Celine Dion To Play Jamaica Jazz & Blues Fest -- Singer Has Surprisingly Rabid Local Following
Celine Dion To Play Jamaica Jazz & Blues Fest -- Singer Has Surprisingly Rabid Local Following

Celine Dion performing at the 16th annual Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, her only performance outside her record-breaking Las Vegas residency at Caesers Palace (Photo: Courtesy Jamaica Jazz and Blues festival)

MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA -- In her only scheduled performance outside of her Las Vegas residency at The Colosseum, Caesers Palace, Celine Dion pulled a recording-breaking crowd of 20,000 at the 16th annual Jamaica Jazz and Blues festival on Jan 26 at the Greenfield Multi-Purpose Stadium, Trelawny. Though booking Dion may have cost a small fortune, her appearance may have greatly enhanced the festival's fortunes.

Walter Elmore, CEO of Art of Music Productions (AMP), producers of the festival, said Dion is by far the most expensive artist he has ever booked (he would not disclose her fee) but he is confident the expenditure will benefit the event far beyond this year's dramatic increase in attendance. "Having Celine Dion here has changed our festival's future," Elmore explained in an interview following the event, which also featured Cee Lo Green, The Temptations, guitarist Earl Klugh and Damian Marley.

Celine Dion To Play Jamaica Jazz & Blues Fest -- Singer Has Surprisingly Rabid Local Following

"I have already received calls from the management of several major US artists who want to perform here next year because they heard Celine's comments about our show's production quality," Elmore said. "Her performance confirms that we can bring the biggest artists on the planet to our little island."

Elmore's commenced his efforts to lure Dion to Jamaica, where her music enjoys widespread popularity and has spawned a multitude of reggae cover versions, more than a year ago. He brought Dion's agent Rob Prinz to Jazz and Blues 2011; Prinz's positive impressions of the festival (headlined last year by Air Supply, Maroon 5 and Natalie Cole) and it's behind the scenes operations paved the way for Dion's 2012 appearance.

Dion, 43, is Canada's all time best selling artist and the second best-selling female artist in the U.S. of the Nielsen SoundScan era. Billboard's Boxscore listings ranks "Celine," Dion's second Las Vegas residency, as the number one show in North America with 54 consecutive sold out performances before 230,000 fans between March and August 2011. AMP worked alongside Dion's production team to successfully transplant the dazzling spectacle that is "Celine" within Greenfield Multi-Purpose Stadium, which included stunning video and lighting effects, four (glittering) wardrobe changes and a virtuosic 16-piece band.

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Dion opened her hour long set with the 2003 single "I Drove All Night" which took on an unwelcomed significance for many patrons who sat in traffic jams for hours trying to reach the venue. Numerous patrons were forced to park their cars miles away and trek the distance, others grew frustrated and attempted to head back home. Elmore maintains the reduced number of police monitoring the traffic flow and the under utilization of shuttle buses from major cities such as Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, contributed to the congested roadways; some festival attendees blame the promoters' poor planning, given the anticipation of Dion's performance across the island.

Dion warmly greeted the 20,000 fans that did reach the stadium: she raved about Jamaica's weather, its food and especially, its people. "I can't believe we're really here in the birthplace of reggae music, the home of the great Bob Marley," she enthused. The crowd mostly cheered but some visibly wept as her sublimely nuanced vocals enveloped the stadium. She performed many of her best-known hits including "Where Does My Heart Beat Now" and "Because You Loved Me", which topped the Hot 100 in 1996. The audience roared its approval when Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli appeared via hologram for his duet with Dion "The Prayer". Visitors and especially locals delighted in the appearance of Jamaica's own Diana King performing her 1999 hit combination with Dion "Treat Her Like A Lady" which reached no. 70 on the Hot 100.

The event's sponsors were equally enthralled by Dion's performance. "When you have an artist of Celine Dion's caliber attracting so much local and international attention, it brings a greater return on our sponsorship investment. Because the crowd was significantly larger this year we had more consumers, corporate customers even artists who weren't performing engaging with us at the venue," says Jeanette Lewis, Public Relations Director of the telecommunications company Flow, one of Jazz and Blues' three platinum sponsors, alongside Iberostar hotel and the Jamaica Tourist Board.

In 2011, Flow partnered with HBO for the special "One Love: Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival 2011," which reached 300 million viewers spanning 23 Caribbean/Latin American countries. Flow's 2012 collaboration with HBO will again highlight the festival as well as Jamaica's 50th anniversary of independence, officially observed on August 6 but celebrated throughout the year with numerous musical events.

Jazz and Blues paid homage to 50 years of Jamaican music on its Thursday opening night with an exclusively Jamaican roster of acts. Pioneering singer Derrick Morgan, veteran deejay Yellowman, reggae's grand dame Marcia Griffiths, dynamic young female vocalist Etana and the multiplatinum selling Shaggy were among the stellar acts encompassing ska, reggae and contemporary dancehall, the latter brilliantly represented by the topical, razor sharp word play, delivered by deejay Assassin on such hits as "Talk How Mi Feel". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KC6LhZe3ayo

The all-Jamaican roster pulled nearly 7,000 people, the largest opening night audience in the festival's history, according to Elmore who will likely retain an exclusively Jamaican lineup as a mainstay of the festival's opening night. "There are so Jamaican artists living in other countries and many legends in Jamaican music that haven't yet appeared on our stage, we want to present those artists at Jazz and Blues," says Elmore.

Conceived in 1996 as a vehicle for increasing tourism to the island, the Jamaica Jazz and Blues festival, featuring a modicum of jazz and devoid of a blues act this year, pumps millions into Jamaica's economy. While the 2012 figures were not yet available from the Jamaica Tourist Board, in December 2011 Jamaica's then Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett projected earnings exceeding $5 million. "We previously made about $3 million but with Celine Dion's appearance, we expect 2012 to be the biggest yet," noted Bartlett. "In 2011 hotels within Montego Bay and other areas close to Greenfield Stadium reported full occupancy; the transportation industry, restaurants, taxi and attraction operators and various sub sectors can all attest to the returns from this event," Bartlett stated.