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Gasparilla Music Festival Exceeds Expectations

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Check out more pix from the event here: Gasparilla Music Festival Photos


Beautiful downtown Tampa was the scene for a day of music and picturesque weather for this year’s Gasparilla Music Festival.

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The Hip Abduction
Roadkill Ghost Choir
The Gaslight Anthem
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Modest Mouse

The first thing I noticed about this year’s festival was how prepared and together it was. It seemed that all had been taken into account for the weekend. Stepping through the gate into Curtis Hixon Park there was an apparent conscience of space. Of the festivals I’ve been to, Gasparilla has the most palpable arrangement. The two major stages are separated by a short walk and two flights of short stairs. This difference in elevation gives each stage its own area, no bleeding over from the other stages interrupting the experience of any one band.

Outside of the usual cliché Florida tourist art, there were a number of vendors who were of the professional level. Artists and sculptors who were spotted in the vending areas were diamonds in the rough, but if you were to peruse long enough, any potential customer could be surprised with something truly unique.

Wandering around alone, waiting for my photographer and others to join me, I came upon my first act of the festival. THE HIP ABDUCTION took the stage and surrounding area with an air of dance and reggae undeniable to even myself, who tends to stray away from the inheritable happy styles of music. I danced my way near the front surprised by the band’s composition. The stage was pale, yet had as much soul as any. Echoing islands’ shores and a lack of any and all cares. THE HIP ABDUCTION were a perfect introduction to my Gasparilla music experience. At ease and ready for where the night should lead me.

I wandered about the park a little more, found myself on top of raised rows of bench seats overlooking the park where I could see it in its entirety. The spotted and towering building seemingly encasing us inside the Music. Laughs and shrieks of joy wafting about the park, Gasparilla does not attempt to rival the larger festivals, it creates a proportionate dose of a scenic location, a well selected array of talent and a feeling of something great happening with you amongst it.

The next act I made a point to see was UNRB, a seven piece band from St. Petersburg, Florida. My interest was sparked by the size of the band and the use of an electric ukulele instead of a guitar, based around a four piece horn section.

UNRB have presence, with the bass, drums and Ukulele giving direction and the horn section driving the performance above and beyond. The crowd was at attention at the start of each song, yet seemed to lose spark throughout, coming to at the end for the outro. I should say this for myself, I am not a fan of Ska or Reggae, yet there was something undeniable about a four horn section blasting along with a ukulele. UNRB had panache, and I liked that.

Wandering again, I realized how small the park was, or what was accessible. I cannot stress how well designed the setup is. After a pork taco, which was delicious, from the food stands, I took to walk by each stage, waiting to be picked up and carried to the next show I would enjoy.

A dreamy 80’s sound caught me, turned into a nightmare droll and dropped before me – SASKATCHEWAN. It seems that a piece of how the 80’s lo-fi was supposed to sound survived, it takes the form of four awkward musicians from Orlando. The air was taken, and replaced with groove, then growing into a sporadic synth wave. It recedes into an obscure chant that mirrors the odd surrealist band that plays the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks. Laura Palmer would have loved doing drugs to these guys.

Saskatchewan have the ability to blend with current popular styles and create a sound of their own. I believe that these guys could headline this festival with two more albums. My first recommendation to listen to now, SASKATCHEWAN turn that sulk and sorrow into a dreamy lucid bike ride.

My photographer made it out and was admitted easily with help from festival staff, a testament to how well run Gasparilla is. It glides upon well-constructed and greased tracks. A wonderful experience, since I’ve had problems with communication and shared information in other shows I’ve reviewed. We made our way to ROADKILL GHOST CHOIR and a sense of happening was around. The festival was in full swing and everyone in attendance was moving happily with it.

Roadkill Ghost Choir at Gasparilla Music Festival
Roadkill Ghost Choir at Gasparilla Music Festival. Photo by Edwin Makon Morales

ROADKILL GHOST CHOIR is a powerful indie-rock-southern-shoegaze band from Orlando that has recently made a move in both location and success. With the release of last year’s In Tongues, as well as playing Letterman, RKGC have made great strides. They possess an undeniable southern charm with a back alley grit mixed with quiet pines. These Florida natives held the crowd before them as well as the mixing masses around the stage. Beer lines moved to the beat and patrons passing by couldn’t help but walk in step to the rhythm. I recommend any and all to take a gander at this on-the-rise band; you will surely not be disappointed.

The sun began to drop down little by little and I followed the crowd across the park to the main stage. GMF projections danced across the buildings near the park, the day drinkers stumbled and the night kids lights were turning on one by one. MUTEMATH started with the drummer taping headphones to his head with thick tape and I knew something good was taking place.

Mutemath at Gasparilla Music Festival
Mutemath at Gasparilla Music Festival. Photo by Edwin Makon Morales

MUTEMATH is an old flame for me, I enjoyed them in length at a younger age yet fell out a few years back. I had seen MUTEMATH at a northern Florida festival two years prior and was amazed by their live energy and showmanship. My expectations were high. The men of MUTEMATH were well dressed and well-rehearsed, controlling the crowd with a blend of songs and beat driven synth breaks that had any and all bodies moving in unison. A wide base of fans as well, some sang along to the newest songs and swayed to older ones, while others like me belted out the first albums and hummed the newest tunes. This is progression, keeping old fans happy while cultivating new fans with each album released. Beside the music, they possessed a real sense of performance as well as a choreographed motion. Jostling about the stage in a rehearsed yet seemingly sporadic manner. They are at place on the stage, perhaps having the best time of anyone there. Some bands cannot be fully appreciated until they are witnessed live, MUTEMATH is like this, as well as MODEST MOUSE, but they are another story. Finishing with an encore of the song that started it for them, MUTEMATH and the packed crowd crooned “Typical” and the night was upon us.

