Mission: Tortugafest Days 0 & 1 by Jesse Wilson



Mission: Tortugafest
Days 0 & 1

Well, if planning and prepping for any music festival isn’t enough of an undertaking,
add a little Mother Nature the day before and a flood of 30,000+ fans flocking to Fort Lauderdale, Florida

and you’ve entered the Mission status of this adventure.

Record rainfall hammered the venue and surrounding city the week of the event,

with the bulk falling the day before,

where measurements show the most rainfall in a 24hr period for the state of Florida at 25 inches…

at the airport.

Later, I would hear many stories of friend’s friends losing houses and cars

to flood waters around the area.

Needless to say, all flights into Fort Lauderdale would be rerouted or canceled all day
Thursday and Friday, leaving nearly all travelers scattered around Florida at various airports,
originating airports, having not left yet, or connecting airports across the nation
and the scramble to get to Tortugafest ensues, officially initiating Mission: Tortugafest ‘23.

I was set to fly out of Los Angeles at 11:15am through Minneapolis/St. Paul and arrive in Fort Lauderdale
11:00pm Thursday night. Just about to leave to the airport and I get the notification my flight had been canceled,

but can rebook at no cost…

Furiously selecting flights into surrounding airports from Fort Myers to Tampa and Orlando
then researching adjoining buses from each to Fort Lauderdale arriving near the same time
and I finally choose Orlando, landing at 6p w/FlixBus leaving nearby at 7:10pm,

arriving in Fort Lauderdale at 11:00pm.

Perfect, but my new flight leaves LA in an hour and I live about 45 minutes away with traffic…
Getting to the gate just before my group boards is a great sign of the perfect chaos

that would mark Day 0 of Mission: Tortugafest.


Side note, I’ve learned to wait until there are no further folks lining up in the previous boarding group called,
then step into line just before my group is called so as to get a reasonable and respectable jump.


off the ground and in flight gives me time to quickly write a review I hadn’t had time for,

given preparation for both Tortuga and Stagecoach;
(Chloé Caroline’s Album: The Awakening Vol 1)

Finished with about 2 hours to go, enough time to finally watch A Man Called Otto.
Spoiler alert, finished it on the way home and balled thru most of it,
tears of joyful sadness as it really is a wonderful movie…

It also seemed to playout perfectly that I bought a Chipotle burrito the day before,

researching my (previous) layover options, with none all that enticing, so now was the perfect time to eat it.

I had done something similar (many times, actually), on a flight through China to Bali,
where I ate a 2-day old burrito while exploring the streets of the Island of Xiamen…

That had to have been a first…

I gotta note, as I did with Airport Security after having to check my burrito to be sure it was in fact, a burrito,
if you add the Vinaigrette to your bowl or burrito, it will change your experience, maybe your life, considering.

You’re welcome…

Before I continue, I really must say how much of an unexpecting blessing free inflight Wi-Fi turned out to be.

This happened to be my first flight with a carrier offering such: Delta.

(I don’t typically fly domestics, but this was a gift flight, as I tend to opt for the least expensive, depending,

and manage the lack of luxuries, if necessary.

Plus, it often gives me more an opportunity to explore us as worlds pass)

Given Wi-Fi, I am now able to follow Tortuga Facebook group chats, another blessing recently activated,

where folks requesting and offering information concerning transpo options

from a flurry of ‘nearby’ airports, could do so more efficiently and effectively than had this transpired

thru the general TortugaFest Group.

Options also including other Festers offering space in their owned or rented vehicles from surround areas,
which, in its raw form, is very cool, in full context of us all being strangers, essentially…uniquely cool.

While they have so much more potential to be supremely annoying,

this is a kickass example of it working beautifully.

This is why they were created.

I’m really not entirely sure I’m able to effectively pass along how grateful I am, experiencing so many,

giving a variety of gifts to others, perceptively because we commonly like live music.

A person even offered an unused bus credit, though they could’ve kept it for themselves for a later need.

