Posted: 2:47 pm Wednesday, March 15th, 2017
By Kyle Taylor
In what has become Tampa’s most buzzworthy and locally centric festival, Gasparilla Music Festival continued to build on the foundation they built 7 years ago, while also spreading its wings to national attention. Some of the best local bands shared the stage with some of the biggest names in rock, in the form of Cage the Elephant and Ryan Adams. Artists like Chronixx and Ghostface Killah, who would be a rare sight in Tampa otherwise, made highly anticipated appearance. Local food and beverage vendors stole the show for some fans. Cigar City Brewing served as the title beer sponsor and even brewed up a limited release GMF Pilsner for the event. Several acclaimed local restaurants set up shop along Calle Cocina, GMF’s makeshift foodie city. Malio’s Prime cooked up their prized steak sandwiches in the shadow of the building in which they operate, Holy Hog BBQ dished out their award winning Bar-B-Q, and Ella’s Folf Art Cafe, The Refinery, The Independent, and Rooster & the Till made the short trek south from Seminole Heights to delight fans with their unique eats, as well as many others. Look around at the list of sponsors, either hanging out in their exclusive bungalows or draped upon the stage banners and you’ll quickly figure out where you were. High profile local companies such as Sykes, Channelside Bay Plaza, Ferman, Cigar City Brewing, Tech Data, Dex Imaging, Florida Legal Group, Amalie Motor Oil, Lightning Foundation, Visit Tampa Bay, News Channel 8, DeBartolo Family Foundation, and CW 44 are just some of the impressive list of sponsors for such a lean run operation. The combination of local sponsors, vendors, and artists with the impressive national talent GMF was able to book not only puts the Tampa music scene on the map, but puts Tampa, as a whole, on the map. There’s an infectious moxie to Gasparilla Music Festival, one that started the entire venture. Competing with corporate run events is ambitious, especially creating an all encompassing event that caters to every segment of the community. The resulting flavor that GMF brings to the one’s palate is more analogous with a handspun milkshake from the local dairy bar as opposed to the mass produced machine made milkshake from a fast food joint.
Below I’m going to run through more specifically, who (what), stood out at GMF:
Cage the Elephant- I’ve seen them numerous times, but last Saturday’s may have been the best. Lead singer, Matt Shultz, has always been a cannonball of energy on stage and that was no different. They showcased much of their newest, Grammy winning album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, while sprinkling in their biggest hits to an eager crowd. Check out the photos here.
Moon Taxi– This was my first time seeing them, and I wish it wasn’t. They sounded great, but those of you who know how festivals work, know that seeing a band play a shortened set in the heat of the afternoon isn’t ideal. They however are the typical festival band, with songs that can turn into several minute long jam sessions.
Ryan Adams– I was looking most forward to this set for a couple of reasons. One, I have never seen him before and two, his latest album Prisoner is absolute perfection. I got far more than I was expecting. Adams and his band are incredible performers and can turn any song into a duel jam session. His quick wit and stage banter are hilarious and captivating. The most priceless moment of the evening came when he got into it with a local photographer who decided to use his camera’s flash while shooting high above the stage on a lifted platform. Ryan Adams knows he has Meniere’s disease, which can cause seizures, vertigo, and ocular migraines exacerbated by flashing lights. Those with press and photo credentials, including myself, were warned about this before shooting his set, so the photographer really didn’t have a good excuse. You can read more about the war that erupted on Twitter afterward in a Tampa Bay Times article about the incident. Thankfully nothing happened to Adams and the crowd got to enjoy an improve song roughly titled “Dude With The Sign That Says No Flash”, further showcasing Ryan Adams live performance skills.
Ghostface Killah– There were a lot of Wu Tang references and for good reason. Much of the crowd was ready to shout anything Wu Tang related, to which Dennis Coles certainly recognized. However, he brought his own game to the table and pleased a very raucous crowd that competed with the size of Cage the Elephant’s.
Curtis Hixon Park– The setting for which GMF takes place is perfect for this size of a music festival. The main stage area is large enough to hold about 10,000 people and the support stages were creatively placed out of sight atop Kiley Garden, the adjacent park. With the river and The University of Tampa minarets in the background, a landmark feature often used to depict the City of Tampa, it’s hard to find a more scenic, clean, and conveniently located venue. The hologram GMF logo displayed upon the Sykes building was a unique touch as darkness fell.
The Marcus King Band– I must profess my ignorance now, for I never heard of the southern rock group hailing from Greenville, South Carolina prior to GMF. At only 21 years old, lead singer Marcus King has more soul in him than his young face belies. I couldn’t help but thinking of a young Zac Brown with more southern soul and R&B influences. Perhaps a more accurate description would be a male version of Alabama Shake’s Brittany Howard. They’ll be making appearances at several festivals this summer, as well as select dates with Umphrey’s McGee. Check out their tour HERE.
Veiny Hands– The St. Pete based garage rock quartet has all the sound of an indie sensation in the making. With a knack for touring the country, on presumably a very small budget and fan base, all the while drawing comparisons to bands like The Districts and Parquet Courts, I don’t see why this band can’t represent Tampa Bay at the national level.
Twin Peaks– GMF caters heavily to the VIP attendees, especially in regards to position at the main stage. Often, the pit is empty because these attendees would show up later in the day or sit under the covered VIP tent. Well, Twin Peaks solved that. One song into their set they allowed anyone in GA to fill in the VIP area, giving absolutely no f**ks, and that seemed to be a precursor for the rest of the set.
Volunteers– This event would not be possible without the tremendous help of unpaid labor, in particular the volunteers. Comprised mostly of local music fans, most of the volunteers were happy to be there and eager to engage with festival goers. It’s really annoying going to spend $7 and be met with a frustrated volunteer who could care less about what’s going on. Instead, all I saw were helpers jamming out to the constant music.