I wasn't too stoked when I was first asked to cover a jerk festival. It wasn't that I'm not into jerking it—who doesn't love to asphyxiate their David Carradine every now and again? I just felt gypped because VICE sends writers to all kinds of awesome NSFW places like porn award shows with half-naked women who are famous for boning and Kern photo shoots where hipster girls have really hard nipples. How'd I get stuck dodging splooge showers on a summer afternoon? Then I realized said jerk festival wasn't explicitly about rubbing one out—I was being tasked with attending the scrumptious 2012 Jamaican Jerk Festival with Rasta-reggae dudes and funky food deep ("deep" is a term white New Yorkers use that loosely translates to "that place is hood as fuck") in Queens at Roy Wilkins Park.
I was really excited because I love all black people across the diaspora, but I honestly know nothing about my Jamaican brothers and sisters. I was raised in Ohio, where the closest person I knew to a Jamaican was this Jewish dude with dreads who lived in his parents' house down the street, burned a lot of incense, and bumped Matisyahu every day. So, I saw this event as an opportunity to really bring out my rude boy side and learn something new about my people. I also dragged my editor Kelly McClure along with me with the promise that there would be some good masturbation jokes along the way and we would eat ourselves into a Terri Schiavo-style food coma.
When I first arrived at the event, I remembered the one thing that my mother told me about Jamaicans. "Watch them," she said, "They all carry big ass knives." That statement would be vaguely racist if she wasn't black. Or maybe it is still racist, no matter who says it? I'm not sure. That discussion is too deep for this post. All I know is that they were definitely patting people down at the entrance, which freaked me out because I never leave home without some heat... Just kidding. Firearms definitely bring out the bitch in me. So, I was pretty happy to see the security.
Grace was the big sponsor of the event, apparently. Their name was everywhere. I guess Grace makes jerk sauce... haha. JERK SAUCE.
The first order of business at the event was to eat some food and luckily we had a pocket full of "stinkies" (which is what I like to call VICE money). I picked Little's Jerk Center's stand because I can sympathize with the sentiment in their name. These people jerk everything. They jerk chicken, fish, shrimp, pork, you name it. Jamaicans use jerk sauce on their food like white people use mayonaise.
I got the jerk pork because I'm in love with swine. My affinity for oinkers is one of the primary reasons why I've never fallen into some of the more psycho obscure black people religions like Rastafarianism and the Nation of Islam. Before I became super cynical, I was a really really militant Huey from the Boondocks kind of dude. But I just couldn't give up the pig for the cause. Than I became a journalist, which sort of kills all of your idealism. Now I am jaded, suspicious of everyone, and totally disillusioned by all forms of religious, social, or political organizations—which made me a perfect fit at VICE and allows me to eat whatever I want.
Well, you can't eat all that filthy animal flesh without a drink. We needed to wash our grub down with a tasty beverage. We had our eyes on these huge lemonades people were walking around with. They were basically tupperware containers that the dude above would cut a big hole in with a big ass knife (see, my mom was right) so you could squeeze a straw into it. This was like the most hood lemonade I had ever seen, but it was also THE MOST REFRESHING DRINK EVER.
Behold the Great Lemonade! I had to pee like crazy after sucking down all of this Caribbean sugar water. It was really good, but I was a little dissapointed that wasn't jerked like everything else.
Then we had some churros. I don't think churros are a Jamaican food, but fuck it. They're amazing. And they were actually warm, which is way better than the cold ones the old Latino lady with scabies passes out on the subway platform.
This guy is Serge Becker. He is the founder of Miss Lilly's, a really really dope restaurant, record store, juice bar, and radio station in Manhattan that specializes in reggae and Jamaican culture. I was told it's Jay-Z's favorite restuarant in the city, but I was asked not to publish that little fact because it would blow up Hova's spot. Oh well, Serge should have given me some free shit to keep my mouth shut.
This is Rokaya Mobley and Charlotte Judd. Rokaya is from Guyana and Charolette is from the USA. They both love to jerk. Rokaya explained to me that, "It’s just seasoning, Cajun peppers, and onions and all that stuff. It’s so good. But I don’t know why."
I asked Rokaya where a brother could go to get jerked or at least do some jerking at the Jerk Festival and she said, "There are too many people around now! Wait until night comes." Then Charlotte chimed in, "When the sun goes down and the children go home, that's when the jerking begins."
