The Caribbean Food and Music Festival returns on June 11. Here’s what to know – AL.com

After a two-year hiatus, the Caribbean Food and Music Festival will return to its in person festival in Bessemer (Photo: Courtesy, Central Alabama Caribbean American Organization)
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 food, music, and culture on June 11 in Bessemer.
The celebration kicks off at 11:00 a.m. The parade will start at noon at the Bessemer Historic Railway Museum and end at DeBardeleben Park.
“This year’s theme is ‘The Rise of the Phoenix’ a symbolic theme celebrating our rebirth after the very long dark night of Covid and is something our audience can certainly relate to,” said Gina Sealy, CACAO Vice President, in a press release.
This year’s parade will include special guest performers including a Junkanoo band from the Bahamas, representatives from the World Games, and participants from both Alabama and Georgia. Actor and dancer Ulato Sam, will return to his role as the master of ceremonies and will be joined by radio host Mr. Wayne Hall from Atlanta. The festival village will feature a number of vendors, and performances, including Revolution Band from Atlanta as well as Pansonic Steel Band. Team members from The World Games, including mascots Vesta and Vulcan, will also participate in the parade and the festival.
(Courtesy, Central Alabama Caribbean American Association)
Pauline Ford-Caesar, the president of CACAO, says the organization had received numerous 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 of all, let me ask. Are you excited about the return of the festival?
PAULINE FORD- CAESAR: Yes ma’am. I don’t have a choice because the buzz is out there and I’m so thrilled.
AL.COM: Tell me, how has CACAO spent the last couple of years?
We actually did two live-streamed festivals. And that’s kind of what we did. And basically we just kind of stayed in touch with people through the email list and Facebook, of course. Posting lots of stuff on Facebook. And it was just a matter of staying connected with people who are interested in the organization and what we’re doing. That’s how we spent (our time). Of course, it was not ideal. The ideal thing is face to face and in person. But (though) the two live streamed festivals and definitely Facebook is how we connected with people.
How long is the parade?
It’s really very short. It’s probably half to three quarters of a mile. It’s not very long. But it’s everything that’s packed into it that makes it fun.
What’s packed into it? So, for someone who has never been to the festival, what should they expect from the parade?
Definitely the ladies in costume. Definitely, definitely the ladies in costume. And then there is Alison Foy. Alison is a stilt walker who is probably the best you will ever see. She’s a performer on the stilts. She’s coming down from Atlanta to be in the parade with us. And if all goes well, we should have a junkanoo band directly from the Bahamas.
Tell me about the food. What can people expect? For example, I actually had Haitian griot for the first time in 2019 at the festival . There was a vendor from Huntsville who came down.
We’re going to have lots of Caribbean food of course, including a woman named Beverly Samuels, who is driving all the way from Atlanta with a 30-foot trailer. And we’ll have some Cuban food from Nuri Prieto. And of course, lots of people are doing American food. My husband is addicted to smoked turkey legs, so we’re going to have a lot of philly cheesesteaks, smoked turkey legs, and chicken wings. We have a variety of food for people to choose from. And of course, I have to mention John Rosales. He does non-alcohol pina coladas. And John has been with me for probably eight of the nine years.
The festival is still free this year, correct?
It’s still a free festival. This will be the last year it is free. The goal is to take it bigger next year and start bringing in artists. And if we do, we’ll have to find a way to raise the revenue to cover the costs. But we’re using the Birmingham Stallions model. Where they only charge $10 for adults. Because we really don’t want to lose our patrons. We want to make it a fun event for them and we don’t want to make it so pricey that they can’t afford it.
This will be our ninth festival and we’ve never charged. And even with charging, there are things we will have to consider. We’d have to fence the park. That’s a charge. I really really would like to find a major sponsor to do a stage. And of course, that’s going to be another charge. And to bring an artist in, that will be another charger. So we’ll definitely need the help of the community to make this happen. It’s a reciprocal thing. We don’t price it so high they can’t afford it, and with their support, we’ll be able to take the festival to the next level.
Take me through the day. For people who want to attend the festival from start to finish, what should they know?
The festival starts at 11. And it starts of course with music. We have the steel band performing. I think he starts at 11. There’s a 15- piece steel band. Now, the parade starts at noon in a different location. Even though the parade is starting at a different location, it will end up in the park. So, my hope is that people will go see the parade and then follow it back down into the park.
When they get to the park, that’s where the real party starts. So, the parade starts at the Bessemer historic museum and the old railway museum. It starts there and then ends in DeBardeleben Park.
You’ve got to go see the parade. In addition to the dancers and the junkanoo band, we have the vintage cars. We’re going to have three Caribbean consuls general– one from Jamaica and two from the Bahamas– will be participating in the parade. So, we have some VIPS. The mayor of Bessemer will be in the parade. And Imani Marley, Bob Marley’s daughter, will be in the parade.
The consuls general- the one from Jamaica is based in Miami. The two from the Bahamas, one is based in Atlanta and the other is based in New York.
How many countries will be highlighted?
We’re going to have 16 flags, including the U.S. Flag. This is the host country, so we lead off with the host country’s flag. All of the Caribbean countries will have their host flag represented.
In terms of parking, if you want to follow the festival, where should you park? It seems like the parade and the festival are all within walking distance.
It is. That’s the great thing about Bessemer. All the streets around the park will be closed. Because the park is just a square in the middle of town. People can park anywhere and it’s all close.
What’s one piece of advice you have for people attending the festival this year?
I would say get some rest Friday night and wear comfortable shoes. Because you will be dancing!
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