I wasn’t going to go to KAABOO. It wasn’t that the acts didn’t appeal to me; in fact, quite the opposite was true. Blondie? Bryan Adams? DURAN DURAN?? They played the music of my generation! I remember flying about on my skateboard to ‘Heart of Glass’, singing ‘Summer of ‘69’ with a band and dreaming of dates with John Taylor. (Which reminds me, I spoke to three 30-ish year-olds who had never heard of Duran Duran. Say what?!)
I let the blind sale pass me by, sniffed at Tier 2 and still wasn’t moved by Tier 3. I would wait until the year after; there would be issues this time, the traffic would be terrible, and I knew some people who weren’t going. I was so easily swayed by others; all I had to do was find one other person who definitely wouldn’t be attending, and it was enough to lead me in a similar direction.
I can’t remember when my attitude changed; when I decided that to miss it would be tantamount to committing a musical crime. I had promised myself that if I ever DID decide to fork out the money, it would be for a Royal Palm pass. I was at an age where lining up for the toilet or drinks or any creature comfort filled me with dread. What can I say? I’m a wimp. The price was eye-watering, but when I started to add up the cost of flying anywhere, plus hotel, plus transportation, plus concert tickets, I was able to justify the expenditure, as I had for my lemon of a sports car many years prior.
I think it was when I read the reports of passes selling out, coupled with my fear of missing out, that I caved and bought my Royal Palm access ticket. The Royal Palm passes sold out two days later.
My best friend Lynne Firth and I were now officially going to KAABOO. We suddenly had a vested interest in the site as the date neared, and it was remarkable to see how it moved along from being an open patch of nothingness to a purpose-built facility, ready to welcome thousands of fans. Still, we were skeptical. How smoothly could things really go the first time around with that many bands and the organisers’ many promises? Turned out, pretty well.
Being the unfit person I am, I was keen to pace myself. We had some sense of the rest areas available to us, but I was still worried about being on my feet for too long. The local artists were going to be on stage early, and as the gates opened, so posts on social media began to flood in, giving everyone a first glimpse of the festival grounds.
Thanks to our passes, we had parking valet and a shuttle to drop us at the gates. The less walking required, the bigger the fan I became.
Once we got to KAABOO central, it was a quick matter to go through security. The party began on the other side.
We realised that even though this was the first setup in Cayman, the design had clearly been well thought out from previous KAABOO concerts in the U.S. The area was really easy to navigate and it wasn’t long before we had tracked down everything to which we were entitled. The Royal Palm private oasis near the beach had food from Grand Old House running all day, with dishes switching out at intervals to be replaced by new items. The open bar featured anything we could possibly want from soft drinks to vodka and there were activities going on including very tempting chair massages.
Beyond this area, there were elevated suite structures that ran between the two main stages, so once we tired of being up front and spitting distance from the performers, we could go and relax on one of the comfy chairs or couches.
These offered a great vantage point for the really visual shows like The Chainsmokers. More on that later.
The local groups did the island proud. No surprise that Suckerbox has subsequently been asked to play at KAABOO Del Mar later in the year. It was also terrific to see Transviolet with Sarah McTaggart at the helm doing a fantastic job.
Magic! from Toronto performed their funky hit ‘Rude’, and the lead singer certainly sported some impressive dance moves. From there, audience members were treated to the likes of Maxi Priest (no stranger to Cayman), Flo Rida, who happily invited a group to get up on stage and dance with him (I would have volunteered, honest, but I was wearing the wrong shoes), and Counting Crows.
We watched the Crows from afar, giving our tootsies a break, but were not going to miss the meet-and-greet backstage that we had requested. I practised what I would say to Adam Duritz, the band’s vocalist and my hair twin. I ended up being a bit tongue-tied, unbelievably, and as Lynne and I took our place with the band at the step-and-repeat, I think I squeaked out “Welcome back,” which made no sense, as I don’t think they have ever been in Cayman before. Duritz has dated the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Winona Ryder. After my conversational performance, I figured I would not be joining the list. Besides, should a man and woman both resembling Sideshow Bob be in a relationship?
Even with all the music going on, Lynne and I managed to squeeze in a comedy show in the Humor Me tent. Darrell Hammond of ‘SNL’ fame was a bit underwhelming, I have to say. Dressed like a sweaty Amish preacher, complete with hat but sans beard, Hammond seemed almost confused by his surroundings, pulling Bill Clinton impersonations out of mothballs. It didn’t help that the multi-watt sound from the nearby stage was bleeding into the tent – I would have found it pretty distracting if I was trying to tell jokes – but regardless, he just appeared to be going through the motions.
The final two acts of the night were Bryan Adams and The Chainsmokers. We definitely wanted to be up front for Adams and we were not disappointed. It was a fantastic performance, featuring all those songs from our youth. Everyone around us was belting out the lyrics – such an electric atmosphere.
I don’t think the Canadian troubador realised it, but my feet gave up their last hurrah for him. By the time he had finished his set, I was more shuffling than walking. Time to head to the Royal Palm suites to watch The Chainsmokers. Turns out that sitting back from the stage was the place to be for this show. The visuals were incredible. What with the animation on the humongous screen, the fireworks and the plumes of fire springing up from the front of the stage at intervals, one could truly appreciate the whole production from a distance. The EDM duo was absolutely dwarfed by the spectacle around them – this show is what separated the men from the boys.