I had no need for assistance,

until a message comes through from FlixBus informing me that my bus was canceled without reason,
and a refund or rebook are my options. Assuming they resold my seat for double the profit, given the

increased demand, I was later told it was a bus operation issue.
Again, fate was conspiring with and against me, as is the game.

The game was afoot, frustratingly researching ways between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale before landing
and before supply was exhausted, relegating me to an overpriced, unnecessary Orlando hotel,

without the joy of seeing Disney World
and placing me at the event long after gates open.

No real option presenting itself, other than late buses arriving in the wee hours,
thus making me a nuisance for my gracious friend and a tired cuss the following day.

Scrolling through the group chat, a few folks offering rides in rentals after arriving later that evening amidst

other chatter about other cities and logistics and the late bus appears to be my best bet
though I had initially thought the BrightLine between Orlando and FTL was running,

yet it was scheduled for a few months out.

Landed and sitting in the exiting regions of the airport in a super comfortable lounger,

(why don’t more airports have comfortable seating in these areas?)
I reluctantly pulled the trigger on the late bus, with a long expensive Uber/Lyft away,

then took another hopeful look at the chat…

Kenny Chesney, (TortugaFest headliner) sings over the airport radio, “Keg in the Closet”
and a message scrolls up, “anyone in Orlando need a ride? we are leaving now and can take two more?”
Bam! “yes” and “hell, I’ll drive the car if you want me to, or sit in the trunk.” Is my immediate response.
No reply back, so I DM, where she says they are now past the airport, with apologies,
when I basically begged, offering gas, which they still have yet to accept,

she said they were turning around.


As it happens, Susan and Kelly, Orlando locals, were more than a pleasure to ride with and are teachers,

having started an online teaching/youth education business during the Pandemic,

serving a much-needed service for many.

A service that has since prospered with a number of states represented, 80+ fulltime teachers,
and a few thousand kids, and always looking to gain footing in new states across the nation

with opportunities for teachers and students.

Instagram: Coach_Kelly_Live

I liken the chaos preempting this chance meeting to kismet

(to include many of my numbers making themselves known repeatedly, having meant to cross paths

with these lovely ladies, Kelly and Susan, making connections for life.


DAY 1:

It is nothing short of amazing, what production crews build in such short time,
spending time and energy on an expiring good, yet facilitating creation of memories

for those choosing to wade through negatives, capturing and embracing moments presenting themselves

within this disappearing village.

These men and women, tasked with creating a world only really noticed by most when something goes awry
much like the Offensive Line and Secondary in football, where typically noticed when they fail at their duty

1 of 60 attempts and a quarterback is sacked or a long touchdown completed.
Many of these folks putting in longer hours than 90 percent of attendees ever will

while being paid a fraction,

lost houses and cars not more than 24 hours before, amidst the storm, and still completed duties in time
for gates open. And while I’ve now heard more complaints about performers and production than ever,
I sincerely believe the first note should be one of gratitude to all who made TortugaFest a reality this year.


Speaking of gates, I did not make gate opening as planned,

due to waiting on an exchange for my wristband, secured and scheduled prior, via the Facebook group.

Wristband now in hand and crotch whiskey in place,

I entered a bit behind schedule, missing Catie Offerman, but caught Pecos & The Rooftops’ last couple,
whom I was interested in for their long-haired, seemingly cool dudes’ look and ballad sound.
Disappointingly, at this sort of events, decisions must be made on who to see, who to miss,
and which performances content you enough to see half or parts of, considering,
and my first sincere pain came with missing George Birge, whom I really dug

because he would play at opposite end on Main Stage from Sunset Stage, where I was leaving Pecos

enroute to Pillbox Patti, with mind set on her story.


Pillbox Patti


Pillbox Patti’s unique sound and life-story song topics captured my heart upon first listen,
then YouTube videos, instilling passion for a life of judgment passed on her as she may have had,
turning to drugs and booz in a small, dated town. Also feeling inspired by her action of transmuting
such stories into art of music and performance, translating to many and many more to come.

She steps up and onto stage with a large-font shirt reading,

“EAT PRAY DRUGS”, face-consuming sunglasses, and a zebra-striped bucket hat,

rolling right into the apropos song, Eat Pray Drugs.


