Fyre Festival and its tale of myriad problems has been recounted so often it's practically already folklore. To briefly recap: the "once-in-a-lifetime" April 2017 event spectacularly collapsed as airlines grounded and cancelled flights, headline acts pulled out and luxury necessities resembled little more than emergency relief supplies. A dazzling shitshow of our time.
In retrospect, Fyre Festival was doomed to collapse head over arse into the balmy waters of the Exumas. But what if it went ahead? A new festival called Tmrw.Tday, taking place in Jamaica a few weeks later, lightly mirrors what Ja Rule and his 25-year-old business partner could have achieved if their shit had been together. At least that's how it comes across in the festival's marketing, anyway.
Heat trails making their way across sun-kissed beaches, cool lagoons of blue water, the insignia of experiential dreams made real—these are the aesthetic details littered across Tmrw.Tday's Instagram page (see what I mean below, with your human eyes). Like Camp Wildfire or Banksy's Dismaland, Tmrw.Tday is part of a new breed of festival aiming to inject some life into the dire, repetitive festival landscape.
Because it's based in Jamaica, the line-up features the likes of Protoje and Toddla T (who is known for bringing Jamaican artists across the globe and onto his BBC Radio 1 show). And because the #trend is #hot #rightnow, there's also a heavy focus on wellness. All that will come later, though. For now, all you need to know is the crew asked Noisey if we would like to attend, and it was I who responded with uncharacteristic speed and enthusiasm, and so it was I who spent a few days in the Caribbean. Come now, live vicariously through me.
What is Jamaica like then, you lucky person?
Prior to travelling to this beautiful country you, like me, may be naive and uncultured enough to believe it embodies the following things: the blooming sadness of Mavado's "Delilah" and the many tear ducts it's shattered; lush bounties of organically grown weed; the unparalleled positivity and colourful energy of "Summertime" by the now incarcerated Vybz Kartel; bottles of Ting and plastic cups of rum punch; Beenie Man, rastafari, Bob Marley; chicken and rice and peas—and it is all of these things. But those are also the sticker stereotypes peeling off its hood, with the structural components underneath running infinitely deeper.
The first thing you notice when flying into the Caribbean is the land; the swirls of mildly differing blue hues of the ocean merge by the shore like a marbleized portrait, topped with wisps of cloud leading to green mountains. Make no mistake about it: this land mass is nature on the prettiest of steroids. Despite the tropical storm kicking its way across the island when I arrive—bringing with it rain on rain beneath rain; shards of the stuff, toppling toward the ground and washing it anew—it's easy to see why Tmrw.Tday have chosen to host their festival here. It's beautiful.
As I ride a taxi toward the hotel, crabs stalk their way across the road—an island version of pheasants or fluffy wild rabbits. When I arrive however, things are a little different. I'm staying at Couples Swept Away (shout out to the boys in charge there, etc etc) which is kind of like semi-popular British sitcom Benidorm but with middle-aged women from Texas named things like Pearl in place of Johnny Vegas. The exact woman with this name tells me Swept Away is "the Ferrari of hotels", so there's the quote that needed to be put in this piece for them allowing me to stay.
The big question: is it easy to buy weed?
Yes, it is very easy to buy weed. One stop at the bar, tobacco in hand, innocuous question about being able to smoke outside and you're all set. Ever since the herb was decriminalised two years ago, it's everywhere, like it always has been, but now in a semi-legal way. In celebration of this I procure a joint, send my mind into a downward spiral, duly throw up my dinner and go to sleep. Tomorrow: the festival officially begins. First stop: a "cultural tour" of the island.
See, the Jamaican tourist department—who have been involved with the festival—are keen for the journalists to show a side of Jamaica that goes hand in hand with Tmrw.Tday's music and wellness program. To begin with we make a trip to an indigenous rasta village hidden away in Montego Bay. On the way to the destination, winding away through mountainous roads and past many an ad for grapefruit Ting, our driver tells us a story revolving around goats and three different pieces of information.
The three pieces of information:
1) "There are three passwords to Jamaica," says the driver, using the exact phrase "password." These are: "jah mon," used as "yes" or a placeholder; "irie," meaning nice vibes; and "no problem," because "no matter the task or how difficult it is, we say no problem. We don't see any problem, we just see a situation."
2) The main industries here are tourism, mining for aluminium and eight-foot tall sugar cane.
3) Ralph Lauren lives in a fucking huge villa in a cliff.
