The fourth-annual Tortuga Music Festival may be all said and done, but we're still mulling it all over. For one thing, the fest expanded to three days this year. But if 2016's numbers tell us anything, organizers may want to consider opening the gates on Thursday next year, since nearly 90,000 people descended on the shores of Fort Lauderdale Beach over the weekend.
Like any major festival of this size, there were highs and lows. In general, both fans and organizers should count themselves among the winners this year. Still, a few things that stood out that are worth mentioning.
The weather, for one, was neither a winner nor a loser. Because South Florida's climate is so wildly unpredictable, Tortuga attendees dealt with a mixed bag all weekend. Friday evening brought a storm that forced a mass evacuation and chaos onto A1A. Saturday was breezy and slightly overcast all day with a few sprinkles here and there (Sam Hunt performed the lovely “Make You Miss Me” between the raindrops). Sunday went from pleasant to blustery and chilly in about an hour. The rule for any outdoor festival is to be prepared for anything, doubly so when it comes to wacky-ass Florida.
The headliners also toed the line between success and failure. Dierks Bentley nearly had his Friday-night set canceled because of the baby hurricane but returned triumphantly. Tim McGraw’s set was, well, quiet. Either he wasn’t singing loud enough or someone forgot to turn the volume up to 11. Meanwhile, we could hear Blake Shelton perfectly Sunday night as he told the audience that they can’t sing (an attempt at The Voice-themed humor?) and not to expect any special guests. Just him. Then he performed “Gonna,” a song he might as well have been singing straight to the new lady in his life, Gwen Stefani, as a way to really drive home who we wouldn’t be seeing. Awkward.
One huge winner was the Sunset stage. Always a fun alternative and a change of pace from the majority of Tortuga, the Sunset Stage once again did not disappoint, with incredible sets by Elle King, JJ Grey and Mofro, Muddy Magnolias, and Tucker Beathard. The ladies, a pair of show-stopping acts, in particular ruled this stage. King was dressed in a Superwoman outfit, cape and all, and lived up to the symbolism of her costume, her voice and songs like “Ex’s and Oh’s” soaring above and through the crowd.
Meanwhile, soulful Nashville duo Muddy Magnolias held a virtual church that praised all things awesome about music: powerhouse vocals; stage swagger; a wicked combo of blues, rock, and R&B; and a reminder of that brilliant feeling upon discovering an amazing new band.
Winner: People With Eyeballs
The eye candy was relentless. Obviously, with Tortuga being a beach festival, attractive women in itty-bitty bikinis is a given. And while there were a handful of sinewy beefcakes roaming about like bulls on parade, the visual feast very much favored the men. Male country music fans, as a whole, aren’t always the fittest of fiddles.
Loser: Confederate Flag Gear
Mercifully, thankfully, these hateful emblems of racism were kept at a minimum. A few holdouts still rocked the Confederacy on hats or on their backsides, but overall, the fashion at Tortuga was bigot-free.
Winner: Cover Songs
It might be a country festival, but that doesn’t mean other genres can’t make guest appearances. Randy Houser channeled his inner Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Kelsea Ballerini hit us one more time with Britney Spears, Kip Moore nailed a spot-on rendition of Jimmy Eat World’s “In the Middle,” and Drew Baldridge kicked off Saturday morning with a dance party and countrified version of “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon. These fun and quirky little surprises made each show unique and all the more interesting.
Loser: Redneck Rumbles
Tortuga fest is one of the most chill, laid-back ways to spend a weekend while still partying your face off. The sand and the sun operate somewhat as delightful little leeches draining the nasty out of even the most riotous of drunks. There were one or two near fights, and one big guy actually put his beer down to confront a cop (he lost), but cooler heads often prevailed in the hot sun, and by the next song, all was forgotten.
We’re not talking about passing out in a ditch. We’re talking about constructing a sand futon, lying down a blanket, and snuggling with your honey until your internal alarm goes off and it’s time for the next band. OK, so maybe a few people were cashed, but they sure as hell looked comfortable.
Loser: Jeans on the Beach
What are you doing? Do you hate comfort? Are your legs horribly misshapen? Are both fun and shorts illegal in the town you drove down from? It doesn’t matter that you’re only here for the headliners. Put on some shorts and collect sand in your crotch like the rest of us.
Winner: Outdoor Games
For those who simply couldn’t sit still and thirsted for a little competition to go with their Coronas, there was beach football, cornhole, giant Jenga, and a variety of other games at Tortuga, the steady flow of booze hilariously allowing people to express completely their lack of athleticism or coordination.
Loser: Outdoor Urinals
No, cowboy. I don’t want to chat with you as we stand at this trough holding our respective bait and tackles. Please focus on the task at hand, eyes forward, and try not to piss on my flip-flops. Thank you.
Winner: Aloe Vera
Or it will be come Monday morning. One day at the beach without proper coverage and sunblock is brutal enough. Three days of sitting in the sun? Maybe forgetting to reapply the SPF 30? That’s enough to singe the flesh off the bones if you’re not careful.