Talking ‘Bout the Gasparilla Music Fest
Two Creative Pinellas Magazine contributors relive the performances, indulgences and interactions of Tampa’s annual weekend-long music blowout.
Text by Stephanie Powers and Julie Garisto
Photos by Daniel Veintimilla, Devon Brady, Stephanie Powers, Jason Smith and Matt Callahan
Stephanie: The Post Fest Blues are real and I have them after attending my first full Gasparilla Music Festival. I know, I know. I worked couple with a food vendor and got to see a couple of acts here and there at past GMFs — Gogol Bordello, Dr. Dog and Nervous Turkey — but this was my first time being there for most of the time, both days. And now, I got the blues. After a weekend of jamming, eating, drinking, laughing and dancing, it’s back to reality and I just want to go back to GMF.
Julie: The weekend-long Gasparilla Music Festival did indeed offer a welcome break from adulting in the real world. I myself had a more limited time away from home because I’m a caregiver for my mom, so just being away for more than two or three hours was a treat, and getting to enjoy a wildly varied mix of first-rate musical acts felt exhilarating. Kudos to Phil Benito and the GMF posse for showcasing exceptional locals like the Mt. Zion Baptist Gospel Choir, Pohgoh, Acho Brother, Ella Jet & Future Soul, Mountain Holler, King Complex, Johnny Mile and the Kilometers, Sam E Hues, Sarah Morey, JudyAnne Jackson, Kristopher James and Fr33dback, in between stylistically and culturally diverse national acts. Even the headliners themselves praised their fellow top-slotters — among them, The Roots, Spoon, Warpaint, Nikki Lane, Break Science and Father John Misty.
Those of us without children (and many of us missing our furbabies at home) partook of Cigar City brews and excellent tapas-size gourmet goodies served by The Bricks, Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, Anise Global Gastrobar, The Rooster and Till and more.
The scene at GMF — The weather was eerily pleasant and cool on Saturday; gray and drab but a refreshing breeze and mist made us thankful it wasn’t as hot as it wound up being, contrary to the predictions of forecasters, on Sunday afternoon. A couple of quickly slurped lemonade and Tito’s Handmade Vodka cocktails helped mitigate the social anxiety that came with Saturday’s big crowd. Sunday was more mellow, usually the case with GMF. Maybe because I’ve lived in Tampa Bay my entire life, but GMF lured dozens of familiar faces — many I genuinely, wholeheartedly enjoyed seeing again. There were the friends with small children, the ones I usually talk with via Facebook. One dad had a rare weekend off his parental duties. He shared that he felt both thrilled and felt strange to use a restroom by himself without having to escort a little one first. Some parents brought their kids to see the preschool sensation Imagination Movers on Sunday at the Glazer Children’s Museum. Families engaged in recreational activities like soccer, Frisbee, Hula Hoops, a public painting wall and playing a painted public piano by the Children’s Museum. Moms and dads hoisted little ones on their shoulders while they oohed and awed at the aerialists by the amphitheaters and talented bands (with protective headphones, of course — wish we had those and parents who took us to big fests — when I was a kid).–JG
The Underhill Family Orchestra, Sykes Stage at Kiley Gardens, 1:45 p.m. — I walked around for a bit, getting acquainted with what food I would be noshing on, where the beer stands were and what stages were what and where. I made it to the start of the Underhill Family Orchestra. Introduced by the Crowbar’s sleeveless teddy bear Tom DeGeorge, the five-piece band out of Alabama proved to be a great way to start the weekend. The harmony. The outfits. They’re a modern-day version of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. I picture them traveling the country in an old school bus with rainbows painted on the side. It was a fun, upbeat way to start the weekend. –SP
The Cave Singers/ Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, Sykes Stage, 3:15 and 4:45 p.m. — Pete Quirk’s vocals moved me. The Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe’s chicken and waffle sandwich I was eating, moved me. It was a moment. I starting seeing so many people that I knew and loved that I missed my reminder to go see The Record Company at the main stage. But good thing, because I wasn’t planning on seeing Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, and thankfully I did. That band brought it. Hallelujah, did they bring it. Henry’s organ stylings kicked a new life into an amazing cover of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” I had to leave halfway through their set, but happy for the unexpected surprise that I got to see any of it.–SP
The Cave Singers and Cory Henry continued … Jumping ahead for a moment here, Steph, but I finally got to have my moving experience with the chicken and waffle sandwich at Ella’s on Sunday. Worth the 5 pounds I added to my already ample midsection.
