Traditional marketing advice says, “Go where your audience is.” The officials behind The Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival near Big Pine Key, Florida, have o-fish-ally taken this next-level. Their audience? Scuba divers and snorkelers. To reach this demographic, festival organizers host their event under the sea in the Florida Keys!
And they’ve done so for 38 years, surfing waves of success. Hundreds of divers and snorkelers showed up for this year’s event. Sound like a fishy proposition? Let’s find out!
Here’s everything you need to know about The Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival and the ins and outs of below-surface concerts.
The Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival
Six miles south of Big Pine Key, Florida, you’ll find Looe Key Reef where The Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival occurs annually. Looe Key Reef is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, established in 1990 to protect 3,800 square miles of ocean, including the only living coral barrier reef in the United States.
Looe Key Reef is the perfect spot to raise awareness about coral reef conservation. The festival introduces attendees to the wonders of this incredible ecosystem, accompanied by ethereal water harmonies and melodies. Interspersed with aquatic hits are messages about what snorkelers and divers can do to shrink their underwater fin-prints.
Over the decades, the music festival has grown dramatically from a small grassroots effort to an internationally recognized event. Moreover, the festival is all about practicing what organizers preach. The action happens in a sandy area removed from the reef.
Why? To ensure musicians don’t disturb marine life or the coral during their performances. Dave Turner, formerly of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, emphasizes, “The preservation of the reef is our main purpose.”
Ocean-Themed Hits and Mermaids Galore
The music showcased at this year’s festival included ocean-themed hits like the theme from The Little Mermaid, the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” and Jimmy Buffet’s “Fins.” Beyond the auditory element, 2023’s Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival also included many gorgeous visual elements.
At the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, divers dressed as mermaids mimed with instruments at Looe Key reef in the National Marine Sanctuary to promote environmentally responsible diving and safeguard the Florida Keys coral reef pic.twitter.com/ZepOrOlYM5
— Reuters (@Reuters) July 10, 2023
They included the stunning setting near one of the so-called “rainforests of the sea,” and a colorful cast of costumed characters. Mermaid garb proved a natural favorite, as did fish and shark costumes. The Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce organized the festival in cooperation with local radio station 104.1 FM, which piped in music.
More About Underwater Music
Although Florida is dabbling in experimental territory with its underwater music festival, the idea of aquatic audio isn’t new. One group that’s pioneered this area of entertainment for years is Denmark’s Aquasonic.
In fact, they hold the distinction of being the first ensemble to perform concerts submerged in water. And they do it without relying on SCUBA gear to breathe! (In all fairness, the water tanks they sit in during performances keep them close enough to the surface for easy access to gulps of air.)
Besides specially crafted tanks for performance, they’ve also spent years perfecting their musical instruments to create haunting, rich, liquid-smooth tunes. Their instruments include the hydraulophone (underwater organ), a rotacorda, a crystallophone, and a violin modified to play under the surface.
If you’re wondering why Aquasonic hasn’t paired up with the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce for a live show yet, we get it. That said, the group would need to add SCUBA equipment to their roster (and marine-themed costumes!) before tackling nep-tunes 20 feet beneath the waves.
Can’t make it to the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival? Don’t fret! You can always catch a dive show at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada!
By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com