Riley Stewart enjoys performing at the Eagle Radio Music Festival so much that he jokes he would pay to play the free annual showcase.
The FGCU senior is drummer for the band The Retreats, which headlines the March 31 lineup of 11 acts. He says there’s something about the open space of the Great Lawn that beats the noisy tiki bars they typically play — where patrons often are more focused on scoring another round of rumrunners than on the efforts of the entertainment.
“I can’t emphasize enough how fun it is,” says Stewart, who’s playing his third Eagle Radio fest. “It’s the perfect venue for us. We have students and alumni in our band. Just seeing a bunch of fellow students watching us and realizing how much they enjoy live music — it just gives me so much joy to play there.”
Stewart and his bandmates are excited to premiere their take on the Fallout Boy hit “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” which they’ve been rehearsing but haven’t played on stage before.
“We have a real show planned – it’s going to be legit,” he says. “If you haven’t come to the Eagle Radio festival before, now’s the time to come. This will be the best Eagle Radio fest to date.”
That’s undoubtedly music to the ears of festival organizers Michael Patella and Keyshawn “K” Frazier, who oversaw two days of auditions for slots on the festival’s lineup. The event began as a way to showcase talent from on campus and off, according to Patella, a junior majoring in communication who serves as business director for Eagle Media. The student-led group includes Eagle News, Eagle News TV and Eagle Radio. Despite COVID 19 concerns, last year’s al fresco festival drew about 300 concertgoers, and he hopes for much more this time.
“It’s been snowballing over the last couple of years,” Patella says. “It’s always a fun time for everyone who comes – to share a passion for music and something positive. It’s really great to come together and enjoy music as a community.”
Adding professional lighting and sound engineering last year amped up the experience for performers and the crowd, he says. “It makes it more of a legitimate concert experience.”
And from Stewart’s point of view: “You really feel like a rock star.”
Eleven acts, including eight student groups and one band featuring faculty members, will take the Veterans Pavilion stage starting at 6:30 p.m. and ending at 10 p.m. Admission is open to the public, but food served by Red Roc Cravings, Food Rock Café and Campus Dining will only be free for students with valid ID. Festivalgoers are welcome to bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.
With a diverse lineup of rock, pop, hip-hop and other musical genres, the festival promises to entertain a wide range of musical tastes. Patella and Stewart said they are pumped to see Immokalee Road Band, which features three FGCU faculty members — Miles Mancini, Mike Kennedy and Eric Otto — and is scheduled to take the stage at 8:20 p.m.
“We tried to get them last year, and we’re really excited to have them,” says Patella, who has taken classes with Mancini and Kennedy.
The Retreats “really hit it out of the park last year,” he adds.
Stewart’s band has gone through some lineup changes, but he says most of the musicians have been playing together for about three years. In addition to writing original songs, they typically cover hits by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Chris Stapleton and Weezer. But they will break out classic rock like Led Zeppelin to please the crowds at venues such as Lani Kai, Whiskey Park and the Nauti Parrot Oasis.
The Retreats have been rehearsing extra hours for their opening-act Eagle Fest gig with Wiz Khalifa April 2, says Stewart, a multi-instrumentalist who somehow juggles a daunting schedule: his final classes before graduating with a legal studies degree in May; a part-time job; band rehearsals; his role setting up and promoting gigs for the band; and staying on top of his law school applications.
The Retreats are “grinding as hard as possible this summer,” recording songs and pushing out TikToks, “to try and get things rolling,” he says. Whether or not he goes on to law school next fall may depend on how things heat up for the five-person band.
“I don’t think people realize how much it takes to be a musician,” Stewart says. “It doesn’t matter how good you are; you have to practice a lot. You have to have about four hours of music performance-ready, memorized. We finally got to the point where we’re getting paid, and it takes a long time to get to that point.”
The investment of personal time, the cost of equipment and travel that go into being part of a band — it all pays off when everything and everyone click musically, he says.
“I can’t describe the feeling when you’re on stage,” Stewart says. “You’re like in a groove – you’re not really thinking. You know the music so well you’re not focused on the notes — you know you’re not going to mess up. It’s almost a meditative state you’re in. You forget about everything. You realize why you’re doing this after all the blood, sweat and tears.”