Second annual Gasparilla Music Festival brings food, music and fellowship to downtown Tampa

A look at the March 9 fest from multiple viewpoints, photos included.

click to enlarge The Meter Men featuring Page McConnell closing the second annual Gasparilla Music Festival, 2013. -
The Meter Men featuring Page McConnell closing the second annual Gasparilla Music Festival, 2013.

Though the sky was overcast and grey to begin the day, no rain actually fell on the second annual Gasparilla Music Festival, the weather lightly breezy and coolish earlier in the AM, getting warmer, sunnier and slightly more humid in the afternoon, and dipping back down to a chilly windy 60s as the evening faded to night. Upwards of 9,000 Tampa Bay area folks were drawn in waves throughout the day to Kiley Gardens and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park along downtown Tampa’s waterfront on Sat., March 9, 2013. Families spread out on blankets and low-slung chairs, kids ran free over the squares of grass and concrete at Kiley and wider expanses at Curtis Hixon, and a general relaxed mood prevailed.

Kiley was put to full use this time around, with ‘Tibbetts' Corner’ encompassing arts and crafts sellers, a Dickel’s Tennessee Whiskey booth that was hopping all day long, a big tented beer garden, and even a brand new ground-level Awesome Stage set up in the far corner, which I’m sad to say I never remembered to hit when someone was actually performing on it. Overall, there were generally more tent-shaded, more beer and alcohol choices scattered all over, and the addition of a bigger cordoned-off VIP area that encompassed about 15 feet of space in front of the Curtis Hixon stage and ran along the Tampa Museum of Art side of the park.

Myself - Leilani Polk - and a few other folks from CL (photographers Phil Bardi, Chris Spires aka Drunkcameraguy, and Daniel Veintimilla, and writers Julie Garisto and Arielle Stevenson) descended upon the event, wandering picturesque grounds slightly yellowed from the drought to take in all the sights and sounds and report back about it here. Our time-stamped accounts follow:

LANDING 1, 2:15 p.m. Much of my day was spent scurrying from stage to stage and bumping into a ridiculous number of music-loving friends, local musicians, and a few surprise faces I didn’t expect to see. We began our musical adventures at Kiley Gardens with The Wholetones, a Naples quartet that really knows how to bring the grits in a live setting with their style of ‘folkcore,’ which pretty much means they aren’t afraid to shred it out on acoustic instruments. Their straightforward roots-newgrassy aesthetic launches into jazz-soaked territories that sometimes have a gypsy/Mos Eisley Cantina appeal, all bouncy, menacing and exotic; or they let loose in Native American-tribal rocking passages ala Mike Patton’s Tomahawk; or they crush in technical arrangements with plenty of fast and furious string thrashing, picking and fret-flying shreds, Taylor Freydberg on resonant lower-toned vocals and acoustic guitar, Dorris matching him on banjo or guitar or jumping onto cello and raging staccato bursts of bow sweeps, while Russ Depa pounds upright bass and drummer/washboard scratcher Mayo Coates hits a sturdy backbeat that diverges into heavy double bass rhythms. They played a set that included tunes off new album The Alamo (self-released last fall) in front of a rather thick crowd of a few hundred who looked on in appreciation and in many cases, sheer amazement. There were some new Wholetones fans made day, and my own respect for the band grew ever higher. —Leilani

2:50 p.m. We made our slow way to eat, meet friends, and check out some of Corey Harris’ brand of rasta blues. I’d seen him back in '05 at the late Java Junction, really dug him, but didn’t recall why exactly until today. Rays of light filtered through the clouds as Harris led his four-piece (which included keysman Chris "Peanut" Whitley and Gordon Jones on soprano, alto, tenor and bari sax) through laid-back country-blues, scorching Delta rocking blues, bouncing and jiving New Orleans-flavored forays, and buoyant Afrobeat and reggae hopping and swaying odes full of brassy sunshine. Harris’ excellent, slide-easy ax work set the mood as much as his stirring soulful vocals that flowed over top of it.

We chomped pulled pork sandwiches and crunchy homemade potato chips from Holy Hog BBQ Food Truck, sitting many yards back from the stage, on the upraised portion of the park’s farther reaches and under the shade cast by an 80’x10’ tent. Our friends had set up a mini-camp that was frequented by multiple family groups and was completed by a tiny half-tent, blankets, and kids scampering and chasing each other around and in front of it, where others had set up their own hang sites. It was a nice, lazy feeling, all of us sitting back, chatting and enjoying the light breeze that, paired with the park’s natural amphitheater shape, carried the made-for-outdoors tunes right over to us. —Leilani

EATS CHECK-IN, 3-3:15 p.m. My feasting started with The Refinery’s Thai Pulled Pork Taco, and the “Indie” grilled cheese with Gouda and pears from the Independent Bar and Café. Next, I was formally introduced to the Ella's Americana Folk Art Café chicken and waffle cone, the handheld waffle cone filled with fried chicken, bacon, ranch dressing and big chunks of apple bacon jam. I dubbed it the greatest festival meal of all time. So far so good, and the music? Plenty fantastic as well. —Arielle

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