WILKES-BARRE — Music-loving residents came out in droves to Kirby Park on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the first-ever Reggae in the Park festival.
The event organized by Hartman Jerk Center owner Carleen Hartman has been a year in the making.
“Last year we participated in the Multicultural Festival,” Hartman said. “Because the Multicultural Festival was moved to September in Kirby Park (this year), I decided to have a festival celebrating Caribbean culture.”
Hartman relocated from St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica, to Wilkes-Barre in search of the American dream.
“When we first moved to Wilkes-Barre, the area had nothing to offer for my culture,” Hartman said. “If I never opened my business, I would have never known the Caribbean population in the area.”
Hartman also drew inspiration for the Reggae Fest after she saw over 400 people turn out for her restaurant’s one-year anniversary in early April.
“The Caribbean population in Northeastern Pennsylvania certainly influenced this event,” she said. “It’s been a lot of work and running around, but reggae is in my blood.”
One of the traditions Hartman hopes to establish at future festivals is a friendly competition known as Dueling DJs.
“A lot of people will be up dancing. It might look like an exercise class,” Hartman laughed. “The DJs will go song for song against one another but it will get the people energized.”
She continued: “The Caribbean culture focuses on being happy. I want everyone involved, even the pets, to enjoy themselves.”
Festival-goers were treated to food from the Hartman Jerk Center and music from three local DJs popular in the Caribbean community. They also had the opportunity to meet other people.
“I heard about this event from my friend on Facebook,” said Tiahgee Daughtry, 29, of Tunkhannock. “I hope to meet some more today.”
According to Daughtry: “People, food, music and a beautiful sunny day are the staples of having a good time.”
Daughtry attended the festival with no expectations.
“Besides meeting new people, I came to feel the light, love and experience the different culture,” he said. “Reggae music is also a really cool experience.”
He brought an instrument with him, the didgeridoo.
Daughtry described the didgeridoo as a wooden trumpet or pipe. It can come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from 3 to 10 feet tall.
The didgeridoo was developed by indigenous Australians. To play it, you have to know about circular breathing.
“You can never truly master the didgeridoo,” Daughtry explained. “It is a technique you have to learn.”
He continued: “I use the didgeridoo to make myself happy but I also use it for healing.”
There may be some truth to the healing aspect of playing the didgeridoo.
A 2005 study by the British Medical Journal found that learning and practicing the didgeridoo helped reduce snoring and obstructive sleep apnea by strengthening muscles in the upper airway.
“I just love music,” said Daughtry. “And music loves me.”
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes