The weekend of the third annual Gasparilla Music Festival was clear, bright and breezy, with a nip to the air that kept the daytime highs in the 70s on both days, and the Saturday night lows dipping to the 60s. In sum, perfect festival weather with nary a cloud in sight.
Saturday afternoon at Gaparilla Music Festival 2014
Several thousand locals converged on the heart of downtown Tampa to enjoy live music by more than 40 local, regional and national talents spread over four stages — the main Soulshine Stage in Curtis Hixon Park, and in Kiley Garden, the amphitheater (Baker Barrios Stage), the Creative Contractors’ Stage at the end of the craft/biz corridor of Tibbetts’ Corner, and the biggest of the three, parked closest to the Sykes building and my favorite place to see music at the fest by far, the Higher Ground Stage. The two-day-spanning GMF proved just as fun and memorable as the past single-day fests, the food just as satisfying and representative of the Bay area’s best, and all the high points eclipsed the few low ones (I’m lookingat you, Wayne Coyne).
Here’s a look back both in words and photos by several people, myself included, who were on the ground at GMF 2014… —Leilani Polk
12:15 p.m., Benjamin Booker
Once a local duo, Benjamin Booker left our state with musical partner Max Norton to seek their fortune in New Orleans, and this was my first chance seeing them since their unofficial farewell (and following their signing to ATO Records). Benjamin has an amazing ‘old soul in a young body’ vibe, which prompted someone behind me in the crowd to compare him to Jimi Hendrix. Combined with Max, who has a fine touch on both percussion and mandolin, these guys are truly something special. I can’t wait for them to finally release their album (produced by Andrija Tokic of Alabama Shakes fame) this fall. —Marci Richter
1:15 p.m., Will Quinlan & The Holy Slow Train
Will Quinlan and Tony Dolan
Will is a Tampa area fave who never disappoints, his bands usually made up of a rotating variety of great musicians. For this performance it was Tony Dolan on percussion, Rob Pastore on the standing bass, and a special appearance by Max Norton on mandolin and drums. I’m so used to watching Will play in low lighting with his hat over his face, that seeing the sun on his face felt kind of weird, but it allowed a great view of his harmonica work, and his music went great with my first Dickel drink of the day. —MR
2:45 p.m. Matt Woods
Tucked into the intimate embrace of the amphitheater, Matt Woods and drummer Larry Fulford wooed the audience with a mix of fan favorites and new tunes. The fresh material was upbeat and fun and the set had the audience’s knees bouncing, but we were also treated to a heart-wrenchingly earnest performance of one of my favorite Woods tunes, “Dead Man’s Blues” that found Matt stepping away from the mic and utilizing the acoustics of the space to sing part of the song a capella. It was a very cool, very special moment that wouldn’t have been the same in any other performance space. —MR
2:50 p.m. Zulu Wave Why haven’t these guys gotten signed, again?
I wondered as we made our way into the third annual Gasparilla Music Festival, where the St. Pete-spawned group – which played the CBGB Festival in NYC two years in a row, 2012 and 2013 – was throwing it down on the Creative Contractors Stage at Tibbetts’ Corner and winning over new fans one by one with their loud, taut and propulsive alt rock dynamism. This year, the stage – located in Kiley Gardens’ far left corner – got raised a bit off the ground, and the grassy swath that served as both a vending corridor and standing room area in front of the stage had been widened, so you could actually peruse merch, check in with local nonprofits and businesses, and snag a George Dickel whiskey drink or Tito’s vodka drink, all while enjoying the music. Zulu Wave hits the road on a Southeastern tour this Thursday. —LP
3:10 p.m. Culture featuring Kenyatta Hill
We arrived a little later than planned and caught the last part of the seminal roots reggae band’s set on the main Soulshine Stage in Curtis Hixon Park. It proved a perfect start to our day at GMF. They were tight and energetic, fronted by the magnetic Kenyatta Hill, son of the late Joseph “Culture” Hill, and made me hope to get another dose of live Culture in the near future. —Julie Garisto
3:20 p.m., Those Darlins
Nashville-based foursome Those Darlins took the stage with a deliciously “fuck you,” attitude, sending gnarly guitar riffs shredding across Kiley Garden in a setlist that included cuts off Screws Get Loose
and last year’s Blur the Line
. This is a band you’ve gotta see live; their albums kill, but the live sound was another animal altogether. The heavy alt-country crunch and doo woop shuffle had bodies slinking and shaking as frontwoman Jessi Zazu — clad in red spanky pants and black tights — drawled lines like “Got a primal urge I'm headed for you.” She owned and I mean OWNED the fucking stage, sometimes peering into the crowd with the wild glare of a feral cat and adding gritty bite to her sweet vocal intones. And things really got hot and bothered when voluptuous guitarist/vocalist Nikki Kvarnes took the lead during “In the Wilderness,” her line “Ever since I got snake bit, I got a fever running through my spine” working the crowd into a hypnotic frenzy worthy of the festival’s mainstage. —Arielle Stevenson
4 p.m., Atlantic Oceans
It was a pleasant déjà vu seeing Tessa McKenna, Julian Conner and Stephanie Anderson back on the same amphitheater stage after their memorable gig here as Sleepy Vikings at last year’s GMF (then with Jensen Kistler). The late afternoon performance gave us a new band with familiar resonance but kickier vibe. McKenna and Conner’s harmonies were soothing as the last blaze of heat set upon the white concrete of the mini Roman-style amphitheater. Some electric renditions complemented a handful of acoustic tunes — most notably a soaring finale of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” I hope this local GMF tradition continues again next year. —JG
4:15 p.m., Anders Osborne
One perfectly-fried corn dog, a Malio’s prime rib Sammie and a sticky bun and papaya salad later, we found ourselves in the rather thick crowd facing the main Soulshine Stage, getting rocked n’ rolled by Big Easy-soaked Anders Osborne and his rather fantastic band. He’s released a slew of albums, but I’d only really come around with last year’s Peace. Live, his guitars-and-organ-driven music grabbed me straightaway, going in unexpected directions, from the dark and gritty Southern-fried sound I’d always assumed was Osborne’s bread and butter into swampy NOLA blues, R&B-swaying roots and darker, hard rock grooves that revealed his Zeppelin and Sabbath roots, while his more buoyant rambling odes — like the island-tinged jam vehicle, “Sara Anne” — had definite heady Deady appeal.
Tatted, scruffy-faced Osborne, in aviator sunglasses, navy beanie and well-worn Grateful Dead tee-shirt, proved himself a vigorous and capable frontman who laid down pedal-licked guitar riffs and solos that were influenced by the blues but never overly noodle-heavy or repetitive, and his soulful rusted vocals sailed overtop. I have friends in the jam scene who rave about Osborne, and on this afternoon I finally understood what all the fuss was about. Can’t wait to see him again. —LP
4:30 p.m. J Roddy Walston & the Business
J Roddy Walston & the Business
“I’m J Roddy Walston and this is the Business,” Roddy greeted the heavy crowd spread out before the stage, seated at a piano, face hidden beneath a massive pile of long white-dude dirt rocker hair. “And no matter what, we’re gonna play you some rock n’ roll.” And they did just that — loudly, with heavy drums, driving guitars, beautiful vocal harmonies and overall powerful stage presence. People were digging it, the set touching on their self-titled 2010 album, newer material from Essential Tremors (like the radio-played “Heavy Bells”) and even a cover of David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” Everything was going fine until Walston started urging the crowd to sing the chorus of one of the songs.
Unfortunately for J. Roddy, a collective lull had hit during his attempt at crowd participation. And when he didn’t get what he wanted, he just kept pushing. “Pay attention and sing loudly this time!” he charged, and the crowd rallied but only enough to help him close out the set. Move the rock n’ roll out of the late afternoon twilight and into the darkness, where we can scream and holler in utter anonymity, I thought as I left. —AS
5:30 p.m. Alexander & the Grapes
I’ve always loved this band but felt detached during this performance. Maybe they were more restrained because of the trappings and challenges of being outside at the somewhat awkwardly seated amphitheater. Maybe the general annoyance of the rules and scheduling of GMF deflated them a bit. Or perhaps it was the heat and fatigue getting to me, but I felt no electricity from A&tG this time around. They sounded great overall — a dynamic balance of propulsive rock and mellow ballads — but their set didn’t keep my attention. They just didn’t grab me like Those Darlins had around an hour before. It felt too much like background music to me, and didn’t keep my interest amid the ADD extravaganza that is an outdoor music festival. —JG
5:30 p.m., Sunbears!
