Full disclosure: I wrote for free up until the day Creative Loafing hired me full-time two years ago. Yeah, I regularly cleared freelancing checks for CL and the Tampa Bay Times/*TBT for about five years before that, but the bulk of my days were mostly spent beating the shit out of my keyboard and publishing posts for no pay so that I could contribute to the story being told by Bay area music website Suburban Apologist and its predecessor, REAX magazine. That was in between restaurant shifts, too. Still, I found time for another not-so-lucrative endeavor, as a social media coordinator for Gasparilla Music Festival.
I covered the first two iterations of the event from the outside, but being asked to spend three cycles on the inside was one of the greatest experiences of my life. There was a tiny check attached to my work for GMF, but it was truly a labor of love — and it was only made possible by the energy one gets from being surrounded by the love and effort that so many of the festival’s unpaid founding members and volunteers throw into the festival year after year.
I got to see how festivals work and be in the room when conversations about booking acts and logistics got heated or interesting. I spent an hour staring at lasers with Wayne Coyne, watched Modest Mouse do a 150-minute soundcheck before kicking off a world tour in Tampa, took shots of Dawes’ tour rider whiskey, kicked it with Margo & the Pricetags (now Margo Price), rode in a golf cart with Charles Bradley (R.I.P.), ate Erykah Badu’s (untouched) leftover hospitality food and even looked at Hustler magazines with Deer Tick. What’s more is that those experiences pale in comparison to the local fans and musicians who —unlike the national acts on festival bills — remain a part of my day-to-day life.
I even ended up landing a full-time job at an advertising agency that worked with the festival.
Being a part of a music-related event changed my life the same way music changes my day-to-day mood and frame of mind. There is no better way for local music fans to dive deeper into their scene than by volunteering for something.
It doesn’t have to be GMF. It could be another homegrown nonprofit festival like Clearwater Jazz Holiday, or it could be hanging flyers for a local promoter who books shows you like — the best action happens in the months before a concert or festival happens. The key is to find a well-oiled event, get involved and throw all your love of music into it. Because you never know what you’ll get back in return. Just look at Bay area concertgoer Serena Hodgson, whom I met in a coffee shop years ago when she was working with Okeechobee as that South Florida festival got off the ground.
Hodgson, 23, could only speak briefly when contacted for this piece because she was on the way to another festival — Form in Arcosanti, Arizona, where Beach House, Blood Orange, Courtney Barnett and more were all set to take the stage — but her efforts have enhanced her own life as well.
“I started out attending, then doing media and now working these festivals,” Hodgson said about her time at Okee, GMF, Dirtybird Campout, Miami Music Week and Brainquility. “It’s really paved a way for me in terms of really getting insight on what it takes to put a festival on — you also meet the best people.”
So skip the pool for a day or three and spend your summer being a part of something bigger than your own ambitions or musical preferences. The experiences will make you want to be involved year ’round, and you’ll never forget the friends you make along the way.