On The Waterfront

Festivals are going more and more places, with all of the execution issues that go along with them – and one is the beach. 
How exactly does one build a stage on the beach? It’s not so much about special staging as it is about that unassuming-looking temporary road the truck is using.

How does one build a stage on the beach? Stage production crewmembers might be rolling their eyes at that question because the answer is pretty mundane.

A stage can be built on sand just as routinely as it can be built on dirt. A person walking in the sand doesn’t sink up to the waist, and a stage doesn’t sink either.

What’s difficult is getting material to the beach. Cranes and trucks are not all-terrain vehicles.

A.J. Niland, co-founder of Huka Entertainment, has been dealing with this since 2010 – first with the Hangout Music Festival and now with the Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – an on-the-beach country music festival featuring Luke Bryan and Eric Church April 12-13.

 “Starting with our first beach production, Hangout, we had to craft a way to get stages on the beach,” Niland told Pollstar. “We had to get semi trucks on to the beach and build basically the truck dock area. That was probably the most difficult part.”

Huka eventually had a breakthrough. The company learned of a product used in movie productions, military operations, construction sites and even oil fields: An expensive and very heavy mat.

“The product is 8’ x 16’. Each ‘tile’ is about 6 inches thick and weighs a good, solid 600 pounds,” he said. “The product pretty much self-levels and the trucks help out a bit. Sand for the most part is leveled by the wind and we just lay it out.

“There’s no cross-loading or anything along those lines. You just pull up to the stage like you would at any shed or arena and go about your business.”

The matting is laid down in a 200-square-foot area behind the stage to create the “backstage area,” and runs to the nearest road or parking lot.

Because of the cost, Huka makes sure cost-saving “engineering” keeps the roads as short as possible.

“The stage itself is a steel stage engineered, balanced, ballasted,” he said. “The posts sit on these mats. And other than that it’s the same stage built anywhere else.” Trucks aren’t the only things that dislike sand. Human calf muscles can also take a beating walking through sand all day.

One easy solution is to build a midway out of plywood or another walkway product. “But we feel that goes against the aesthetic of the event,” Niland said, “so we lay down sod, which covers the same goal and gives someone who’s barefoot and in the sand a nice soft surface to walk on but also sturdy enough it doesn’t wear out the calves. Additionally, looks really nice.”

This year’s event, which will have a 26-act lineup that includes TrainSheryl CrowDierks BentleyParmalee and 38 Special, will also have a Ferris wheel and a water slide.

“A real water-park grade slide, not an inflatable or temporary product but rather a fiberglass product bolted together. 

It’ll have a self-enclosed system that pumps, filters, heats the water, chlorinates and we’ll set it up temporarily as an attraction.”

Overall, though, putting a festival on a beach is a pain but Niland says the festival business needs new experiences and Huka will be looking for the next “beach,” meaning the next challenging terrain.

“Beaches, mountainous areas that are true destinations without a festival, are where we’re looking to create music festivals,” he said.