From the eye of the Tropical Heatwaver

A look at the 34th annual Tropical Heatwave music fest from the view of several WMNF-ers and longtime listeners

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Since its launch in 1982, Tropical Heatwave has grown from a single-venue charity concert for a still-young and emerging community-funded station, to one of the area’s most anticipated musical extravaganzas and the biggest fundraiser of the year for a now-staple station that has earned a rep for promoting all sounds eclectic.

Instead of offering the traditional breakdown of highlights at WMNF’s 34th annual Tropical Heatwave – which the station managed quite capably all on its own in the ad supplement included in this week's issue – we’re taking a look at the fest as seen through the eyes of some of its most dedicated fans and staffers. Each of these folks has attended more than a dozen, half, or nearly all Heatwaves, and amid the collected memories of their past fests and excitement over particular performers at the 2015 edition, a universal theme emerged that seemed to reflect why Heatwave is means so much to all of us – that pervasive atmosphere of fellowship and collective musical enjoyment that gives Ybor an extra special twinkle on the first weekend of May.

Tropical Heatwave 2015
6 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat., May 1-2, The Cuban Club Cantina, Theater, Ballroom and Mainstage, New World Brewery, The Ritz Ybor Main Room and Side Room, Ybor City, $42 two-day passes, $30 Friday only, $30 Saturday only, Click here for the full lineup and schedule.

Number of Heatwaves she’s attended: My first one was 1999. Since then, I’ve only missed two.

Most Memorable Heatwave: The first one, because it totally blew me away (laughs). I had no idea what to expect and it was absolutely fabulous.

Heatwave Routine: I get there pretty much just as it’s starting and go see the first band, usually out on the Cuban Club patio while it’s not really crowded. I go around and say hi to all the peeps, then take the grid and start following it  around, to various venues and stages. Sometime during the night, I try to make time to get food. I always want check out the vendors on the street, early on, make sure there’s something I can eat because I’m vegetarian. And I always stay to the end and wind up back down on the patio.

A few bands you were introduced to at Tropical Heatwave: Devil Doll, she was really good. I’m a dancer, so I like the rockabilly stuff upstairs in the ballroom.

Most anticipated acts of 2015: Jim White [who plays with Packaway Handle Band], Girls Guns and Glory, Sean Ardoin and Zydekool.

Number of Heatwaves: This’ll be our 34th one, and I’d say I’ve probably been to 30 of them.

Why Heatwave is so special: The people-watching is interesting to say the least. And it feels, in a lot of ways, like a family reunion. Most of us are there for the same reason, and so that feels really comfortable – we’re all here to listen to new music, to discover music and to have a good time. Which can probably be said about most festivals, but since Heatwave has that sense of history, I like being part of that big musical party history.

Favorite Tropical Heatwave(s): One of my absolute favorite Tropical Heatwaves was years ago, with Sun Ra. I didn’t really understand who Sun Ra was, but I really like music from all over the world, and he has this huge African ensemble. All of a sudden in the middle of their set, everyone jumped off the stage, and he got the whole audience in a conga line. It was this incredible, transformative group experience, on a Saturday night at almost midnight; we were dancing our asses off in the middle of the city, but it felt like being transported somewhere else.

Another smaller one was Two Man Gentleman Band. I didn’t know who they were and I was really cranky at the time  because I felt like all of my friends had abandoned me. They were so good and hysterical and I fell in love with them because they made me so happy. And I turned around and all my friends were just a couple rows behind me, and I was just like, “Yay!”

click to enlarge Anticipated Act of 2015: Gabriel-Garzon Montano - Santiago Carrasquilla
Santiago Carrasquilla
Anticipated Act of 2015: Gabriel-Garzon Montano
Other bands first heard at Heatwave: I’d never see the Carolina Chocolate Drops. There was a band I’d heard of but never really saw called The Shackeltons, that I feel in love with and I just adore them now.

Lots of bands I’d heard of, and was like, “Who are these people?” and then I’d see them and it changed to, “This is fantastic.” Mostly, it’s bands from around the state that maybe I’d heard of, but never seen. Like Selwyn Birchwood, I’d heard of him and heard him on the air, but then he played for us and I was like “Oh. My. God.” He’s amazing. Last year, it was the Barons of Tang. A few years ago, it was David Mayfield Parade. I got there just in time for the last song, and I was like, “No way!” So now he’s coming back and I told everyone, “I am not available during the time he’s playing.”

Annual Heatwave routine: Around sunset, I always try to get up to the ballroom balconies and look down at the masses. There’s just so much joy in seeing all of these people. I’ve done this for years, way before I ever worked here and even before I volunteered for Heatwave. It’s just one of the best feelings, to see what we are – fun social party people having a great time. And Ybor City is very pretty that that time of day.

Anticipated acts: David Mayfield Parade. And I really am stupid excited about seeing MarchFourth Marching Band again. They’re the absolute most Heatwave-y act we could possibly ever book – a burlesque cirque du soleil marching band. I’m also really curious about this guy, Gabriel-Garzon Montano. I love his CD, I’ve played it for my boyfriend who’s from Argentina, and he’s like, “That’s not Spanish music, I’ll play you some Spanish music!” I’m like, I don’t care what it is, it just sounds so good. Usually I don’t listen to sexy R&B John Legend-type stuff, but I am in love with this guy. And I’ve never seen the Fleshtones, and I was a little punk rock kid during the ‘80s.

