After only a short few months, Gasparilla Music Festival was back on this year for another three full days of music in downtown Tampa at Curtis Hixon Park, Friday-Sunday, February 25th-27th. This year’s headliners were Black Pumas, The Revivalists, and Trombone Shorty, ready to fill the weekend with jams and energetic performances on the stage.
With a late start to the first day, the festival opened its doors up to the public with a line already wrapping outside on the sidewalk. Up first on the roster was DJ Ku at the main stage, getting the crowd amped up with remixes and popular modern music. Following DJ Ku was local rock band Ghost Front at the Ferman Amphitheatre Stage. After a quick outfit change, the band popped out onto the stage and immediately started into their set. Flashing around in their mixture of office yet party attire, the band opened up the festival, creating the energy that would be carried on for the rest of the weekend.
As the day went on, other local bands Treis & Friends and Parrotfish (whose set was moved back for scheduling) took to their respective stages on the southern side of the festival. With Parrotfish’s surf rock ska vibes and Treis & Friends suburban funk energy playing through the air, the festival started to fill up as crowds gathered around the food and drink areas. At certain parts of the festival, festival attendees could stand in one spot and be able to hear both bands performing at the same time, creating a beautiful blend of music.
Closer to the end of the day, the main acts of the night began to take to the stage. Over on main stage, all female rock band The Aces hopped onto the stage to a vigorous cry from front row fans. The band rocked into their set as lead vocalist Cristal Ramirez moved across the stage and the catwalk, with her fellow members jamming out behind her. As The Aces took to their spot, on the other side of the festival Camille Trust was quick into her lively, band packed set on the Replay Guitar Stage while DJ Kaelin Ellis was spicing up the night in the Ferman Amphitheatre. While these three acts were going on, the DJs’ for the Silent Disco were set up and started, as a line grew for friends and families to get their headphones and head into the dance floor.
Following The Aces on the main stage was alt-rock legends Grouplove. As they made their appearance on the stage, the crowd went into a frenzy of cheers and applause as lead vocalists Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper (QRO interview) came out in their dazzling attire. Hooper, rocking one of her signature bodysuits, grabbed the mic and walked out to the catwalk as their set began, interacting with the fans close. As their set moved on, Hooper and Zucconi danced together for several songs, exchanging a hug in the middle.
While Grouplove captivated fans on the main stage, local hip hop artist and rapper Sam E. Hues brought an ensemble of local music legends to the Replay Stage as flashed out peace signs and got the crowd moving and grooving to his sweet rhymes.
As the night began to close, the first headliner of the weekend made their debut. American psychedelic soul band Black Pumas made their way onto the stage, with lead vocalist Eric Burton casually strutting out with his cup of tea and captains hat, ready to go. As the lights flashed through the performance, Burton’s bright reflective jacket shone like a beacon in the night. Burton only took one chance to stop as he sat crossed legged on top of a speaker, while photographers crowded at his feet for their perfect shot. Surrounded by smoke, Burton danced and jigged across the stage, moving his whole body as his hat flipped off and behind him. Eventually, Burton dove straight into the photo pit, getting up close and personal with fans as the photographers moved around him and out of his way. As they closed out the set and the first day, Black Pumas readied all fans for a weekend of music and high energy as the festival began to close its gates and prepare for day two.
After an exciting first day, the doors were opened back up early for the Saturday of Gasparilla Music Festival. Kicking off the day was local band MAK on the Replay Guitar Stage and surf rockers Seranation on the Morgan Auto Stage, as early birds flocked to the first of the performers. As the day progressed to its halfway points, the stages were filled with local Tampa bands such as local legends Have Gun, Will Travel.
As the late day began to set in, New Orleans funk outfit Cha Wa lit up the crowd with their jammy tunes as they came dressed to impress in colorful native outfits, bringing a little slice of Mardi Gras to downtown Tampa. Following Cha Wa was Margo Price up on the main stage with her floral sundress and acoustic guitar, singing sweet notes to the ears of the people.
As the sun began to set, Andy Frasco & The U.N. was set and ready to rock, with Frasco’s Jameson whiskey bottle sitting peacefully (for now) under his keyboard. As he appeared on stage, barefoot Frasco hit the crowd with a shout, “What the fuck is up Applebee’s?!” as he slammed out notes on his keyboard. As Frasco played out notes, occasionally standing up over his keyboard or taking a second to chug his whiskey, his guitarist Shawn Eckels was hitting the splits off to his side. As Frasco got up on the speakers, he slung his whiskey bottle around, with both photographers and fans alike being in the splash zone. As he finished up his wild movements, a member of the crowd handed Frasco a weed gummy, which he promptly bit into and would soon ramp him up even more.
With Frasco’s wild performance coming to an end, alternative rock band Band of Horses came out to the main stage underneath the glow of a spotlight. With a quick readjustment on his guitar, frontman Ben Bridwell started straight into their set as the crowd went wild. As the band played on, Bridwell and company would move back and forth during each song as they played through instrumentals and vocals together.
