If 10,000 people cannot be wrong, Jason Felts pulled it off.
The brains behind KAABOO Cayman, Mr. Felts broke open a new avenue for entertainment on the island, bringing the kind of festival few had imagined could happen here.
The chief brand officer for Virgin Produced, Mr. Felts partnered with Dart Enterprises – eventually bringing in Digicel, BritCay and a slew of other sponsors – to mount the biggest concert event ever produced in Cayman. Two large outdoor stages, an enclosed comedy club and rows of tented food and drink booths popped up on a 37-acre plot of land west of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway overpass in recent days to accommodate the crowds and such performers as the Chainsmokers, Duran Duran, Blondie, Jason Derulo, Flo Rida and Zedd, along with comedians Wanda Sykes, Norm Macdonald and Natasha Leggero.
A year ago, many greeted Mr. Felts’s announcement of spinning off a smaller version of the four-year-old KAABOO Del Mar he produces with skepticism – skepticism that only grew with the disaster that was Bahamas-based Fyre Festival that came not long after that announcement. But few could argue that when the last notes of Duran Duran’s “Rio” faded into the midnight air on Saturday that the two-day festival was anything but a major success.
“The event has been spectacular,” said Krista Maierhofer, 38, a nine-year Cayman resident. “This puts us on the map. It brings the spirit of Cayman out to the world.”
Mr. Felts was unwinding in North Side Sunday morning and looked back on the process of putting together an event he first visualized in 2009.
“I had the kernel of the idea when I was at the Lions Centre many years ago watching the Shaggy show,” he said.
Although he is based in Southern California, he spent much of his youth in Grand Cayman and spent time over the years helping to promote the arts on the island. He worked to establish the local film commission and supported such agencies as the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands and the Cayman National Cultural Foundation. He was working for Virgin’s entertainment arm when the company decided to invest in KAABOO Del Mar.
“My very first move was to work with my partners to extend the KAABOO brand,” he said. “I was very adamant that Cayman would be the next [location].”
He met with government and Dart officials early on to determine how and where such a festival might take place. Only one other potential site on the island was seriously considered and the site north of the Kimpton SeaFire resort turned out to be a “no brainer,” he said.
“We all recognized that we could achieve my goal of advancing the arts in Cayman,” he said, “and the overall goal of making Cayman the entertainment capital of the Caribbean.”
What resulted, he said, was virtually everything he had imagined.
“It honestly was exactly what I envisioned,” he said. “I knew it would sell out. I knew all of the artists would have an incredible time. The international exposure we’re getting is incredible.”
For a few nervous hours on Thursday, it looked as if Cayman’s weather might throw a wrench in that vision. Heavy night and morning rains left the festival site drenched on Thursday afternoon, forcing organizers to postpone a VIP preview event that evening.
Crews worked through the night with vacuums and blowers to dry up the puddles. Apart from a few stubborn areas in the transportation drop-off area and some soggy patches on the lawns in front of the stages, the water issue evaporated, along with such worries as massive traffic jams around the venue that never materialized.
It was almost as if Cayman collectively sighed and said, “OK, let’s have a good time.”
Chris Price, 49, a local civil engineer, said he was happily surprised by the way KAABOO Cayman turned out. Mr. Price said he has experience as a DJ and has been involved in the local nightclub scene. He has not been impressed by the way many of the island’s larger events have been handled in the past, he said.
“I had no expectations,” he said when he first heard about KAABOO Cayman. “I thought it would be a typically bad Cayman production. It’s a real pleasure to see this. This is really great.”
Amy Ford, 34, said she was on board from the beginning. She bought her ticket before the lineup was even announced.
“I thought it sounded like a good time regardless of who they got,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for the island.”
Those who paid extra for VIP tickets also seemed pleased. In the Royal Palms lounge area – one of several “amplified” passes that were available – guests could relax in padded Adirondack chairs and enjoy free food and drinks, meet-and-greet opportunities with performers, massages and other amenities.
John Lopez, 47, brought his wife and two sons from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mr. Lopez said he had been to two KAABOO Del Mar festivals and jumped at the chance to come to the one in Cayman.
“I knew KAABOO would do a good job and put on a good show,” he said.
Paying extra for a VIP ticket was worth it, he said.
“You’re going to spend the money anyway,” he said, referring to food, drinks and transportation. Plus, the family had the benefit of a better view of the concert.
Highlights from the two days were performances by Zedd, Maren Morris, Bryan Adams, The Chainsmokers and Live. Rico Rolando, Suckerbox and Shameka Clarke were among the local acts who got a chance to perform at the festival.
Other locals got involved as well. Flo Rida invited some audience members onto the stage for his show and in the comedy tent, some locals were singled out for attention, as often happens during a stand-up performance. Cayman businessman Burns Rutty ended up as part of Kevin Nealon’s act, as the comedian singled him out several times, asking him about his nighttime bathroom habits and what he did during his working years.
“Burns, what did you do for a job?” Nealon asked him before reacting to his responses. “Hotel business? Fast food? The water company? When you say fast food, do you mean you worked the counter?”
Local artists also got exposure during the two days. A converted shipping container was turned into gallery space featuring at least a dozen Cayman artists.
Kristi Dabah, 32, of Chicago, and her husband Wajde, 35, bought a piece by Dready.
“The same artist has some art in our hotel,” Ms. Dabah said. “We saw this and really liked it. We always try to buy art at festivals, but we never find anything we like.
“It seems like a lot of festivals, art is part of it, but not really part of it,” she said, adding that KAABOO was different. She particularly liked the two murals that were being painted live during the two days.
Mr. Felts said he would like to expand that element of KAABOO Cayman next year.
“I’d personally like to see more art,” he said of the fine art and live mural paintings, “and I’d like to see more local artists on stage.”
Other than that, he said he was elated at how the festival came off.
“Personally, I’m so honored and appreciative that the people of Cayman trusted me,” he said. “This is the country’s festival. We all did it together, every guest, every employee, every artist. We all did it together.”