Concert Review: The Highs and Lows of Riptide 2017

Photo by James Biagiotti

Back for its second year and featuring a diverse lineup between Saturday and Sunday, Fort Lauderdale’s beachside Riptide Music Festival returned to the sand with vigor for a mostly successful 2017 installment this past weekend.

Featuring 20 different bands and sponsored by a handful of local radio stations, Riptide looks to fill a void left in South Florida by the dissolution of other small music festivals in recent years. My experience at the festival on Saturday bodes well for the event, as great weather and a positive atmosphere throughout the crowd made for a pleasant day on the beach, with great sound at the mainstage all day and vendors easily accessible throughout the festival grounds.

Unfortunately, no music festival, big or small, is without its inconveniences, and Riptide had its fair share. Parking was a nightmare, and concertgoers were left to fend for themselves with no festival-run parking lots near the venue. With all the shuttles sold out in advance, this made getting to the event a real hassle, delaying the arrival of many attendees later into the afternoon. The most prominent issue stemmed from the baffling choice to only have bathrooms in one location, far from the main stage, which suffered from long lines throughout the day.

Portugal, the Man.
Portugal. the Man

Soon after I arrived, Portugal. the Man’s set was a pleasant early surprise. The Alaska/Portland group sounded fantastic, and was the first of a few examples of questionable scheduling, as their heavier, jam-band and classic rock-inspired set seemed better suited to the sunset timeslot that Saint Motel received after them. Though the crowd went nuts for closing track “Feel It Still,” the group’s inescapable crossover hit from earlier this year, I was much more intrigued and entranced by renditions of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2,” and The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

It was odd to see Portugal. the Man slotted before Saint Motel and Andrew McMahon on the schedule, especially with the latter two returning to the fest for the second year in a row, a strange booking move for a festival still in its infancy. Those spots on the lineup could have been utilized to deploy some more diversity into the day’s music, but ended up being a few hours of stale, uninspired pop drivel.

During the underwhelming stretch during which Saint Motel and Andrew McMahon performed, the energetic crowd served as a buoy that kept the stint from becoming intolerable. The fervent sing-alongs, avid dancing, and yes, that one guy who climbed 15 feet up a palm tree, reminded us that music fans in South Florida can still hold their own against rabid devotees in bigger markets.

Weezer
Weezer

Sets ran promptly on time throughout the day until until Weezer’s was the first to start late, with the band taking the stage ten minutes after its scheduled start time. The alt-rock heroes played a good-but-not-great set, during which they made time for both old favorites and newer hits, but not a single deep cut. From the moment he took the stage clad in a yellow windbreaker, Rivers Cuomo reminded us that he’s still the coolest dorky dad you’ll ever see headline a festival, and that he’s arguably still the greatest hook writer in music. The band’s set featured highlights like “Say It Ain’t So,” new favorite “Feels Like Summer,” and an unexpected cover of the Pixies classic “Where is My Mind,” to promote the two groups’ co-headlining tour next summer.

Unfortunately, technical difficulties with Brian Bell’s lead guitar throughout the whole show and an “unexpected accompaniment” from a fan who ran onstage to sing into Rivers’ mic during “Happy Hour” marred the group’s portion of the night, which clocked in ten minutes short of its planned 60 minutes.

Cage the Elephant stripping down. Photo by James Biagiotti
Cage the Elephant stripping down. Photo by James Biagiotti

Despite the energy and antics of its frontman, Cage the Elephant didn’t quite live up to the hype when they followed Weezer as the final act of the night. Matt Schultz, the group’s aggressively energetic singer, stayed animated throughout the set and kept the crowd engaged, but some of his antics, such as stripping down to faux-nude shorts toward the end of the show, came off as trite and spurious. Overall, the band just didn’t have enough truly great songs to sustain a 70-minute set, with many tracks falling flat or seeming like filler. By the time show-closer “Teeth” came around, not even Schultz’s performance was enough to keep me interested.

When Riptide’s schedule was released a few days before the event, I wondered aloud why Cage the Elephant would be playing the night’s final set instead of Weezer. After seeing both bands and carefully considering it, I understand the decision to give Cage the Elephant the night’s true headlining slot, despite the fact that I was underwhelmed with the Kentucky band’s set. The gap in energy between the two groups is so wide, you could land a plane in it. Though Weezer undeniably has seniority and boasts more hits, it would have been strange to ask Rivers Cuomo, music’s favorite introvert, to follow Matt Schultz’s sprightly and strip-laden performance.

Though there are a handful of logistical issues that need to be ironed out before Riptide’s likely third year in 2018, it seems to me that this festival can fill a void in the South Florida music scene, which—SunFest aside—is surprisingly barren north of Miami. If Riptide can hang on for next year and improve its booking and organization, South Floridian music fans could finally have a true indie-rock festival that’s here to stay.

Riptide Festival 2017 Setlists