Florida Music Festival Guide

music festival
Okeechobee Music Festival. Photo provided by Cynthia Putnam.

To see Scott Piccoli’s full story on the history of music in SoFla, subscribe to Boca Magazine and see the March 2017 issue. 


One sign that South Florida is no longer the sonic wilderness of yore is its proliferation of big-ticket music festivals for lovers of all genres. Here is a handy rundown of the area’s best fests, plus the venues we miss, and artists to listen to before anyone else.

by Scott Piccoli

Okeechobee Music Festival. Photo provided by Cynthia Putnam.
Okeechobee Music Festival. Photo provided by Cyndi Putnam.

Fest Ahead

Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival

Based out of the tiny town of Okeechobee, this festival, going into its second year in March, is the spawn of flower child dreams. Camp out on the grounds, listen to tunes ranging from rock, rap, hip hop, house, dubstep, electronic and a lot more, and explore the venue for endless entertainment.

SunFest

The city-sponsored block party on the Intracoastal of West Palm Beach is a family-friendly and eclectic affair that has programmed punk bands, rap stars and American Idol winners alike across its sprawling live-music schedule. See this year’s lineup here.

Jazz in the Gardens

In the decade since its debut, Jazz in the Gardens in Miami Gardens has cultivated its audience by emphasizing R&B, funk, soul, a little bit of hip-hop and, yes, jazz. The March festival has also grown big enough to claim Hard Rock/Sun Life/ Dolphins Stadium as its main stage.

Ultra

A monster of a music festival, Ultra draws tens of thousands of event-goers to Miami in March in an annual gathering of the electronic tribes. It’s a thumping show of sound and light featuring the DJs and bands that make the world’s dance floors throb.

III Points

This event premiered in October in Miami’s thriving arts district in Wynwood with a smart lineup of electronic ensembles, DJs and indie-pop bands, and looks poised to keep coming back.

99.9 Kiss Country Chili Cookoff

The biggest country music stars play this radio bash every winter at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines. At 30 years and counting, the Cookoff is the biggest and most durable of South Florida radio festivals, outlasting its long-gone rock counterparts, the Buzz Bake Sale and Zetafest. Not even Y-100’s popular “Jingle Ball” comes close for sheer longevity and attendance numbers.

Tortuga

A newcomer to the South Florida festival circuit, Tortuga brings big-name country acts to the Fort Lauderdale Beach shore every April, and splits the bill with rock, roots and jam-band music, finding common ground between cowboy Kenny Chesney and socially conscious Michael Franti.

The Hukilau

This smaller-scale shindig does an outsized job celebrating all things Polynesian. For 15 years, every June, The Hukilau has made Fort Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai restaurant its base, enticing fans of tiki culture from near and far with a bounty of surf bands, pop art, hula dancing, fruity drinks and more.

Venues We Miss

These favorite clubs and theaters are gone but not forgotten.

Hollywood Sportatorium, Pembroke Pines (1970-1988)

Big, unpretty and acoustically rough, the old Sportatorium was the quintessential ‘70s concert venue, where South Florida’s young, dazed and confused got to see their favorite arena rock bands and brag afterward about surviving the night.

Sunrise Musical Theater, Sunrise (1976 – 2002)

A medium-sized, multi-purpose auditorium with a touch of swank, Sunrise hosted everyone from Frank Sinatra to Hole before it was sold to a local church.

Carefree Theatre, West Palm Beach (1947 – 2005)

This deco-style movie theater and concert space was the intimate setting for close encounters with performers who don’t sell millions of records but do attract devoted, music-geek fans. Memorable shows by Wilco, Ben Folds, Lucinda Williams and more made the Carefree’s sudden, code-induced shutdown cause for mourning.

Woody’s (1987-1989), The Stephen Talkhouse (1992-1997), Miami Beach

Talk to veteran South Florida music publicist Woody Graber, and he’ll tell you these were legendary local clubs—he worked at both, so of course he would. But Woody’s (named for owner Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones) and the Talkhouse did have an undeniable star power that made both feel like the center of the universe whenever rock ‘n’ roll royalty dropped in to play, which happened pretty often.

Peaches Records & Tapes, Fort Lauderdale (1976-2001)

Though not a concert hall per se, the boxy Peaches building on East Sunrise Boulevard put on memorable in-store gigs, including live local radio broadcasts of South Florida bands on the brink of national stardom—from the almost-famous punk quartet The Cichlids in 1979 to the completely infamous Marilyn Manson more than a decade later.

Tomorrow’s stars

Hear them here first before radio and iTunes catch on.

Pouya

This emerging, fleet-of-tongue Miami rapper was already turning heads when he landed on one of rap’s most unexpected viral hits: “Dat $tick,” a self-produced track and video by a teenager from Jakarta who calls himself Rich Chigga. After his cameo on a “$tick” remix alongside hip-hop luminary Ghostface Killah, Pouya might soon be courting stardom himself.

Brika

With her dusky voice, Miami’s Brika sounds dreamy and unhurried even when she’s turning jazzy rhythmic somersaults over deep beats. A chanteuse for the electronic age, Brika has a strikingly accomplished debut album, 2014’s “Voice Memos,” to her credit, and a growing fan-base eager to hear more.

Bluejay

This trio blends synth and cello, among other sounds, into an artful and personable whole that somehow feels very Miami but isn’t at all casting-call tropicalia. Bluejay has played for ravers at the III Points electronica festival in Wynwood and for Miami’s donor class at the Adrienne Arsht Center, and been well received everywhere.

Chaucer

Springing mainly from the mind of West Palm Beach resident Josh Simkowitz, Chaucer makes inventive, eccentric rock that has music fiends, local tastemakers and fellow-musicians taking notice. Chris Carrabba, the Boca Ratonian who rose to fame as Dashboard Confessional, says of Simkowitz’s work, “I would describe it as like Violent Femmes meets Flaming Lips meets Built to Spill.”