Come Labor Day weekend, boots, cowboy hats and line dancing will trump chancletas (flip-flops,) guayaberas and salsa moves in Miami’s first major country music festival.
Thousands of fans will flock to the grounds of the iconic Miami Marine Stadium for the Tequila Bay Country Music Festival. The full-day festival will showcase A-list country acts including Brantley Gilbert, Kip Moore and Montgomery Gentry. And free tequila will be on tap.
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With the bay as a backdrop, organizers say they are tapping into the homegrown, Hispanic audience who increasingly loves country music. The festival also will showcase a venue — granted, it’s the grounds, not the stadium — that hasn’t had a major concert in decades.
“This is where Miami meets good ole’ country music,” said Nelson Albareda, president of Loud and Live, the producer. “Country music is no longer a niche genre. It’s a mainstream genre and Miami is no longer a small city. It’s a major cosmopolitan city and every music genre should have a place in the city.”
In the last 10 years, the number of Hispanic country music fans across the nation has grown by 25 percent, according to the Country Music Association. That’s about three times the growth of non-Hispanic, white listeners, a CMA study showed.
Yet, country acts rarely make their way as far south as Miami-Dade County. Aside from a few country acts playing recently at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, including Tim McGraw in 2015 and The Band Perry in 2016, most of the country shows are in Broward or Palm Beach counties.
This is where Miami meets good ole’ country music
Nelson Albareda, president of Loud and Live, producer of Tequila Bay Country Music Festival
“I am beyond ecstatic that I don’t have to drive north to see a country show,” said Melissa Hervas, 29, who rearranged a trip to Mexico to be in town for the show. “It’s nice to have something in Miami, where I grew up.”
Hervas, who is Cuban American, said people often thought she was “weird” because she listened to country. She said she has seen a big change.
“Now I am like, ‘When did it become cool to like country?’” she said.
While Miami hasn’t been on the radar for many country musicians, a few acts have Hispanic roots. The Mavericks, a country-pop band that went national out of Miami in the early 1990s, has a Cuban-American lead singer, Raul Malo. The group’s first major label album was called “From Hell to Paradise;” its title track was a defiant stand against Fidel Castro.
Albareda, a Miami Cuban who won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album and has produced and promoted music for decades, said the idea for the festival came because his wife, Elena, a Puerto Rican native, is a country music fan.
“We realized she wasn’t alone,” he said. “When I started doing research, we realized there was a market for country in Miami.”
And so Tequila Bay was born. Swarm, a Wynwood event producer, partnered with Live and Loud to get the word out.
Albareda said he wanted to make sure the lineup was authentic country. Headliner Brantley Gilbert, whose The Devil Don’t Sleep Tour has been selling out, will bring a mix of party anthems — “Kick it in the Sticks” and “Bottoms Up” — and powerful odes such as “One Hell of an Amen.”
Kip Moore, whose country has a bit of rock ‘n’ roll sound, will perform “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” and “Hey Pretty Girl,” among other hits.
Manny Medina Jr., Moore’s bass player and native Miamian, said he’s excited about bringing country to his hometown.
“I have no idea what to expect with a Miami crowd,” said Medina, 40, who lives in Nashville and believes there’s a “misconception’’ about who listens to country music.
“Some of our biggest markets are Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Sydney — places you don’t expect a large country fan base,” he said.
KISS 99.9, South Florida’s country radio station, is a partner. Rob Morris, vice president of programming for the radio station, which hosts the annual Chili Cookoff music festival in Broward, said the lineup balances new country with the past. Other acts include: Tyler Farr, RaeLynn, Shelly Fairchild, Walker McGuire and Brooke Eden.
“We really wanted the lineup to reflect country today and the more traditional brand,” he said.
Montgomery Gentry, the duo that has been performing for more than 15 years, has never played a show in Miami-Dade. Broward, yes, but not Miami.
“We are expecting a big party out there,” said Troy Gentry, who sings with Eddie Montgomery.
Gentry said performers have noticed a change in fans: “We are seeing more diversity at our shows.”
He is looking forward to “dipping his toes in the water” and enjoying Miami. “As soon as we get there, I am going to find me a beach, local cuisine and a cold beer.”
After the Miami International Boat Show, the festival will be the most significant event at Miami’s new fairgrounds. City commissioners agreed to spend $65 million to upgrade the stadium and weed-strewn parking lots to bring it back to its glory days. In 1985, Jimmy Buffett performed there in a legendary concert.
The grounds opened in 2016 and have since hosted triathlons, Grovetober Fest, and an Art Basel party hosted by Adidas. Another music festival was planned for October, but Miami leasing director Mark Burns said it appears the event isn’t expected to go forward.
The city is still trying to mediate a settlement with the Village of Key Biscayne, which sued over concerns about large, disruptive events. The stadium is off the Rickenbacker Causeway, the main road to Key Biscayne.
While the area was initially planned as a part-time park, Miami politicians clearly had premier events in mind when they agreed to invest in the property.
Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez said it’s “super exciting” to see the city’s investment “paying off.”
“To see a show like this before the stadium is even repaired is huge,” Suarez said.
For country music fans in Miami, the festival, which will serve up the Latin flavor with cafecitos and croquetas, is long overdue.
“So many more people are listening to country than they used to,” said Marlene Ruiz, 50, who has tickets to the show. “Country music has evolved. It’s not as twangy as it used to be.
“I am curious to see what a country festival in Miami will look like,” she said.
Miami Herald staff writers David Smiley and Howard Cohen contributed to this report.
If you go
What: Tequila Bay Country Music Festival
Lineup: Brantley Gilbert, Kip Moore, Montgomery Gentry, Tyler Farr, RaeLynn, Shelly Fairchild, Walker McGuire and Brooke Eden.
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3
Where: Miami Marine Stadium, 3501 Rickenbacker Cswy.
Tickets: From $55 to $150. Kids under 10 are free.
For information: www.tequilabayfest.com.