There Are Only Two Women in the Tortuga Music Festival Lineup, and We're Tired of Writing This Think Piece
Photo by James Argyropoulos

There Are Only Two Women in the Tortuga Music Festival Lineup, and We're Tired of Writing This Think Piece

Hope you're planning on some barbecue at Tortuga Music Festival this year, 'cause it's a straight-up sausage fest.

Of the nearly 30 acts scheduled to play this year's festival, only two performers — singers Lucie Silvas and Maggie Baugh — are women. Sister Hazel? Nope, not a woman. Doesn't count. That means organizers are trending way down from last year, when a whopping six of 35 acts at Tortuga included at least one woman.

Low representation of women in festival lineups is nothing new, and New Times has covered the phenomenon extensively. Over the past couple of years, we've taken Okeechobee Music Festival and Ultra Music Festival to task for their minimal booking of women musicians. Last year's Rolling Loud lineup included three women in a group of 54 acts, and in 2016, there were only two. This year, the festival has doubled its number of performers, and 12 of them are women. In a refreshing move that should be lauded, Rolling Loud has booked Cardi B as a headliner for next month's festival. But when 10 percent representation for half the world's population is seen as progress, that's a sign that the bar has been set shamefully low.

This year's Jazz in the Gardens represented a giant leap in the right direction — women made up half the list of performers — but Tortuga's return to form shows that Jazz in the Gardens is more of an outlier rather than the new rule.

This lack of inclusion, particularly in the supposedly liberal hippie havens that are music festivals, should be shocking to the senses in 2018, or anytime after the Mad Men era really. But it is even more egregious that women's voices are being ignored in the immediate afterglow of two global women's marches, the #MeToo movement, and Hollywood's Time's Up campaign. If you're tired of listening to women's voices for precisely these reasons, Tortuga is just the place to go for refuge this year. Lucie Silvas and Maggie Baugh play the early-afternoon sets Sunday; otherwise, women are not to be seen or heard from onstage for the duration of the three-day festival.

In the past, when New Times has asked festival organizers why women continue to be overlooked at music festivals, their answers always come down to giving their target audiences what they want. "Honestly, it’s not that we don’t want to put women on the stage; it’s mostly what people want to see," Rolling Loud organizers Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif said last year before adding, "also, most of our audience is male, so they just happen to choose males." Conversely, Jazz in the Gardens producer Scott Gartner says the reason the festival is so inclusive is that 55 to 60 percent of their target audience is made up of women. Both Rolling Loud and Jazz in the Gardens poll their audiences about the acts they want to see before beginning the booking process, and they reason that gender disparities in their audiences are then reflected in the final lineups.

But women make up a large part of Tortuga Music Festival's audience, and that fact should be reflected in the performers. It has been suggested that the Tortuga audience traditionally skews more conservative than, say, Rolling Loud or Okeechobee Fest and is thus uninterested in getting involved in the culture wars. After all, they're on the beach to party, drink beer, and listen to their favorite music.

The irony is that the mainstream pop-country world famously reckoned with a feminist uprising two whole years before the first Weinstein accusers ever said, "Me too." In a now-infamous May 2015 interview with Country Aircheck Weekly, country radio consultant Keith Hill said women's songs should be used sparsely on station playlists. "If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out," he said at the time. "Trust me, I play great female records, and we've got some right now. They're just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."

Hill responded to the ensuing backlash by garnishing that salad with a dash of defensiveness, a sprinkle of condescension, and a hilariously unfortunate turn of phrase. "Apparently, I am a black-and-white '60s politically incorrect guy by using the tomatoes analogy for females. I am not sure if it would have been better to use carrots or onions," he said in response. "But 'tossing the salad' in music is necessary, because a station doesn't want to bunch up ballads, Americana, or even male artists on its playlist."

Country Aircheck publisher Lon Helten also came to Hill's defense with a reprise of the Archie Bunker routine. "Remember, since the 1960s, program directors have been telling people not to play two women back-to-back," he said at the time. "It has nothing to do with sexism. It has to do with the fact that through the years, you have had very few hits by women, so you want to spread them out a little bit because there are fewer of them."

Program directors have been told not to play too many songs sung by women, and women have had fewer hits. Could the two possibly be related? The women of country music seemed to think so. The controversy, which quickly came to be known as TomatoGate, resulted in hourlong women-only playlists on country radio, seemingly endless think pieces and responses from the women of the country music world, and even a limited run of "tomato" and accompanying "tomato lover" T-shirts from Martina McBride.

Still, in 2018, Tortuga Music Festival hasn't changed the classic recipe. It's even more distressing in light of the fact that, out of all mainstream genres save for pop music, women have dominated country music in recent years. Two country singers, Kasey Musgraves and 2017 Tortuga Fest alum Maren Morris, straddled both worlds with successful crossovers this year — Musgraves with her new pop album Golden Hour and Morris with her Zedd collaboration, "The Middle."

The organizers at Tortuga Music Festival are not genre purists by any stretch of the imagination, so they could have made room for artists who have strayed beyond the country music world, such as Musgraves, or artists who have recently crossed into it, such as Bebe Rexha, whose "Meant to Be" collaboration with Florida Georgia Line is the number one country music single on Billboard this week. Genre purity is not a valid excuse at Tortuga. After all, the fest has booked Shaggy, marking the second time this year the reggae artist has taken a spot in a lineup that should have gone to a deserving woman.

Tortuga Music Festival. Friday, April 6, through Sunday, April 8, at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, 1100 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-828-7275. Tickets cost $125 to $1,150 via tortugamusicfestival.com.

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