That actually sounds kind of terrifying to me. Imagine a big dark field where hundreds of middle-aged people are slapping their dicks around. Creepy!
This is Neil Robertson. He pretty much masterminded this festival and is a really big deal in the music business. I had a pretty long conversation with him about the festival and a bunch of other random stuff. Most of which wouldn't be very interesting to you. Here is the good stuff:
VICE: What's the purpose of this festival?
Neil Robertson: The concept that we came up with for this festival is all about representing Jamaican culture. So we lead with food. When everyone thinks of Jamaica they think of music or that we have the fastest man in the world and the next fastest man, and the next fastest man. But our food has never really had its own light. But it's not just food, we have the art, the dancing, the storytelling. It's a first-class event.
I can tell. I'm stuffed. Where can I go jerk off? That's usually what I do after eating or sleeping, or walking, or sitting, or... you get the idea.
I see what you did there. Jerk. Clever.
Does that kind of thing keep coming up?
I almost lost my mind when a radio spot said, “Come get your jerk on.” I was like, “You guys are killing me. That’s not the image I wanted to create!” So I mean for those who need that, they either did it before they got here or they’ll do it when they go home.
I sure did and will.
After talking to Neil, I felt it was important to speak to some real Jamaicans and see if I was getting the true authentic experience. So, I bothered this beautiful couple, Donald and Ann. This was their second time attending the Jamaican Jerk Festival. I asked if it reminded them of back home and Ann said, "Eh, kind of." I asked Donald what he thought of the food and he looked at me like I had two heads. "Nah man, I don't eat meat! I'm just here for the music." When I asked if they put jerk sauce on their vegetables, they both laughed in my face again and said "Definitely not!"
Well so much for getting the authentic experience. At least I was enjoying the food. So, I decided to engorge myself once again and try out Miss Lily's. While I was waiting for my food, I got to watch Serge's incredibly cute daughter and friends jump up and down on this bench. I know it sounds lame, but it was really entertaining and made me feel like "a real human being"—cue Drive soundtrack.
Then it came. Possibly the best thing I've eaten all year, maybe the past two years. I haven't had anything this good since I had a home-cooked meal back in Cleveland, Ohio. It was so damn tasty, I wanted to find Serge and slap him. I'm not sure why I had that urge, but it was just the way I was feeling.
What was it? It was a jerk hotdog covered in some kind of crazy chipotle sauce drizzled with onions and peppers, squeezed inside of a cheddar cheesy bun.
I love Jamaica.
As I was stuffing my face, I noticed the girl next to us was doing a pretty provocative dance. (This is a good time to mention there was a lot of beautiful ladies at the Jerk Festival doing lots of great dances—I mean beautiful dark and light-skinned women wearing colorful clothes and shaking their very firm but sizable butts.) I asked her about shaking her booty. Apparently she was doing what is called the Azonto. The dance is "really big in Africa right now," which is an awesome thing to throw out at parties when people ask you what kinds of stuff you've been listening to lately.
The sun was beating on us pretty hard. So, we felt it was about time to leave. But we figured we'd have one more drink before we said goodbye to the Jerk Festival, and we wanted it to be super authentic. What's more Jamaican than a beverage with "Roots" in its name? I let Kelly be the guinea pig for this one. As good as the Jerk Fest had treated me foodwise, I didn't want to blow my lucky "this shit tastes incredible" streak.
Kelly knocked the Original Blend Roots Drink back, made a funny face, paused for a moment, and then said, "You know what, I kind of like it." So I gave it a go and "Bahhh!" Me and Kelly must have different tastebuds, because to me it really tasted like roots—dirt and roots and potato bugs and earth worms. Maybe Kelly has more Rasta rude-girl swag then me, because I had to buy a Coke.
And so our cultural journey ended, not with a bang or a "Bloodclot!" but the crisp pop of an aluminum Coca-Cola can. Thank you Jamaican Jerk Festival, we didn't get our rocks off, but we sure did eat a whole lot of free food.
And so began our second adventure of trying feebly for an hour to get a cab home, which we finally abandonned and decided to buy drinks from this pretty lady at the Jamaican bar across the street from the festival.