What good clean fun: gathering at a splendid subtropical vista to enjoy music. No, not exceptional for South Florida, where any activity can be integrated with a day at the beach. Except this particular sonic amusement takes place entirely beneath the surface of the ocean. The annual orchestral immersion known as the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festivalhas expanded and laid further claim to cultural import by adding a visual arts exhibition (yes, underwater) and adopting a special title for the 21st edition: AquaCulture: Music and Art in the Key of the Sea. Right: The puns continue un-abaited.
Despite organizers' cracks about culture "afishionados" enjoying sounds created on instruments such as "trombonefish, staghorn, manta-lin, fiddle crab, and drumfish," there is a serious side to the harmonic submergence: spotlighting the diversity of life around North America's only living coral barrier reef.
Hundreds of divers and snorkelers arrive by boat at a spot along Looe Key Reef, about six miles south of Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, to listen to songs ("Yellow Submarine," "Fins," whale sounds, and the like) through submerged Lubell speakers. (Anyone can drive down and charter a ride to the dive area.) Staged by Conch FM (WCNK-98.7), the listening party features recorded tips about the importance of the reef and enjoying it without destroying it.
New this year is the visual arts exhibition, featuring pieces by Barbara Hettinger (yes, she does work in watercolors and, yes, they are describing her stuff as "new wave") and others from Artists in Paradise Gallery, a Big Pine Key co-op. Hettinger, who moved to the Keys two decades ago, is especially accomplished in creating realistic pieces depicting aspects of life in the subtropics.
After the concert, everyone is invited to a party at Parrotdise Bar & Grille (Mile Marker 28.5, Little Torch Key), which is accessible by boat or car.