Behind the Scenes with Frank Mahoney

Keeping it real and keeping it local have been key to making the annual BVI Music Festival a success, says Festival organizer Frank Mahoney.  Now in its eighth year of production, and backed by the BVI Tourist Board under the Virgin Islands Party, this year’s Festival brings the event full circle from its origins, with the Government elect being the original backers of the Festival in their first term.

According to Mahoney, the beach at Cane Garden Bay is not just a venue for the event but also “the disarmer of events.  You won’t get the opportunity to put on your Gucci suit and boots and be standing around showing your wares.  It’s hot!  You need sandals or flops, shorts and tee, a cold beer and a chicken wing to keep you going.  It’s for everyone and there is no status; music is a uniting force.”


The Festival has been strategically planned to take place over a late-May US holiday weekend, overshadowing other events happening at the same time.  The organizers, a team of six, are well aware of the 150,000 people in St. Thomas and four million in Puerto Rico who might wish to take advantage of the holiday to attend.  Frank also celebrates the weekend’s other events, Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta and the Poker Run, noting that “there’s something for everyone over this weekend.”

And the choices this year are vast.  Friday, a traditional jump-up Calypso carries festival goers into Saturday’s Rock and Reggae, which flows nicely into Sunday’s laid-back closing featuring R&B, Jazz and fungi fusion.  This year’s names include international headliners Damien Marley and En Vogue, as well as Jeffrey Osborne, but Frank notes, “It’s not easy. Some of the big names we want have passed away, getting reggae legends these days is hard, and some of the other bands we want are charging up to US$250.000 per performance.  It’s all about funding. Back in the day, the only international people you could book who had publicity and performed in the islands were Country and Western stars, but the people took to them and West Indians know Country-Western well.”  These days, the Internet is the fast-track to getting musicians noticed and the publicity machine behind new stars is vast and aggressive.  As a consequence, a lot of these artists are constantly booked.  Each year though, Frank manages to land some of the big fishes.

Funding, sadly, is the biggest obstacle.  Historically, stage production has been done locally and whilst there are ticket sales, the beach and day concerts are free.  Access to the shore or parking your yacht off the bay is also free.  Villas and hotels are fully booked through the event, which is a big draw that pumps a lot of revenue into the local economy.  The festival, however, relies on sponsorship and funding, with the BVI Government constituting its biggest ally.  Parking, always an issue in the past, has been vastly improved by the help of the police force, while the Government’s Waste Department tackles the never-ending issue of trash.  Should there be noise, well… the residents of Cane Garden Bay are not being punished—it’s a three-day delight of music in the trade winds, and it only comes around once a year, after all.

Our July issue will feature articles that include festival artists providing their input on the event.  The pleasure will be all ours!