At the beginning of the pandemic, Gasparilla Music Festival was one of the last festivals to occur (QRO recap), and with a triumphant return it became one of the first to bring back music to the downtown Tampa cityscape. Normally occurring in March, the festival moved its dates to the first days of October, and with it brought the first ever three-day Gasparilla Music Festival, 1st-3rd. With a lineup consisting of music legends such as Young M.C., Mondo Cozmo, Matt & Kim, Mod Sun, Sylvan Esso, and headliners SOFI TUKKER, Nas, and Gov’t Mule, the festival was ready to bring back the tunes to the bustling city.
Starting in the late afternoon, the festival kicked off the events with the local DJ Casper. DJ Casper is well-known, in Tampa acting as one of the official DJs for the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team and most importantly created Ol’ Dirty Sundays in 2017; a party held every Sunday at Crowbar featuring all the “classic hip-hop, funk, reggae, soul joints you grew up with”.
After his quick set and amping up the early arrivals, 24-year-old singer-songwriter/producer CADE took to the stage. Starting his journey here in Tampa, Florida, CADE soon rose to prominence with his first EP Care and now resides in Los Angeles, California. Having collaborated with multiple music legends, CADE has turned the heads of many artists such as The Chainsmokers, Chloe Grace Moretz, Pia Mia, and more. Moving about the stage in his bright, golden outfit, CADE captured the audience’s attention before ending his set and settling down for the rest of the day.
Following CADE’s set, another Florida born and Los Angeles based artist known as BabyJake came out with a flash, in cowboy hat and flared jeans like a Quentin Tarantino outlaw. Known for putting his own new spin on rock n’ roll, BabyJake put his mark on the map with his gold-selling hit “Cigarettes on Patios”. With an outfit that’s hard to miss, BabyJake took the energy from the first two sets and amplified it louder. With loud vocals and heavy guitars, BabyJake revamped the audience and got them ready for rest of the night.
With a long gap between BabyJake and the next set, many audience members took to the nearby Silent Disco area. With three different DJs and corresponding channels on the headsets, audience members killed the time with their own private club in the Curtis Hixon Park area.
After a quick changeover, the stage was set for multi-talented artist Mod Sun. Known for his collaborations with Machine Gun Kelly, blackbear, and Avril Lavigne, Mod Sun has created a new style of pop-punk and post-hardcore. Opening his set with his hit single “Karma”, Mod Sun lit up the night sky with his flashy movements and energetic set. As Mod Sun moved through his set, he set out into the crowd to start a mosh-pit circle, where he danced alongside fans while performing “Stay Away”, a collaboration piece with Machine Gun Kelly and Goody Grace. After finishing his set with “Down”, a single he put out alongside Blink-182’s Travis Barker, Mod Sun set off to the back while the crowd prepared for the final headliner.
Elsewhere in the festival, Young M.C. was set to make his appearance for the CAMP Tampa afterparty. This ‘90s hip-hop legend made his way on stage in his own custom Tampa Bay Lightning Jersey and proceeded to ignite the crowd as he freestyled his way through his set, stopping now and then to play hits such as “Bust a Move” from his 1989 album Stone Cold Rhymin’.
As Young M.C. closed out his set, the remaining crowd made their way to the main stage for the opening headliner of the weekend. With a triumphant first of the three days near completion, Florida based musical duo Sofi Tukker, a.k.a. Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, had the stage covered in neon colors and their own tropical plant stage pieces. Known best for their songs “Best Friend”, “Drinkee”, and “Purple Hat”, the band first made their appearance in the world in 2014 where the two met at an art gallery, and soon self-released their first EP Soft Animals on July 8th, 2016.
Opening their set with their song “Fuck They” from their 2018 album Treehouse, the duo popped onto stage in a matching set of dazzling bright outfits reminiscent of the Florida sunsets. With a smile from ear to ear, Halpern rocked out on the keys as Hawley-Weld flew across the stage with her brilliant dress flowing through the air. With this being their first show in almost 600 days, and making sure to remind everyone they counted out each minute, the two artists gave it every bit of energy they had to light up the night sky. With every member of the crowd dancing together, and even Mod Sun in the back of the stage hanging out and jamming with the stagehands, there was not a single person sitting down for their set. As the band played out the night, the closed out with a flurry of lights and vocals with their hit songs “Purple Hat” and “Drinkee” before saying goodbye and hitting the road for their next show in Las Vegas.
After a successful and energetic first day, the festival was back on in the mid-day for day number two. Opening the festival on Saturday was a small duo known as Harp & Cello on the Replay Guitar Exchange Stage, alt-rock group Roxx Revolt & The Velvets on the Morgan Automotive Stage, and Appalachian folk outfit The Wildmans on the main JW Marriott Stage. With a short set each, early bird fans bounced between the stages to find some new music and get their thirst quenched for the long, hot, and sunny day.
As the day went on, many GMF alumni made their return this year to the stages. One of the biggest returnees was local Tampa band Glove, who had just recently made their first Lollapalooza appearance in Chicago. With a young and eager outlook on the show, and funky outfits to go along with, Glove ripped into their set without a second to lose. As they went on with the set, many local fans made their way to the pit to dance and sing along, with some close friends of the band joining in on the fun from the side of the stage.
