April 13, 2015

Ok, I know this is late but it took me  while to transfer the pictures and videos from Cindy’s iPhone…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Cindy and I discovered that the Rock The Ocean Tortuga Music Festival was happening on April 11th and 12th on the beach directly across the street from our Ft Lauderdale marina. That was too much to pass up, especially since Cindy has always wanted to see Zac Brown in concert and he was closing out the festival on Sunday night. So we juggled our travel plans, jumped on the festival’s web site and were soon the proud owners of two tickets to the VIP section.

This country music-centric festival is a fairly new, this being just their third year in existence. The first year they pulled in a crowd of about 25,000. In 2014, the crowd grew to 44,000. This year’s festival sold out at 75,000 fans. The festival raises money for ocean conservation and awareness; last year’s festival raised over $100,000 for this worthy cause.

Bright and early on Saturday morning Cindy and I load up our backpacks with bottled water, sunblock and sun shirts, grab our folding chairs and stroll over to the VIP entrance about a quarter of a mile from our boat. One of the advantages of VIP was that you got to enter the festival grounds at 10:30, 45 minutes before General Admission. We leave at 9:30 figuring that even at VIP the lines would get long on the first day of the festival.

When we arrive we see that a pretty decent line has already formed. We queue up and wait. 10:30 arrives and the gates don’t open. After 15 minutes, people start grumbling and making comments to the staff. By 30 minutes the comments are getting louder and uglier. Several folks mention the additional money we all paid to get in early. The staff passes out bottles of cold water, which is nice but not as nice as getting into the concert grounds. The line is now down the sidewalk and out into the street, making for a dangerous situation. The crowd is getting downright ugly.

We finally get the word that the internet needed for the wristband scan-in system is not working. Really? No one tested this before game day? Almost an hour passes before they decide to just let everyone in. As we pass through the gates we here the staff boss telling his folks to just skip checking our bags for banned items until he says otherwise.

Cindy and I pass through the gates and head out to the beach to pick out a good spot to set up. It’s a hot, sunny day with barely a cloud in sight. We find a raised area in the sand in front of where they have installed a temporary swimming pool, another of the perks provided for the VIP section. Setting our chairs up here we have a really good view of the stage. We check out the pool, which is surrounded by Astroturf, and see that it’s really more of an oversized wading pool. There is no pump or filtration system and with a few hundred folks camped out in the VIP area that could be a problem.

Tortuga Crowd

Tortuga Crowd at Night

The festival is opened by Old Dominion, a band I have never heard of. It turns out that they have written a number of songs that have been major hits for other artists, including “Guy Walks Into a Bar” (Tyler Farr), “Better Dig Two” (The Band Perry) and “Say You Do” (Dierks Bentley). They’re a very talented group of guys and I enjoy their version of “Guy Walks Into a Bar” better than Tyler Farr’s.

David Nail comes up on the main stage next; he’s good but I’m not blown away by anything he plays. We start making runs to the free (ok, liquor included) VIP bar and decide we both like the Naked Coconut, a mixture of Naked Turtle rum (one of the festival sponsors) and coconut water. Next up is Trace Adkins, one of the acts I’m looking forward to. Unfortunately he disappoints. He seems to be more interested in posing on stage while his performance feels phoned in. The level of applause after each song indicates a lot of the audience feels the same way. Sad since we both liked a lot of his hits and admired the character he showed on “Celebrity Apprentice”.

Next up are The Doobie Brothers, a band from back in my high school days. I was surprised to see them in the lineup; they are not a country band and quite frankly must all be in their sixties by now. I really wondered how a young audience that hadn’t grown up with this band would receive them. Holy cr*p, did they ever tear it up! They played every one of their old hits and just flat out wailed. Their sax player was awesome and the lead guitar played was phenomenal. Familiar or not, they had the audience on their feet the whole time. It was one of the best and best received performances of the festival.

Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers

After the Doobie’s complete their set, we walk down to the smaller Sunrise stage at the other end of the beach to hear Jake Owen. I was not familiar with Jake but I have to say, his was one of the most enjoyable sets of the festival. He just establishes a very real rapport with his audience and seems to enjoy being on stage and interacting with the audience. He calls a young lady celebrating her birthday up on stage, sings to her, dances with her and lets her and her friends sit stage side at the “tiki bar” for the rest of the concert. She’s in heaven! He also pulls a young kid and his even younger brother who were obviously enjoying the show onto the front of the stage and lets them enjoy the cheers of the audience.

Kenny Chesney closes out the first day. Man, does he ever perform!! I swear he must sweat off 10 pounds during his set! For two hours, he never lets up. In addition to being a great performer, Kenny makes a strong point of connecting with his audience, making them feel like they really are just partying with a friend. Cindy pointed out later how his body language on stage stressed inclusion, opening up himself to his audience and drawing them in to him. It was an awesome set!

Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney

Toward the end of his set, he calls a young kid who is probably 11 or 12 years old and has been sitting on his dad’s shoulders rocking out, up on stage. He presents him with an autographed guitar and teaches him a few rock moves, all to the wild cheering of the audience. Somebody is going to be a hero at school Monday morning.