A Solid crowd for a 1:00pm performance has gathered under the Next from Nashville Stage,

situated in the middle of the venue, facing the ocean, equidistant of mirrored Main and Sunset Stages,

act as a barrier. The crowd is predominantly and perceptively fans of Pillbox Patti
or will be as many sing along with catchy, dreamy sounding choruses.

Me, dancing about 3 heads back of front, singing nearly every chorus having prepared myself

exceptionally so for this, and then leaving her performance
filled with giddy excitement for the rest of the event.

Having stayed the entire set, a somewhat rarity for me at festivals,
and awaiting another specially starred performer in poet Aaron Raitiere,


Aaron Raitiere


I was to miss Tyler Braden, another pain,

though scheduled for Stagecoach the following week, which I was to attend.
A beer, a water refill, a potty, and I was rewarded with center, front row

for one of my preemptive and presumptive favorites, relatively unknown, it would appear, despite his poetic
and entertaining magicianry, similar in sort to Hayes Carll and Texas Legend and storyteller,

Ray Wylie Hubbard,

scheduled for this same stage later that afternoon, then evening, following a lightning evacuation.
Now, I really don’t like being directly in the front as I prefer to have a head or 2 in front of me,

yet, this feels different, and I was dead center holding rail

and there really didn’t seem to be anyone desperate to take my place, so the front I was…

Capitalizing on relative lack of fame, dude in a ball cap and Pillbox Patti EAT PRAY DRUGS merch shirt

walks to the mic, introducing the next act, Aaron Raitiere,

unbeknownst to nearly all (eh hem, nearly), he was in fact, Aaron Raitiere.
He gives a little giggle, pulls the shirt off, leaving a tank top and boardies,

Then chats with us about himself and the next song, also mentioning his band was too drunk to play
and it’d be a solo act today …he is a solo act. (likely because he’s a complete storyteller alone)

Aaron starts the set with “Everybody Else” and “Sunrise Tells a Story”, a quickie called

“Chill Out, Eat a Moonpie, Drink a 7UP, and Stop Murdering People”
which we’ll hear again later, “A Troll, A Monkey, and A Fox”, “One Meatball”,
and then a fan and personal favorite, “Single Wide Dreamer” (“in a double wide world”)

which I’ve grown to partially accept as a song about me… and others.

At this point, I definitely feel I’m disrupting the performance while I sing along to nearly everything song

while making direct eye contact at about 25 feet, full-toothed sustained smile,

but I also think I’m in my own head quite often

and hey, that’s why we’re here. To be fans, even if fanatical at times, respectively so.

Aaron gives me a few awkward smiles as he rolls through a Travis Tritt cover, “Mind on Fishing”, “ADHD”,

another quick “Moonpie and Murdering People”, “Just Like You’re Here”, “Oranges”,
and another of my favorites, “Jesus Jenny”, a sung story you’d have to hear to truly appreciate,

closing out a fun set with a beatbox style called “Skipaboo”…

A truly remarkable performance by a man seen by not nearly enough, though likely the perfect amount,

touching those who are meant to be touched, as only a poet knows…


Deana Carter


Quick speed walk in hot sand halfway across town to Main Stage to catch some Deana Carter,
a 90’s country star, who looks glowingly happy behind a beautiful smile, blonde hair,

and playing next to her husband while singing songs about exes, as she remarked jokingly, between songs.

With little time for a complete set, my hope was to catch “Strawberry Wine”,

while expecting it to be played last, if recipe holds up, thus missing it to return to Nashville in time

for Red Clays Strays before filling up as I know it will.

Content with some “We Danced Anyway”, another beautiful classic, I then made my way back
through the, now surging crowds just as the 2nd or 3rd song, “Moment of Truth”, a starred song, began.
Filtering to the middle and a few heads back, I settled in for a resounding performance by a full band

and even more vocally complex lead singer who had recently gotten married,
now rocking a scale-worthy wedding ring, strumming his guitar.