As Glove was busy entertaining their fans on one side of the festival, four-piece thought-provoking rock group Parquet Courts was ready to make their debut on the main stage. With a small sound issue delaying their appearance, the band wasted no time getting to work as soon as the all clear was given. Rocking straight into their set, the band put on an exhilarating show, with the latecomers from Glove arriving at the back to fill in the pit.
Back on the other side of the festival, local jam band BadCameo made their appearance on stage with flashy high vis vests and funky socks. As they came on, lead singer Lando let out a yell before rocking straight into their set, and making sure that every foot in the crowd was up and dancing with them.
As BadCameo rocked and rolled in the heat, local reggae group The Hip Abduction was setting up their show at the Morgan Automotive Stage. Hailing from St. Petersburg, Florida, just across the bay, the five-piece band has made their mark in the music world with their ocean inspired and spirit of travel music. Playing through their set with a cacophony of drums, guitar, and sax solos, the band rocked out the small corner of the festival before setting off the stage for the final performances of the night.
Back on main stage, electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso was opening their set with vocalist Amelia Meath slowly and gracefully moving across the stage. With producer Nick Sanborn on the keys and instrumentals, the duo played through the setting sun as it illuminated the crowd before them.
While Sylvan Esso played out the set, local indie band Speak Easy and alternative duo Matt & Kim were simultaneously playing out their sets before moving to the headliner of day two.
Legendary hip-hop and R&B artist Nas was waiting for his moment to appear on stage for the second day. Throughout the ‘90s, Nas released multiple platinum records including Illmatic (1994), It Was Written (1996), and I Am (1999). With a history of record breaking albums, the crowd was more than excited for Nas’ performance.
As the DJ set up the crowd, he soon announced Nas’ arrival. Without a moment to lose Nas broke straight into his set for a night full of throwbacks. With a late performance, Nas went through his performance with eagerness as he brought out several fellow musicians before calling it a night bidding farewell to the festival.
Even though the day ended at the festival, this didn’t mean the end of the festivities elsewhere. At a small bar north of the festival known as Shuffle, fans and crew members alike were crowding in for the afterparty featuring local artists Rototiller, Go On Get, Ghost Front, and Mike Mass and K.III. With a quick set between each, the bands made an elaborate mix of rock and hip-hop that left the small venue wanting more and ready to roll to day three.
After two whole days of good vibes, music, and smiles, the festival was slowly coming to an end with day three. After a quick yoga session as the gates opened, the festival was back to music with blues artist Cedric Burnside rocking out the main stage as many early bird fans quickly ran to his set.
Moving from Cedric Burnside’s set, all eyes were set for the debut of songbird Vella. Although she is only seventeen, the young Tampa artist absolutely rocked straight into her set with friends and fans alike cheering her on. With a voice like Janis Joplin and moves like McJagger, Vella left everyone speechless as she danced across the stage and made her presence known with her first ever music festival set.
Another Tampa local and GMF veteran, Ella Jet returned to the stage after a long hiatus to give the people what they wanted. Albeit a short set, the young singer got personal with her fans, sitting down on the hay bales before them to serenade the crowd in the hot sun.
A day of songbirds was finally completed with another local, Ivy Alex, popping up at the amphitheatre stage. Accompanied by a full band, Alex sang sweetly under the shade of the stage as the crowds piled into the concrete seats to rest and relax with the ringing of her beautifully played piano notes.
Right across from Ivy Alex, local hip hop group Wave Theory joined in with Mike Mass from the previous night’s afterparty to fired up the stage with a set of freestyling and solos. With performances by Lilith Lex, Ned Pope, K.III, Fantastical Tigers, Kat the Duchess, Meho Drums, Sir.Perf!, and DJ DFAZ, the entire crowd was hyped as ever as everyone joined in for the show.
Heading towards the end of the day, Pennsylvania-born musician Josh Ostrander, better known by his stage name Mondo Cozmo, made his return to GMF after previously playing in 2018. With a full crowd and band alongside him, the musician bounced about the stage through the smoke as he let out the bellows of his voice and ripped on his guitar. Closing out his set with “Thunder” and “Automatic”, Ostrander took off the stage and then quickly headed into the crowd to spend time with fans and find a nice spot to sit down and watch the first Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game of the season.
After the final day set of Mondo Cozmo, the main stage was soon crowded as fans of all ages were ready and prepared for jam-band Gov’t Mule. Formed in 1994 as a side project from The Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody, the two soon took off from the band to continue focus on their side project and quickly rising in fame throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s. Woody soon left the band in the early 2000s but Haynes made sure to keep the ball rolling.
With a wave to the crowd and familiar herbal scent in the air, the band got straight to rocking out and doing what they do best; jamming. With Haynes on vocals and guitar, Matt Abts on drums, Danny Louis on keyboards, and Jorgen Carlsson on bass guitar, the group rocked the crowd’s socks right off under the iconic bright orange sunset of Tampa Bay. With an early set time, the band played for an hour as fans both crowded to the front and laid out on the lawn of the river side park enjoying the final moments of the festival.
With a successful three days, Gasparilla Music Festival ended out one of the most exciting weekends for downtown Tampa, as fans and local celebrities alike cheered on for the return of the festival. With hopes of a return in spring, the gates opened as everyone poured out into the night, reminiscing on the shows, afterparties, and great times that packed the music filled weekend.
-words & photos: Chandler Culotta