ROCK ISLAND The smell of exotic seasonings and the sound of groovy reggae beats floated through the downtown Saturday night as Ya Maka My Weekend morphed The District into a Caribbean island paradise.
It marked the Caribbean cultural festival's 26th year.There were palm trees and sandboxes; shopping and mingling; a plethora of food and drink options from both from festival vendors and downtown establishments; laughing, dancing and singing.
Many were lured by the music including Alexis Wierenga, of LeClaire, who came for the first time Saturday. She was swaying and singing to Rude Punch, one of the many bands to take the stage.
"I really enjoy them," she said, nodding toward the stage, "and the food!"
She hadn't gotten to the food yet, she said, but the night was young.
"I like the music," she said. "I'm pretty pumped for the late-night show" with 40oz To Freedom.
She brought Ethan Fry from Marion, Iowa, with her, who said the fest was "pretty good."
"It smells great," Ms. Wierenga added. There was "great beer, relaxed environment, a lot of room to dance."
A number of acts were scheduled to take the stage throughout the evening, including Morten Wa Byaombe, Rude Punch and DiMachine.
Early in the evening a couple of hundred people gathered around the stage and near the food vendors, relaxing in lawn chairs, sitting on the raised stone areas around the stage and at the tables on the deck of the Daiquiri Factory, as more slowly trickled through the gates.
Nearby was an open-air marketplace packed with unique items such as tie-dyed clothing, sarongs, jewelry, incense and more. Folks waited in trailing lines near the food vendors as delicious scents wafted into the air in plumes of smoke.
Many come to the event each year for the Caribbean food, which downtownrockisland.org describes as a fusion of African, French, Indian, Spanish and other cuisines.
And it seemed to be worth the wait.
Samantha Stinson, of Galesburg, came Saturday for the music, the food, and "just how different it is." It's not like a typical fair, she said, as sheenjoyed a Jamaican beef patty and a daiquiri.
With her was her fiance, Mickey Gibbons, who was having a daiquiri before grabbing food.
"I'm amazed it's not bigger," he said, gesturing to the surrounding streets early in the evening. "It's a shame. The community wants to have a good time."
The couple was enjoying the atmosphere and the "peaceful" reggae music, Mr. Gibbons said, with friends Amber and Bryan Wilson, of Monmouth.
"My friend had been here before," Mrs. Wilson said, gesturing to Ms. Stinson, "and talked about the food so I wanted the food!"
She was noshing on curry goat. "It sounds odd, but it's really good," she said.
They had chosen a stand-up table about midway between the music and the market, a prime spot to enjoy the festival.
"It's awesome," she said. "It's just nice being out with a ton of people."
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