As Band of Horses kept the main stage crowd locked in, DJ duo Bob Moses came out on the Morgan Automotive Stage under a multicolored hue of lights for their club set. As they started into their set, Jim Vallance got straight into running the table as Tom Howie’s vocals called out into the night air. Rather than performing mostly originals, the duo rocked out to remixes and mostly electronic dance music as the crowd danced around each other.
With the final act ready to go, long time rock legends The Revivalists came out under a hazy blue glow as smoke filled the stage. Heading straight the catwalk, lead vocalist David Shaw promptly strutted out in his tiger striped coat, before quickly tossing it off to the side and spending his time on the catwalk with fans. Shaw later got fans involved with the performance as he had a lyric battle between each side of the catwalk, having certain sides sing out each stanza of their songs. As the set moved on, Shaw was joined up front by Rob Ingraham on the sax, Michael Girardot on the trumpet, and Zack Feinberg on the guitar, as they joined together in a front stage group performance before continuing the set.
Once again, the headliner gave it their all and closed out day two. As many fans went home, the weekend pass holders were making their way to downtown bars to already start the early festivities before gates opened the next day.
Day Three was ready to start with one of the activities that makes Gasparilla Music Festival so special. What makes Gasparilla Music Festival so unique is that it is one of the only festivals in the country, and perhaps the world, to have a designated day and time for families called Kids Fest. For the first few hours before doors open, activities such as face painting, bubbles, and even fun classroom instruments were set up for families with young children to bring their kids out and expose them to music. While all these activities are going on, local kids bands such as the all-girl Boycott, School of Rock Tampa, and the Tampa Metro Youth Orchestra were up and playing while their friends and parents watched on in excitement as they played one of their biggest gigs at such an early age.
As the younger kids band set off the stage, a group of local dads known as the Imagination Movers, who started their band while playing music for their own kids and friends, came out on the larger Morgan Auto Stage to entertain the kids with fun songs about learning and education, while being accompanied by some of the local sports team’s mascots.
As kids fest wrapped up, country star Amy Ray and her accompanying band took to the main stage as some of the early birds without kids began to enter the park. As one half of the Grammy winning Indigo Girls, Ray continues her solo work as she explores her history in country and punk. With her set marking the beginning of the acts for the final day, her country tone set the new jazzy, folk mood that would follow through.
Following Amy Ray Band on the main stage was the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Blues Hall of Famer Mavis Staples. At 82 years old, Staples still keeps her voice from her early days, the same spiritual and musical voice that drove the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. With fans of all ages crowded around her stage, Staples let her sweet voice ring out into the hair, as she waved at smiled at everyone in the crowd.
As Staples played out on main stage, local bands The Venus and Summer Hoop were rocking out on the other side of the festival. With The Venus in the amphitheatre entertaining a small crowd, Summer Hoop jammed out on the Replay Guitar Stage in her bright pink pants and dazzling makeup.
As the day grew late, local Americana soul artist and all around amazing character Kristopher James quickly hopped onto the Replay Guitar Stage, striking several poses for the photographers ready to shoot his set. While he spent the day with his hair tied up, James let it all unravel in a fury as he sang sweetly to the growing crowd, rocking back and forth with his drummer and other fellow musicians on his iconic red guitar.
As James’ set went on, twangy indie rock band Pinegrove was starting their set on the nearby Morgan Auto Stage. The crowd was filled up with their “Pinenuts” (the name given to their loyal fans) as they began early chanting and cheering before the band even made an appearance. As their set was ready to start, the band did a quick sound check for only a few seconds as lead vocalist Evan Stephens Hall says, “Yeah, that sounds about right. Let’s do this!” With a quick jump into their first song, the crowd was still yelling and cheering as Hall blasted out on the microphone, with every single Pinenut sung along, not missing a single line or lyric.
As Pinegrove closed out their set, the final act was ready to go. Troy Andrews, known professionally as Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, was closing out the three day festival for a final night of music. As a legendary trombonist and vocalist, Andrews really proved that fact within his first song. As he started out, he knocked out note after note on his trombone before moving to the end of the catwalk for a quick solo alongside his guitarist. Moving and bending his body with every night, Andrews and his sax player played a full ten minute solo after each other for just the first song of their set, kicking off what could be only described as the proper way to close out a festival. As the set went on, the crowd was dancing and jumping alongside the stage. As his guitarist took to front and center on the catwalk, Andrews reached down to one of the team photographers and grabbed his camera, snapping several shots from behind of the crowd and guitarist, while the giddy photographer stood still with his mouth wide open. Handing him back the camera, Andrews went back to his mic and trombone as they jazzed up the night and closed out the final day.
With what was probably the most exhilarating performance Gasparilla Music Festival has ever seen, Andrews closed the night as fans stood in both awe and exhaustion, as they already reminisced of such an amazing final performance. With the festival closed out perfectly, the teams quickly began to start the breakdown process of each stage and tent as the doors closed. As fans left the park, many could be heard already talking about next year’s festival, with several already begging for a lineup or even early bird tickets to go ahead and start a year-long prep.
-words & photos: Chandler Culotta