I crossed the park again, taking in the sights and smells of a festival, and all around pleased with Gasparilla Music Festival. Came upon the proverbial group of college students playing hacky-sac, joined them for a moment. Then bought a cup of overpriced and over sugared lemonade for $5, drank it too fast and made my way to DUMPSTAPHUNK, not prepared for what was in store.

DUMPSTAPHUNK are a dirty funk and bass band from the sweet big easy, New Orleans. With two bass players and a non-stop drum monster, they possess a groove and grind that is undeniable. Long bouts of enviable funk that led to a rock chorus belted with a fiery guitar solo to smolder back into the underlying funk groove that never ends. I have not been back to New Orleans in a few years, and it was as if The Big Easy had been delivered. Raunchy funk infused with debauchery, Dumpstaphunk was a Cajun fueled release for this panhandle native. I wanted crawfish etouffee, I wanted a fish bowl and a walk through the French Quarter. I had two bass players and a groove that could have carried me there with ease, so I enjoyed the ride. I finally allowed myself a drink, the sun had gone down and the moon was out.

Gaslight Anthem at Gasparilla Music Festival
Gaslight Anthem at Gasparilla Music Festival. Photo by Edwin Makon Morales

Making my way back across the park to the main stage again, I was engulfed into the moving tide towards THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM. I had surprisingly never heard one song from them, yet I seemed to be the only one. I joined in the excitement that surrounded me and made my way with it. THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM channel their New Jersey roots with a mix of Bruce Springsteen and the guttural vocal styling’s similar to later AGAINST ME! A blend of Pop-punk with an occasional twist and shout, then a crawling ballad enticing lighters and cell phone screens as everyone sang along to “Great Expectations.” For some reason it blended like AGAINST ME! and THE KILLERS. The lead singer had the crowd sing Happy Birthday to a young boy named Eddie, and he was the happiest kid in the area code. I saw the accessibility of the band, and how so many could love them. Perhaps due to my first experience being a live show, yet I couldn’t shake the comparison. THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM have a spiritual sound, I remembered a youth trip to a Christian retreat, the band playing major chords as everyone raised their voice in praise. I felt that again. The communion of others led by a heartbroken band, I felt the manifestation of a higher connection with those that surrounded me. THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM took me to church, yet as church always seems to do. It ran a bit longer than the feeling.

I scraped and crawled from within the depths of the crowd anticipating MODEST MOUSE to make my way back across the park for DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR. A dance party I just had to attend.

DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR. were the band that I had yet to truly hear but anticipated. Coming from THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM and the wonderful surprise they had been, I was ready for whatever followed. This power synth odd pop duo are a sight to be heard! Seamlessly blending the dance theme in an indie vibe. Un-deniable music ensues and the crowd was thick, and since they were sharing time with the headliners MODEST MOUSE that is a very big compliment. DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR. share a number of things with the man their name is a satire of. They possess an inherent power that should lead them to success. Perhaps the most notable remarkable aspect of this power duo is the stage presence they carry. Bounding energy that led the crowd with remarkable strength, DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR. leading the pack and taking to the outside. Keep an eye on these guys.

I got out of the pit and made moves toward my final show of the night, MODEST MOUSE! My main interest of the day and long standing obsession. For me personally, I will always be a Fruit that Ate Itself, or Lonesome Crowded West kind of guy. The last few albums from these humble mice have seemed to progress in an off kilter, apathetic stream of music that strokes the forgiving fan base they cultivated with the first seven albums. Yet, they are a band that is unlike any other. Two drummers and a cast of multi-instrumentalist that have complete control of their sound. The crowd was frothing with anticipation and the show began.

Isaac Brock, head mouse king, led the others with a sense of entitlement. Blasting old favorites like “Dramamine,” “Doin the Cockroach” and even the Ugly Casanova track, “Here’s to Now.” They also debuted two new songs from their upcoming release “Strangers to Ourselves.” Starting the show with the live debut of “Of Course We Know.” They also premiered “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box,” and “Shit in your Cut.” Good news for MODEST MOUSE was the crowd’s reaction to the single off the album, “Lampshades on Fire.” They also visited they’re most successful album GOOD NEWS FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE BAD NEWS, playing six songs off the album. Limited to one encore due to sound restraints, they finished the night with “A Different City.” The festival emptied into the streets of downtown Tampa full of joy and satisfaction.

The Gasparilla Music Festival was a weekend of great music in a perfect setting. I’ll have post Gasparilla blues for a week or so. If you have the way, make a plan to get out to next year’s Gasparilla Music Festival. It is an experience to begin your Florida spring off in the best way.

Check out more pix from the event here: Gasparilla Music Festival Photos

Andrew Corbit

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