On a beach packed with the FGL Lifers who had been requesting their presence at the Tortuga Music Festival for years, Florida Georgia Line helped kick off the sixth annual Fort Lauderdale festival with a rousing Friday-night set filled with pop-country singalongs, pyrotechnics and, perhaps, a promise to return next year.
Hitting the stage with the obvious opener, “Anything Goes” (chorus: “Anything goes on a Friday night / Get your party right, it's a Friday night”), the duo cruised through a spirited 80-minute celebration of the Solo cup lifestyle.
They were preaching to the choir, of course, and on the rap-rocking “It'z Just What We Do," the choir preached back to FGL, singing, “Who brought the party? Damn, that was Florida Georgia Line!”
Tyler Hubbard (in Wham-like white) and Brian Kelley (trademark fedora, carefully torn jeans and Bob Marley T-shirt), brought plenty pop spectacle to their performance, with 3D laser graphics, fireworks and a bank of flames flickering through several songs. Tyler Chiarelli was a fiery presence on guitar.
Their set included fan favorites such as “Round Here,” “Smile,” “H.O.L.Y.,” and the stoner ode “Sun Daze,” but the biggest audience reaction was saved for their Bebe Rexha collaboration, “Meant to Be,” and the final encore, the windows-down anthem “Cruise,” performed just as a cool breeze sent fans streaming for the exits.
When Hubbard and Kelley weren’t playing party boys, they slowed things down to engage a couple of young sisters in the front row, with Hubbard autographing a guitar and passing it down to them.
“When we come back here next year, maybe you can come up here and sing a song on that guitar,” Kelley told them.
It was an off-the-cuff remark, but there were several thousand witnesses who will hold Kelley to that commitment.
With gates opening at noon, Tortuga quickly cast its spell on Friday with a potion of sun, sand, beer, bikinis and country comfort that put thousands of visitors in a joyful haze — even before Snoop Dogg got there.
“There’s a beautiful thing that’s happening right now,” vocalist Brandon Lancaster said to an army of LANCO fans sprawled in front of the Sunset Stage in the late-afternoon sun. Remarking on the mix of ages and ethnicities that he saw brushing against each other from the stage, he said, “Music has the power to bring people together.”
Leading up to FGL’s closing set, there were performances by hip-hop icon and TV game-show host Snoop Dogg, countyr-rocking heartthrobs Chase Rice and Lee Brice, and reggae spiritualist Michael Franti and Spearhead, among others.
With temperatures on the hot end of the 80s and not a cloud in the sky, there seemed not a care in the world, unless you were a beer vendor. The sight of Fort Lauderdale police with assault rifles slung across their chests was perhaps the only intrusion of real life.
Drinks in hand, bare-chested Aaron Obie, 32, and bikini-clad Elis Jahovic, 24, planned to be at Tortuga all weekend, perhaps sharing some social media with friends back home. Obie is from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Jahovic is from Winnipeg, where temperatures may touch single digits while they’re here.
A Tortuga first-timer, Jahovic seemed a little overwhelmed by the variety of music ahead of her, with Snoop Dogg and Florida Georgia Line on her Friday to-do list, Shaggy and Keith Urban later.
“I’ve come here every year for the last four years, so that’s why I kidnapped her and told her she had to experience it,” Obie said.
Two of the biggest challenges that might have been anticipated at Tortuga this year were met: shuttle service on the Water Taxi, expanded with the elimination of shuttle buses, went without a hitch, according to several riders.
“It was way better than the buses they had last year,” said George Leporte, of Coral Springs, after he and Carolina Paredes had departed a double-decker Water Taxi they boarded at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina on Southeast 17th Street. Paredes said: “The buses were a lot more hectic, a lot more crowded.”
And navigation through the sand between stages, a source of criticism at past festivals, was made much easier by the introduction of a long spine of plastic decking running the length of the grounds, from the Main Stage, through the Conservation Village and on to the Sunset Stage.
Fort Lauderdale residents Jona Elisco and Josh Pressley, business partners and buddies since their high school baseball days at Westminster Academy, have been hooked on Tortuga since it began in 2013.
Elisco said the baseball environment they were surrounded by turned them on to country music. Outlaw singer Eric Church, performing Sunday, was at the top of their favorite Tortuga acts this year.
“This is like our Super Bowl. We come every year,” said Pressley, the first pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 1998 major league baseball draft.
“It epitomizes what Fort Lauderdale is,” Elisco said. “Beautiful weather, the beach, a great time. It’s a very laid-back atmosphere, a casual, comfortable vibe.”
They were back this year with their wives and Elisco’s twin 4-year-old sons, Luca and Nico.
“They’ve been telling their friends they’re going to see Snoop Dogg. They don’t even know who Snoop Dogg is. I think they just like saying it,” said Elisco,admitting that he and Pressley planned to catch Snoop Dogg themselves after the boys and wives had left.
Highlights for the rest of the festival include Saturday performances by Keith Urban, Dwight Yoakam, Kip Moore, Shaggy, Dan + Shay, William Michael Morgan and Sister Hazel, followed on Sunday by Eric Church, Cheap Trick, the Brothers Osborne, Dylan Scott, Cadillac Three, Jordan Davis and Tyminski, among others.
Single-day tickets cost $125, $425 for single-day VIP; kids 6 and younger get in free. Tickets cans be purchased at TortugaMusicFestival.com and at the box office across the street from the festival in DC Alexander Park, 505 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. The box office is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m.