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Cafecito, croquetas and country? Miami welcomes its first country music festival

Brantley Gilbert will perform at Tequila Bay Country Music Festival on the grounds of the Miami Marine Stadium, Sept. 3, 2017. Here he is performing during the Take It Outside Tour 2016 at Lakewood Amphitheatre on Friday, Aug, 26, 2016, in Atlanta. Robb Cohen Robb Cohen/Invision/AP
Brantley Gilbert will perform at Tequila Bay Country Music Festival on the grounds of the Miami Marine Stadium, Sept. 3, 2017. Here he is performing during the Take It Outside Tour 2016 at Lakewood Amphitheatre on Friday, Aug, 26, 2016, in Atlanta. Robb Cohen Robb Cohen/Invision/AP

“When did it become cool to like country?” – Melissa Hervas, 29, longtime country music fan

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 GilbertKip Moore and Montgomery Gentry. And free tequila will be on tap.

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.

Tim McGraw
Country music singer Tim McGraw performs at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/David Graham) David Graham AP

“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.

Artists Performing:

  • Headliner: Brantley Gilbert
  • Kip More
  • Manny Medina Jr.
  • Tyler Farr
  • RaeLynn
  • Shelly Fairchild
  • Walker McGuire
  • Brooke Eden
Montgomery Gentry-Photo Credit_Kristen Barlowe
Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry. Kristen Barlow)/Handout

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.”

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.

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