At first glance, the Tortuga Music Festival appears to be a country extravaganza, featuring superstars Luke Bryan and Eric Church, plus boot-scootin’ stalwarts Hank Williams Jr. and Dierks Bentley and newcomers Brantley Gilbert and Cole Swindell.
But another look at the event — which returns for its second year on Saturday and Sunday at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park — reveals a diverse supporting lineup with the kind of music that just sounds good surrounded by sun and sand, including the feel-good rhythms and melodies of Grammy-winning rockers Train and Sheryl Crow, reggae royalty Ziggy Marley, funk-punkers Slightly Stoopid, indie-folkster Brett Dennen and roots rockers Delta Rae.
“I think it’s awesome that country music can come down to that part of Florida,” says Sunday headliner Bryan, “but at the end of the day it’s all about having a good experience for the fans.”
San Francisco’s Train, which will perform mega-hits including Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me), Marry Me, Drive By and Hey, Soul Sister on Saturday, is comfortable being on a bill with Nashville’s top artists.
“We fit,” says guitarist Jimmy Stafford, who actually lives in Nashville. “We have a country single on the radio on our last album cycle with a song called Bruises, with Ashley Monroe. And we also did a [CMT] Crossroads with Martina McBride that we were nominated for a CMT Award for. I think we’re all kind of in tune with it a little bit — we’ve always been fans of some of the more alternative country artists like Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams. And I know [singer] Pat [Monahan] is very appreciative of it — one of his favorite artists is John Prine.”
Train is working on its as-yet-untitled seventh studio album, but Stafford says not to expect anything new from the band’s set, which will be about 90 minutes.
“We’re not ready to play it yet — we’re still working on arrangements and recording and stuff,” he says. “Plus, people aren’t familiar with it, and no matter how good the new stuff is, if people don’t know it, it tends to be the ‘bathroom break’ song,” he says with a laugh.
It’s safe to say no one will head to the john during Train’s enduring 2001 hit Drops of Jupiter.
“That was really big for us worldwide, and we came home with Grammys for that,” Stafford says. “It was pretty life-changing, because once you win a Grammy, you are forever introduced at shows: ‘Grammy Award-winning Train.’ That does change your life a little bit. Even with your peers, it’s a level of respect, like you can hang out with these people now and do shows with them, and not just be the baby band.”
In addition to offering great music, the Tortuga festival, created by the Rock the Ocean Foundation, aims to raise awareness of the health of the world’s oceans. Last year’s inaugural event, with headliner Kenny Chesney, drew more than 25,000 fans and raised more than $70,000 for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and other marine-conservation organizations. This year’s even stronger lineup is expected to help top those figures.
Bryan will take the stage in support of his No. 1 hits Drink a Beer, Crash My Party, That’s My Kind of Night, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and I Don’t Want This Night to End, among many others.
“We’ll probably do around a 100-minute show,” he says. “For a big festival like this, we just get up there and have fun with it and keep it pretty loose and just let the fans suck it all up and have a great time.”
Bryan’s 2013 album Crash My Party posted the biggest sales debut for a country artist in 10 years, and also hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, a fact he sees as a sign that country music is hot again.
“I think all genres ebb and flow,” he says. “In the mid-’90s, nothing was bigger than country, and then I think hip-hop and rap kind of took over in the early 2000s. But now things are coming full circle in country — there’s a lot of new blood that’s creating a lot of new and exciting things, and country is stronger than ever and breaking through to bigger and better heights.”