Photographer Daniel Veintimilla and I arrived on Saturday in time for Cave Singers. The musicianship was tight, and Quirk’s emotive delivery moved the crowd despite distractions from the VIP section. For this show, more than any other GMF set I watched all weekend, attendees in the corporate playpen, ahem, VIP area, talked over the music and didn’t pay attention at all. I started to imagine them as bitches and studs in a dog park for nouveau riche mutts. Though momentarily distracted, I thoroughly enjoyed Cave Singers’ set. Hand-sized instruments accented their performances — harmonica, tambourine, recorder, shaker and maraca.
Cave Singers’ frontman Pete Quirk engaged the crowd amiably and serenaded the crowd with an understated, confident delivery. He expressed gratitude for getting to play a festival instead of having to work a day job and joked that the loudly erupting smoke machines reminded him of intimate moments with his better half. I stood on the southeastern side of the gate by the front of the stage, enduring secondhand cigar smoke from a guy who seemed to be more preoccupied with strutting and puffing then acknowledging the musicians playing their hearts out.
I got to catch some of Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles too. Loved their energy, the backup vocals and funky grooves. They brandished a plentiful, uplifting sound, great choice of covers to sing along to — the kind of act that gets the crowd moving and at an outdoor fest. –JG
The Woodwork, Ferman Amphitheater, 4:15 p.m. — I love a band that can take me back in time while keeping me firmly rooted in the present. The Woodwork, based in Naples, Fla., combines contemporary moxie and old-timey jump and jive, sweetened by the enchanting voice of Christina Ortega, who’s as spirited as she is pitch-perfect. The rest of the band, Taylor Freydberg (guitar and great vocals too), Julio Pintos (upright bass) and Mayo Coates (percussion) uplifted the crowd with their tuneful rave-ups.–JG
Fr33dback, Ferman Amphitheater, 5:45 p.m. — I jumped over to Warpaint for a minute, but then decided to check out local electronic act Fr33dback in the Amphitheater. The wind was really picking up at this point and it was starting to rain. Fr33dback smiled through it all, playing dreamy synth to a packed crowd as the rain and wind started getting heavier. The stage guys started covering the speakers but his equipment stayed exposed. Performer Matt Reisinger didn’t seem to mind and neither did the crowd.–SP
Warpaint, 5:30 p.m., Frontier Stage at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park — I was late to jump on the Warpaint wagon but during the lead-up to this show, heeding the recommendations of friends, I started paying more attention to the female-dominated band I mistakenly wrote off as hipster cuties. Their sound resonates with a tribal beat, mesmerizing guitars and synths. Sultry female vocals complement subtly dynamic grooves. Live, their resonance felt more powerful. The billowy mist and setting sun, enhanced by their colorful stage lights, added even more ambiance to Warpaint’s atmospheric sound. Warpaint’s hypnotic siren-like harmonies even lured Spoon frontman Britt Daniel from out of hiding backstage to hang with the crowd, but overly attentive fans prevented him from staying put. –JG
Dinnertime with Julie G and Danny V — The food was sooooooooo good. You think nachos are the same ol’, same ol’ but not done by The Rooster and Till’s Ferrell Alvarez. Ay, Dios mio, the best I’ve ever tasted. The nacho chips tasted like fresh-fried tortilla with pastry-like bubbles and sweet and smoky spices. The beans were soaked in some kind of mojo deliciousness. The Bricks’ pork and veggie rice bowls were also filling and flavorful. –JG
C-Rená, Replay Guitar Exchange Stage at Tibbett’s Corner, 5:45 p.m. — On the way back to Kiley, I stopped by Tibbett’s Corner to check out local RnB goddess C-Rená (pronounced See-Renee) in what I thought was the middle of her set. I heard one amazingly sultry, smooth track from the artist based in Tampa, and then she was done. Local comedian Steve Miller was supposed to do her outro and later informed me that the Tibbett’s stage was shut down for a bit because of wind, and C-Rená’s set got cut by a song and a half.–SP