Sunbears! at sunset.
The outdoor stage meant that Sunbears! didn’t have their trademark visuals for this performance. But somehow, they managed to get the sunset to fill in, giving the whole thing a dreamy sort of glow. There was a huge crowd surrounding the small platform stage and the buzz about their dynamic live show even brought out Flaming Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne, who graciously took pictures with fans while enjoying the band’s set with the rest of us. —MR
5:55 p.m., Adrian Younge's Venice Dawn
Belting out like Marvin and Curtis, Adrian Younge and his mighty Venice Dawn “orchestra” took GMF into sunset with a buttery feast of thick grooves and atmospheric jams. Younge & Co. looked sharp in their tuxes. The longtime musical collaborators who helped him record the Black Dynamite
score, a full-length LP (Something About April
) and Ghostface Killah’s last album — smooth falsetto-reaching crooner Loren Oden, C.E. Garcia (bass and keyboards), Alfredo E. Fratti (lead guitar, flute), Jack Waterson (guitars) and David Henderson (drums) — launched into sprawling instrumental forays that never sounded too self-indulgent or jammy. You could tell that Younge loves the music of spaghetti Westerns. At certain moments, the syncopated grooves, blessed by angelic flutes and spectral, retro keys, led into arrangements as sweeping as an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Saudia Mills (the gal on the cover of Younge’s 45, “Stop and Look and You Have Found Love”) provided the occasional sultry guest vocal. —JG
7 p.m., Los Amigos Invisibles
Adrian Younge's Venice Dawn
I didn’t know Los Amigos Invisibles until I’d begun perusing GMF’s lineup a few weeks ago and I was not disappointed. Apparently this killer Latin fusion dance band has been making music out of Venezuela since 1991! After an afternoon lull of sorts (blame the belly full of pork and gator sausage), Los Amigos told Tampa to shape up and shake a tail feather. Then they launched into a performance carried on thick Latin rhythms and mixing heavy funk, jazz and disco sonic flavors (yes, I said disco), the result an instant dance party. Seriously, it was impossible not to dance. Impossible, I tell you! Think Stevie Wonder meets Tito Puente with a hint of Jamiroquai and a splash of Sábado Gigante — the perfect music to shimmy into the evening with, and shimmy we did. —AS
7:15 p.m., Delta Spirit
If you can get past Delta Spirit’s misleading name — the guys are from Southern California and there really isn’t one bluesy bone in their body (maybe a knuckle or two) — you might be taken in by the genteel but gutsy, lush melodic rock that deftly commanded the crowd on this evening. Delta Spirit, the penultimate band of the night, played the dreaded slot right before Flaming Lips. Funny enough, if you listened with a blindfold, you might concur that DS out-rocked the headliner — stage show razzle-dazzle notwithstanding, of course. The up-and-comers’ energy and enthusiasm were palpable as they gave their all and then some to such great tunes as “People, C’mon” and the bittersweet “California.” Frontman Matt Vasquez had a feisty sense of humor and knew how to connect to the crowd. He didn’t have a balloon made in our honor a la Wayne Coyne, but he couldn’t stop telling Tampa how much he fucking loved us.—JG
7:45 p.m., RJD2
It was dark by the time we reached the Higher Ground stage, which always feels super intimate because of its low-set orientation and close proximity to the giant 31-story beer can building (aka Sykes Tower).