Great moment(s) with a Heatwave musician: About 10 years ago, we kidnapped John Langford’s band, The Waco Brothers, for the weekend. That Sunday, we took them out to Pass-A-Grille. Everywhere they went, they had this huge jug of vodka (laughs). I didn’t know they sold vodka in that size. Just picture this mixture of British and Chicago rockers, sitting on Pass-A-Grille beach, wearing black jeans and leather jackets, in May, drinking vodka. I think if you added together the sleep that all six or seven of us got that weekend, maybe it was 10 hours. It was just a mad vodka Waco brother tour.

Years ago, Lydia Lunch played. Her tour manager was from Tampa, so he had a big party at his parents’ house. They lived in West Tampa, an old style Cuban family, and they had one big double-size garage for making wine, and they had another big double-size garage that was used for making sausage, and that’s where the party was. (laughs) It was great! This was my college years, way before I was associated with WMNF, and it was the first time I ever really partied in Tampa, because I was going to Eckerd, and I was like, “All right, I could learn to like this…”

Number of Heatwaves: I've been to about two dozen Tropical Heatwaves; they just get better and better.

Unforgettable Experiences: Hearing Donna the Buffalo and Caravan of Thieves for the first time, both by accident. Sarah Borges’ awesome set during a deluge. And it's always memorable watching a local favorite make their Tropical Heatwave debut.

Heatwave Routine: The past several years, Tropical Heatwave has gotten so big, with so many bands, I've gotten together with a few friends to make a "battle plan" … Who we plan to see, stages, times, etc. Without fail, about two hours deep, we get distracted by a band that’s not on our schedule, and the whole plan falls apart. It's all part of the fun!  Some people like to bring a folding chair and stick to one stage; for others it's just a big street party. It's all good; there's something for everyone. Heatwave Tip: wear comfortable shoes.

Heatwave Introductions: As mentioned above, saw Donna the Buffalo and Caravan of Thieves for the first time at Heatwave. I catch them whenever they’ve been in town since then. And though I'd already seen them play many times locally, Sons Of Hippies had a killer set at New World Brewery for their first Heatwave appearance.

Most Anticipated in 2015: There's never enough time to see all the bands I'd like. This year, there are Christie Lenee Project, Rebekah Pulley and the Reluctant Prophets, and Have Gun Will Travel... all making return performances. Some really good bands making their first Tropical Heatwave appearances are Row Jomah, Holey Miss Moley, Come Back Alice, and Bath Salt Zombies. I hope a good number of people check them out.

Memorable after party moment: Drinking champagne with Sons of Hippies in their hotel room following the late band’s first Heatwave. I completely forgot I'd promised Swamp Logic drummer Matt Salvador a ride home. When I remembered, at about 3 a.m., I dashed over to New World Brewery, where he was patiently waiting, beer in hand. It's also pretty cool when you bump into a friend late in the evening who’s seeing their first Heatwave ... they're always glowing with excitement.

Number of Heatwaves: I was ill once in the ‘80s, and I think I was in New Orleans for another one. So I’ve only missed two the whole time.

Favorite Heatwave experiences: My experiences have all been grand for sure, especially when Sun Ra took us all to “space is the place." And the Abyssininans were mind-blowing, JJ Grey & Mofro… I will never forget so many acts! It’s a great party. I’ve nearly had to crawl out of there, pull myself up the banisters, one more time in the ballroom, just dying. I’m usually there until the bitter end,

Heatwave Routine: I always print out the schedule and I map it out. I put arrows all over the place, I cross out things I know I’m just never going to make it to see. It can be very frustrating at times, too, with so many acts. Sometimes you can’t leave a stage, ‘cause you’re just loving it, but you want to be somewhere else, and so you run and run to get there and there’s, like, five minutes left, or they’re still setting up, and you just missed something else. But, what can you do? The most I’ve ever seen in one night is like 21 bands, and that didn’t go very well. It’s stressful to run around, and then I’m running down the streets, dodging people, and I hear another band that’s really great, and I have to stop…

Why is Heatwave special to you? It's always like old times and great to run into people you only see at Heatwave. It is also very cool to just stroll around and listen to bands you’ve really never heard of at all, and maybe be happily surprised. Hopefully there’s a dancing frenzy at some point and everyone is happy and wandering up and down the steps and enjoying themselves.

Anticipated Acts: MarchFourth Marching Band is, without a doubt, THE ultimate Heatwave band, and if they were the only band you caught the whole time, you’d still have a perfect Heatwave! And we know just how much talent abounds both nights.

Recovery: The crash is ALWAYS in order the day after HW is over. One can usually do nothing on that Sunday … only stay off your feet and maybe float in the Gulf.

Friday, May 1
Bath Salt Zombies, 6-7 p.m., Cuban Club Cantina
Christie Lenee, 6:30-7:15 p.m., New World Brewery
Girls Guns and Glory, 7:20-8:25 p.m., Cuban Club Cantina
Jim White vs Packaway Handle Band, 7:40-8:50 p.m., Cuban Club Mainstage
Gabriel-Garzon Montano, 9:05-10:10 p.m., Cuban Club Cantina
David Mayfield Parade, 10-11:05 p.m., Cuban Club Cantina
MarchFourth Marching Band, 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m., Cuban Club Mainstage
Row Jomah, 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., New World Brewery

Saturday, May 2
Have Gun Will Travel, 7:10-8:05 p.m., Cuban Club Mainstage
Rebekah Pulley and the Reluctant Prophets, 7:20-8:20 p.m., Crowbar
Sean Ardoin and Zydekool, 8-9:10 p.m., Cuban Club Ballroom
Holey Miss Moley, 9:10-10:10 p.m., The Ritz Side Room
The Fleshtones, 9:55-11:05 p.m., Cuban Club Mainstage
Come Back Alice, 11:35 p.m.-12:45 a.m., The Ritz Ybor

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