Big Guava Music Festival 2015: No Sophomore Slump!

Imagine that there was a huge indie music explosion. Now imagine that explosion happening all over the Florida State Fairgrounds and MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. That is precisely what will be happening May 8th and 9th at the second annual (boy, we sure hope so!) Big Guava Music Festival, brought to you by LiveNation Florida. Last year’s inaugural festival drew 20,000 delirious fans, and this year’s fest is set to outdo the first one.

Big Guava has every possible aspect and facet of the indie world covered and smothered. You could attempt to lump the 34 bands and artists into categories, but their collective music simply cannot be pigeon-holed that way. Rock bands who do alt-country. Electronic acts that rock out. Hard rockers who can sing ballads. Singer-songwriters that bring the funk. Genre-bending indeed.

Many of the groups in this two-day rage fest have rarely – if ever – been to Tampa, so this is a great opportunity to see many bands you’ve heard on the radio or on the net and more you’ve never heard before who will blow you out of the water. There are bands with 4 million LIKEs and brand new entries with 4 thousand (certain to explode after this fest). Many of them just survived the Austin marathon better known as SXSW.

Enough preliminaries. How about The Strokes? Their approach to the post-punk revival and garage rock has endured for 17 years, leading to their most recent album, Comedown Machine. Pretty Lights brings its electro-hiphop-soul to the fest in the form of Derek Vincent Smith (really? He’s 6’9”?). A Color Map of the Sun made a huge splash upon its release in 2103. Pretty Lights just returned from three dates in India.

Next year will mark Pixies’ 30th year in the music biz, a fabulous run. Their mix of psychedelia, hard  rock and pop had an enormous influence of the alt-music  explosion. As if their alt-rock street cred wasn’t good enough, they tour with Robert Plant this summer. And Hozier has knocked the world off its seat with the remarkable “Take Me to Church,” a Grammy-nominated song that he sang gloriously at the Grammys with Annie Lennox. The Irish singer with the superb voice calls his music “soul, blues and other,” but it is evident he can do practically anything. (Really? He’s 6’5”? Do NOT go two-on-two against Hozier and Smith.)

By any yardstick, that’s a fabulous start. But wait, as they say. There’s more. Lots more! And from all over the US – and outside the US as well.

Looking for indie rock? Start with Ryan Adams, former Whiskeytown frontman. His alt-country/punk sensibilities were the key to the great success of his Live at Carnegie Hall. NYC rockers TV on the Radio feature great harmony vocals on their new album Seeds. Cold War Kids are one of a number of California groups at the fest, blending rock, soul and punk. Their recent release is Hold My Home. And you need to check out the raw, raw “Hang Me Out to Dry.”

Hip-hop your thing? Run the Jewels is representing from NYC, and so is Action Bronson, a mountain of a man! Perhaps you need the reggae grooves of Iration, a band of Hawaiians now living in CA. Or reggae working into “moombahton” and house/electronica with Robert Delong. There is just so much to see and hear.

What should you do if you just need a brief break from the music? Here’s an idea. Ride rides! Lots of rides! All day long! Unlimited! The Fairgrounds rides are open for your enjoyment and included with your admission.

There are singer-songwriters in the line-up. Banks, who says “My words can come out as a pistol,” just released her first full-length album (many artists here and in the indie world often release their music in EP form). Goddess highlights her ethereal vocals. Jenny Lewis, former actress, former Rilo Kiley member, delivers folk rock, but she can flat rock out any time. German duo Milky Chance bring their fascinating sound to the fest, acoustic guitar and electronic thump. Arizona singer-songwriter Zella Day’s song “Sacrifice” is featured on the soundtrack to Insurgent, and her new album Kicker is due out in June.

There is a world of excellent electronic music on display in addition to Pretty Lights. Passion Pit offers “indietronica” and pop, while AWOLNATION comes from LA, an electronic rock band whose cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” is on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. House and electronic come to you courtesy of Classixx, and there is more from Big Data as well. Heads will be nodding everywhere!

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness is McMahon’s current vehicle. An excellent voice and superb keyboard work come from this alt-indie rocker formerly in Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. Ex Cops promote themselves as “healing/ easy/ tropical,” but don’t be fooled. They can rock out just as well.

By now you’re hungry and thirsty. Good. Water is available for free throughout the fairgrounds, and you can bring a sealed bottle or an empty camelback. You would be wise to check all the festival FAQs on the website. There will be a number of craft beer vendors, and lots of food trucks will invade the grounds. There’s no point listening to music on an empty stomach!

James Blake brings his electronic music from Britain. You know him as Harmonimix when he is doing remixes. Closer to Florida, Nashville trio Paper Route offers electro-pop-ambient music with great vocals. And then there is Skylar Spence, or Robert deRobertis, or formerly Saint Pepsi, whose dancy pop electronica is just plain fun.

Getting a little tired? Time to rock out again, dude! Death from Above 1979 is a Canadian duo with a strong rock beat; they released their second album, The Physical World, last year. Lydia is not a female singer but a rocking indie band from Arizona. The Athens GA octet Reptar plays “indie electro guitar pop weirdness.” How are you not going to love a band with an album called Lurid Glow and a song called “Stuck in My Id?”

British duo A Silent Film get a huge full sound to deliver their indie alt-rock. X Ambassadors, from Ithaca, range from soft rock to the harder stuff. Empires, to quote a fan, is a “straight-up rock band from Chicago. Vocalist Sean Van Vleet may remind you of Bryan Ferry; their 2014 release was Orphan. CA quintet Night Riots has been getting airplay with “Contagious” from their album Howl.

Dreamers claim to be a metal/hard rock band, but they do lots more than just that, looking to release their first album, This Album Does Not Exist, this summer. Try wrapping your head around that! Yet another California entry, Fmlybnd, throws driving synth rock and electronic grunge out for you to catch, with their song “Come Alive” getting airplay. And Florida is represented by Sunbears! out of Jacksonville. Their excellent and clear pop vocals highlight the rock, pop and psychedelic music they play.

Let’s do the math. 34 bands + 2 nights + 4 stages + unlimited rides + all the water you need + dozens of food trucks + craft beers + unlimited fun + 20,000 of your closest friends. YOU ARE SO THERE!


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