I’ve seen beat-digging producer/instrumentalist RJD2 (aka RJ Krohn) play with a full band and I’ve seen him rolling solo, and when he’s doing the latter as on this night, he’s just as compelling as he jumps between up to four turntables at once, mixing and mashing and fading and scratching and triggering samples. For this set, a creepy figure clad in black full-body coveralls and face hidden by a welder’s mask strode onto the stage holding what appeared to be a sequencer, and proceeded to introduce RJD2 in a robo-tronic voice as he fired off sci-fi freaky samples, only to tear off the get-up and reveal the man of the hour’s face beneath it. He got the dancing started in earnest in his blend of trippy hip hop, space-funk and electro rock grooves, the setlist extending from new cuts like the glitchy ‘70s funk get-down of “Behold, Numbers!” through the horns and percs-driven “Let There Be Horns” and “A Beautiful Mine” (the track tapped as the theme for AMC’s throwback drama, Madmen
) back to his 2002 debut with sinister-toned “The Horror,” throwing the odd ’90s hip hop cuts — like Trick Daddy’s “Shut Up” — into the mix. He had the entire crowd getting down with our bad selves, even the kids in the back, who RJ stopped and dedicated a track to along with expressing gratitude to their parents for bringing them and making him feel excited about future outings with his own lil’ whipper snapper. (My verbiage, not his.) —LP
9:05 p.m., The Flaming Lips
I was as thrilled as anyone else that GMF landed such a big name act, reigning monarchs of psychedelia The Flaming Lips. And even though I haven’t really been excited by the creative turn they’ve taken following 2006’s At War with the Mystics
, I’ve remained a fan; Steve Drozd is a tragic anti-hero of a musician who I feel deep empathy for as a person and profoundly respect as an artist (see The Fearless Freaks
), while I’ve always had a soft spot for Wayne Coyne despite his all-eyes-on-me mentality. And pretty much everyone I know who’s met Wayne can’t say enough nice things about him.
But Wayne Coyne’s ego has become too big for the band, to the point of absurdity, and their set to close GMF on Saturday night just drove this point home.
The Flaming Lips
Yes, the stage setup had plenty of eye-popping dazzle — a seizure-inducing full-stage LCD screen backdrop of ever-changing visuals, a shiny silver custom-made balloon reading ‘Fuck Yeah, Tampa’ that was freed at the set’s start, rope lights that hung like vines over the band and dripped or glowed in multi-colored ever-changing hues, matching rope lights that ran in a giant coiled mass across the entire bottom of the stage and rose to a peak in the middle upon which Wayne Coyne stood in a shiny sky blue tux and beamed benevolently down on the masses or raised one fist in the air like some sort of psych dictator. It looked cool, yeah, but it was also revealed his way of trivializing his bandmates; you could barely make out the head of bassist/keysman Michael Ivins over the rope light installation and I never saw Steven Drozd at all, only heard a few sarcastic quips from him to Wayne (“How’s it going up there?”)
Coyne spent much of his set yakking about this or that but it was his constant charge for us to clap, sing along, dance, cheer, get rowdy, have fun, a overblown need for positive reinforcement, or ego stroking, or whatever it is he acts like we’re never giving enough of, that got grating, especially after the fourth or fifth time in a 90-minute set. Here’s a hint: If we like what you’re doing and dig the songs you choose to play, we will show our appreciation naturally. You are the entertainer, not us. Stop it with all these expectations.
Wayne Coyne has been a festival headliner for many years now. He knows the routine — shorter set, less time to woo the crowd, less time to play new material that no one really wants to hear, strict set time endings. Taking this into account, plus the fact that he was playing in the heart of downtown Tampa, in front of its sole resident-filled high rise — Skypointe Condos, which had apparently already complained about the lasers during the lights-check the night before – you’d think things would’ve gone a little differently. But as far as the setlist went, he gave us a few good numbers, closing with “Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” but he slowed down the pace of “Race for the Prize” to a stagnant crawl and didn’t pick up it up until the song was almost over, and included far too much newer fare along with a deep Devo cut “Gates of Steel” that looked cool with the lights but did nothing for me as far as the sound.
And finally, the crux of it all - the abrupt end to GMF and no encore from The Flaming Lips. I knew what time the Flaming Lips set ended; it said it right on the schedule. Considering this was the band’s only Florida date, they, too, should have known when they needed to be off the stage, and someone should have been keeping them abreast of when they needed to be off the stage. But the ball was dropped, the sound ordinance laws went into effect and the cops apparently threatened to turn off the breaker if the Lips tried to return for that final song. Wayne at least had the decency to come out and apologize about it. The irony was that he’d spent the end of the Lips set blathering on and on about how encores were supposed to go, when he could’ve actually been playing the encore at that moment.
