Everything is better by the ocean — something of which the Tortuga Music Festival organizers are keenly aware. At this weekend’s third annual festival in Fort Lauderdale, the part concert, part marine-conservation rally attracted more than 70,000 fans over two days, some in what-were-they-thinking cowboy boots and jeans, and others in barely-there bikinis. The party by the sea also drew an armada of artists, from headliners Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown Band to bona fide show-stealers Frankie Ballard and the Band Perry.
Ballard, sporting a workman’s shirt and James Dean hair, highlighted the classic rock side of country (which was also repped by the Doobie Brothers at the festival). With a trio of radio hits — “Helluva Life,” “Sunshine and Whiskey” and current single “Young and Crazy” — at his disposal and an entertainer’s sensibility, the singer-guitarist came off like a headliner in the making. His cover of Bob Seger’s shopworn “Old Time Rock & Roll” was especially invigorating, thanks in part to Ballard’s everyman rapport with the audience and his willingness to play the straight man opposite a charismatic young fan plucked from the crowd to sing onstage.
Cover songs — especially from other genres — have become a mainstay of today’s country concerts, as artists aren’t shy about using them to make an instant connection. The Band Perry launched into three disparate tunes during their Sunday set. While likely the umpteenth country act to tackle Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” the trio did so with aplomb, with Kimberly Perry leading the vocal charge and brothers Reid and Neil supplying the “hot damn” call-and-response. Their tribute to Glen Campbell, “Gentle on My Mind,” followed, before Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” reared its head a few minutes later. TBP’s own hits, like “If I Die Young,” were standouts too — it was, after all, ostensibly a country music festival — but it was their versatility that made them one of the weekend’s buzz bands.
But of all the acts on the bill, none looked more at home than Sunshine State native Jake Owen. In bare feet, a bathing suit and tank top, the singer opened his Saturday sundown set with the on-the-nose “Beachin’,” before delivering an hour-plus show of sandy jams like “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and a few choice covers, including a solo acoustic take on Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” Whether he was dancing with the festival sign-language interpreter or obliging the request of a woman celebrating her birthday to join him onstage, Owen threw a beach party that would do Frankie and Annette proud.
Fittingly, it’s Owen then who leads our gallery of the 20 photos from Tortuga Fest you have to see. All photos by Marc Serota.