Great Fete Weekend is a five-night party on Pigeon Point Beach in Tobago Dubbed 'the Caribbean's Spring Break' because of its reputation as a no-holds-barred extended weekend of work-free debauchery â€” similar to Spring Break in the US, Great-Fete is dwarfed by Trinidad's world-famous Carnival celebrations in February-March.
The Fete showcases the best of Caribbean music, with artistes over the years ranging from soca stars Bunji Garlin, KMC and Superblue; to rapso group 3 Canal, chutney singer Hunter and dancehall artiste Mr. Vegas.
Founder, Kevan GibbsGibbs says "We never say who's performingâ€¦ so at anytime, anyone can run on stage," he explains.
This element of surprise has worked well, amplifying the mysterious magnetic pull to the Caribbean melting pot of music and people shaking and grinding to whichever beat comes on.
Great-Fete is the brainchild and baby of Gibbs, a graphic artist, seasoned partygoer and Founder of Sandbox Entertainment.
He established the Fete as one of the various parties that complemented the annual 84-mile powerboat Great Race from the Yacht Club in Trinidad's Gulf of Paria to Store Bay in Tobago. Great Fete soon grew in size and splendor â€” so much that when Great Race moved to late August, the Fete retained its foothold on the first weekend of the month. It now draws in crowds four times larger than the Race.
The kernel of an idea for the Fete began with the beach.
Pigeon Point Beach was well-known as the location of the best post-Race party, until in 1998 its management stopped renting it out, forcing parties to move to Canoe Bay â€” a disjunction if ever there was one, in Gibbs' opinion.
He convinced them to change their mind, promising to throw the 'wickedest Great Race Party ever' at Pigeon Point Beach the following year.
Great Fete Weekend: the birth
When August 1999 rolled around, Great Fete Weekend was born. Then, it only lasted from Friday to Sunday.
In its second year, Thursday was added to the lineup, with skepticism from Gibbs' sponsor, who insisted that no one would party for more than three days in a row.
"We made a dealâ€¦ if it worked, she would double the sponsorship. On the night of the party, she sheepishly said, 'Soâ€¦ I guess I have money for you'," laughs Gibbs.
The 'longest weekend in the world', as it is advertised, now begins with 'Welcome Wednesday': free drinks all night, followed by 'Retro-Active Thursday' when DJs 'take you back to school' with songs that are five to ten years old â€” barely 'retro' but seemingly ancient to the young crowd.
Next in the lineup is 'Fantastic Cooler Fete Friday' when everyone brings a cooler with their own drinks, followed by 'Wet Fete Saturday'.
"I named it 'Wet Fete' just because of the beach," recalls Gibbs. "Then on the day, my friends said 'Hey let's get a water truck' and I replied 'Yuh mad?!'â€¦ Later that night a big water truck pulled up, and they tried to slip it inside behind my back. But then the water hit and people went crazy. We were onto something."
Wet Fete is by far the most popular of the five nights, with last year's estimates at 8000 patrons compared to Wednesday's and Thursday's 1500 each, Friday's 5000 and Sunday's 1000 patrons.
The Weekend culminates in Insomniac Soca Sunday, which finishes around noon on Monday, when a cash prize of $10,000TT(Â£1,100) is awarded to the 'last crew standing' who attended all the events and still finds energy to jump through whatever hoops the DJ proposes, such as aerobics or running back and forth into the ocean.
'A rite of passage'
Blossoming from a little beach party into the spectacular event it is today, Great Fete continues to grow in size. However its significance is not universal.
Whether a one-time hurrah or a hearty mainstay, Great Fete is an experience to remember. As Gibbs states: "It is really more of a rite of passage than a party."
Currently priced at $400TT(Â£45) for a season pass to all five nights, the price escalates to $600TT(Â£70) closer to the event â€” so it is wise to book tickets long in advance. The same goes for accommodation; with an average of 17,000 partygoers flooding the tiny island, hotels and villas book up rapidly. Also, traffic jams are often the reason for missing the party altogether, so it is best to find a hotel or guesthouse within walking distance of Pigeon Point Beach, and ensure that there is an air-conditoning unit in the room â€” the sweltering Caribbean heat is sometimes too much for even the locals to handle.
Great Fete Weekend is a huge annual beach party at Store Bay, Pigeon Point Beach Resort and Mount Irvine Beach Resort. Top DJs as well as soca and rock.