Since the early '90s, South Florida has been a hotbed for DJs and electronic music. Hip-hop and rock are, arguably, tied for second place in the region's musical popularity contest. But the politically bluer part of the Sunshine State is also home to an overwhelming number of country music fans.
One only need look at the resounding success of Rock the Ocean's Tortuga Music Festival, which is part ocean conservation awareness event and part redneck beach party. Not only did Tortuga begin selling out of tickets in its third year, but it's also been in the black ever since, a remarkable achievement considering many festivals take twice as long to reach the same results.
Of course, those ticket sales can be credited to holding a three-day festival on the opulent sands of Fort Lauderdale Beach. But Tortuga's success also hinges on its carefully crafted, and frankly conservative, music lineups. Organizers know what the people want, and Tortuga plays it safe by gathering the biggest, baddest names in country. Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, Sam Hunt, and Tim McGraw have all headlined.
The 2017 edition has turned that formula up to 11; this is far and away the most country version of Tortuga Music Festival in its five-year existence. But its roster of artists always holds a handful of left-field surprises from other genres. If variety is the spice of life, this year's Tortuga has perhaps a little less kick but still packs plenty of flavor.
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Daya. 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the Sunset Stage. Aside from rapper Nelly (more on that strangeness later), 18-year-old synth-pop songbird Daya is the least country of all the acts at Tortuga this year. Best known for being featured on the Chainsmokers' Grammy-nominated hit "Don't Let Me Down," Daya has come into her own with her 2016 debut LP, Sit Still, Look Pretty. The record is a slick collection of millennial bubblegum pop — a fun, EDM-tinged diversion from all the honky-tonk.
Delta Rae. 2:30 p.m. Friday on the Sunset Stage. One repeat performer we're very glad to have back is Delta Rae, a powerhouse folk-rock six-piece from North Carolina. The band last graced the Tortuga stage in 2014 and was one of the standout performers of a festival that included the likes of Luke Bryan and Sheryl Crow. Raw and melodic, earthy and delicate, exuberant and tender, Delta Rae's brand of Americana soul is highly recommended.
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Maren Morris. 7 p.m. Saturday on the Sunset Stage. Yes, technically Maren Morris is a country singer. After all, she was the 2016 CMA New Artist of the Year and winner of Best Solo Country Performance at the 59th-annual Grammys. But Morris is a legitimate crossover star. And despite her many accolades, she still hasn't hit her peak. She has the mainstream appeal of Shania Twain in her heyday — but less cheesy and with more swear words. The 26-year-old Texas native has already performed on Saturday Night Live. Her debut record, Hero, is armed with plenty of straightforward pop-rock gems that have just enough Southern charm to appease both country fans and Top 40 radio listeners.
Nelly. 4:30 p.m. Saturday on the Sunset Stage. Where to begin? The only proper reaction to St. Louis hip-hop star Nelly's appearance at Tortuga is a combination of bewilderment and excitement. The only real ties Nelly has to country music are "Over and Over," a song that featured Tim McGraw on backing vocals, and the fact that Nelly's first album was called Country Grammar. That's it. The last rapper Tortuga included on the bill was Colt Ford, a giant hillbilly of a man with hit singles such as "No Trash in My Trailer" and "Country Thang." One of these things is not like the other. Nonetheless, there's a genuine reason to be pumped for this show. Think about it: Nelly, on the beach, playing all the hits to a mass of drunk white people dancing the flakes off their sunburns. It's going to be magical. And if a country superstar joins him for any of his songs, especially "Country Grammar," it'll be the most meta shit ever.
Slightly Stoopid. 6 p.m. Sunday on the Sunset Stage. So far, every Tortuga lineup has had at least one token beach-party band. Michael Franti has stepped into the role a couple of times, and Sublime with Rome did a stint in 2015. This year, the tradition continues with the veteran SoCal dub and ska rockers of Slightly Stoopid, returning after performing at the festival in 2014. You know these vibes: chill yet rockin', ideal for whiling away the weekend's last sunset on the beach. Expect to see a lot of sun-baked fans swaying and holding their beers in the air.
Tortuga Music Festival
1 p.m. Friday, April 7, through Sunday, April 9, at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, 1100 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; tortugamusicfestival.com. Single-day tickets cost $99 to $399; three-day passes cost $229 to $1,399.