11:40 a.m. Have Gun, Will Travel
Saturday night at GMF
These Bradentucky boys are one of my favorite area live acts. Their hooks are so catchy that you’ll find yourself singing along to a song you’ve never even heard before by the second time the chorus comes around. They filled out the giant stage beautifully and were the perfect way to kick off Sunday. —MR
12:45 p.m. Hackensaw Boys
I love bluegrass and I adored the performance by Hackensaw Boys. The stage was littered with a variety of stringed instruments and found percussion, and as I picked my way through the crowd, I saw people of all ages dancing in the cool spring air. —MR
2:55 p.m., The Soul Rebels
One of Sunday’s highlights was the lively set by eight-piece hip-hop influenced brass band Soul Rebels from New Orleans, their early afternoon performance evolving into a full-on dance party. In fact, among those getting down near the edge of the crowd was Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione.
There were a whole lot of horns up there on the Soulshine Stage, with players on sousaphone, a few trumpets and a few trombones, two separate drummers, and a tenor sax player, all delivering original tunes from the band's five-album catalog along with a number of covers – the Eurythmics’ "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and "Hard Knock Life" by Jay-Z. Overall, a band you don't definitely want to miss the next time they (hopefully) make it back to the Tampa Bay area. —Mitch Perry
4 p.m., Dewars
The band consists of twin brothers, one on kick-drum and bass and one on the guitar. They put on a fun set that reminded me of a laid back They Might Be Giants. My favorite part of their performance was definitely the tongue-in-cheeky ode, “Switzerland,” which actually had me laughing out loud. —MR
4:15 p.m., Florida Night Heat
Florida Night Heat
The guys of Florida Night Heat are not only talented, but charismatic as hell and are known for throwing down live ragers. This time around, I imagined the speakers lining the front of the stage would surely be enough to contain the band to their platform, but as the trio’s heavy-powered psych-rock swirled, Andre Jones and Jensen Kistler made their delicate ways over the equipment to perform the last few songs in the crowd, dancing with their fans. —MR
3:45 p.m., Jason Isbell
The time change and various other inexplicable time-eating factors led to my late landing on Sunday to find a thinner crowd but still impressive considering this was debut of day two. The weather still held clear and bright and the vibe was still pretty relaxed all around. After I snagged my GMF beverage of choice – 32oz lemonade with bendy straw and $3 refills – I head-bobbed through a few songs of Jason Isbell, a Drive-By Truckers former and longtime carried-on-his-own-weight solo singer-songwriter who was much less twangy and rocked harder and darker than I expected, with some Crazy Horse-style jams amid the honky tonk and alt country rambles. It was nice but not quite what I needed at the moment so I initiated a hasty retreat. —LP
4:40 p.m., Tea Leaf Green
I never really seek out their music on purpose, but I do love me some Tea Leaf Green live. Trevor Garrod leads the San Francisco outfit on keys and has these warm silky vocals that pair well with the band’s ‘70s soft rock-influenced West Coast breezy Southern-soaked grooves, back porch rambles and more driving progressions marked by slide guitar melodies, funky bass and gospel-tinged organ fills, and gentler melodic interludes, the overall feel like a ray of aural sunshine and perfect music for the moment. —LP
5:35 p.m., Trombone Shorty
The fest ended on a high note with Trombone Shorty. He owned that big ol’ stage, threw down the gauntlet of hard-hitting jazz, blues, and funk evoking his New Orleans home and groove-powered hip hop jams. I’d caught Trombone Shorty at Jazz Fest several years back and he’d amped up his game by leaps and bounds since then, commanding a tight ensemble of players that included an impressive two-piece horn section. He showed off some truly avant brass in machine gun rapid-fire bursts of trombone and trumpet along with more traditional blasts amid howling velvety-voiced choruses, pumping up the crowd and teasing or outright playing songs like ZZ Top’s “La Grange” or James Brown’s “Get On Up” or a re-imagined version of ‘30s ode “The Hi De Ho Man” by Cab Calloway amid his original numbers, eventually bringing it all to a resounding close and ending a rather amazing weekend on a celebratory and positive note. —LP
Check out a full photo gallery from the day below...