No shoes, no shirt, no problem.
That's a Kenny Chesney song, but it may as well have served as the collective mantra for the rain-soaked first-day festivities Saturday at the Tortuga Music Festival at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park.
It's no problem for Fort Lauderdale, with a world-class music festival poised to rehabilitate its image as the city that shed spring break tourists long ago.
It was, likewise, no problem for the country-, reggae- and roots-rock diehards in bikinis, sandals and cowboy hats, who converged on the beach. They came armed with ponchos, ready for one of South Florida's notorious weekend rainouts. And, of course, it was no problem for a Chesney fan.
"We totally came for the country," said Bailey Davis, 15, of Coral Springs, slurping a strawberry-banana smoothie from a nearby beach vendor.
Davis, counting herself a Chesney and Michael Franti and Spearhead fan, came with younger sister Emma, 10, and parents Gregg, 47, and Sandy, 45.
"We only live 15 miles away, but we're really tourist-ing it up," said Sandy Davis, reaching into her turquoise beach tote for their Tortuga spoils: four Pirate Flag skull-and-crossbones souvenir tees, a reference to Chesney's current namesake hit. "It's a great lineup, a stunning location and just the thing to bring life back into Fort Lauderdale."
Tortuga's vibe often resembled the laid-back nonchalance of a Chesney song, with at least two concertgoers napping on picnic benches just before Pennsylvania alt-hip-hop quartet G. Love and Special Sauce bounded onto the Tortuga stage at 2 p.m.
A brief, light drizzle cast an early afternoon pall on an otherwise boisterous beachside bash, one sponsored by Earth-friendly nonprofit Rock the Ocean and billed as an oceanfront festival to promote ocean conservation. (Tortuga's headliners are wrapping sets by 9:30 p.m. out of respect to the beach's nesting sea turtles.)
"I think we started a little slow with the rain, but business is picking up now," said Hollywood's Tamina Brooks with a laugh, peeking from underneath her taco-vendor tent at the overcast sky. "I talked to a lot of people who say they're coming from north Florida, but no out-of-staters."
By 2:30 p.m., about 5,000 festivalgoers — a blend of locals and out-of-town Floridians by one Rock the Ocean spokeswoman's estimate — were sticking their toes in the sand.
Meanwhile, a dozen yachts idled 100 feet from the shore to watch Tortuga's action on three stages (called Tortuga, Sunrise and Sunset), blocked from edging closer by Fort Lauderdale's beach patrol.
"I'm from Germany!" shouted a shirtless man, raising his arms triumphantly, bolting up from the sea of stage-facing beach chairs. He sat down just as quick.
Nate Steere, a 31-year-old spa director from Naples, said his wife, Crystal, was the "big country addict " of the pair.
"Just put me on the beach with a beer in my hand. I'm good," he said, catching himself with a laugh. His wife giggled.
"God, I sound just like a beach bum," he said.
As he spoke, Garrett Dunton, of alt-hip-hop band G. Love and Special Sauce, burst into a rousing electric solo on the outsize Tortuga Stage. The Steere's raced off.
No problems could be found with 37-year-old James Simons, of Davie, sporting a Landshark Lager shark-fin foam hat.
"Nah, the rain won't deter us," said the Home Depot employee, who brought his wife, Donna, and sons Justin, 11, and Jake, 2, to Tortuga for a two-day staycation at the Bahia Mar.
They were determined not to miss Jake Owen, the Florida-raised country superstar, last seen in South Florida for January's Orange Bowl halftime show.
"Margaritas and Landshark," agreed Donna Simons, raising her own on-the-rocks beverage. Then she smirked. "Mr. Chesney would approve of our activities here."
At Conservation Village, Rock the Ocean's tented beach area devoted to environmental projects, marine activist Guy Harvey signed autographs and painted marine mammals on a public-art mural set up for the occasion.
"I'm amazed at the turnout. I thought the weather would make this a washout," said Harvey, whose Davie-based Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation benefits from the festival, from his perch on a makeshift stage inside the tent. "Chesney, the Avett Brothers, Sister Hazel, too — they're big conservation people. It's a more-mature crowd than the [Kiss Country] Chili Cookoff."
When Miami's Denise Ramirez heard the Avett Brothers were in town, she dragged along her 25-year-old sister, Danalie. Then she realized, 10 minutes after arriving, that Tortuga also promoted ocean awareness.
"I so would've brought my son if I had known. He loves conservation and loves Guy Harvey," Ramirez said. "We just bee-lined straight here for the tent. We didn't even get our beer yet! That's how much we care."
If you go
What: The inaugural Rock The Ocean's Tortuga Music Festival returns Sunday with performers Brett Eldredge, Bright Light Social Hour, Kip Moore, Old Man Luedecke, Grace Potter, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Wailers, the Avett Brothers, Jake Owen and Sister Hazel.
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, 1100 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
Cost: $99 for one-day pass
Contact: TortugaMusicFestival.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun