When the inaugural Tortuga Music Festival puts its world-class lineup of country, rock and reggae acts in front of more than 25,000 fans on Fort Lauderdale beach next month, the big draw will be Grammy-winning headliner Kenny Chesney.
But it is two local and less-glamorous contributors that have created national music-industry buzz about the April 13-14 concerts: marine environmentalist Guy Harvey and the sea turtle. Even before the first note has been heard at this year’s festival, producers are fielding calls from other eco-oriented music stars who want to perform at Tortuga 2014.
“The environmental aspect is what makes [Tortuga] special in the industry,” said Nashville-based festival producer and Rock the Ocean founder Chris Stacey. While he declined to divulge any identities, Stacey said he’s already had inquiries about next year’s festival from “big, big names.”
|This Guy Harvey painting was on view Monday during a press conference at the Sheridan Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. Love turtles – you may have an interest in this giclee.|
Stacey was speaking at a Monday press conference under the palms behind the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, a stone’s throw from the spot where Tortuga will set up three music stages separated by a 40-by-45-foot tent that will be home to the Conservation Village, which will include a variety of educational activities for all ages. Among those on hand were Harvey, along with representatives of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler and local sea turtle advocate Richard WhiteCloud.
All agreed that music and ocean ecology are equal partners in the Tortuga Music Festival. Concerts will end at 9 p.m. each day to accommodate nesting sea turtles.
“The vastness of it is going to be very important, but the [educational] impact will be even greater,” said Harvey, who describes himself as a longtime country-music fan and called Tortuga a “world-class” event. “I can’t wait to see the effect of the Conservation Village.”
In addition to Chesney, the lineup includes Eric Church, the Avett Brothers, Grace Potter, Jake Owen, Gary Clark Jr., Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite, Gary Allan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Eli Young Band, Michael Franti and Spearhead, G. Love and Special Sauce, the Wailers, Sister Hazel, Donavon Frankenreiter and Mac McAnally.
On Monday, Stacey announced that tickets, $149 for a two-day pass, would soon be offered at two local retail outlets: BC Surf and Sport, 1701 N. Federal Highway, in Fort Lauderdale; and Uncle Sam’s Music, 141 Washington Ave., in Miami Beach. They are also available at TortugaMusicFestival.com. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
Tortuga will take place a couple of weeks before West Palm Beach’s five-day SunFest concert series along the downtown waterfront in West Palm Beach, and less than a month after the two-weekend Ultra Music Festival unplugs in downtown Miami.
Fort Lauderdale has never been associated with such a major musical undertaking. Seiler, elected in 2009, said he wants to encourage music and nightlife as an economic tool and has long envisioned Fort Lauderdale beach as a perfect setting for a major concert.
“But what we’re doing out here is for a much bigger cause,” said Seiler, pointing out that the economic impact of healthy beaches in Fort Lauderdale is nearly incalculable.
Few rooms at the Inns
The festival’s headquarter hotel will be the 486-room Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, and management is gearing up for a sold-out weekend.
“We expect every single one of our rooms to be filled,” general manager Amaury Piedra said. “It’s right before the [Lauderdale] Air Show, so that sets April up to be a fantastic month.”
Hotel packages for the festival start at $459 per night.
Another resort that’s expecting a boost from the festival is Pelican Grand Beach Resort, located about two miles north.
“With such a high-caliber lineup, the festival’s attracting out-of-town visitors for multinight stays,” said general manager Robert Keesler, who anticipates the resort selling out for the April 12-14 weekend.
The 156-room Pelican Grand is currently offering a “Sleep in and Rock Out” all-inclusive package starting at $1,317 per room double-occupancy and including accommodation, roundtrip festival shuttle, breakfast and late-night snacks. Package is subject to a three-night minimum stay and availability.
Tourism officials say reports from several other hotels along the Fort Lauderdale strip also indicate they’ll be “pretty close to sold-out” for the festival weekend.
“We know that’s going to spill out” into other areas around town, said Carlos Molinet, senior vice president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, of the festival’s wide economic impact. “People are going to want to explore Las Olas Boulevard,” he added.
The CVB will be giving Tortuga-ticket-holders a pass that will entitle them to special discounts at local bars, music lounges, restaurants and concert venues.
Stacey, 42, came up with the idea for the Tortuga Music Festival while free-diving off the beach where the event will take place. He was working for a Nashville record label while living in Fort Lauderdale when he was struck by what he saw swimming over the reef off Las Olas Boulevard.
“You could literally see with your own eyes the changes that are happening in our oceans,” he said.
While developing the idea over the past four years, Stacey hooked up with industry friends at Huka Entertainment, which puts on the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala., and the Guy Harvey Foundation. The one-day benefit concert that he originally called Rock the Ocean has grown into a two-day, 23-act festival with a multiyear business plan.
Stacey said other locations were explored, but he never saw Tortuga anywhere else than Fort Lauderdale, where he still keeps his boat. He said there are few places in the country where man and the ocean commune in so many ways.
“There was no way it could be anywhere else,” Stacey said. “This is the epicenter of the diving community, the epicenter of the fishing community, the epicenter of the boating community. It’s also a special natural environment. Just look at the turtles.”
WhiteCloud, of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, said he has worked closely with organizers on ways to educate festivalgoers about sea turtles, their March-to-November nesting season and opportunities to get involved with their safety. The world’s largest loggerhead habitat runs along the South Florida coast, he said.
“I’m confident that a music festival about the harm we’re doing to the environment will not harm the environment,” WhiteCloud said.