Riptide Music Festival 2017 Had Something for Everyone

This weekend, Riptide Music Festival took over Fort Lauderdale Beach for the second year. Organizers significantly expanded the event both artistically and geographically, showing their ambition to make the fest a mainstay.

Although the thousands of fans sporting Miami Hurricanes gear didn’t see an ACC championship, South Florida won with Riptide. It had something for everyone — though like any new festival, it offered a combination of perfect waves and a few shark bites.

If there was one major misstep, it was the setup in front of the main stage. One would think that placing a stage on a large swath of beach would offer excellent sight lines from any angle. This was unfortunately not the case.

The main stage stood facing the ocean, a boon to performers for sure, with an elevated VIP section on the left side and the remainder of the fest on the right. But space was at a premium, and for some reason, Riptide organizers cut straight through the middle of the crowd with a soundboard and lighting tent and then attached a rat-tail of food vendors that stretched way back toward the shoreline. This eliminated 20 to 30 percent of viewing opportunities Saturday when the fest was at capacity. It can be easily remedied next year by going length-wise as Tortuga Music Festival does every spring.

Thankfully, the music onstage was mostly fun. Saturday saw Joywave, New Politics, and Saint Motel, three youngish indie bands all rock fans should know. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, a late-afternoon standout, rode in on a giant rubber ducky and thrilled the crowd with his optimism and enthusiastic energy, at one point proclaiming, “Tonight I celebrate the good. We celebrate each other.”

When New Times spoke to the Shark’s John O’Connell, he called Portugal the Man one of the three headliners. And indeed, the Alaska natives certainly have the street cred these days. So it was odd to see them scheduled at 3:40 p.m. Saturday, an incredibly early set time for a top act. We can only assume this was because they were due in Tampa the next day. Odder still was the set list, which was about eight or nine songs but included four covers, including Metallica and the Beatles. Portugal the Man fans know damn well this band has hours of incredible original material.

Later, Weezer barreled through its long catalogue of hits and crowd pleasers, from “Say It Ain’t So” to a cover of “Where Is My Mind?" by upcoming tour mates the Pixies. At times the sound was a bit low, but the crowd helped amplify it with sing-alongs.

Cage the Elephant was the absolute showstopper of this breezy, cool evening, heating up the event with jangly, raucous modern classics. Each beefy rock number was led by Matt Shultz, the charismatic lead singer, who invoked Mick Jagger, his spirit animal, every chance he got.

Day two, or lazy Sunday, was for recovery and relaxation. The crowd was considerably smaller, and it was a family affair with plenty of parents and children and older couples populating pastel beach chairs.

With the reduction in people, it was easier to take in the other amenities.

The Ford Blue Stage was a nice addition with plenty of potential. Some local acts knocked out acoustic sets in front of an Improv-like faux-brick backdrop beneath deep-blue lights of the nightclub variety. Perhaps in the future, this might be the tent for surprise pop-up jams by headlining artists.

The Yuengling Sports Bar and an adjacent wine garden, which had been largely inaccessible Saturday thanks to the crush of bodies, was quiet and inviting. Couples took photos of each other and the giant octopus curiously peeking out from the sand nearby. In the background, Lou Gramm of Foreigner sounded clear and crisp while singing “Jukebox Hero.”

Boyz II Men, clad in all white, broke the night open with “Motown Philly” and “On Bended Knee” as an orange supermoon blazed over the Atlantic Ocean. Wanya Morris encouraged the crowd by saying, “Enjoy the rest of the night and the rest of your lives from this point on.” It was a much-needed message in a time of national crisis. When the group closed with “End of the Road” (after jumping on instruments and surprising the audience with some Lenny Kravitz and Bruno Mars tunes) Riptide could very well have ended there.

But we still needed to salsa and boogie.

The Mambo King, Tito Puente Jr., and Hialeah’s own disco veterans, KC & the Sunshine Band, sent Riptide 2017 out on a high note. These were probably two of the most fun stages of the weekend, with everyone — of every background, ethnicity, and awkward dancing ability — grooving and jiving to a flurry of positive vibes.

Ultimately, Riptide was still finding its identity in year two. However, attendees will continue to enjoy this winter beach party and its seemingly random, all-colors-of-the-rainbow approach to lineup assembly for as long as it's evolving.

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