“Listen, Baz,” veteran reggae radio host Pat McKay of Sirius XM Radio SIRI +0.38% said suddenly to me, in hushed tones. We were in Jamaica, taking in incredible performances at Reggae Sumfest, the Caribbean’s largest reggae fest. Pat looked around furtively, lowering her voice to a whisper.
“You need to know about Moonsplash, in Anguilla. Go. But whatever you do: Do Not. Tell. People. About it.”
I heeded her words—she’s a reggae guru, after all. And ten years later, I’m proud to say that I’ve barely missed a Moonsplash. But I hope Pat will forgive me for violating her other command and letting the cat out of the bag in the name of my worthy readership. Here’s why Moonsplash—which kicks off its 26thincarnation tonight on the tiny-yet-tony British Caribbean island of Anguilla—is one of the Caribbean music scene’s best-kept secrets.
THE DUNE Never mind a stadium. Moonsplash lands at The Dune Preserve, which might as well be a country-within-a-country: a cavernous bar and venue crafted from driftwood, carved so closely from the beachfront setting that it seems to have sprung up naturally, like shrubbery. During Moonsplash, the place has the feel of a Caribbean commune, chock-a-block with sundry folk. Onetime hippies wearing tie-dye are aplenty, along with Rastafarian locals and shorts-and-cap-wearing American tourists. No one ever seems to go home; at all hours, The Dune is Moonsplash central. You’re likely to run right into the festival headliners, sipping Red Stripe beers on the beach alongside the rest of us.
Bankie Bank Performing at Moonsplash (PHOTO: Anguilla Tourist Board, William Boyd)
THE LINEUP It’s a small festival with big names. Local artists from Anguilla and neighboring St. Maarten perform under a full moon—this year I’m excited about Dominica-born, Anguilla-based band True Intentions—but so do blockbuster reggae acts from Jamaica. Over the years I’ve seen some of my favorite artists, from Gregory Isaacs to Buju Banton and Toots & The Maytals, deliver stellar sets in a space so intimate, you never have to fight your way to the front of the stage. That stage, by the way, is made from an old racing boat, painted in vibrant Rastafarian colors.
BANKIE AND OMARI BANKS Moonsplash’s cowboy-hat-wearing founder Bankie Banks is a legend in his own right: a singer-songwriter who’s something of a cross between Bob Marley and Bob Dylan. He takes the stage for an unforgettable set every year, but he’s also passed the torch to his son, Omari Banks. With his dashing good looks, potent stage presence and impressive singer-songwriter skills, the younger Banks is well poised to carry on his father’s legacy and take Anguillan reggae international.
VICEROY ANGUILLA Anguilla is a mere 35 square miles. But you’ll marvel at all the luxury packed into those miles. Recent hotel debuts include storied Malliouhana, reopened after a three-year overhaul, and Zemi Beach Resort & Spa, an opulent 115-room resort. I hereby sing the praises of Viceroy Anguilla, which debuted in 2009 as a slice of South Beach in the Caribbean. The sleek rooms are nothing short of palatial. For days I ogle otherworldly sunsets from an infinity pool; I sip top-notch rum and smoke a Cuban cigar at the Sunset Lounge; I rest my weary, partied-out body at the hotel’s heavenly spa, where a Raindrop Harmony treatment merges essential oils, reflexology and massage to extract any remaining tensions from my body.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/anguilla
THE BEACH After the music and the rum and the party of the night before, Moonsplash serves up something glorious: the beach. The island’s 33 beaches personify every island-lovers fantasy, with sand that’s absurdly plush and water so unrealistically blue. Most famous of Anguilla’s beaches is Shoal Bay East, a two-mile stretch of flawlessness crowned by “the point,” where the beach curves in the middle and you’ll wonder why you ever planned to go home.
Baz Dreisinger , CONTRIBUTOR
I am: writer, globetrotter, professor, culture-hound. Born and raised in New York City, with one foot fixed in the Caribbean, I have written about travel, the arts and identity politics for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and many more; I produce on-air segments about global music and culture for National Public Radio (NPR). I am ceaselessly curious, fearless in my journeys, relentlessly ravenous to see and learn more. My global routes marry luxury with local, which is the essence of this travel blog: Welcome to a place where wanderlust meets culture-lust, where otherworldly high-end meets rootsy down-home.