Great Fete: the longest weekend in the world

Tobago’s Great Fete Weekend started as just another party during Great Race. Now, as Nazma Muller discovers, the five–day event draws even more crowds

Welcome the sun. The Sunday Breakfast Party starts at midnight and goes well into the morning. Photograph by www.limingteam.com

The idea came to Kevan Gibbs in the wee hours of the morning as he and Chenier Belgrave were walking home after a Great Race party. It was 1998, and the Great Race, held on the first weekend in August, had seen powerboats racing from the northwestern peninsula of Trinidad to Store Bay in Tobago, followed by a massive beach party.

Over the years, however, the boat race had become marginal to the proceedings, and most young Trinis descended on Tobago mainly for the parties. The best one by far used to be held on the picturesque Pigeon Point Beach.

But that year the major parties had been forced to move from Pigeon Point to Canoe Bay, which just didn’t match up. A disgruntled Gibbs swore that the following year he would be throwing the wickedest Great Race fete ever on Pigeon Point.

“Something was missing from the parties,” the seasoned partygoer recalled. “I realised that the events were not themed. There was nothing to build on.”

But first, Gibbs had to convince the management of Pigeon Point that it was worth their while. He called the manager, who told him very firmly, “We no longer rent out Pigeon Point for parties.”

Gibbs persisted: “Can I at least take you to lunch, sir?”

The manager reluctantly agreed. It was 9 am. Gibbs put down the phone, drove to Piarco airport and jumped on a plane to Tobago. He made it to the meeting with time to spare.

Impressed by Gibbs’ persistence, the manager relented, and in 1999, Sandbox Entertainment threw its first Great Fete on Pigeon Point Beach. With founding members Gibbs, Belgrave and Dennis Tayé Allen (all graphic artists with links to the media) and popular DJ Signal to Noise (Joel Morris), Sandbox had the right skills, savvy and contacts to throw the wickedest parties—as Gibbs had promised.

The Great Fete Weekend, marketed as “the longest weekend in the world,” began with Welcome Wednesday (free drinks all night), followed by Retro Thursday (back-in-times music), Fire Friday, and Wet Fete Saturday, with the grand finale, Insomniac Soca Sunday, ending around noon on Monday. The team introduced back-in-times parties for youngsters, challenging various DJs to find tunes that were barely five to 10 years old, but seemingly ancient to the young crowd; water trucks to cool things down; and a prize of $10,000 (cash on the spot) to the “last crew standing”—any group of friends who had been partying for the entire “weekend” and still had the energy to do what the DJs ordered on Monday morning, such as aerobics or running into the sea and back. Last year, in addition to local soca stars, Sandbox brought in the Jamaican dancehall artiste of the moment, Mr Vegas, who was burning up the charts with his steamy Hot Wuk.

In nine years, the popularity of Great Fete Weekend has grown so much, it now draws crowds four times the size of that attending the Great Race, which has been moved to the end of August. Great Fete Weekend has kept its own dates and identity by remaining at the beginning of the month and is now seen as the Caribbean’s Spring Break, when Trinidadian students and other young people escape to Tobago for five nights of extreme partying.

Great Fete’s timing is impeccable: with not much else happening on the local scene, it’s a great boost for domestic tourism. Sponsors call months in advance to confirm the dates for this year’s event (July 30–August 4) so they can start booking hotels and cars.

If you think you can handle “the longest weekend in the world,” you should probably do the same. You can find it listed on most travel websites that feature Tobago’s annual calendar of events; lastminute.com; and even the International Student Travel Confederation’s website.

  • bago darky

    love the idea cant wait to get my early bird season pass