Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale with Billy Currington
By Michael Sincere, columnist for MarketWatch/Wall Street Journal
Sometimes I step away from the stock market and go to music festivals. For three days in April, the fourth annual Rock the Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale featured country stars including Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Billy Currington, Kelsea Bellerini, Elle King and more. Judging by the crowds of nearly 90,000 music fans who flocked to Florida from 47 states and 16 countries, the festival was a huge success.
Founded and produced by HUKA Entertainment, Tortuga Music Festival is country music’s first large-scale festival on the beach. In addition to showcasing three days of music on three stages, set in the sand at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, the festival raises awareness and support for marine conservation with Rock The Ocean Foundation and the onsite Conservation Village.
HUKA Entertainment is also devoted to helping develop and promote up-and-coming artists. “I’ve been in the music business a long time and have always cared deeply about developing artists,” says HUKA Entertainment CEO Evan Harrison. “With Tortuga Music Festival we bring artists early in their career and watch them grow. We play an important role in artist development because exposing new artists is the lifeblood of our business.”
In many ways, companies such as HUKA are replacing the role that the record companies traditionally played. “As an independent promoter with a strong track record,” Harrison says, “we share our vision with the artist. They are taking a chance on us, but once they come on stage and see a large audience in front of the ocean, they come back the second year.”
Best-selling country singer Billy Currington was one of several artists who made a return performance at Tortuga in 2016, headlining the Sunrise Stage on Day 3. Currington previously played the festival in 2014 and it instantly became one of his favorites of the year.
“It’s right on the ocean, people are just having a great time, it goes on for days. The backstage setup is perfect, the way they set the stage up out there on the beach is perfect.”
After deeming Tortuga one of the “best gigs I ever had,” due to the amazing oceanfront setting as well as its important cause, coming back to the biggest country party on the beach, this year to headline the Sunrise Stage, was a no-brainer.
“The amazing thing about performing at festivals like Tortuga, is that fans are exposed to artists they may not have heard before,” says Currington. “It gives artists a chance to gain new fans in a setting like this, especially the up-and-coming artists.”
For Currington, the importance of getting that initial exposure to fans as a new artist is something he can remember from the early days in his career. Even as a child, Billy knew that he wanted to be a singer. He started by singing in church choirs, and because of his talent, he often got lead parts. Getting the lead at his church made him feel special, which helped fuel his desire to sing even more.
Billy’s life changed dramatically when he was 17 years old. That’s when Billy met a preacher from Tennessee. After hearing Billy sing, the preacher knew that Billy had a special talent. They became friends and one day, the preacher said to Billy, “You need to move to Nashville.”
At first, Billy wasn’t keen on the idea of taking a road trip but eventually he drove with the preacher to Nashville. “The preacher showed me the town and I loved it. I was addicted. That’s when I knew exactly where I wanted to be when I graduated high school,” Billy said, “thanks to my preacher friend.”
Before Billy’s first hit record, he played a lot of bars and house gigs. But after his first hit song on the country charts, “I Got a Feelin’,” his life changed. “Everything that I had dreamed of was coming true based on that first song. And then it started building from there.” Right now, he has released six albums, earning ten No.1 singles including “Good Directions,” “Hey Girl,” and his most recent top 40 hit, “Drinkin’ Town with a Football Problem.”
Although nothing changed with his hometown friends in Georgia, as Billy became more famous, a lot of people he didn’t know claimed to know him and pretended to be family. “I still have my best friends from high school, two or three core people, and my family, and that has not changed.”
One of the most significant events in Billy’s life was being invited to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. “Every entertainer, especially in the country music genre, dreams of walking on that stage,” he says. “And when I got to do that, it was a special moment. That night, I had a reunion with the preacher who first brought me to Nashville. I’ve been very thankful to him for opening my eyes and providing me all these opportunities.”
One of Billy’s passions, one that few people know, is that he loves to sell coconuts in Key West, Florida. “I’ve been selling coconut water for several years. I have a stand in Key West and whenever I’m not on the road, I go to the Keys, climb a coconut tree, and gather as many coconuts as I can. Then I take them to Mallory Square and sell then with my partner, Randash. I’ve been doing that for over 12 years.”
When people get off the cruise ships looking to see the sunset, Billy and his partner are there, selling coconuts for $5 each. A lot of the time, people don’t even realize that the guy cutting coconuts is a best-selling country singer with a string of hit records.
For Billy, cutting coconuts is almost a spiritual experience. “Coconuts are the purest water on earth. It takes nine months for the rain to go up through the ground, up the tree, and into the coconut. Nine months later you are harvesting it.”
Along the way in his journey, Billy learned quite a few lessons. “Always be kind to people, and don’t always have your eye on the dollar sign,” he says. “Appreciate what you got and not what you want. If you appreciate what you got, all the other stuff you dream about will come. Live in the moment. Don’t worry about who has bigger success; otherwise you will never be happy.”
Billy practices what he preaches. When he is not playing music and touring, Billy is either surfing in Hawaii or hacking coconuts in Key West. “At one time I was doing 310 days a year of music, and after five years, I realized that was not the life I dreamed of. So I backed off and am living the life I wanted.”
He also discovered that the less he worried about money, the more it came. “I never worry about much I need or have or don’t have,” he says. “I just take what I got and enjoy it.”
The next time you visit Mallory Square in Key West at sunset and see a guy hacking coconuts, take a close look because it might be Billy Currington.