Music has always been an art form of healing and has stolen hearts for several centuries. It has the power to make you feel Happy, Sad, Energetic, and all sorts of deep-rooted emotions. The way music is played, made and heard all have evolved over the centuries. Nowadays the accessibility to music has become so easy that you can listen to it both online and offline on mobile phones/Computers/tablets, on TV, on the radio, on plugged speakers, or in big concert stadiums. People just love music and big Music festivals are organised for such music lovers. You must have heard about all sorts of concerts rocked in stadiums, in parking lots, and on ships but this music festival here rocks not only people but even the aquatic beings. You read it right the Underwater Music Festival, it is held in Florida’s Looe Key Reef and is called as Lower Key Underwater Music Festival. Even though the idea of an Underwater Music Festival is a bit out there, but it makes perfect sense to those who are music enthusiasts and water lovers as it offers them the best of both worlds.
In the Lower Key UMF Music is played by different divers descended underwater equipped with instruments such as drums, guitars, horns, French horn and several other musical instruments. The local radio station broadcasts the show live, advertisement free so that non-divers can enjoy the show without any difficulty. A pre-selected Ocean-themed playlist is played and waterproof speakers are placed on the boats floating above the reef for the non-divers. Ocean-themed songs such as “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles, “Fins” by Jimmy Buffet, “Octopus’ Garden” by the Beatles or soundtrack from “The Little Mermaid” and many more. Even the instruments that are played have Ocean themed names such as “trom-bonefish”, “sea-phan flute”, “Fluke-a-Lele”, “bass-oon”, “obloe-fish”, and “manta-lin”. These quirky titled original hybrid instruments are the creation of a local artist, August Powers. As his name suggests his instruments hold all the Power of a melodically successful Underwater Music festival. So all his instruments are made of no-corrosive tin and copper.
Now Music festivals may have originated back in ancient Greece era, but Lower Key Underwater Music Festival is only about 38 years old. When the event was first launched it was just an event put together by the efforts of some key locals, who still run the show to this date. It was Started for a good cause by Bill Becker(Founder), a former disc jockey, as a way to make people aware about the preservation of their rich coral reef ecosystem. The idea of the festival was that once the people will see the beauty and what goes under the surface it is more likely that they become willing to protect it. Looe Key Reef is the world’s third-largest coral reef. And it is also North America’s only living coral reef with extensive shallow coral reef formations near its coasts. Corals are tiny aquatic animals termed polyps, and these tiny buddies form colonies resulting in the formation of a common skeleton. Thus becomes what we recognise as a Coral. Multiple coral species form coral reefs and together form an ecosystem of different plants and animals. Coral Reefs house 1 per cent of the ocean bed, but is home to more than 30 per cent of aquatic animals. Protection of the reefs is necessary because they are the best natural protectors of the coastlines from the dangers coming in the form of swells and tsunamis. The existential crisis faced by the reefs is because of human interference and increasing global warming. At the Lower Key UMF ways to protect these harbours are interpreted to people, and diver awareness announcements are made about how they can enjoy their dives in the ocean without interfering with the ecosystem there but also minimize the impact on the environment. They tell them that they should not touch the corals, not leave litter underwater, respect the dive flags and use the mooring buoys instead of anchoring the boat.
So as to not disturb and avoid further damage to the ecosystem living underwater, the divers seek a place to play instruments in the sandy area. The divers dive 20 ft. deep into the ocean and find the sand surface to play their instruments. When the music plays underwater the divers feel as if the sound is surrounding them. And its reason is that the sound travels 4.3 times faster and farther in the water than the air, thus creating a surround sound effect for the divers and reaching the ears instantaneously. Under the water, you can listen to the song the same but it has a little tone to it and is a bit muted. For the non-divers, the music is obviously not as clear as listening to a song in a room but they can still hear and recognise the lyrics and music sound. Both the divers and the non-divers describe the music that plays underwater as Ethereal. Whilst the melodies surround divers underwater, they swim among colorful fishes and other tropical aquatic beings. Some divers even describe their experience where they have seen the aquatic lives enjoying and dancing around to the melodies emanating from the instruments.
Now not all divers are artists who play the instruments, many dives just as an audience. Though they often carry musical instruments along with them, they listen to music, take pictures, dance-along, imitate as if playing the instruments themselves and don the costumes of sharks and mermaids. The organisers also hold a competition for the best costumes, so if you are going dressed as an aquatic you can bag the prize of the best-dressed underwater rock star. The Lower key UMF is surely a way to make an already heavenly tropical underwater experience an ethereal and melodic one.
The divers, snorkelers, boaters, scuba divers and artists who appreciate the musical environment gather around from all over the world and have part in this fun event. The divers and snorkelers who want to participate in the festival, have to make a reservation for space on the boats that are run by the Lower Keys Dive Operators. And of course, the boaters can launch their sea vehicle from the public ramps and marinas. This musical celebration is held annually on Saturday after the 4th of July. Due to a lack of funding the event was closed for several years after 2015. But it is back now since 2019, and hopefully for the good. The last event that was held was last year on July 9, 2022. So if you are a water or music or water + music enthusiast, do surround the Lower Key Underwater Music festival with the other items on your bucket list.