Sharply dressed, even if just in a T-shirt, boardies, and shades,… and modelesque features,
he wailed with a timelessly hollowing rasp, rolling through “Wasting Time”, “Want to Be Loved”,
“I’m Still Fine”, “Stone’s Throw”, and finishing out a superb set with “Wondering Why”.
These guys got a long, wonderful journey to and through the top as their sound and style

will be noticed by anyone lucky enough to cross their path…
I am more than grateful to catch ‘em in the unique venue I did.

Playing at the exact time Lauren Alaina played and on opposite end of campus, I missed all of her set,

coming as a bit of a sting, though I’m aware I’ll cross her path again, likely this year.


Lukas Nelson


4 o’clock rolls around and South Florida begins to cool as ominous clouds loom overhead.
I make my way back to Main stage to finally hear Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real live

having missed them in 2011 and 2018 Stagecoaches for various reasons,
including partying and a busted knee just as they were set to take stage.
If you are unaware of who Lukas Nelson is, it should be fairly obvious

he is the son of Texas Outlaw Music Legend, Willie Nelson

and his band was used by the movie, A Star is Born as Bradley Cooper’s character’s band,

filmed at Stagecoach.

At Tortuga, I wasn’t lucky enough to be too too close to the front row,
but a few heads back at Main Stage is reasonable this late in the day,

as many begin jockeying for the headliner spots, purposely skipping all that makes a festival a festival,

though front row for Eric Church is a “Helluva View.”

Lukas, with that Willie-esque voice and simply beautiful sound, plays through quirky hits,

mesmerizing enough to forgive myself leaving early to another Texas Legend himself, Ray Wylie Hubbard,
errantly scheduled adjacent and inadvertently against one another, a knock on Texas from Florida…

(just teasing)

Forget About Georgia and Find Yourself are my jams, but hearing them live will have to wait yet again.

Ray Wylie, here I come.


Ray Wylie Hubbard


It should be fairly clear by now that I love the smaller stage, at this venue called Next from Nashville
Typically housing the unique, the quirky, and the legends that don’t get nearly as much notoriety

as they deserve and tonight’s Ray Wylie Hubbard is one such poet.

Ray Wylie, Texas Legend, can be found sneaking in for a set at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas
working through his badass poetry accompanied by kickass music and like Hayes Carll and Aaron Raitiere,

songs are stories, meant to be quirky, weird, and fun
and I shit you not, that’s exactly what they were.

I hope Lukas Nelson and the POTR will excuse me for leaving early to catch me a full set of Ray Wylie,

as I think they would, considering they come from Texas Country Legend blood,
though the ditching was in vain as a lightning evacuation alert rang through the venue

upon entering the Nashville Stage.



At this point, it probably makes sense to bitch a little about all the bitching that took place at this event,
the likes of which, I have never experienced in all my years of travel, music, and festivals.

Maybe it’s this variety of Floridians, or older folk,

maybe it’s No Shoes Nation

(Kenny Chesney groupies/fanatics (in non-derogatory meanings)),

or maybe it’s just the sense of entitlement by folks who spent good money, traveled a good chunk,

and battled Day 0 to get here…

or maybe it was the booz and sun, but a healthy chunk of folks complained ceaselessly
about being told to evacuate for safety reasons amidst an electrical storm

that most excused away as ‘a normal day in Florida’, without adding the abnormality of a venue

filled with metal poles and electrical equipment littering the ground beneath,

or the 30,000 people in potential harm’s way…

Anyhow, and admittedly so, I’m not one to immediately run for the exit myself

but I’m also not going to start fights with security, tasked with slowly pushing people out the gates

(at least not at this age or any more, eh hem, I hope).

So I wander until security gets closer and I mosey and meander toward the front, though at this point, I sit on
a cement pillar and watch the ocean collaborating with moisture-filled clouds in the distance,

watching people skitter and scatter, trying to stay in as long as possible.

If you haven’t picked up on this, I plan and over plan for so many different universes that could be created
that I am typically well prepared for just about any need while camping, hiking, festivaling,
or a zombie apocalypse which has me now covering up with a thin rain poncho,

packed neatly in double-barreled shoulder harness iridescent fanny packs, I’ve built specifically for festivals,

and a rain cover specifically designed to cover and protect my straw cowboy hat.

