The Caribbean Food and Music Festival returns on June 11. Here’s what you need to know


The countdown is on for the return of the Caribbean Food and Music Festival. After two years of virtual celebrations, the Central Alabama Caribbean American Organization (CACAO) will relaunch its highly anticipated celebration of Caribbean cuisine, music and culture on June 11 in Bessemer.

The celebration will begin at 11:00 a.m. The parade will start at noon at the historic railway museum in Bessemer and end at DeBardeleben Park.

“This year’s theme is ‘Rise of the Phoenix’, a symbolic theme celebrating our rebirth after the very long dark night of Covid and it’s something our audience can certainly relate to,” said Gina Sealy, vice-president of CACAO, in a press release.

This year’s parade will feature special guest performers, including a Junkanoo band from the Bahamas, representatives from the World Games and participants from Alabama and Georgia. Actor and dancer Ulato Sam, will reprise his role as emcee and will be joined by radio host Mr. Wayne Hall from Atlanta. The festival village will feature a number of vendors and performances including Atlanta’s Revolution Band as well as the Pansonic Steel Band. Members of the World Games team, including mascots Vesta and Vulcan, will also participate in the parade and festival.

(Courtesy of American Caribbean Association of Central Alabama)

Pauline Ford-Caesar, the president of CACAO, says the organization had received many calls asking when the festival would return.

“We are more than happy to finally grant their wishes!” Caesar said in the same press release.

AL.com caught up with Caesar to talk about this year’s festivities. Here’s an edited version of our conversation below.

AL.COM: So first let me ask you. Are you delighted with the return of the festival?

Pauline Ford-Caesar: Yes ma’am. I have no choice because the buzz is out there and I’m so thrilled.

AL.COM: Tell me, how has CACAO gone over the past two years?

We actually did two live-streamed festivals. And that’s kind of what we did. And basically we stayed in touch with people through the mailing list and Facebook, of course. Post lots of things on Facebook. And it was just a matter of staying in touch with people who are interested in the organization and what we do. This is how we spent (our time). Of course, that wasn’t ideal. The ideal is face to face and in person. But (although) the two livestreamed festivals and definitely Facebook are how we connected with people.

How long is the parade?

It’s really very short. It’s probably a half to three-quarters of a mile. It’s not very long. But it’s everything in it that makes it fun.

What’s in it? So, for someone who has never been to the festival, what should they expect from the parade?

Definitely the ladies in costume. Certainly, certainly the ladies in costume. And then there’s Alison Foy. Alison is probably the best stilt walker you will ever see. She’s a performer on stilts. She comes from Atlanta to participate in the parade with us. And if all goes well, we should have a junkanoo band straight from the Bahamas.

Tell me about the food. What can people expect? For example, I actually had a Haitian griot for the first time in 2019 at the festival. There was a salesman from Huntsville who came.

We will of course have plenty of Caribbean food, including a woman named Beverly Samuels, who drives all the way from Atlanta with a 30ft trailer. And we’ll have Cuban food from Nuri Prieto. And of course, a lot of people do American food. My husband is addicted to smoked turkey thighs so we will be eating lots of philly cheese steaks, smoked turkey thighs and chicken wings. We have a variety of dishes for people to choose from. And of course I have to mention John Rosales. He makes non-alcoholic pina coladas. And John has been with me for probably eight out of nine years.

The festival is still free this year, isn’t it?

It’s always a free festival. This will be the last year that it will be free. The goal is to expand next year and start bringing in artists. And if we do, we’ll have to find a way to raise revenue to cover the costs. But we use the Birmingham Stallions model. Where they only charge $10 for adults. Because we really don’t want to lose our customers. We want to make it a fun event for them and we don’t want it to be so expensive that they can’t afford it.

This will be our ninth festival and we have never charged. And even with charging, there are things we’ll need to consider. The park should be closed. It’s a load. I would really like to find a major sponsor to do a scene. And of course, that’s going to be another filler. And bringing in an artist will be another charger. So we will definitely need the help of the community to achieve this. It’s a reciprocal thing. We don’t set it so expensive that they can’t afford it, and with their support we can take the festival to the next level.

Take me all day. For people who want to attend the festival from start to finish, what should they know?

The festival starts at 11 a.m. And of course it starts with music. We have the steel band playing. I think it starts at 11. There is a steel band of 15 musicians. Now the parade starts at noon in a different location. Even though the parade starts at a different location, it will end in the park. So, I hope people will go see the parade and then follow it in the park.

When they get to the park, that’s when the real party begins. Thus, the parade begins at the Bessemer Historical Museum and at the old railway museum. It starts there and then ends in the DeBardeleben park.

You have to go see the parade. In addition to the dancers and the junkanoo group, we have the vintage cars. Three consuls general from the Caribbean — one from Jamaica and two from the Bahamas — will participate in the parade. So we have VIPs. The mayor of Bessemer will be on parade. And Imani Marley, Bob Marley’s daughter, will be on the parade.

Consuls General – the one for Jamaica is based in Miami. Both from the Bahamas, one is based in Atlanta and the other is based in New York.

How many countries will be highlighted?

We will have 16 flags, including the American flag. This is the host country, so we start with the host country flag. All Caribbean countries will have their host flag represented.

Side parking, if you want to follow the festival, where to park? It seems that the parade and the festival are all within walking distance.

He is. That’s the great thing about Bessemer. All streets around the park will be closed. Because the park is just a square in the middle of the city. People can park anywhere and everything is nearby.

What advice would you give to people attending the festival this year?

I would say rest Friday night and wear comfortable shoes. Because you are going to dance!

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