About This Festival
In Barbados, life is sweet—literally. The end of the sugar season is cause for celebration, and Crop Over, which refers to the crop being over at the end of the back-breaking summer harvest, was originally formed as a way to close out the once-thriving sugar industry, when workers would have a final blowout before conserving wages until the next crop. While tourism has replaced sugar as the main source of income on the islands, the Crop Over festival is still celebrated with reckless abandon.
Crop Over - Planting Seeds
Crop Over’s roots as a harvest festival run as deep as the sugarcanes themselves. At one time, Barbados was the world’s most important producer of sugar, a form of granulated white gold. Plantations hosted annual harvest celebrations dating back to the 18th century, which included singing, dancing and all manner of improvised instruments typical of Caribbean music. Much like a carnival of feast or famine, wages were good during the harvest, but post-harvest it was time to save up, so everyone might as well have one last good party. When the festival was revived in the 20th century by the Barbados Tourism Authority, it borrowed elements of the neighboring Trinidad Carnival, a more ornate and bawdy event. The influence remained, and the modern version of Crop Over was born. The festival was canceled in the 1940s when the sugar industry waned sufficiently in the wake of World War II, but has been running nonstop since 1974 as a wild, costumed event that feels like a compressed Brazilian Carnival with a distinctly island vibe.
Calypso music scores the entire event, which runs for 24 days every summer. Starting on the second Saturday in July, the festival begins with a colorful parade in Bridgetown, the chilled-out capital of Barbados. Floats, carnival bands, bicycles and decorated carts cruise through town, ending up at the National Stadium just outside of town, where an opening gala takes place. A sugarcane king and queen of the festival are crowned; traditionally, they are the most productive sugar croppers of the season. A ceremonial sugarcane baton is passed, representing the last of the harvest—and then the real partying begins.
Dance Until Dawn
Once formally underway, various parties, concerts, food stalls and other events “crop up” throughout the summer. It’s generally a laid back, island party vibe until the raucous final weekend. You will find many similarities to neighboring Trinidad’s Carnival, from the music to the atmosphere. The music is a highlight of the festival, and Trinidad calypso, soca and steel drums take center stage. There are also local tuk bands that bring together a banjo, tin whistle and drum.
One of the more popular events is the belly-pleasing Bridgetown Market Street Fair, held during the last week of the festival and filled with Calypso music and Barbadian cooking contests. There is also an artisanal fair where you’ll find the best souvenirs.
Crop Over represents an ongoing party for islanders, but remains at relatively low ebb until its culmination, The Grand Kadooment, which takes place on the first Monday in August. If you can only visit Barbados for one weekend a year, this is it. The weekend starts on Friday with the Pic-o-de-Crop calypso competition finals at the National Stadium, which ends with a jump-up, or spontaneous street dance party. This borrowed tradition from Trinidad’s Mud Mas is wild and features costumes, body paint, mud-covered masses and live bands. It usually gets going around 1:30am, and many party until dawn, when the Foreday Morning Jam takes place. Dancing happens over 3.5km, and there’s a strong police presence to ensure everyone's safety. Saturday night is usually the time to lick your party wounds, but Sunday comes back strong with Cohobblopot, featuring a calypso show with the winners of the Party Monarch and other local parade-contest winners.
At The Grand Kadooment, which is Bajan for “Big Deal” or “Big Fuss,” various ensembles and individuals compete with themed costumes and song for titles including the Calypso Monarch, Road March Monarch, and Sweet Soca Monarch. Headdresses, feathered crowns and other regal raiment are in order for this epic undertaking featuring live music in the streets, fireworks and parading islanders partying through the night. The celebration starts in the stadium and shakes and moves to Bridgeport on the Spring Garden “Party” Highway. It’s not one for spectators; be prepared to dance until you can’t dance anymore.
If this all sounds complicated, don’t sweat the details. Remember that on the islands everything happens in island time: slow and easy. Take your time to soak up the sights, sounds and tastes, as well as the amazing beaches Barbados is famous for. Don’t forget that Crop Over is all about celebrating a job well done, and while you likely spend time hunched over a computer instead of a field of sugarcane, this is your vacation, so reward yourself.