Words by Jesse Serwer—
Anguilla is better known for its high-end resorts than its music culture. But for the last 24 years, one event has consistently brought major music acts from all over the world to the 11-mile-long island, while remaining one of the region’s best kept secrets: Bankie Banx‘s Moonsplash Festival. Held during full moon every spring at the local reggae legend’s beachfront restaurant/music venue, The Dune Preserve, at 24 years old the series is the longest running festival of its kind in the Eastern Caribbean.
Guests at this year’s edition of Moonsplash, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday the 16th, include Da’Ville; reggae’s newest star, Chronixx; and of course Bankie himself, and his son, the former cricket star Omari Banks. In past years, the festival has hosted the likes of Buju Banton, Gregory Isaacs, Steel Pulse, Inner Circle, Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Buffett and even John Mayer, who made an unannounced appearance in 2011 jamming with Bankie and Third World.
Banx was one of reggae’s earliest adopters in the Eastern Caribbean in the 1970s, along with his band The Roots and Herbs, and spent much of the following decade touring Europe before settling in New York. Expanding his musical horizons abroad, he developed a fusion of folk and reggae that earned him the nickname “the Anguillan Bob Dylan.”
Inspired by Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash, Moonsplash grew out of a series of informal beach parties Banx began throwing back home in Anguilla, while living primarily abroad, in the ’80s. (Watch his “Down on the Corner” video for a slice of vintage Anguilla vibes, circa 1984).
“There were a lot of tourists coming on boats, and I was wondering how could I throw a concert on the beach,” Banky recalls. “While I was living and working in New York, going to all the hangouts throughout the East Coast had me thinking. When I came home, I started having hangouts where I’ll invite all these people and it eventually evolved into the beach concert. And that’s how Moonsplash became Moonsplash.”
The roving festival next traveled offshore, with editions held on Sandy Island, off St. Martin, and in St. Barths.
“Myself and a couple of people from New York would just get on a boat and travel 30 miles and do this concert every year and sell food,” he says. “We’d have performances, and we’d barbecue, and have fashion shows.”
In 1995, Moonsplash found a permanent home, when Banx established The Dune Preserve, a two-acre strip of land on Anguilla’s Rendezvous Bay, where he built its namesake bar/restaurant and the music venue, known also as Planet Dune, from old boats and other salvaged wood.
The year-round destination was named the world’s best beach bar in 2011 by CNN which described it “as the kind of place you dream of discovering on your first trip to the Caribbean.” It’s during Moonsplash, when a mixture of tourists, Anguillans and visitors from neighboring islands descend on The Dune Preserve by boat, plane and car, that the allure of the venue is perhaps most apparent.
“The bars are open till sunrise and people who don’t wanna pay for a hotel just camp out on the beach until the next morning,” Banky says. “They’ll get some tea and food and enjoy the beach, just drying out, then they come back for the party to start again.”
A view of the sea from The Dune Preserve
Bankie Banx and Cat Coore.