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Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival Rocks!

Carol Shaughnessy | July 2011

According to divers at the annual Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, held recently in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Elvis Presley never died. He simply took his act underwater.

Eel-vis Presley," portrayed by diver Eric Rolfe "strums on a colorful faux guitar during the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. (Photos by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

"Eel-vis Presley," portrayed by diver Eric Rolfe, strums on a colorful faux guitar during the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. (All photos by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Divers costumed as “Eel-vis,” “Bob Marlin,” “Joss Stone Crab” and other rock-and-rollers “performed” beneath the waves for an audience of more than 500 divers and snorkelers at the offbeat festival.

In addition to brightly-painted underwater guitars, their undersea jam session featured “fishy” instruments such as a “sax-eel-phone,” “clambourine,” “trombonefish,” and “wahoo kazoo” sculpted by talented Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Not only did participating divers and snorkelers enjoy watching the iconic “rockers” in action — they also had the opportunity to view the colorful marine life that inhabits the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, which parallels the Florida Keys.

“I’ve never had a snorkeling experience like this,” marveled first-time festival participant Gail Coad of Sarasota, Fla. “It’s just like a magic show with the different beautiful tropical fish.”

Samantha Langsdale, dressed as a mermaid, blows air through a "musical instrument" sculpted by Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Samantha Langsdale, dressed as a mermaid, blows air through a "musical instrument" sculpted by Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Staged by Keys radio station U.S. 1, the quirky Underwater Music Festival featured melodies broadcast into the undersea realm via speakers suspended beneath boats at the reef. It took place at Looe Key, a part of the marine sanctuary about six miles south of Big Pine Key.

“Sound underwater is incredible because you can sense it with your entire body,” advised festival director and founder Bill Becker of U.S. 1. “You can feel it coming through your head and your chest — it actually comes from all directions.”

The broadcast playlist included ocean–related tunes such as the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins,” and even familiar themes from the film “Jaws” and television’s wacky “Gilligan’s Island.”

FYI, it wasn’t just human participants who appeared to be rocking at the sub-sea songfest.

“The fish seemed to enjoy the music as much as I did,” said Gail Coad. “They almost were dancing in unison to the melody — and the music just kind of surrounds you.”

"Eel-vis" and his mermaid backup singer jam beneath the sea during the offbeat underwater songfest.

"Eel-vis" and his mermaid backup singer jam beneath the sea during the offbeat underwater songfest.

Veteran festival participant Samantha Langsdale, who wore a vivid green mermaid costume and jammed with “Eel-vis,” reported that she made some undersea “friends” during the festival.

“I believe the parrotfish family has accepted me,” Samantha confided after returning to the surface. “We have similar colors.”

As well as being a one-of-a-kind event for divers and snorkelers, the Underwater Music Festival included diver awareness messages promoting preservation of the Keys’ unique coral reef ecosystem.

“We have a lot of fun, we dress up in costumes, but there’s a serious side,” said Bill Becker. “Coral reef conservation is the message.”

To all the divers and snorkelers who take the festival’s lesson to heart, and pledge to protect the Keys’ underwater wonderland, “Eel-vis” might add his own message: “Thank you … thank you very much.”

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