By Deborah Wilker
City & Shore Magazine
When the Tortuga Music Festival launched on Fort Lauderdale Beach in 2013 with Kenny Chesney and Eric Church, it was a two-day concert curiosity (were superstars really gonna play right on the sand?), that attracted about 25,000 people. Five years later Tortuga is a three-day destination event set to attract more than 90,000 fans, many of whom will travel to South Florida from throughout North America and beyond.
The event April 7-9 has become so popular that every advance VIP ticket – at $949 a pop – sold out before the line-up was even announced. Super VIP tickets at $1,499 are long gone now too, though “Regular” VIPs at $999 were still available in the days leading to the show. General admission tickets, also covering all three days, are $229. Single day tickets are $99; single day VIP are $399.
The brainchild of New Orleans-based Huka Entertainment, a boutique concert company that specializes in staging unique live music events in striking locales, Tortuga has become a prime stop for country superstars and rising artists. This year’s bill stars Chesney again, along with Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Alan Jackson, Darius Rucker, Old Dominion, Maren Morris, Kane Brown, Brett Eldredge, Brooke Eden and many others.
“We’re country’s biggest beach party so we have to deliver the biggest names in country music, that’s a given,” says Huka CEO Evan Harrison. “But then we try to bring in something a little left of center. This year we’re bringing in Nelly. We’re bringing in Daya.”
Harrison says that Huka, which also puts on the Pemberton Music Festival in the mountains of British Columbia in July and the recent BUKU Music + Art Project in New Orleans last month, takes a slightly different approach to promotion than is standard in the industry.
“Our team answers every email, every inquiry in detail, as deep as they go,” he says. “They really get to understand what fans like, what they complain about, who the fan is. We’re constantly tweaking. We want to make sure that a fan buying a general admission ticket has what we consider to be a VIP experience. Everything from the way they receive communication from us, to how long the lines are. We really break down what the flow is going to be to make sure everybody has a good experience without any pain points.”
A lifelong music fan, surfer and music industry veteran, Harrison lives and breathes the beach life from his base in Malibu, Calif., traveling to Fort Lauderdale about six times a year.
From his spot on the Malibu pier (where we’ve met for this interview) Harrison looks out at the sand and explains that attracting superstar performers isn’t always simple in the festival business — but awesome locations sure do help.
“Having an artists’ lounge that’s right next to the ocean, that’s so inviting it makes them want to get out of their tour buses, and then they get on stage and they look out, and there’s the ocean and their fans are in bathing suits having the time of their lives? That’s why you’re seeing Kenny come back for the third time.”
Tortuga also has a strong philanthropic bent, raising more than $300,000 in recent years for ocean conservation projects in partnership with the event’s co-founder Rock The Ocean. Fans can also seek out volunteer opportunities with the fest in exchange for admission.
Whether it’s a VIP cabana, fine-dining in the air-conditioned tent, lolling by the pop-up pool, or hanging with your towel on the sand, options are plentiful, particularly where food is concerned.
“We’re all foodies,” Harrison says of his Huka colleagues. “We like to curate the food experience just like we do the artist line up. We make sure to blend in things that make sense locally and culturally. The Pad Thai and the pizza — they’re always gonna be crowd pleasers.”
Rock The Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival takes place on Fort Lauderdale Beach April 7 – 9. Detailed information on tickets, line-up, logistics, volunteering and conservation is at tortugamusicfestival.com