Chali 2na and Naughty Professor, Sykes Stage, 6:15 p.m. — Over to Chali 2na, which, at this point, it was freezing-by Florida standards — and wet — but no one else seemed to care so I sucked it up. Chali introduced his funky, jazzy backing band Naughty Professor, then stood aside while they jammed for a couple songs. Chali then came out and his voice brought me back to my LA days which was around the same time his groups Jurassic 5/Ozomatli were at their peak.–SP
Spoon, Frontier Stage at Curtis Hixon, 7:15 p.m. — Spoon!!!!!! The combination of playing all my favorite songs-”Inside Out,” “I Turn My Camera On,” “The Underdog”- plus the set, like something out of Blade Runner, with pink lights and fog. Add in the massive swagger of Britt Daniel, and damn you have a good Rock ‘n’ Roll show. I think people are still smitten thinking about Daniel. Who else can just lie on a speaker during an instrumental moment and look that cool.–SP
Spoon, continued … It was my fourth time seeing Spoon, and though a festival show, the performance held up against all the arena and theater shows (even that State Theatre Kill the Moonlight tour opening slot for Superchunk way, way back at the turn of the century). I’ll even forgive them for leaving out some of their best hits — given they’ve been at this two-and-a-half decades, omissions are inevitable. There was a sizable showing from their 2005 breakout album Gimme Fiction — “The Beast and Dragon, Adored”; “Don’t You Evah”; “I Turn My Camera On” and “My Mathematical Mind,” many of which had intriguing revamps in tempo and rhythm; shout out to percussionist Jim Eno. Otherwise, tracks from the latter half of their discography dominated (much like their set at The Ritz in May 2017). Two-thirds of my personal Spoon Holy Trinity, sadly, was not represented. No tunes from Kill the Moonlight — not even “The Way We Get By,” and no tunes from Girls Can Tell — not even “Everything Hits at Once” (though, I hear they played it in Lauderdale; boo). But Spoon is too good to be hemmed in by their hits. Onstage Daniel, a bit raw and unhinged and not at all to the detriment of his performance, rocked GMF with unmitigated gusto. He shared that he mistook the 2018 fest as the first ever GMF and jokingly derided the planners for not inviting them sooner. He immediately softened his approach with praise for the lineup and festival. The penultimate ballad “Black Like Me” swayed the crowd with its melancholic mantra, “I believed that someone would take care of me tonight,” but the band ended their set on a more upbeat, danceable groove with “Rent I Pay.” –JG
The Roots, Frontier Stage at Curtis Hixon, 9 p.m. — In between, Spoon and the Roots we sampled some more of the local fare, including some amazing nachos from Rooster and the Till and a vegan Sloppy Joe made with Tempeh from the Independent. Instead of energy, I was now full and tired and feeling my age. The first time I saw The Roots was for the tour of their first album, Do You Want More?!!!??!., so you do the math. This time around, They started off loud and full of energy with a cover of “I Know You Got Soul.” Next they went into the 2002 hit, “Break You Off.” I was standing pretty close to the speakers and it was hard to hear much of Black Thought’s lyrics over the horns and drums. I moved back for the next couple of songs but I was kaput. No matter how high their energy was and how much my young soul wanted to stay, my body said otherwise. GMF Day one was in the books half way through The Roots.–SP
The Young Somethings, Tibbett’s Corner, 1 p.m. — I had my 2-year-old son, Oliver, in tow with me for Day Two, so trying to catch every band I wanted to see while making sure he was entertained/fed/sunscreened was going to make for a different day. We started the day with another chicken and waffle sandwich, while checking out the kid’s area at the top of the amphitheater. GMF really did a good job of having many activities available for children of all ages to do, painting, drum circles and hula hooping. The first band we caught was St. Pete’s The Young Somethings. I could not believe my eyes. Kids! Vocalist Bella Bayer, who according to the band’s website is only 15-years-old, has such a soulful range and the band sounded way beyond their teenage years. Bayer’s voice has a beautiful sadness that comes with heartache, especially with the song “Wrong with Me.”
