Bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of “air guitar,” divers and musicians flock to the Florida Keys every year for a subaquatic sound experience aptly called the “Underwater Music Festival.”
Bill Becker, founder, coordinator and music director of UMF, started the underwater music concerts as a way to raise awareness for coral preservation.
For the past 25 years, hundreds of divers and snorkelers have come together for the festival at Looe Key Reef, part of the only living coral barrier reef in North America. Here, a pre-selected radio playlist is streamed live from underwater speakers, while musician-divers and mermaids play whimsical instruments created by local artist, August Powers. In past years, instruments have included the “trom-bonefish,” “sea-phan flute” and a “Fluke-a-Lele.”
Becker selects all the ocean-themed songs, such as the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and “Octopus Garden,” and even insists that the fish like to dance to Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins.” The audience, of course, enjoys the tunes from underwater as well; since sound travels 4.3 times faster in water than in air, the sonic experience has been described as particularly ethereal. For those who prefer the slower, standard fare, the playlist is also broadcast live on the local radio station, WWUS 104.1 FM.
Past festival themes have included 2008’s “EEL-ection Antics” festival, in which special guests “Barackuda Obama,” “Hillary Clin-Tuna” and “John McClam” fought for votes, and 2009’s Yellow Submarine event, which featured reef rockstars, “Paul McCarpney” and “Ringo Starfish.”Update March 2017: Unfortunately the event was closed in 2015 due to lack of funding, and did not happen in 2016. There has been talk of a fundraising campaign to hold an event again in the coming years, but no dates have been set.