Seven years ago Gasparilla Music Festival (GMF) took on an ambitious challenge of creating an all-encompassing, community-centric, and sustainable music festival that offers a little something for everyone. It takes a special moxie to compete with large scale, corporate run music festivals, in an increasingly competitive industry, while keeping ticket prices reasonable. Some of the Tampa Bay’s best local bands shared the stage with some of the biggest names in rock, in the form of Cage the Elephant and Ryan Adams. Artists like Chronixx and Ghostface Killah, who would otherwise be a rare sight in a place like Tampa, made highly anticipated appearances.
Local food and beverage vendors, artists, merchant booths, and aerial acrobatics added to the community driven ambiance. Cigar City Brewing, a nationally renowned brewery based in Tampa, served as the title beer sponsor and even brewed up a limited release GMF Pilsner for the event. Several acclaimed local restaurants set up shop along Calle Cocina, GMF’s makeshift foodie city. Tampa, an up and coming foodie destination in itself, was able to showcase tastings from some of the city’s best restaurants, including Seminole Heights powerhouses like Ella’s Folf Art Cafe, The Refinery, The Independent, and Rooster & the Till.
The impressive list of regionally based title sponsors from firms of any and all industries further strengthen the community aspect and are highly responsible for driving the sustainability of the festival. Some of those familiar names hailing from the Tampa Bay area include companies such as Sykes, Cigar City Brewing, Tech Data, Dex Imaging, Amalie Motor Oil, and the DeBartolo Family Foundation. Both small and large, locally and nationally focused music festivals are equally subjective to failure from economic stress and a competitive industry.
The methodical route GMF organizers have taken to create sustainability has left a tangible hype on local residents and made Tampa Bay music scene more buzzworthy than ever. The resulting flavor that GMF brings to the one’s palate is more analogous with a handspun milkshake from the local dairy bar as opposed to the mass-produced machine made milkshake from a fast food joint.
Below I’m going to run through more specifically, who or (what), stood out at GMF:
Cage the Elephant
With each successive show, Cage the Elephant seems to be better than the previous one. Lead singer Matt Shultz is always a cannonball full of energy on stage, and this show was no different. They showcased much of their newest, Grammy winning album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, while sprinkling in their biggest hits to an eager crowd ready to move around.
The Nashville based indie rockers are becoming a perennial festival band. Seeing a short 45-minute set of theirs does not do them due justice, but it is nonetheless impressive. They are hitting plenty of festivals this year, so do yourself a favor and catch their set. Free flowing, uplifting, and easy to listen to music makes them a perfect jam band for a summer festival.
Ryan Adams dug into his full arsenal of skills during the early Sunday evening headlining set. His quick wit, improv abilities, stage banter, and stellar navigation of a guitar pleased both hardcore fans and those who simply had nothing better to do. Logic would imply that the latter were turned more into Ryan Adams fans than anything else at the conclusion of the set. The most priceless memory of his performance came when he got into a confrontation of sorts with a local photographer who decided to use his camera’s flash while shooting high above the stage on a lifted platform. Ryan Adams has Meniere’s disease, which can cause seizures, vertigo like symptoms, and ocular migraines exacerbated by flashing lights. Those with press and photo credentials were warned about this before shooting Adam’s set, so the photographer really didn’t have a good excuse. You can read more about the war that erupted on Twitter afterward in a Tampa Bay Times article about the incident. Thankfully, nothing happened to Adams and the crowd got to enjoy an improv song roughly titled “Dude with the Sign That Says No Flash”, further showcasing Ryan Adams’ live performance skills.
Dennis Cole, AKA Ghostface Killah, made a rare solo appearance to roughly a couple thousand eager fans looking to get a glimpse of anything Wu Tang Clan. This was probably the best rap performance in the seven-year history of GMF, and one of the most unique bookings you’ll see at a festival anywhere.
Curtis Hixon Park
The setting in which GMF takes place is perfect for a mid sized music festival. The main stage area is large enough to hold about 10,000 people and the support stages were creatively placed out of sight atop Kiley Garden, the adjacent park. With the Hillsborough River and The University of Tampa minarets, a landmark feature often used to depict the City of Tampa, in the background, it’s tough to find a more scenic and conveniently located venue. The hologram GMF logo displayed upon the nearby towering Sykes building was a unique touch as darkness fell.
The Marcus King Band
There were plenty of first timers in attendance for the Greenville, South Carolina band, but I can attest that plenty of people left in awe of the youthful singer’s talent. At only 21 years old, Marcus King has more soul in him than his young face belies. Think of a young Zac Brown with more southern soul and R&B influences, or perhaps a more accurate description would be a male version of Alabama Shakes‘ Brittany Howard. They’ll be making appearances at several festivals this summer, as well as select dates with Umphrey’s McGee.
The St. Pete-based garage rock quartet has all the sound of an indie sensation in the making. With a knack for touring the country, mostly likely on a very small budget and fan base, they are likely to make their break eventually. Drawing comparisons to bands like The Districts and Parquet Courts, I don’t see why this band can’t represent Tampa Bay at the national level.
GMF caters heavily to the VIP attendees, especially in regards to position at the main stage. Often, the pit, which is exclusively for VIP, is empty because these attendees show up later in the day or sit under the covered VIP tent for most of the early performances. Well, Twin Peaks solved that problem. One song into their set they authorized security to allow anyone in GA to fill in the VIP area, showing that they give absolutely no f*cks, and that seemed to be a precursor for the rest of the set.
This event would not be possible without the tremendous help of unpaid labor, and in particular the volunteers. Comprised mostly of local music fans, the volunteers seemed genuinely happy to be there and eager to engage with festival goers.