Bring on the rain… that didn’t come, that day.

Sitting atop a 4-foot cement pillar, facing the ocean waves, dark skies, and onlooking docked boats,

I spied a kid in his early twenties, literally bawling, wearing a Tampa Rays jersey,
surrounded by about 5 friends, barely acknowledging him or likely his awkward emotions.
Fair to note that at this point, Tamp Bay Rays were still undefeated at 12-0…

I feel for the dude, so I walk up and move straight into giving him a hug, sparking congratulatory laughter
and giggles amongst his friends, him also giggling a bit and as I stepped back, sarcastically

(maybe dad jokingly)

I ask if this was because the Rays lost, bringing about a good chuckle and as I walked away,
I offered that the pain he feels now, no matter what it is, is good pain to be embraced,
Not allowing it stick to his soul, for this is the sort of pain all these fuckers (performers)

use to create the magic in their art they’re sharing with us

and he could too…

Transmute today’s pain into tomorrow’s power, like the Alchemist we all are.

Rays would lose later that afternoon.

I began moving more purposefully toward the gates as security ups their offensive,

prodding the overly prideful, maybe egregiously drunk, certainly distastefully disrespectful collection of folks,

to resist and fight said security, screaming ‘freedom’ and arguably throwing tantrums,
netting their almost definite expulsion from the event in its remainder.

Not more than 5 minutes later and All Clear is given, signaling the mad dash and anarchic race
to each stage’s coveted front rows for Cole Swindell on Main Stage, Wiz Khalifa on Sunset Stage,

leaving Nashville Stage completely empty for an unabated path to the front,
waiting on the legend to return (an hour from then due to prep time).

The friend I was staying with and her cousin and wife had been locked out upon evac warning

giving them first dibs at bar space across the street during,
now joining me under the Nashville Stage tent awaiting Ray Wylie.

Ray comes on and I’m not sure I register the crowd as I magnetically latch onto his beingness,
in hippie rocker attire and a sweet smile. Buttering us up with some sweet talking, he sets course
thru his unique sound via one the most notable and odd sung stories, “Snake Farm”,

which also happens to be my favorite, though others like “Bad Trick”, “Fast Left Hand”, and “Choctaw Bingo”
would come later. Ray Wylie plays through his catalogue, including songs written and performed
with Steve Earl and Ringo Starr as well as “Desperate Man”, written with Eric Church,
our headliner for the night, mentioning the first song paid for a new fence,

while the second with Church paid for the gate…

After introducing his son on bass and rolling through a few more stories,
Ray Wylie closed out a memorable set with “Choctaw Bingo” more than an hour later

than originally scheduled and well after sunset. Given the connection between Eric Church and Ray Wylie,

I was almost sure that they’d come out together on either’s stage to sing “Desperate Man”,
pipe dream as it may have been, it wouldn’t come to pass, nor did any real surprises
as GoldenVoice’s Stagecoach (and Coachella) have grown us accustomed to,

Cole Swindell had been playing on Main Stage since Ray Wylie started,

rescheduled after the weather break, making it tough to see both, but I just caught the finale
“Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “Ain’t Going Down” medley. Toby Keith and Garth Brooks, respectively,
then placing a raucous exclamation point on a rowdy performance with his newest and biggest smash,

She Had Me at “Heads Carolina”, a play on Jo Dee Messina’s classic hit,

Swindell played the nostalgically catchy chorus over and over, giving thanks to fans for making it a success,

giving us the final utterance.

Eric Church due next and understanding how crowds work at these sorta things,

I begin slowly and respectfully making my way toward the stage amidst Cole Swindell’s final few songs

as folks are generally rowdy and aren’t as bothered by folks creeping past them,

to include the down time between sets, meaning many will move toward the restroom or booz reups,

leaving space to be filled by those of us making our way. Again, if this is done right,

nearly no one should be as annoyed or down right nasty as many were this festival when squeezing by

though not typically my style, admittedly, but knowing we will all be in close quarters

amongst thousands of others, despite some lacking in decorum…

Some folks just don’t get it; concert/festival realities, while others set poor examples
by stepping on stuff, knocking over drinks, or shoving their way through without apology

or acknowledgement, so just like the political spectrum, there are all types and a spectrum betwixt.



