Riptide Music Fest 2018: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Brendon Urie of Saturday's headliners, Panic! at the Disco (Photo by Jimmy Fontaine)

Last year, I wrote about Riptide as a burgeoning young festival that had potential to be the next SunFest (think of it as more of a supplement than a replacement). Now, with Riptide’s third year in the books, I still feel the event is a natural fit for an empty space within our live music landscape—I just wish its organizers would try a bit harder to iron out some of the major wrinkles that have plagued it since its inaugural year.

Three years in and newly expanded to a three-day lineup, this past weekend’s Riptide 2018 felt like an event whose organizers were significantly more focused on growth than on improvement. An expanded list of sponsors led to clutter among the festival grounds, as almost every single one of the listed sponsors hosted a tent or station of some kind. While this made for much more to experience between sets, it also made it even more difficult to traverse the areas between and behind the two main stages. Mobility throughout the event was troublesome, as pathways were crowded at all times, and bypassing them was nearly impossible due to the plethora of vendors and other tents throughout the festival grounds.

The main complaint among attendees concerned the complete absence of bathrooms for GA ticketholders near the main stage. Just like the festival’s 2017 iteration, the only bathrooms were north of the secondary Underground stage, requiring a troublesome trek up the beach to reach them from the larger Riptide stage, where the biggest bands on the bill performed.

Sporting a noticeably less interesting lineup this year, Riptide’s three days were most easily separated by genre: Friday had a scant assortment of ‘70s and ‘80s nostalgia acts, including the Sugarhill Gang and headliners the Jacksons. Saturday’s acts, much like the Saturday lineup from last year’s iteration, included prominent and emerging indie and rock acts such as Alice Merton, Young the Giant, Sublime with Rome, and headliner Panic! at the Disco. Sunday featured mostly ‘90s rock acts, including the Gin Blossoms, Live, Third Eye Blind, and headliner 311. The lineup ensured that there was something for everybody to enjoy over the course of three days of music, and it showed in the diversity and larger size of the crowd.

Sunday’s headliners, 311

As is common at radio-sponsored festivals, bands were allotted strikingly short set times, with most afternoon acts performing for only 30 minutes. These short sets kept the day moving at a breakneck pace but made it difficult to catch two consecutive sets on different stages.

Let’s focus on the positives: Riptide, I believe, has now fully established itself within the South Florida music scene as something of a winter SunFest, as Fort Lauderdale’s response to that West Palm Beach institution. Fans ranging in age from teenagers to retirees could be seen enjoying the event throughout its duration.

The emergence of electric scooters as a new means of transport in the area helped to slightly alleviate the issue of scarce parking, which is easily the biggest drawback to the event’s location on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Attendees this year could park farther from the actual event with little concern for the long hike to and from their cars, thanks to the countless Bird and Lime scooters that were scattered along the sidewalks.

Another one of the positive changes made this year was the expansion of the grounds by pushing the oceanfront barricade back closer to the water. This undoubtedly opened things up behind the main stage and left more breathing room for attendees who didn’t want to be crammed up in the densest part of the crowd.

It seems that after three years, Riptide has now gained a following of locals who are willing to attend regardless of the lineup—an essential achievement for any developing annual event in the music scene. Though the urge to expand further for next year’s installment may be hard to resist for the event’s organizers, if we’re lucky, they’ll focus on cleaning up the small details to improve the festival as a whole, and to ensure that Riptide remains an essential component of South Florida’s live music calendar for years to come.

Riptide Music Festival 2018 Setlists