The War and Treaty, Frontier Stage, 2:15 p.m. — To make it in time to The War and Treaty, I had to tear my son away from the painting wall, almost causing a complete meltdown. It was worth it. The Michigan band didn’t ease us in lightly with their first song, “Hi Ho.” The husband and wife team of Michael and Tanya Trotter, plus backing band, brought the soul, gospel and a down-home roots revival that shouldn’t have been missed. If you did, I’m sorry. I still have the chills from their rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and their anthem “Mothers Chile.” They tie at the top spot for my favorite performance of the weekend.–SP
KOLARS, Sykes Stage; 3 p.m. — This might have been the most talked about act of the weekend. Maybe it was the amazing sequined fashions that the husband and wife duo wore. Maybe it as the awesome cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers” that started their set. But It was most likely the fact that percussionist Lauren Brown creates part of her sounds by tap dancing ON TOP OF A DRUM while also drumming with sticks. The song “One More Thrill” could be the song of the weekend and “Dizzy” is worthy to be in the prom scene of a John Hughes movie. Their set was rocking, fabulous and fun. Everyone around was smiling and dancing and it was perfect. They tied with The War and Treaty for my favorite act of the weekend.
The rest of the day was spent chasing Oliver around while trying to catch any music I could. We saw a little bit of Mountain Holler doing his beautiful thing in the Amphitheater and most of Father John Misty’s magical crooning in front of palm trees and the sun setting over the Hillsborough River. It was a beautiful weekend with many regretfully missed bands-especially Pohgoh, Record Company–but grateful for all that I saw and my two new favorites, KOLARS and The War and Treaty.–SP
Mondo Kozmo, 3:45 p.m., Frontier Stage — The artist born Joshua Keith Ostrander, a singer-songwriter and producer from Philadelphia, now based in Los Angeles, bears the grit of his hometown and sunny shimmer of his adopted residence. He and his band rocked hard with mellifluous British Invasion-flavored melodies and folkier flavored fare — catchy tunes that helped us better withstand the heat of an unseasonably hot March afternoon. –JG
Nikki Lane, 4:30 p.m., Sykes Stage — The brash and beautiful “First Lady of Outlaw Country” delighted but didn’t’ draw me in as much as I’d hoped. To be fair, the intense glare or my own post-cold fatigue may have diminished her impact. That said, her voice was as sweet as tupelo honey with just the right amount of raspiness, recalling the soulfulness of Dusty Springfield and melancholy of Linda Ronstadt. Her backing band brought it in spades, combining majestic country-and-western balladry and honky-tonk brio. I love a classic sound, but I really love well-executed risk-taking. –JG
Visual Artist Yvonne Ferguson, all afternoon, outside Ferman Amphitheatre — She graced passersby next to the amphitheater with live painting, thanks to the collaboration of Tampa’s MergeCulture, who posted on Facebook the following: “She nailed her live painting of members of The Roots, which sold before even being completed. If you were interested in a piece or weren’t able to make the event, we will be hosting a pop-up shop of Yvonne Ferguson‘s work within the next few weeks. Stay tuned for details!”–JG
Father John Misty, Frontier Stage, 7 p.m. — I fell in love with J. Tillman’s voice around a decade ago. His smooth, dynamic delivery reminded me of Elton John in his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road younger days. In more recent years he’s enlisted a huge backing band with an epic mellow-rock style, not unlike Sir Elton and other 1970s forebears. A witty firebrand with a knack for melody and intimate storytelling, as well as sly humor, Tillman enchanted and amazed with stadium grandeur at GMF, despite the crowd appearing to be a good deal smaller than the previous night’s. He opened with crowd-pleaser “I Love You, Honeybear,” a rhapsodic if thoroughly postmodern love song about lovers persisting despite their issues. Tillman, a little more understated in his stage moves than in other performances I’ve seen, acknowledged the success of the fest and numerous drinks imbibed as amazing ribbons of sunset sky provided his backdrop. He announced that at our “peak of ecstasy” he would perform a tune of total despair, “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” a ballad enhanced by a dulcet piano melody, taking us beautifully into the darkness.–JG
All photos below by Daniel Veintimilla