It’s difficult to coin Tampa as an “up-and-coming city” when a festival that hosted more than 10,000 people and big-name artists like Modest Mouse, Gogol Bordello and Mutemath was right in its own backyard. It’s already here, and the 2015 annual Gasparilla Music Festival proved it so by bringing out the loudest of Tampa pride on March 7 and 8 at the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
GMF, a non-profit organization with an aim to support local culture and music, boasted a Silent Disco, four stages and 46 bands and artists. The festival also catered the top tier of local cuisine with vendors like Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café, The Refinery, Anise, Café Hey and more, all serving up unique dishes like chicken & waffle cones, stinky bunz and tofu Bahn Mi tacos. Or, for any of those on the yeast-based diet, the Biergarten also had a wide array of porters and IPAs for the picking.
DAY 1: Of Mice and Music Men
Despite the consistent performances happening around all four stages, the festival had an impressively smooth running. Saturday– the day the park sold out with a whopping 10,000 tickets– welcomed to the Soulshine Stage the bluesy-vibey Hiss Golden Messenger (who were once quoted by sir David Bowie!), alt-rock dudes Gaslight Anthem, Thomas Wynn & The Believers and more.
Playing over at the jam-packed amphitheater was the sad and soulful Fistful, with Tampa-native Joel Davis performing as a solo act. Davis’ Andy Hull-esque voice was conducive to the midday vibes, allowing everyone to slow down and melt into the concrete steps of the amphitheater for awhile. But picking the pace right back up at the Channelside Bay Plaza Stage was husky southern folk-rock group Roadkill Ghost Choir, a definite Florida favorite and said to be inspired by Radiohead and Cormac McCarthy. Noting the growing energy of the crowd, lead singer and songwriter Andrew Shepard asked, “Are any of you drunk? Are you smoking doobies? Wouldn’t advise it, there’s cops swarming the place. I got your back, though.”
Though Gaslight Anthem was noted as one of the big dogs on the lineup, it’s safe to claim that Mutemath stole the show for the early evening. The group blends elements of synth-dance, pop rock, ambience and a slice of New Order’s coolness, and the blend exploded. The quartet performed on the main stage with the 6:00 p.m. sun sliding down into the Hillsborough River, and lead vocalist Paul Meany picked right up with a bombastic crying of “I used to feel alright.” The hype was palpable. The group was well-balanced with older crowd-pleasers and new tracks from their soon-to-be-released record. The most notable part of the performance, though, was drummer Darren King, who lugged to the front of the audience a ladder that he impressively climbed atop to pound out a drum solo—no broken bones here, but definitely a few broken drumsticks.
And then there was Modest Mouse. Whether they would’ve been as enjoyable without the nostalgia component is difficult to say, but they definitely figured out how to please both the old and new fans. After opening with a newer track, they dove right into “I Came as a Rat” and “Dashboard,” interluded with Isaac Brock’s nonsensical monologues and musings (something about flamingos and poachers, the polls vote). They even played “Fire it Up” mid-set to warm up the 60-degree temperatures. “Any of you got frostbite on this frigid Florida night?” Brock joked.
Other favorite tracks performed included “Satin in a Coffin,” “Doing the Cockroach,” “The Good Times are Killing Me,” “Dramamine” (in which I melted into a puddle), and of course—cue collective eye rolling from the high-brows—“Float On.” It was a set that could’ve gone on forever, and with a bit of PTSD from the Flaming Lips being stripped of an encore last year, there was a massive sigh of relief when GMF let the group come back to play a track from “Moon and Antarctica.”
DAY 2: Paint the Town Purple
Though serving a shorter lineup, the second day of GMF didn’t slow down for anyone. Local artists like singer-songwriter Geri X, jazz folk group Gypsy Wind, hip hop artist Dynasty and afro Latin funk group Suenalo were just few who gave Sunday a soulful flare.
Hitting the main stage was Trampled by Turtles, a bluegrass quintet with an upstream folk feel. The Southern string-fueled set emanated a massive humbleness and seemed to attract an older demographic while maintaining a youthful energy during their stretched out set. Though the finale was perhaps the most fiery part of the performance, it was their cover of Loudon Wainwright’s “The Swimming Song” that cut to the heart.
There was some internal inquisition going on about why so many people were dressed in Teletubbie masks and leopard-speckled mohawks, but all that was quickly shut down once Gogol Bordello took to the stage. While not yet floating in the mainstream, this group still remains one of the biggest gypsy-punk bands, and with good reason.
Lead singer Eugene Hutz appeared on stage shirtless and in a blazer, basketball shorts and a trusty bottle of cabernet in hand, in which he showered the audience with at the end of the set while singing “Start Wearing Purple”—a moment in history for audience members, another day in the life for Gogol Bordello.
The Ukraine-native Hutz and his band of gypsies, Vlad Solofar, Sasha Kazatchkoff, Eliot Ferguson and Sergey Ryabtsev, gave a punk-induced performance complete with cymbals, bongos, fiddles and debauchery.
It might be safe to argue that GMF has become an extremely integral part of Tampa’s culture. It not only reminds us of the expansive food, beer and music scene we can so proudly brag about, but it also reminds that these things have been and will be a part of our city for a long time coming. Why else would Modest Mouse write a song about us?
Jackie Braje can be reached at Jacquelyn.email@example.com.
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