Boarding a plane to an island adventure is one thing; knowing your Caribbean vacation includes the first annual KAABOO Cayman is quite another. Following four successful years in San Diego's luxurious Del Mar Fairgrounds, the KAABOO crew decided to branch out of their SoCal bubble, advertising sister festivals on Grand Cayman island and inside the Dallas Cowboys stadium for the months of February and May, respectively. The world is KAABOO's oyster and this rising A-list fest is far from settling down any time soon. Knowing KAABOO, with music a mere anecdote to the experience, a Grand Cayman location would be the ultimate festival-lover's getaway. Plus, Fyre Fest just so happened to start trending, so it was conveniently KAABOO's turn to show the world how it's done.
… it was confirmed that Year One had sold out with 10k in attendance!
Deboarding the plane in a welcoming 85-degree heat, festival attendees had the privilege of picking up their wristbands right there in the airport. I was lucky enough to travel with my best friend, whose boyfriend was performing that weekend. Hello, artist shuttle! Meeting members of another performing band heading to the hotel (and making lifelong friends as a result), we reached our home for the next seven nights. That's right, I planned an extended stay – because, why not?! Grand Cayman is unlike any other… the people are so helpful, generous, hospitable. Roosters littered the streets, so no need for an alarm clock in the morning. You were officially on island time, anyway.
Friday, February 15th was slightly overcast, but far from the tropical storm that thundered the days prior. KAABOO always seems to generate perfect weather. Before you reached the gate, it was confirmed that Year One had sold out with 10k in attendance! Considering there is 60k people on the whole island, that's quite an accomplishment. The day kicked off with local acts like Rico Rolando's smooth hip hop and Suckerbox's punk rock anthems. You could tell the latter was a rather popular local act, with beloved cheers reverberating the grounds in between every Suckerbox song. The enigmatic trancy vibes of Transviolet were up next, with lead singer Sarah bearing it all in a lacy bodysuit. Jumping and thrashing about the stage, Transviolet's theatrics ignited a fire for the assembled festivalgoers. The time had come to drop all pretenses and lighten up. Plus, it was nothing but big names from then on out! Magic! took to the side stage next, whipping front-row preteens into a frenzy. Seriously, those girls were screaming every lyric back at the players (namely, lead singer Nasri Atweh).
Jamaican legend Maxi Priest exploded onto the stage next, cordially coaxing the crowd to participate in the reggae party as it unfolded. And, speaking of party, Flo Rida popping bottles and busting out hit after Top 40 hit did the trick. Mid-set, Flo Rida demanded women AND men come dance onstage with him. The women obliged without second thought; the men… not so much. In fact, out of the five men brave enough to showcase their dance moves was Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson after arriving by private jet. Country girls Margo Price and Marren Morris started sing-alongs before “Summer Of '69” superstar Bryan Adams took the main stage by storm. All the while, SNL comedians Norm MacDonald, Darrell Hammond and Kevin Nealon held down the 'HUMOR ME' stage. I had time to catch some of Kevin Nealon and let's just say, the man has not lost his touch, #dying
Last up on the side stage (if you could even call it that, with a sea of people sardined together) was Counting Crows; there's something so inexiplicably reassuring to see that lead singer Adam Duritz's hair hasn't changed since 1992. Night One went out with a bang (literally) when The Chainsmoker boys lit up the night with incredible pyrotechnics. Fireworks, smoke pillars and sparklers galore… to say people had an epic night is an understatement. Richard Branson took to the stage a second time that night to introduce The Chainsmokers, stuffing a good 20 cigarettes in his mouth to do so. If you waited your entire life to sell a Richard Branson cigarette on eBay, you finally got your chance.
Day Two was extra special for some. Due to the unanticipated mid-week thunderstorms, the Thursday night VIP performance by KAABOO Del Mar fan favorite Stealing Oceans was rescheduled for an exclusive, intimate Saturday brunch. For those that splurged for additional access and amenities, you were able to catch Stealing Oceans stealing the show yet again in the 'BASK' area (you know… the bougey lounge area a few steps from the ocean). With boats floating a few feet away, Stealing Oceans delivered such a captivating performance, no one was left standing idle albeit it being 10:30am. It could've been 10:30pm… it wouldn't have mattered with this talented bunch of boys. One Stealing Oceans member even front-flipped from the stage, bass in hand! Leaving the Bask area absolutely melted from dance sweat, ecstatic chatter could be heard from everyone recapping what they had just witnessed as a large, single-file line formed to take pictures with the band. Got to get your autographs now before these guys start selling out arenas!
The best part was, there was still a whole day's lineup ahead! Romain Virgo got the reggae going right off the bat, followed by American reggae-rock goddess HIRIE on the side stage. The reggae didn't stop there either, with Top 40 heavy-hitters Shaggy and Sean Paul to come! Touching on 90s radio, Salt-n-Pepa came out (sans Spinderella) to slay the stage. After pushing “real good”, Blues Traveler entertained the masses with their signature harmonica-infused, blues-folk jam band ways. +Live+ came out to uproarious applause, even collabing with Blues Traveler lead singer John Popper for a track!
… KAABOO Cayman will remain as an untouchable high in my heart.
Blondie appeared still wearing her “STOP FUCKING THE PLANET” cape from her September performance in Del Mar (does she ever take that off??) before Zedd launched into the most intense, awe-inspiring light show you've ever seen. Around this time, as you watched silhouettes of women waving their arms high in the air as they sat on shoulders, soaking in the strobe lights and the booming bass, it hits you – you're in the Caribbean. You're watching Zedd. In the Caribbean. How could life get any better? Elated, Jason Derulo continued the pop show as comedian Wanda Sykes whipped people into stitches on the Humor Me stage. Let it be noted that Natasha Leggero and her husband tag-teaming the comedy performance earlier that day was an unexpected treat. Those two are inspiring as much as they are hilarious.
Like all great things, KAABOO Cayman 1 had to come to an end. Nobody wanted it, yet if it had to happen, closing down to Duran Duran was certainly how to do it. After 30 years, those Duran Duran post-punk pop stars still deliver. You barely had a moment to empty out into the slightly humid night before KAABOO Cayman announced on their social channels that the fest is set to return for 2020. Until next year, the tropical magic generated by KAABOO Cayman will remain as an untouchable high in my heart. Adrenaline rushes through my veins as I reminisce. KAABOO continues its ever-unfolding history with KAABOO Texas May 3rd-5th and KAABOO Del Mar September 13th-15th, so make sure to be a part of KAABOO 2019 wherever and whenever you can. Believe me, this is one festival that changes your life.
Photography by Kristy Rose