This winter has been harsh all across the U.S. People are dreaming of summer, which brings up the subject of summer vacation. How to combine fun in the water, being at the seashore, and music into one unique experience requires thoughtful consideration. But there is a great way down in sunny Florida.
Just head down to Looe Key Reef, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, about six miles south of Big Pine Key. On July 9 of this year, the 27th Annual Underwater Music Festival will take place. Each year this event attracts hundreds of scuba divers and snorkelers to North America's only living coral barrier reef. Bill Becker - the founder, coordinator, and music director - began these concerts to raise awareness for coral preservation.
Staged by Keys radio station WWUS (104.1 FM), the festival takes place from 10 A.M. until 2 P.M. Lubell Laboratory speakers are suspended under boats which are positioned at the reef, and that is how the music is broadcast. The playlist features ocean-related songs, such as "Yellow Submarine", "Octopus's Garden", and "A Pirate Looks at 40". The sounds of humpback whales are also included, making this a multi-specie event. The sound has been described as ethereal, since sound travels underwater over 4 times faster than in air. Over the live broadcast, however, the sound is the slower, normal one we are familiar with.
A local artist, August Powers, creates often whimsical instruments for the musician/divers and mermaids to play, such as a "fluke-a-lele", "sax-eel-phone", or a "trom-bonefish". While actual instruments are not used, the musicians "play along" on their mock instruments. The works of local Keys musicians are also featured.
Divers and snorkelers who want to attend the event live can book a place onboard boats run by private charter from dive operators, or launch their own boats. Florida Keys Nation Marine Sanctuary officials broadcast diver awareness announcements throughout the concert, giving tips on how to enjoy the ocean while minimizing the impact on the reef and marine environment.
Each year the festival has a different theme. In 2010, there was an Alice in Waterland Underwater Tea Party, and featured the "Mad Haddock" and "The March Herring". In 2008, both "Reefpublicans" and "Democrabs" congregated to the presidential election, er, "eel-lection", theme. There were underwater appearances by "Barackuda Obama", "John McClam", and other notable politicos.
Looe Key is famous for the diversity of its coral population and the colorful array of tropical fish found there. What a perfect way to create coral reef preservation awareness and have a good time. So nice to dream about it in all the cold weather and snow...
Images courtesy of the Lower Keys Chamber/Bill Becker.