RIPTIDE MUSIC FESTIVAL – A TSUNAMI OF SOUND, SIGHT AND SOARING ALTERNATIVE ROCK
Article By Elizabeth Dashiell
What do you get when you combine perfect weather, more than 30,000 fans and the hottest hit-makers in today’s alternative rock scene in an explosion of “sets on the beach”? It can only be 104.3 FM The Shark’s RIPTIDE MUSIC FESTIVAL. Returning to Fort Lauderdale for its 4th consecutive year, this Broward County Signature Event featured top-of-the-chart bands including: The Killers, The 1975, Silversun Pickups, K. Flay, Matt Maeson, The Revivalists, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Soul Asylum and more of the biggest modern rock names spread across two days and three stages.
Once again “powered by Ford,” the premier alt-rock event included more than just memory-making music. The Ford lounge again offered an oasis to relax and enjoy up-and-coming performers, many of them unplugged, while experiencing the balmY breeze with a preferred cocktail (White Claw being the most-ordered). Visit Broward tourism department displayed a wall of creative album recreations using local town names like “Fort Lauderdale & the Machine,” “Lifehouse Point,” “Lorderdale Lakes” and others, while reps applied the Riptide logo temporary tattoos to the thousands of visitors arriving from across the nation. More than 20 of the hottest restaurants were ready with tasty bites (even healthy ones!) for every palette, while fans could dip their entire arm into swirled body paint vats for the cool, visual fest experience. Hammocks, benches and other chill spots were plentiful but what fans loved most were the thousands of complimentary beach towels handed out at the entrance for those lucky enough to arrive early. Mother Nature once again cooperated with highs in the upper 70’s, sunshine galore and a perfect breeze. Nearly every performer mentioned how happy they were to take the stage in tropical Paradise as the rest of the country froze. While the weather is always out of the hands of the organizers, the rest of the festival flowed just as beautifully.
It takes an insane amount of effort to produce a festival of this scale and so huge props go to all involved at The Shark FM and its parent, Entercom Communications. I don’t envy the person who had to decide which artists (all arguably headliners in their own rights) went on the Shark Attack main stage, and which on the Underground stage. That the performances flowed like clockwork, (with no delays!) allowing fans to move between stages without entirely missing any full set is a miracle in itself. And speaking of the sets…
The day started with Swedish folk-pop duo Smith & Thell on the main stage and The Band Camino on the Underground stage. The Band Camino sounded crisp and cool jamming out their up-tempo songs of love and perseverance. Recently signed with Elektra Records, this pop-rock band from Memphis got the crowd swaying and jumping when Jeffrey Jordan and Spencer Stewart started into their latest hit, “Daphne Blue.” The easygoing pop rhythm drifted like the cool breeze across the sand as the crowds continued to grow.
White Reaper was next on the main stage, and these fun-loving boys from Kentucky continued the breezy vibe with an incredible set that featured hits from their The World’s Greatest American Band album as well as their newest release, You Deserve Love. The ironically-named band with their harmonized guitars, clipping drums and Tony Esposito’s plaintive voice evoked a memory of the age of Valley Girl during their performance of “Real Long Time” which practically dared the audience to not bounce along with the beat.
104.3 FM The Shark DJ’s welcomed everyone between sets and filled them in on other happenings around the beach before introducing each band or artist. Matt Maeson was welcomed out next and he was quick to say hello, point out that no one had mentioned his new mustache and then explained that their drummer was in the hospital, which meant his set would be done stripped. Of all the talent that took the stages the entire weekend, Maeson is the one performer who could pull off a stripped session for crowds this size. A guitar and his vocals alone caused a hush to fall across the thousands of fan gathered in the sand. He started in on “Hallucinogenics” with the crowd clapping in the background, providing the base beat of the missing drums. Maeson followed that one with a brief story of how he ended up sleeping on top of a Wendy’s one night when he was living out of his car, and when he awoke, he wrote the song “Me and My Friends Are Lonely.” From early years traveling with his “musicianary” parents, to drug addiction and juvenile delinquent sentencing, Maeson has lived a lifetime for one his age, and his talent for storytelling through songwriting benefits all who are lucky enough to hear him. Filling each note, verse and breath with a wealth of feeling, Maeson moved the crowd with his latest chart-topper, “Go Easy” before ending with his #1 Alt Rock hit “Cringe,” which had fans running towards the stage to sing along.
As the day warmed up and the crowds swelled, the D.C. favorites SHAED took the main stage. This trio of vocalist Chelsea Lee, along with twin brothers (and Lee’s “better half”) Spencer Ernst and Max Ernst has taken the charts by storm for their premiering album Melt. Lee swayed on stage, her powerful voice punctuating each syllable of the opening song “Too Much” while the electro beats of “ISOU” bounced along with the gigantic beach balls that were currently being passed along the crowd. After repeating again how nice it was to be in such perfect weather compared to D.C., impossibly, Lee’s voice seemed to grow stronger with each song, belting across the 10,000-plus sea of blissful fans. By the time the band closed with their #1 hit “Trampoline,” the Riptide Festival crowd was screaming in delight, with fans live tweeting “#RiptideFest2020 headliner SHAED.”