We get to the Rastafari village and it is a paradisiacal dream for anyone who enjoys the cultivation of plants. They grow all sorts of herbalised medicine here but since technology wasn't really allowed in the village the only one I remember is something called "the leaf of life," which cures respiratory conditions, which is apt. Once inside the village we encounter some leaders. After some brief introductions they would like to pass on a message.
The festival, they say, is not a part of Rasta culture. Though they are happy with it promoting ideas of wellness and bringing people together, they are not comfortable with being aligned to Tmrw.Tday's sponsors, drawing specific attention to Red Stripe (they don't go much deeper into this, other than mentioning it's a big business and they don't want to be associated with it). At this point one of the journalists I'm with, an American, says, in American, "I know what you're saying but respectfully without Red Stripe we wouldn't be here," to which the Rasta replies: "it doesn't matter to us if you're here, we're not in a rush." It's the perfect sign-off, on point in delivery and intention—which is one reason why I'm recounting the story but also, the main objective here is to respect the Rasta wishes. If we're going to talk about the festival, it seems important to respect their wishes. So there's that.
That said, we are here for the festival, so what's that about then?
This is what the festival is about.
Situated on a seven-mile stretch of beach in Negril, Tmrw.Tday aims to "enlighten people about what it means to live consciously and with love through wellness, music, gastronomy and alternative therapies." What this means for you and the journey we are on together is this: Protoje will play a huge set on a fuck-off and beautiful-looking beach (as will countless other Jamaican acts); famous nutritionists like David Wolfe are running wellness programs and cooking schools; and at some point I will take some shrooms. So to kick all that off… Protoje's set!
Taking place on the Saturday night, it seems as though half of Negril have made their way down here. And for good reason too. I could get all cliche about it but let's just give the one simple rundown: Protoje is an artist entering his prime. Lee Scratch Perry is in the crowd, hanging the fuck out with his unnaturally red haircut. Protoje is also supported by Runkus and Sevana, two other Jamaican artists. The next day I speak to Sevana, who gives me some greater insight into what Jamaica is about, why this festival is so important and more than a thing for east coast Floridians to dip into while eating their way through the all-inclusive bars at their respective hotels.
"The education around taking care of yourself—your mind, your body, your soul. All of that is just now starting to be a real life conversation in Jamaica," she says. "It's dope. Before, if you told someone you were depressed or anxious, it would be written off. Or you would hear 'he or she is probably depressed'. I'm grateful we're moving away from it. It's dope."
And it's this final part about Sevana mentions about developing a conversation that, when tied up with it's highlighting of Jamaican culture, makes Tmrw.Tday an important festival. It sits apart from UK wellness festivals as there's a cultural element to the health programs—which range from yoga and meditation to exercise—which is tied in neatly to music. As a country, Jamaica is one that's always promoted wellness of the spirit. Ital—meaning to eat organic and vegetarian food – is a huge part of culture here. As is the idea of giving blessings, giving thanks – always appreciating life. That said, it's worth remembering Tmrw.Tday doesn't have full buy-in from the local Rastas, for whom this is intrinsically part of their culture, making it seem a little shady. On the flipside however, local musicians seem to be happy.
Because I am a miserable little child who can't handle hotel-cooked food, intense sunshine and the knowledge I'm going to be flying home the next day, I miss out on the final closing party. Instead I take on the main sentiment of the festival and relax. I hear that it's good though; a screamer, a final ode to what has been a great weekend for both the local musicians and people here and those who are visiting.
Tmrw.Tday isn't anything like Fyre Festival, really. They simply look similar—and will likely bring in a similarly monied crowd due to the fact most people can't just up and travel to the Caribbean. As an appendage to a holiday however it is probably one of the most novel things to happen to the world festival scene; not in the sense it's a reggae festival, since these happen the world over, but with the idea Tmrw.Tday is both music festival, wellness program and tour guide, with the schedule allowing opportunity to go on several Tmrw.Tday-led excursions.
On the final day I sit on the beach and drink as much rum as I can so I can fall asleep on the flight. Listening to music, the standard drunken thoughts enter my mind: I want to be Pat Benatar; I want to be friends with Popcaan; I want to make music that sounds like the waves washing up in front of me. In fact, I want to do anything that doesn't sound like leaving this country. At the airport our flight is delayed. When it reopens, all the British ears prick up, conversation abruptly stops and heads are inquisitively turned in the way eager British travellers are wont to do when stranded in an airport for more than five minutes. Then I go home and write this shit up. Thank you Jamaica. Give blessings, give thanks; if you can visit this place then do go.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.
(All Photography by Russell Ward)