Just a year and a half ago, program director John O'Connell and his crew at 104.3 the Shark were gearing up for the radio station’s first foray into music festivals, Undertow Jam. The Shark quickly moved on to a second gathering, Riptide Music Festival, which returns this Saturday and Sunday, December 2 and 3, for what promises to be even more wildly successful.
Though the two fests sport titles alluding to ocean dangers, that’s where the similarities end. Riptide takes the talents of both classic pop artists and indie-rock bands to the sands of Fort Lauderdale Beach. The inaugural year included Silversun Pickups, Miike Snow, Earth Wind & Fire, and the B-52's.
This year is broken up into two days that initially seem like maybe Saturday is for the kids and Sunday is for the parents.
Not so. Well, at least not according to O’Connell.
“I don’t think it’s a kids' thing. What I’m learning about millennials more and more every day is that their parents teach them about music. There is an appreciation for both sides. I see the older alternative folks in their 40s and 50s who were 25 when grunge came out and when they were 18, they were listening to Foreigner or Loverboy or Blondie. It didn’t matter. I think that this generation has done a way better job of teaching kids about the music they listen to. There’s a lot of what I call ‘co-sharing’ with music; I’ll teach you mine, and you teach me yours.
“Every show I’ve done with the Shark, I’ve been amazed at the diversity of the crowd. There are young kids out there and there are parents with them, but the parents aren't there to watch the kids; they are there to watch the bands.”
The numbers are evidence that he’s probably right. According to O’Connell, ticket sales for two-day passes have already surpassed last year’s figures. “Triple what we sold last year,” he says. Considering the lineup and the price — $100 for Saturday and Sunday — it’s a Groupon bargain without the middleman.
And just what do South Florida music fans get for their money? A king’s ransom.
Saturday includes not one but three legit headliners: perennial showstopper Cage the Elephant; Portugal the Man, which has one of the biggest hits of the year with its Top 10 single, “Feel It Still”; and the biggest nerd-rock band in the world, Weezer.
Sunday will see Morris Day & the Time performing a tribute to Prince, a revitalized Salt-N-Pepa getting its “Shoop” on, and the ageless Boyz II Men closing out the night. The eclectic roster is rounded out by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, KC & the Sunshine Band, Joywave, New Politics, Saint Motel, and Lou Gramm of Foreigner.
O’Connell hopes attendance will surge. The debut saw 20,000 people flock to the sands of Fort Lauderdale Beach last December. He thinks that number can improve by 10,000. Because of the changes and upgrades to the event, it's entirely feasible.
In addition to an arguably stronger lineup, gone is the single stage that rotated like a secret room behind a bookcase in a murder mystery. It made more sense to organizers to go with a more conventional setup of multiple stages on slightly expanded festival grounds.
There's a main stage, a side stage that will present local acts and smaller national acts, and the Ford Blue Stage, which will be the home of stripped-down, acoustic sets. Organizers hope to enhance the experience for attendees. (The schedule will be released a few days before the festival.)
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“There’s more opportunity to move around as opposed to sitting in one place this year, more towards a truer festival. Year one was getting our tail in the water. Year two we’re expanding and seeing the fact that people don’t like that they can’t move around.”
Some of the additional improvements O’Connell is most excited about are the food options Sunday. Mediterranean, Thai, and vegan are all on the menu. There will also be a wine garden and the public art installation 1000 Mermaids, which takes castings of people’s bodies and turns them into sculptures made of sustainable concrete.
“I think we’re trying to add another dimension there," he says. "People can listen to the music and they can do a little bit more... The big focus is to expand the horizon.”