frankie” Walters…
On the way, you might encounter any number of parties at the restaurants and bars that dot the path. Often there’s a DJ at each spot, and many will offer special menus. Although the festivities have been kicking since the beginning of the year, April is when things really pickup, with a slew of special events (see schedule on page 16), such as the Ms. Virgin Gorda competition, the Grand Easter Parade, and the crowning of the next Virgin Gorda Calypso Monarch.
So what sets VG apart in the Easter season? In part, it’s just the personality of the residents, says Franklin “Frankie” Walters, who has helped organize the festivities on and off for the last decade.
“Virgin Gorda on the whole is a very friendly island,” says the lifelong VG resident. “People here are very approachable.”
This year, the fêting will be extra-special because the festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The occasion has organizers planning more and bigger events than the sister island usually puts on.
“We have some better entertainment this year, and we’re putting a lot of emphasis on the parade,” Frankie said. Having spent a number of years up and down the parade route making sure that the various floats, bands, and troupes are where they need to be, he knows the parade is a big draw, especially for visitors.
“Most people come for the parade,” he said of the Easter Monday tradition. And, unlike some of the region’s larger parades that barricade the route or limit spectators to certain cordoned-off viewing areas, the Easter Monday Parade is an interactive event. Photos are welcomed, Frankie guesses, because Easter Festival is a rare opportunity for Virgin Gordians who want to be “in the spotlight.” So if you want to take a selfie with a masquerader (a costumed parade participant), just ask! While you’re at it, you might befriend one of the mocko jumbies, truck drivers, musicians or cultural marchers that will entertain along the route.
But besides the parade, what events at Easter Festival are not-to-be missed? You’ll definitely want to make your way to the Calypso Monarch competition. If you’ve never been, it’s a cross between American Idol and Saturday Night Live. Contestants – sometimes armed with props and costumes – perform original and often humorous music that tackles local social ills and political problems live for a panel of judges. They’re awarded points for their stage performance, lyrics, musical arrangement, social commentary and humor.
“The social commentary is always sharp,” Frankie said. In fact, the education you can gain about the BVI and Virgin Gorda in particular by listening to the entries is worth the price of admission. This year, the competition for Calypso Monarch is expected to be tougher than usual, Frankie said, adding that he’s heard from some formerly retired Calypsonians that they plan to return to the stage for the occasion.
“It being the landmark anniversary, a lot of them want to carry that crown,” he said.
Another not-to-be missed event over the long Easter weekend is the annual Wahoo Madness fishing tournament. If you an are an angler, it’s a chance to put together a team of friends and enjoy some of the best sport fishing around. Recent tournaments have drawn around 50 participants, who catch upwards of a quarter-ton of fish while competing for prizes like heaviest catch and best angler.
But even if you’re not a fisher, head over to the weigh-in at Fischer’s Cove and watch as the fisheries officers who adjudicate the competition put each angler’s catch on a scale. While you’re there, you can try some fresh local fish dishes that somehow taste better eaten in view of the water.
And while food is always part of the festival, this year organizers are mixing it up a bit with a Cultural Food Fair and Cook-off. Naturally, BVI foods like fish and fungi would take center stage, but Frankie explains, this year’s food fair will represent the sister island’s changing population.
“We have a more diverse population on the island now, so we want the cultural food fair to reflect that,” he said. VG residents with roots all around the region will be showcasing dishes that represent their particular island.
“Even though we’re one Caribbean, there’s naturally a bit of friendly competition. This will let people try out foods from the BVI, but also from St. Vincent or Jamaica or Dominica.”
Whether you go for the food, sport, music, pageantry or the parade, Frankie says Easter Festival attendees can expect a warm welcome and a good time.
“It’s a close-knit island; it’s like coming to a family gathering,” Frankie said.