The Maple Ridge Caribbean Festival has outgrown its original purpose.
The festival started 16 years ago as an effort by merchants to save a dying downtown. It has since outgrown its street party origins and moved to the Albion Fairgrounds for the first time last summer. And while it remains one of the city’s premier events, business leaders say a new summertime festival is needed downtown to replace it.
“It was a big loss to the downtown – it was sad to see,” said Ineke Boekhorst, of the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.
Bob Marley’s music and jerk chicken were a hit, and the event had been drawing 15,000 visitors to the area over two days.
She was one of the founders of the event, which started out of a need to revive a downtown core that was full of struggling businesses. Memorial Peace Park was under construction, and the impression in general was not welcoming.
“It was dying. It was terrible,” Boekhorst said. “So a new street festival was awesome.”
Despite her misgivings about the festival, which she worked on for 14 years, leaving her BIA jurisdiction, Boekhorst understood it had outgrown its 224th Street location.
“It was impossible to keep it downtown, because of the growth of the farmer’s market and the growth of the festival.”
Parking had become a problem for organizers, and the move to the Albion Fairgrounds eliminated that concern.
Lino Siracusa, the city manager of economic development, said a new summer festival must be volunteer driven, with the city in a supporting role.
“We need community groups to step forward,” he said.
“A festival does a lot for the town – it gets people out and walking downtown, and seeing things they haven’t seen before, and visiting businesses they haven’t been to before,” he said.
“It’s all about creating that vibe.”
Boekhorst said the events typically start small, and the best of them take off. For example, a belly dancing event happened for three years, then died away.
“It’s a lot of work to put together a festival,” she said.
With concerts in the park, Thursday night food trucks, the regular Haney Farmer’s Market and a coming Halloween event, Boekhorst said there is still a lot going on, and work is underway to create a more animated downtown.
And Siracusa said the Caribbean Festival is still bringing people to Maple Ridge.
“Having the festival in our community is still a benefit to the city.”
The 16th annual Caribbean Festival is coming up Saturday and Sunday, and the event organizer said the event continues to grow in its new location.
“Every year you have to make it fresh and exciting, or people’s interest goes,” said Deddy Geese.
The festival offers two large stages and continuous Island music will be provided by 15 live bands playing reggae, calypso, salsa and soca music.
There will be a variety of authentic Caribbean foods, from jerk chicken to curried goat, and up to 70 street vendors in an open air market selling clothes, souvenirs and other goods.
Saturday brings the Good Vibrations Summer Beach Party from 7:30 to 10 p.m., featuring the tribute band Mike Amaral’s California Beach Boy Experience from Santa Cruz.
“I’m creating a beach in front of the stage – doing a bit of more authentic California dreaming,” said Geese.
Sunday’s headliner will be Grupo Cubano Brisas Del Palmar, who Geese calls an “absolutely incredible” Cuban band.
Before each of the headliners will be a variety of acts, like the steel drums of Tropical Heat, ska band Los Furios, and the reggae of Mostly Marley.
There will also be a beach volleyball tournament – and there is still room for teams, and a car show on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Geese aims to make it a family event, and there is an expanded kid zone, this year featuring Rockin’ Robin and the Magical Tree – a participatory musical production.
The event runs on Saturday from 1-10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.
The only admission charge is a parking fee of $2 per vehicle.