By Anita Stewart, Journalist and Chyrisse Tabone, Photographer–Rock At Night Correspondents-Tampa
GASPARILLA MUSIC FESTIVAL’S 5TH YEAR ROCKS DOWNTOWN TAMPA WITH DIVERSE MUSIC AND FUN!
Rock at Night did some great day-tripping at the annual and eagerly awaited Gasparilla Music Festival, a two day event in downtown Tampa at Curtis Hixon Park on the first day, Saturday, March 12th, 2016. We ended up staying late that same evening to catch the headliner, the amazing neo-soul/jazz/R&B/hip-hop singer, actress and artist, Erykah Badu. Everything from Alternative to Reggae, Hip Hop to Country, Latin to Jazz was offered and the five stages had music rotating constantly throughout the day.
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is close to the original site of the old Curtis Hixon Hall, Tampa’s only large concert venue besides the Tampa Armoury from many years ago. Old rock and rollers from Tampa Bay remember the venue well. I saw my very first concert there in 1969.
The weather in the daytime was unseasonably warm and muggy and Rock at Night was able to catch numerous acts during our day there. If you go next year, be prepared to walk at this festival and dress for heat. The stages are pretty far apart (good for music from different bands to not overlap) and there are lots of vendors, so wearing tennis shoes and carrying along cash and credit cards are necessary! We were amazed at the amount of ladies teetering on high heels or platforms (not the best choice to wear) and clumsily navigating some stairs or uneven walking areas that were a patchwork of cement squares and grassy spots.
People were dressed up, dressed down, lots of kids playing or getting their faces painted and a peaceful groovy vibe permeated throughout the scene. Kids under 12 years old were admitted free in order to promote this event as family friendly. There was even an interactive tent with percussion instruments and drums so the kids could jam!
The first band we saw was Sweet Crude from New Orleans, a band made up of guys and gals playing multiple instruments, percussion, fiddle, etc. With baroque style vocal arrangements and some song lyrics in Cajun French their voices harmonized beautifully. Alexis Marceaux and Sam Craft sing most of the lead parts and keeping the French/Cajun/Creole culture and language is important to them. Their music definitely brought to mind another talented Francophone band with multi-instrumentalists, Arcade Fire.
The Hummingbirds are an Americana/Folk/Alt Country duo and were snowbirds from Michigan. Recently, this married couple loved Florida so much, they decided to stay here permanently and have become a regular fixture on the local Tampa music scene. Both play guitar and both are prolific songwriters. Their latest offering is the album “13 Days.” SG even treated the crowd with some of his impromptu “Shakespeare in the Park” during their set. The duo was interviewed by Rock at Night last fall.
Diealps! is one of Tampa Bay’s favorite bands. Believe it or not, they mix some of their alternative originals in 3/4 time, so that makes them waltzes! Connie, on lead vocals and guitar is from a small town in Austria who just happened to marry an American, Frank and they formed the band with some of their friends. Connie says, “Not all of our songs are waltzes but I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to write a bad song in 3/4 (time).”
Houndmouth is from New Albany, Indiana or Louisville, Kentucky, whichever one you prefer. They formed in 2011, have released 2 albums and have a distinct Midwest hard-driving rock and roll sound. Well known in their local area, the New Albanian Brewing Company even named an ale after the band. They have done the rounds of the late night talk shows and festivals throughout the country. All of the members are talented musicians and write music. Straight up rock and roll, no gimmicks, just pure musicianship is what you will get by listening to this band.
Samurai Shotgun hails from Atlanta originally and are now based in Tampa. They play progressive post hip-hop with lots of metal and rock overtones. Great jams and musicianship and their style can be compared to Rage Against the Machine or Living Colour. Check them out as they do a lot of gigs in the Tampa Bay area.
Lauris Vidal is a one man band from Ormond Beach, Florida that just amazes the crowd with his ability to play drums and string instruments at the same time. His Facebook page says his genre of music is “kitchen sink beat blues.” He has traveled, lived in Washington, DC, Gainesville, mentored kids, done the office thing and all of these experiences have added to his music. He makes a lot of his own instruments out of old wood found on his family’s farm.
Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers is a great band from New Orleans that play traditional jazz, Dixieland Jazz and other great songs from the American songbook. Listening to this set was refreshing, all old jazz with familiar lyrics that the audience could sing along to. It was great to see younger people responding positively to this music. Kermit does vocals and plays jazz trumpet and one of his major influences is the music and styling of Louis Armstrong. He was the co-founder of the Rebirth Brass Band in the 80’s.
Lucero is from Memphis, Tennessee and they were greeted warmly as a crowd favorite. They formed in 1998 after getting tired of the metal and punk scene and wanted to offer something different musically. They learned how to play their instruments as they gigged. Some of their songs sound like country, some sound rock and some right in the middle, more like Alt Country/Americana with light inflections of that sweet Memphis soul and R&B. Dusk fell during their set…
As the stars came out, Antibalas was the surprise of the night, aiming to please with their Afro-centric beats, funk and jazz sounds, great rhythms and a lively horn section and along with their charismatic lead singer, they got the crowd moving and grooving. This band comes from Brooklyn, New York and they have been playing together since 1998 and have grown, morphed and aged the distinctive genre of Afro-beat music. They have cut five full length albums so far. These musicians have earned the respect of such notables as David Byrne and Questlove just to name a few. This band gave an environmental message to the crowd, don’t let the powers that be frack Florida. Stop the fracking before it starts.
Under the crescent New Moon low in the night sky and some wafting cool breezes and just over the river with the backdrop of illuminated turrets on the old landmark hotel that is now the University of Tampa, Ms. Erykah Badu wowed the crowd with an electrifying performance. She sang her old hits from her debut album Baduizm, her new hit, “Put Your Phone Down,” and many songs from her body of work in between. What is quite amazing is her vocal range; she literally hit some otherworldly high notes which gave this writer goosebumps! Mad and deep respect for her talents!
The crowd sang along to her lyrics, swayed with the music, stamped their feet to the beats and howled when she asked them to participate. The back-up singers used their voices in trilling riffs just like powerful woodwind and brass instruments. Her cues to her very tight band were responded to in fractions of seconds. With her arms raised upward like a priestess, she commanded the lights on and off, the music to crescendo or diminuendo…”I just made this sh*t up…” she said to the crowd and they loved it and cheered her on! With pure vibes and talent, the audience belonged to her!
Ms Badu is often compared to Billie Holiday. With her many successes during her time on the music scene, multiple platinum and gold recordings, headlining jazz festivals around the world, her collaborations with other notable musicians and her acting and activism she has become a force to be reckoned with in entertainment.
This festival prides itself on being sustainable and green; trash is separated and the water was boxed which creates not zero, but less waste. Perhaps the ideally green thing to do would be to allow people to bring in their own containers and have water trucks present. Participants could fill their containers and be asked to donate for the water to offset the cost. Just a thought! We did not see any litter. We did however, find a wallet during our pit stop for early evening coffee and donuts from one of the vendors. This was promptly turned in to law enforcement at the front gate/security. We do hope David got his wallet back.
In the VIP section there were better bathrooms (not Port-a-lets), seating areas, full service bar areas and convenient plug-ins so festival goers could charge up their Ipads or phones. Shade was available everywhere in the VIP sections but there was literally no real shady areas in the general admission sections. In this writer’s opinion, shade should be made available to all who need it. For those with medical problems, the elderly or small children, getting in that shade and out of the hot Florida sun can be critical. At the Glastonbury Festival in Great Britain, for example, some of the stages are covered with large tenting. Perhaps that can be considered for future events in Tampa.
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