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Summer sizzle: JerkFest celebrates 10 years

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Summer sizzle: JerkFest celebrates 10 years
PHOTO: Nadine Nelson

The Boston JerkFest has been dishing out spicy meals, reggae music, craft cocktails and community joy for 10 years. This year’s festival, celebrating the past decade, promises to be bigger and better than ever. 

Nicola Williams, president of The Williams Agency marketing and events group and a Jamaican native, founded the festival, which will run July 7 and 8, as a way to support local businesses and celebrate Black culinary talent. What started as a smaller gathering has ballooned into an enormous two-day festival at the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston.

PHOTO G.A.M.E. Great Amazement Multimedia Entertainment

“I wanted a way to have a festival that celebrates my culture and celebrates the values that I support such as localism, supporting local businesses, supporting Black owned businesses and BIPOC businesses,” says Williams.

Among the many events scheduled in those two days, visitors can enjoy live reggae music from international artists, headlined this year by Luciano The Messenjah, the Seafood Throwdown and Jerk Cook-Off competitions among local chefs. The event will also include an expanded kids and culture stage for family-friendly entertainment and a cocktail throwdown and rum and brew tasting featuring local spirits.

Headlining JerkFest this year is reggae artist Luciano The Messenjah. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

As a testament to the quality of the festival, chefs return year after year for competitions, judging gigs and enjoying the event. Chef Kwasi Kwaa, who won the Seafood Throwdown last year before opening Comfort Kitchen in Dorchester, will return to defend his title. No matter what chef is cooking, there’s no shortage of Jamaican flavors at the festival: Every food vendor is required to offer at least one jerk spice dish.

The festival centers food, drinks, music and art, but Williams also thought carefully about the economic side of the event. “We have about 70 volunteers,” says Williams. “We’ve hired about 25 people within the community. Probably another 10 more for the day of the event.”

Boston JerkFest also partners with the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, which is providing devices that will allow vendors to accept credit cards on site. The event is designed to support the Black community, both culinarily and economically.

PHOTO Kenny Hyde

This year JerkFest will run for an extra hour and the festival footprint has been expanded since last year to accommodate more vendors and programs. The kids and culture stage also offers a significant increase in performances.

This isn’t Williams’ first, or even tenth, rodeo. She’s also a producer of other major food festivals around Boston such as the Boston Local Food Festival, the Boston Hot Sauce Festival, Cambridge Carnival International and more. But JerkFest is a special passion project, rooted in her own heritage.

“We appreciate the Boston community for supporting the festival all these years,” says Williams. “This is an amazing event and we’re proud to be called Boston JerkFest.”

arts, food, Jamaica, JerkFest, music