From the smooth, electronic pop-rock sugar of SHAED came the beat-driven brilliance of The Silversun Pickups. One of the few main stage acts of the weekend to have twenty-years of rock-and-roll tenure, this LA band has had enduring success in the alternative rock scene without compromising their own unique sound or style. Featuring Brian Aubert on lead vocals and guitar, Nikki Monninger on bass and backing vocals, madman drummer Chris Guanlao on percussion and Joe Lester on keyboard and synth they jumped (literally, there was jumping on the stage) into the set with “Neon Wound” before moving on to their latest hit, “It Doesn’t Matter Why.” Aubert’s voice is so incredibly distinctive and seems to float (with help from bassist Monninger’s own ethereal contributions) above the flowing layers of instruments in the quieter moments of each song before suddenly wailing a la Billy Corgan (although we should probably compare Corgan to Aubert in all honesty). These gentle-to-hard-rocking transitions in songs like “Panic Switch” and “Lazy Eye” give each artist in the group a physical workout, but possibly none quite like Guanlao. The self-taught drummer’s wild style on stage was a show in itself, but the percussion-heavy rhythm serves as an ever steady heartbeat for the Grammy-nominated band and Guanlao was not the only one getting into it on the stage. Lester, Monninger and Aubert were also jumping, moving and grooving throughout the set, smiles on their faces and clearly enjoying every moment of the show – as were the thousands of enthusiastic fans.
Hordes of those fans were immediately dashing across the sand for another legend-in-the-making performer who was enchanting the crowds. K. Flay, the badass babe who raps and rocks in equal measure was prowling on the Underground stage. Her electronic-pop “Bad Vibes” cheerfully skewered the negative, goth-wannabe with brutal precision, and, after explaining why she refused an earlier offer of a bottle of rum or vodka in the green room, she launched into the beat-heavy hit “High Enough.” Rapidly rapping off all the bad habits she used to have with chemicals, she belted out the chorus “I’m already high enough” with the crowd screaming along.
Meanwhile on the main stage, those rock and roll raconteurs, The Revivalists were about to bring a taste of big band sounds from The Big Easy to the anxiously awaiting crowd. Hailed as one of the 10 Bands You Need to Know by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2016, and with two number one songs under their belts in the past two years, there were a lot of expectations from the fans, and this band did not disappoint. Starting with "You Said it All," lead vocalist David Shaw strutted around the stage, clearly singing his heart out. Guitarist Zack Feinberg and bassist George Gekas mounted the stage edge speakers, and riffed off each other during "Oh No" drawing rousing cheers. By the time they finished their hit single "All My Friends," the audience knew that this was going to be a truly interactive experience. Shaw stood still long enough to accuse the crowd of making him sweat, and from then on it was time to let his hair down. Which he did. Literally. Venturing out towards, then into, the screaming throngs of fans, the band members lived up to their name, reviving those who had been relaxing from the sun, salt air and copious amounts of White Claw. By the time the finale performance of "Wish I Knew You" began, every single conscious person was on his or her feet, dancing and screaming along.
Whipping up the frenzy to ever higher peaks, saxophonist Rob Ingraham's solo was a jaw-dropping performance of fingers flying over the valves so fast they were a blur on the close-up projected video. Before his standing ovation ended, the group led the now 30,000 strong in one final round of the chorus. Several people seated near me explained that they had come specifically to see the revivalist and departed right after, with two bands left to play. Their space did not remain empty for long and, with the appearance of the British alt-rockers, The 1975 up next, there was not a free inch of sand to be seen.
Before The 1975 could take over the festival, there was one more mad dash across the beach to catch Judah & the Lion. By this time, the Sun had set and carefully stepping over and around the beach towels was its own exciting game of minetracker. Back at the Underground stage, the Nashville trio of Judah Akers (vocals, guitar), Brian Macdonald (mandolin, vocals), and Nate Zuercher (banjo, vocals) teased the crowd by hiding in utter darkness before a blast of smoke and strobe announced their appearance with the song “Pep Talk.” Considering their music has been used as openers for ESPN College Football and other get-ready-to-rumble types of staging, the excessive and dramatic visual effects would make sense; however, the venue itself didn’t lend itself to that and actually distracted from just enjoying the pleasure of watching the hard work each one of them puts in to produce each anthem-worthy song. There wasn’t time to join in the fun of their popular “Take It All Back” for everyone though, as it was back to the main stage for The 1975.
Lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and producer of The 1975, Matthew Healy has been quoted as saying, “I don’t know what my band is half the time,” and for many in the audience, the feeling was mutual. After the group transitioned from “Give Yourself a Try” to “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” one concertgoer said, “Hear that? This is a completely different band.” Healy swayed, crooned and teased the audience on stage, his voice going from deeply British-smooth to heavily auto-synthed out. Trying to define the genre of the band is as challenging as it was trying to guess what Healy would do next on stage: swing the microphone cord around his neck like a hula-hoop until it choked him? Bare down while leaning precariously over the edge of the set before suddenly swinging back to beat a rhythm with song co-writer and drummer George Daniel? It was anyone’s guess, and the audience of 20-somethings could not get enough. Holding an impressive three consecutive #1 albums in the UK charts (with more than on in the US), this Manchester-based British pop rock group produces songs that clearly borrow from a barrage of others: Brit new wave groups like Scritti Pollitti, Yaz (Yazoo ‘Across the Pond’) and legendary rockers like David Bowie and INXS. All of these different influences could be heard throughout songs like the bubble-gum up-tempo ballad “It’s Not Living if It’s Not With You,” and the dreamy, angst ridden “Somebody” where the beauty of Healy’s voice floated across the crowd like a caress. Girls were crying, fanboys were screaming, “I love you, Matthew!” and the Fort Lauderdale beach turned into a massive, breeze-laden 80’s discotheque. Only the music they were jamming to included the lyrics “sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe” which, as one festival attendee said, “Is just soooo 1975.” Indeed it is, but this band of contradictions with their combination of catchy chords, teenage angst and activism-laden lyrics may just be the band for the 2020’s.
One things is for sure though, all the current and future alt rock hit makers were here, and truly embraced their moments in the sun during the Riptide Music Festival – and those who had the chance to experience it will remember it for a lifetime.