We decided to leave near the end of The Chainsmokers’ performance, to “avoid the rush,” which is something old people say.
Unfortunately for my throbbing feet, our shuttle to the parking lot was nowhere to be seen. After waiting for about 15 minutes with no relief in sight, we made the hard decision to hoof it to the parking lot. I was not a happy bunny. A poor girl was walking in step with me and tried to make conversation, while I moaned like some privileged cow about having no shuttle to spirit me to my car. That must have been a nice end to the night for her.
Pros of first day: Stage performances running like clockwork, fabulous Royal Palm perks, Bryan Adams, toilet paper in toilets at all times, valet guys moving like lightning.
Cons of first day: The level of mobile phone service you would expect in the Amazon jungle, Darrell Hammond, bonkers queues at the open area bars, coming to the realisation that I can be a whiner about relatively unimportant things.
Fresh from a night of sleep, Lynne was up early and planning our day’s schedule to a level envied by drill sergeants. Salt-N-Pepa with DJ Spinderella were high on her list and performing relatively early in the day, so they kind of marked our arrival time. We also had to juggle the musical acts we wanted to see with the Humor Me tent reservations we had. I had booked tables for Finesse Mitchell from ‘SNL’ as well as Wanda Sykes, who we knew was going to be a huge draw.
Thank God the bands were starting on time, otherwise Lynne’s schedule would have descended into spaghetti.
Saturday was a day rife with nostalgia. Blondie (amazing, particularly considering her age), Blues Traveler and Live took me back to the days when I sang with a band and actually had miniskirts in my closet. Who can forget ‘Call Me’, ‘Hook’ and ‘Lightning Crashes’?
Sean Paul certainly had everyone moving to the beat, but Shaggy captured the audience’s heart – he seemed to be the real favourite after his energetic performance.
I confess that we didn’t bother to go up front for many acts that day, mainly because I was going into training in the bullpen to stand, dance, leap and scream for Duran Duran – the headlining act. Every woman my age has a soft spot for at least one of the members. My heart and wobbly bits have always belonged to John Taylor.
We had the chance to sit comfortably in some air-conditioning, thanks to our table for the comedy shows. Finesse Mitchell was hilarious. I could be biased because I know him a little bit, but take a look at his standup online and tell me if it’s not true.
Wanda Sykes was a powerhouse and quickly established herself as someone with whom no one should mess. She ejected a Trump supporter fairly early into her act. Personally, I thought it was a tad over-the-top to do so. I’m no fan of the tumbleweed Cheeto, but the audience member wasn’t being a menace.
That aside, Sykes was bitingly funny and certainly had the crowd in the palm of her hand. Hers was the most popular comic performance of the festival, which is probably why they had her officially close Humor Me.
Zedd’s performance was reminiscent of The Chainsmokers. The DJ, music producer and multi-instrumentalist set the night alight with his show, making him a hard act to follow, even for the boys from Britain. In fact, a number of people felt he should have closed KAABOO over Duran Duran. Gasp! Sacrilege!
It was finally time to gather and celebrate Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor and … John Taylor! Le Bon was in fine fettle and very confident on the microphone. Poor Andy Taylor was completely masked by the drums and Nick Rhodes had a puss on him like someone had stolen his dolly, but John, Johnny, John-boy – he was there in all his magnificence, sporting the kind of megawatt smile that can usually only be bought with good money.
Through the nice long set the band played a mix of their classic hits and some new songs from their 2015 album ‘Paper Gods’. Everyone was singing along with gusto, and those in our section weren’t quite so understanding as they had been about other bands when some tried to jockey for a better position and vantage point. Lynne is like a cat for wriggling into small spaces, so she managed to make it to the front barrier. I stayed behind and jumped like a pogo stick at intervals.
Despite our love for Duran Duran, we again decided to make an early break for it. With those sweet harmonies ringing through the night behind us, we made our way to the shuttle pickup point. Would there be one there? Well, clearly someone had stepped up to the plate somewhere, as within moments a pair of headlights were coming up the drive, ready to get us. Hallelujah!
Just as on the first night, the valet attendants were very impressive – getting the car in no time at all. Before we knew it, we were on the road heading home.
Pros of second day: Chair massage in the Royal Palm area, reliable shuttle service, Duran Duran!
Cons of second day: What the heck with the phone service?, some pretty muddy areas, the end of KAABOO Cayman for this year.
I have to say that KAABOO completely exceeded my expectations. These days, when I drive past the site, I remember wistfully those 48 hours of entertainment. Before the first day, I figured this would probably be my only kick at the can. I would give it a try and tick it off the bucket list.
Ha! The moment those pre-sale tickets became available, I was on the site buying passes like a woman possessed. I was so eager, it wouldn’t surprise me if I was half the reason the whole thing crashed.
Long story short, I have officially drunk the KAABOO Kool-Aid and I am in it for the long haul. Maybe I’ll even audition one of these years. Time to get the guitar out of the crawlspace.