Gasparilla Music Festival | Tampa 03.08.14 & 03.09.14

Reviewing a festival that has one primary focus (funk, blues, acoustic, bluegrass) is relatively simple, assuming you like that genre or similar musical styles. It is much more challenging with a festival as diverse at GMF. This is the third year of the festival and the first time it has stretched to two days. Because it is in downtown Tampa, this is strictly a day event: no camping, late-night music and the like.It is even harder when you miss a lot of the music. So this doesn’t really count as a review; it is just a series of thoughts about performances I did see. And then it gets harder still, because there were performances in genres that just don’t move me. There are bands and musicians I saw briefly, and for me that was enough, but know that the stages were well attended for all of the sets I saw or wandered through.SATURDAY 03.08.14

I arrived Saturday in time to catch guitar slinger Anders Osborne. I wish I could say that he excites me musically, but this was at least the third time I’ve seen him. No sparks for me. I headed over to check out Roddy Walston and the Business. They were having fun, as were their fans, but, again, no sparks for me. Perhaps I’m a dud. I wasn’t excited about Adrian Younge’s Venice Dawn, either. But seriously, that is on me, not any of them.

Conversation later in the evening:
ME: I’m not sure I would have come if Los Amigos Invisibles had not been playing.
KATIE: Me, too!
ME: In fact, I would have come if they were the ONLY band!
KATIE: Me, too!

So know that in this matter I cannot be objective. At what they do, Los Amigos Invisibles are better than anybody. PERIOD. Disco-funk, Venezuelan-style. I’m not sure if there was an outrageous dance party going on farther back in the crowd, because I was right up front. It LOOKED pretty outrageous, as far back as I could see!

LAI are the funkiest, slinkiest, sexiest sextet in my world. This was my fourth show, and once again they took me to musical nirvana – as good as it gets. The people surrounding me would agree. In fact, right before they came on, I asked three young people near me (everybody’s young to me!) if they had ever seen LAI. They said NO. I said: prepare yourself for a religious experience. I saw them dancing right behind me halfway through the set. “What did I tell you?” They all just nodded in time, for the remainder of the set!

In looking for their names for this cheerleading report, I chose a CD that LAI had all autographed before. One had written this: “Remember: music is a religion. You have to pray every day.” Amen to that! Oddly enough, it was penned by “Cheo,” the band’s guitar player, except that “Cheo” wasn’t there! But his replacement was very good (and deserved to be a little louder in the mix). And the boys took the crowd to pandemonium level when they slammed into “Ponerte en Cuatro,” arguably their most popular tune.

I had planned to go check out Delta Spirit, but there were several small stages giving some local bands half-hour slots. I was drawn in by a quartet from Sarasota using every ounce of energy to bring their music to life. It was riveting. I couldn’t move. I only know that half an hour wasn’t nearly enough. Whatever you think the name Sons of Hippies conjures up music wise, it doesn’t. But they were arresting. I need more.

Then it was time to sit back and chill a bit with DJ RJD2. He had a diverse mix of EDM music that had people dancing and smiling. It was adequate and occasionally inspiring. And we came to the first night’s finale, the highly touted Flaming Lips.

OK. Be honest. If you had your eyes closed, what did you think of the music? Me? Meh. Ultimately, it was simply not compelling. Visually, of course, it was stunning. Wayne Coyne was singing from atop a pedestal/lecturn/crow’s nest sort of affair all bedecked with strings of lights. It was impressive. I moved down front for a while for a better view. I think I know when he lost me. He explained that they were going to play a very sad song, but that we shouldn’t be sad. Too deep for me, and I found the song (eyes closed) boring. Again, that is just my take on things. Enough.

SUNDAY 03.09.14

Late again, but by my count just in the nick of time. The Soul Rebels Brass Band were KILLING IT. These New Orleans boys are a moveable party. Six horns and two percussionists were throwing down funk, jazz, soul and a bit of hip-hop, all with that Crescent City joy and enthusiasm. I have been formulating an article about the new definition of the big band. I had four bands in mind; now I have five. They were also very gracious with their time afterward, welcoming and signing a CD for me.

I loved Jason Isbell when he was raising heck with former bandmates the Drive-By Truckers. I appreciate that he has a very different focus now, and I acknowledge his talent, but, once again, there were no sparks for me. On one of the little stages, however, sparks WERE flying as Florida Night Heat (from Tampa) was making the most of their half-hour slot, whipping those in the vicinity into a frenzy, pouring themselves into their rocking, funky set. Their Facecrack page says: “Psych-stoner rock/power grime trio.” Well, quartet for this outing. I need more of them, too!

I have been waiting for years to see Tea Leaf Green. At least seven, I think. Finally, and worth the wait! This was jam! A great quintet + a great set + a great afternoon + many friends = heaven. (math equation, not new!) And it was great to reconnect with Mike Coe and Katie and get to know Mathew and Thomas better!

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue always bring New Orleans to you and then take you back to New Orleans with them. The band rocks, and Trombone Shorty is talented and charismatic. It was the perfect way to close down the third annual Gasparilla Music Festival. Bravo to Phil Benito and all the folks of GMF who made Tampa shine!



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