We decide to wait a few minutes after Kenny leaves to let the exiting crowd thin out. We’re amazed at the amount of trash folks leave behind. If everyone just grabbed up their plastic cups and bottles, the beach would be cleaned up in no time. Instead, festival workers will have to spend hours policing up everyone’s garbage. A glance at the pool reveals that the water has the clarity of Thai coconut soup. We both noted that there were a lot of folks in the pool drinking all day long that we never saw getting out to go use the nearby bathrooms. We reaffirm our decision to avoid the pool.

We make our way down the middle of Highway A1A, the police having temporarily shut down the road to car traffic to give the crowd a chance to clear out. One guy in an SUV seems to not have gotten the memo and is having trouble believing he is now going to have to just sit there until the crowd dissipates. We’re both feeling sticky and nasty from having sat in the sun and sand for the last 12 hours and can’t wait to shower but opt to stop at the marina deli to grab a sandwich for dinner first. The deli has stayed open late to service the hungry throng and the place is packed with twenty-somethings in various states of inebriation. One girl keeps talking about how addicted she is to BBQ Pringles as she plows through her can while waiting in line, unwilling to even wait until she’s purchased it. We get our sandwiches, a Cuban for Cindy and a footlong hot dog for me, and head back to the boat to eat, shower and go to bed.

Goodyear Blimp

The Goodyear Blimp Over the Tortuga Music Festival

On Sunday morning we once again traipse down Seabreeze Blvd at 9:30 to the VIP entrance. We queue up, the line considerably shorter than on Saturday. As we wait for the gates to open – taking bets on whether they will open on time today – we hear the teenage girl in line behind us squeal. I turn to see Maddie and Tae strolling up the sidewalk.

Maddie and Tae are a duo that had a major hit with “The Girl in The County Song”, which disses the way girls are portrayed as sex objects in bro-country songs these days. I knew they were young but looking at them in person I think “Holy cow, these girls are children!!” They’re nineteen but look like they might be twelve. I later tell Cindy “I bet they each told their parents that they were sleeping over at the other’s house and then flew down to Ft Lauderdale to play the festival.” They graciously pose for a picture with their fan-girl while their officious handler blusters about not delaying since they’re the opening act today.

Today the gate opens only 15 minutes late and we head back to the same spot we occupied yesterday. We greet some of the folks we met the day before and get our chairs set up. Maddie and Tae come onstage and I have to say they are entertaining. They sing with the seriousness of much older women but when they chat with the crowd between songs, they revert back to being teenagers. When they introduce their next single “Fly”, Tae relates how they wrote the song to encourage themselves when they were down about how their careers were going. They’re nineteen years old and have a Nashville recording contract, a certified gold single and they’re playing major music festivals ; what are they talking about?!

Maddie and Tae are followed on the main stage by Frankie Ballard, another singer who I was only vaguely familiar with. Honestly, he blew me away! Fantastic guitar player with a bluesy, rockabilly style that put on a really high energy show. Frankie was followed by Chase Rice. His show didn’t really do anything for me but I did find it interesting to read that he came in second on the reality TV series Survivor: Nicaragua, losing the $1 million prize by only one vote.

Next up on the main stage was family act The Band Perry. I was looking forward to hearing these guys and they do not disappoint, putting on an excellent show. I do have to say that sister Kimberly is the franchise for this band. The brothers are good guitarists but she plays, sings and has good rapport with the audience. If the band ever splits up, my bet is she will be the one to have a successful solo career.

The Band Perry

The Band Perry

After The Band Perry finishes, Cindy heads down the beach to the Sunrise Stage to hear Little Big Town. I wouldn’t mind seeing them in concert but I want to guard our seats for Zac Brown, who is coming on in a couple of hours. The day before we had seen some people get squeezed out as latecomers jockeyed for good seats for Kenny’s show and I don’t want anyone jumping our claim while we’re away from our chairs.

Little Big Town

Little Big Town

For the next hour I sit, people watch and check my iPhone, unwilling to even get up to go to the bar to get a drink. Cindy comes back an hour later and reports that Little Big Town was great. I let Cindy take over chair guarding duty while I head to the portable bathrooms for a final pit stop before Zac comes on.

Promptly at 8:00, the stage lights come on and Zac Brown takes the stage to the cheers of the packed crowd. Spotlights from the stage sweep the crowd and we can see that the General Admission section is wall-to-wall people as far back as we can see. Just like Kenney’s set the previous night, it’s a non-stop show. Zac and the band play all of their hits, the crowd breaking out in cheers each time as soon as they can name that tune. During the performance of their first big hit “Chicken Fried” two soldiers march out on stage when the band sings “salute the ones who died and the ones that gave their lives so we don’t have to sacrifice all the things we love”. The audience goes nuts.

Zac Brown Band

Zac Brown

They do several amazing covers as well, blowing me away by playing “Bohemian Rhapsody” (who’s willing to tackle THAT song), Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (definitely not country) and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. Zac interacts with another kid rocking out on his dad’s shoulders; it might have been the same one from last night. I tell Cindy next time we’re bringing the grandkids so we can get a free guitar.

The show ends promptly – and I mean promptly – at 10:00. The only disappointment is that there is no encore. The lights just come up and the road crew starts breaking down the equipment. The crowd cheers for a bit, then gets the message and starts streaming for the exits. We wait for a few minutes again and then walk down the middle of A1A back to the boat.

The organizers already announced that the festival will return in 2016 and that Blake Shelton has been booked to play. I doubt we’ll be in the area next April but if we were, we’d definitely go back.