By Chyrisse Tabone, Tampa Correspondent
The long-awaited Gasparilla Music Fest held March 7th-8th, 2015 with a solid line-up of indie, blues, bluegrass, and pop did not disappoint over the weekend. The weather was a sunny and breezy mid-70s to low-80s and the crowd appeared in Spring-break-mode with tropical shirts, shorts, and Frisbees abound. Although not billed as a Spring break music festival, the timing was perfect for northerners to head south and Saturday marked the night of “spring forward.”
Dozens of local, national, and internationally-known bands to suit everyone’s mood and musical taste were featured at the Soulshine Stage at Curtis Hixon Park was well as nearby smaller stages at Kiley Garden, the Amphitheatre, and Tibbetts’ Corner. Also, near the larger Soulshine Stage, a large video screen was mounted for lawn-chaired onlookers and families that wanted a decent view on a comfortable blanket.
Having frequented many festivals, three words come to mind when I think of the Gasparilla Music Fest: clean, gourmet and family-friendly. I am not aware if this was an agenda of the festival (well, besides raising money for scholarships and various charities) but the grounds had numerous recycling containers and trash bins on every corner. The festival, which was billed as being sustainable and environmentally-friendly, appeared to hold true to its mission. I did not see any litter!
I observed a lot of giggling kids following a large costumed-replica of the “beer can building” walking around, lots of hula-hoop dancers, and onlookers enjoying mostly healthy, gourmet food from area vendors. I was glad to see choices and not the usual fried-Twinkie-carnival fare offered at a lot of festivals. Although I am not a drinker, there was an array of craft beers and cocktails available.
I arrived on the Saturday afternoon in time to see The Budos Band which hails from Staten Island, New York. I have observed the video of their song “Burnt Offering” and knew this afro-soul-jazz-tinged band was a must-see. The instrument-driven band utilized congas, bass, keyboard, and drum-driven rhythms mixed with guitars and a 60s-inspired, forceful horn-section reminiscent of Blood Sweat and Tears or perhaps Frank Zappa. I chuckled as a nearby concert-goer said, “Wow. Look at that saxophone. It must be 100 years old.” Young chap, vintage always sounds sweeter to the ears. Overall, the band was animated and fit well in the tropical palm tree setting of the stage with University of Tampa’s minarets in the background. The band was animated, especially the hirsute bass player wielding his axe around like a sword.
Other notable bands included Mutemath, the synth-driven, alt-band from New Orleans which almost had a retro New Wave-ish sound. The Gaslight Anthem played a rocking indie-alt-pop set of tunes which was pleasing to the ears and had a lot of heads bopping. Overall, I observed a noticeably sedate crowd at the festival on Saturday (at least during my tenure). I stayed for a short period of Saturday’s headliner, Modest Mouse, and observed similar enthusiasm compared to festivals in other cities. I did wander over to hear the tale end of the New Orleans’ band Dumpstaphunk and noticed heavy butt-shaking and get-down grooving at the Kiley Garden stage. Another nice find was hearing the techno-dance-pop music of Detroit’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. at the same small stage.
On Sunday the crowd was a tad thinner than Saturday’s sold-out event but still very hefty. I arrived in time to hear the alt-bluegrass music of Trampled by Turtles, a Duluth, Minnesota band. Trampled by Turtles may be the American-equivalent to Mumford & Sons, who share a similar upbeat feel using traditional stringed instruments like banjos, fiddles, guitars, and mandolins.
Still, my personal highlight of the weekend was to finally hear the headliner of Sunday’s event, the gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello. I might be biased since I have been a longtime fan of their music and films; however, this was the first live performance I was finally able to attend.
Gogol Bordello crashed the stage with lightning and thunder as its raucous and theatrical ethnic rhythms and singable tunes brought the entire crowd on the lawn turf into arm swinging grooves. Eugene Hutz exuded charisma as a front man as he invited audience participation. Arms reaching out, a wine bottle swinging, and sweaty hair flying, one had to be there to experience the energy. Between the leaping fiddle player Sergy Ryabtsev, the cymbal and bass-drum slapping Elizabeth Sun, the wild accordion crunching of Pasha Newmer, and Latin-percussion of Pedro Erazo, I was mesmerized and the crowd had found their new favorite band. All of the choreography and playing was so tight and the energy so great I wondered, “How did they just drive in from Atlanta and pull this off?”
The crowd especially loved “Pala Tuta,” “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher),” and of course, “Start Wearing Purple.” Many of the familiar fans waved purple t-shirts in the audience and pogo-danced to the song. I was especially relieved when I heard the first F-bomb of the weekend because after all, it was a rock concert. It was the finale and time to party, and boy, Tampa did.
I look forward to seeing next year’s line-up for the fifth annual Gasparilla Music Festival. I hope they continue with a nice mix of genres and end with a bang!
LINK to THE BUDOS BAND PHOTO GALLERY
LINK TO MUTEMATH PHOTO GALLERY
Link to GOGOL BORDELLO PHOTO GALLERY