Who remembers Coldplay’s bright, tie dyed color palette at last year’s Super Bowl? Now imagine an entire park full of adults wearing similarly radiant and colorful garb, only illuminated even more by the warm sun above.
Just the sight of St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park speckled with hippies is enough to fill your lungs with fresh air. The overwhelmingly positive music rang gently through the park, filling you with that same feeling you get at the beach on a bright, sunny day. Never before had I seen so many Phish and Grateful Dead side project t shirts in one place, and all the conversations I overheard were tales of crazier festivals past. An old Deadhead even bought me a craft beer from the Lagunitas Beer tent while telling me stories about following the Dead around the country and his misadventures on Shakedown Street.
But this festival wasn’t to be like the carnivals the Dead would put on across America; the same music but a different environment. Seeing as though the audience members who used to follow these legendary jam bands have now grown up and had kids, the general air of the event was a lot more conservative and family oriented than the jam festivals in the '60s. It was the type of festival where you could buy an elegant hand blown pipe from the vendors inside, but the St Pete police already confiscated your weed at the gate. And of course, Sentry security, the same security company for Jannus Live, and other venues in the Bay area, was there to rough up any potentially out of line hippies and deny that I was on assignment for a newspaper.
The audience was all smiles though. Everyone old enough was holding their craft beer and hanging amongst the crowd near their fold up chairs and blankets. The venue was equipped with dueling stages, and there was hardly ever a lull in music since while one stage was playing, a band on the other was setting up. Audience members would simply turn their chairs to face the next stage once one was done.
While the main stage was great and had some of the day’s most incredible performers, the stage I really felt drawn to was the Second Stage, which had no backing but the Tampa Bay and the the blue sky above it. Walking around to the side of the stage, festival goers could dangle their legs off the seawall and listen to the smooth jam music filling the park.
A band I’ve been meaning to see and thrilled I saw was the seemingly illusive Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Formed by former Further drummer, Joe Russo, the band plays mostly Grateful Dead covers as well as a few other famous tributes. It’s hard to do covers of jam bands like the Dead, but JRAD does it effortlessly, blending long blocks of trance inducing instrumentation with soulful rock/blues melody. The audience ate up their musical musings, dancing and hooping all across the park’s crowded field.
Another crowd favorite was the Grammy winning blues rock ensemble, Tedeschi Trucks Band. The band's leaders are Susan Tedeschi (a success on her own) and Derek Trucks, nephew of Butch Trucks and a former Allman Brother. The two have been married for years and only recently started playing together as a band at 2008’s Bonnaroo. Their chemistry is noticeable though, as they had everyone in attendance swaying and jamming to their funky, soulful music.
Besides just the music, the park also played host to a wide array of vendors and booths. Food trucks, wine tents, beer trucks, guitar pick jewelry, hippie clothes, and a beautifully painted van full of little trinkets and BOHO clothing called Gypsy junQue (run by a former CL employee.).