Tortuga 2016 Kicks Off With Chilled Country Tunes and a Dangerous Storm

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Day one of the fourth-annual Tortuga Music Festival began as a languid, low-key beach hangout — until it wasn’t. Eventually, the heavens opened up and the weather became the main story. But that's for later.

For the first time in Tortuga’s short history, organizers added a third day to the weekend. The first few hours of Friday's opening were a complete success. Only two stages, Tortuga and Sunset, were in operation while the third, Sunrise, lay dormant. However, these were close enough and the schedule spread out comfortably enough that it created a nice flow and an easy, gradual assimilation for everyone.

Breezy and chilled out was the vibe of the day, Fort Lauderdale Beach serving up a picturesque environment that not only caught the eye of the crowd but performers as well. We spoke to Ryan Hurd, a promising, young alt-country singer-songwriter after his 12:30 set. Standing atop the roof of a trailer parked dead-center of the fest, Hurd surveyed everything before him: the boats dotting the Atlantic, the palm trees swaying with the wind that was also whipping his long hair about. 

“I was on stage and just looking out at the ocean the entire time, having the best time. It’s amazing,” he said. “We do these festivals and they all feel similar. This one is so special.”

If this all seems a little sleepy, it wasn’t. There was positive hum buzzing through the fest, bikini butts and buff bros milling about all over. As the post-work, late-afternoon crowd filed in, Tucker Beathard and later Randy Houser infused big, fearless, rock 'n' roll flavors into the atmosphere. Beathard, who just turned 21, brought the energy with plenty of attitude and grit, particularly on his closer, “Whiskey in a Wine Glass,” his ode to a girl who’s “white trash and a little bit of high class.”

Meanwhile, Houser opened his set with a righteous cover version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” mashed up to the music of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” He followed that up with his most recent hit single, the outlaw country power ballad, “We Went.” He had Tortuga rocking.

Then came the lighting, and it was time to roll. Though they’ve experienced heavy rain at least twice in the past, Tortuga has never had to evacuate, chalking up yet another first for the fest. Because of the oncoming onslaught and the fact they were all so exposed, fans were ushered out as quickly as possible, urged to seek any shelter they could in a sort of every-man-and-woman-for-themselves situation. Many headed back either to their hotels or to the natural habit for any self-respecting, festival partygoer, the nearby bars.

Some danced from their balconies while others huddled under awnings and in lobbies as the storm battered the area. After about two hours, the dangerous weather passed. Because of the timing, Old Dominion’s set was canceled outright, while the evening’s headliner, Dierks Bentley, fell into jeopardy of suffering the same fate.

In the end, fans were offered a consolation and a tough choice. Old Dominion set up an impromptu gig at the Bahia Cabana Beach Resort with a scheduled start time of 9:45 p.m. Alternatively, Bentley would indeed get to play Tortuga, albeit as a condensed set, at the same exact time. It wasn’t ideal, but it could have been much, much worse. The legions of cheering, drunken country music fans unleashed onto A1A didn’t seem to mind; many of them happily finishing their adventure with Bentley echoing his sentiments of experiencing “the sweet release of a Friday night.”

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