Eric Church


Friday Night Church Service commences with Mistress Named Music,

a parable about the life of a singer/songwriter hellbent on chasing dreams of writing and playing music
despite the adjoining beatdowns and shitkickins with the spirit of creation and the art of performing said spirit

as its shared with any who will listen. While Springsteen is Church’s most resonant song,

this is likely his secret favorite and something I’d bet he’d have written on his tombstone, all said and done.
Anthems Country Music Jesus and Pledge Allegiance to the Hag play before an image of Merle

dominating the screen behind.

Soon, it becomes clear Church is hampered by a bum shoulder, that he’ll soon tell us about,
showing off his color-matched black left arm sling that I have no doubt will be the impetus
for some of his off beat feels at certain points, a slight under-energized set,
and not quite as much mobility as hardcore fans are used to and he clearly wanted,
which will result in certain fans bashing his performance completely and unjustly,

since complaining is easy to do and seems to be the theme of the weekend (as I complain a week later)…


Eric Church


Church continues alternating mic locations playing “Drink in My Hand”, “Helluva View”, and “Heart on Fire”
clearly nursing muted Tiger pumps and energetic twists to the point it would seem painkillers
are doing little for the pain, likely coupled with a little bit of cloudiness when chatting with the crowd.

I sincerely applaud his determination to give what he gives so many nights:
his heart and soul to the music and those of us who adore him for who he is sharing his art.

Surprisingly to me, Talladega plays next and remembered, maybe in error, not seeing it on a setlist
in quite some time, despite being one of my personal favorites, having made a pit stop
at a closed Talladega Racetrack outside Birmingham, during a road trip to Atlanta, Tupelo, Memphis,
and Little Rock (Eric Church concert, Elvis’ home and birthplace, and Garth Brooks Concert),

Getting to hear it again, live, was quite the treat.

Now, if I can get me some Record Year and Springsteen, then I may not even come back tomorrow.
“Smoke a Little Smoke” fires up and so do I, offering it to a dude, Adam and his girlfriend
who flew down from Minnesota just for Eric Church giving the rest to them to share or keep.
Beach goes dark, and the pianist softly solos in just as a group of teenagers behind us chant
“Let’s Go Brandon” adding nonsensical fodder to an otherwise beautiful piano riff…

“Knives of New Orleans” rolls on the heels of the piano and chanting, followed by another oldie but goodie,
“Wrecking Ball”, a powerful song the ladies tend to enjoy a bit more, considering its sexual non subtleties,

though I love it just as much.

“Round Here Buzz”, “Mr. Misunderstood”, and “Creepin” piggy back each other to crescendo
and top the night with a killer Springsteen rendition, sung mostly by and for the crowd,

considering its fame and favor with just about anyone who’s heard it.

As Eric walks off stage and lights come up, I’m hounded by the sound of my own voice saying,
the house lights are not on, he’s coming back out, though it’s now 11:00pm, an hour after normal close,
and likely after a signed hard out time, considering our turtle friends whom we are all here for, theoretically.

There will be no encore and considering this pattern each night, I’ll have to assume
house lights don’t come on here too late so as to not disturb said turtles nesting nearby.


Eric Church


A long barefoot walk back to the Water Taxi a mile away,

which when solo, really isn’t as slow and cumbersome as with friends in tow,
lackadaisical to the simple idea; quicker walk means less folks in front of us trying to exit,
netting us home, eating, and sleeping earlier. Bout an hour from lights to shower and I’m pretty content
with my work for the day, having put 10 miles in hot sand, sharing with 9 of 15 performers, a hug,
and only losing my prized and cherished koozie from Red Dog Saloon, Pioneertown

(devastating as it still is).

One helluva day, 2 to go…