Style Observer

Hope Springs Eternal at Strawberry Hill

By Vaughn GRAY

Sunday, June 17, 2018

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Four hundred music lovers and charity-minded folk made the trek up to Irish Town on Sunday, June 10, to attend Hope in the Hills — a benefit concert in support of the Hope Institute.

Guests gathered on the lawns of Strawberry Hill to hear Jamaican performers Suzanne and Sarah Couch and British singer Joss Stone. The brainchild of Suzanne Couch, Hope in the Hills raised $500,000 for the Hope Institute Hospital and the Jamaica Cancer Care and Research Institute (JACCRI).

Hosted by Cindy Breakspeare and deejayed by Kurt Riley, the fund-raiser was far more than shutterbait for the “cancer sucks” hashtag. This was an emotional and challenging undertaking as, for the organisers, cancer has come too close to home.

Suzanne Couch is battling stage four breast cancer, something she shared with the crowd when she took the stage. Through tears, Couch delivered a message filled with optimism and resolve. A cloud descended upon the crowd and many fought back tears. It, however, dissipated during her electrifying performance which made spirits soar.

Couch's daughter, Sarah, opened the show. Her mellow set and neo-jazz style was reminiscent of a young Nora Jones, a fitting opening for headliner Joss Stone.

Stone surprisingly still has a studio album voice. She charmed the crowd with her quirky asides, love for Jamaica and laid-back personality. At one point, however, she did use the word “jungle” to describe the island's vegetation. Cue: a collective sharp intake of breath. The naive utterance was soon forgotten when she took her set up a couple octaves and belted out some crowd-pleasing songs.

During a brief intermission, co-founders of JACCRI, Dr Dingle Spence, senior medical officer at the Hope Institute, and Dr Alexandra Shields, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, took to the stage. They thanked the attendees for their support of the Hope Institute (Jamaica's only dedicated public oncology and palliative care unit) and spoke about the cutting-edge research that JACCRI is undertaking. Dr Shields noted that the majority of the world's cancer research does not include the etiology of cancer in Black and African-Caribbean populations and the funds raised from the event will both further much-needed research and support the day-to-day operations of the free hospital.

Hope in the Hills was produced by Laura Marley, director of Passion Fruit Agency, and promoted by the principals of The Xchange Culinary Management & Marketing—Erin Mitchell and Kimberly Dunkley. The event had guest experience at its fore and was almost flawless in execution. The shuttle buses that took patrons to the venue from the parking area at the University of Technology was a nice touch, but boarding was a tad uncontrolled. The event's summer garden party feel was definitely aided by the delicious food from the Strawberry Hill kitchen. It hit the spot and didn't leave guests feeling heavy. And, the bar seemed to have a limitless supply of chardonnay. However, nothing could prepare guests for the surprise performance by Toots and the Maytals' own 'Toots' Hibbert.

Toots still has 'it', and the crowd was ecstatic to see him perform. Patrons eagerly joined in singing hits such as Bam Bam and 54-46 That's My Number. For a moment all was well in the world and the unifying and healing power of music was felt.

Hope in the Hills was a splendid undertaking by the event's conceptualisers, producers, promoters and sponsors. At one point during her performance, Joss Stone remarked: “Jamaicans are some of the nicest people in the world”. The years of work put into the event's execution and the funds raised that afternoon showed that we truly are.

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