It's not every day you wake up to the sound of waves crashing, tropical birds singing and your first thought is "holy sh*t, today I get to photograph Duran Duran." Yet that is precisely what happened at 5-oh-two a.m., in the dusky pre-dawn of KAABOO Day Two. Why I was awake at that time, I've no idea. Why Duran Duran were my first thought? ...also no idea. But I did have a formidable and very full day ahead of me, so I blundered into the fantastic little kitchen of our AirBnB condo to make coffee, then shuffled out past palms and tropical flowers to the rocky coral bluffs overshadowing turquoise-hued reefs. I sat and sipped my coffee, mulled over the magnificent scenery in front of me, wondering how I'd do it justice in a short blog post. I took a stroll along the bluff, stopping to collect pristine just-washed-up coral and to remove a rogue hermit crab from the sidewalk squish zone. Brain sufficiently jump-started and soul sea-spray refreshed, I headed back inside to start my day.
Day One was now behind us, and nothing short of a staggeringly positive formative KAABOO experience. I had high expectations going in, but KAABOO managed the unthinkable and they made it look too easy. It turns out it is indeed quite possible to flawlessly execute a full-scale music festival within the physical and logistical limitations of a Caribbean island. With a stunning lineup and happy crowds. Not only that but comedy, cuisine, luxury and art were involved. Complete with VIP offerings, a stunningly overwhelming beach setting (seriously, Seven Mile Beach is truly incredible...), a Richard Branson sighting here and there, a good sense of humor and a hearty serving of island rum. Music in paradise.
Morning caffeine junkie sated and hermit crabs safely relocated, I was all business; Day One images uploaded, posted a blog update, indulged in a waterfront breakfast and a quick swim, dressed in island-appropriate clothing consisting of more than just a bathing suit (but barely so). We made it to the festival grounds as Hirie came on stage. Order of business for Day Two? Soaking up the scene and photographing the music per usual, but also taking in the full spectrum of festival experiences that KAABOO's teams had so painstakingly compiled. What an incredible job they had done. Music under the palm trees, cocktails on the beach, sunshine, good friends, great food, hilarious comedy and larger-than-life art. The food, too, was top notch; conch ceviche, hearty burgers with candied bacon, crispy pork belly, flaky fish tacos, chocolate gelato made from scratch, fine wine, crisp craft beer and a shaded picnic table for your feast under a still-being-drawn mural.
It was a jovial atmosphere. A sufficiently varied lineup seems to have piqued the interest of many very different demographics; from teenage locals to international expats in their 60's and 70's. Since KAABOO mercifully lacks direct targeting to one genre or age group, the result is a pleasant blend of young and old. 90's rockers, 13-something Chainsmokers fans. The EDM players, loyal country music fans, the die-hard rock lovers, 80's pop fangirls or those who prefer mellow beach-ready reggae. A rainbow of attendees, a multitude of genres. At some festivals I struggle to get past the overwhelm of a dominant demographic. That crowd of 30,000-odd bros is sometimes a little hard to take. None of that at KAABOO, though, and I sincerely hope this is the case in all future festivals. It was charming and brought a new diverse sense of community.
Back to the music. Of which I couldn't pick a single favorite moment if you held me at gunpoint. We kicked off the day with Salt-N-Pepa, the sassy duo still very much in-your-face; truly an upbeat treat. I was surprised to learn that they've been at it for upward of 30 years, since they themselves don't look or dance past 30. Shaggy was our next indulgence. I'd forgotten how great he is - his boombastic set blew all expectations out of the water and had us all moving. Hit after hit, and I was unexpectedly riveted from start to finish. His music, the swagger, his incredible voice. I didn't realize I loved Shaggy so much. Live and learn.
KAABOO for bringing this chart-topping 90's powerhouse to the Caribbean. I fall in love all over again with Ed's impeccable vocals and adorable white-boy dance moves. And the twin in-sync drummers, oh those drummers, elevating the set to a whole new 90's-rock-geek level. I watch their whole set, and then I once again almost miss the next set. I blast over to catch Sean Paul, who brings us back to island flavor and upbeat hip-hop chill, and who has (thankfully) lost those early-00's braided cornrows long ago.
We flip the genre coin again and land on EDM, this time of a spectacular sort. Zedd takes us to electronic transcendence on the Ironshore stage with his diverse, grammy-winning set. Each time I see Zedd live, I am reminded that this guy is in fact a musical genius (he's actually classically trained) and a gifted performer to boot. One man, on a huge stage all alone; he elevates a crowd of thousands with irresistible beats and spectacular light, fireworks and lasers - did anyone catch those mind-boggling blue wave lasers? Yowza! The spectacle is surpassed only by the fun of photographing his set this time with a brand new technique. More to come soon. Though not my genre of choice, Zedd's set was easily in my top 3.
Again, I tore myself away from Zedd to catch the opening of Jason Derulo's set on the Coral Reef stage. Thank goodness these stages weren't massively far apart. Catchy beats, irresistible moves and a team of incredible dancers made this one a can't-miss set. Derulo kept the ladies screaming and moving. Some of them in hysteric tears. I couldn't keep still with Want to Want Me, Trumpets or In My Head. Then Marry Me hits you satisfyingly, squarely in the feels. The only thing prettier than Jason Derulo's dance moves is, well, Jason Derulo. Yup, girl crush in full force.
Finally it was time for our 80's superstar headliners, Duran Duran. What an incredible, intense moment seeing them come on stage. I've been a fan for years and yet somehow this was my first time seeing them live. We all know how legendary Duran Duran is, so I won't bore you with those details. All I can say is an emphatic "thank you" to KAABOO for wrapping our 2019 Caribbean festival experience with the pinnacle of such an unforgettable headliner. Also, I snapped some great photos. Happy music nerd, very happy photographer.
I can't believe it, but we're through with KAABOO 2019 already. Phenomenal. Exquisite. Uplifting. Incredibly wonderful. What made this experience most notable was the flawless execution of a seamless festival experience despite logistical challenges. We won't get into the obvious comparison here. The island's infrastructure held up seamlessly with guests finding the arrival and attendee experience nothing short of perfect, and their greater island trip? Exceptional. KAABOO kept their promise of a better festival experience; great music, incredible art, tempting food and an exceptional setting. There were great places to relax and lots of shade. I even managed an escape between sets to visit dayclub BASK, and then sat on the beach at sunset in a hammock. I don't think I could pick a favorite artist or moment if it were do-or-die. KAABOO Cayman is quite honestly one of the best festivals I have attended; both in lineup, organization and atmosphere. I was so sad to leave, but I am beyond excited to learn what's in store for next year. Thank you, KAABOO.