The last damn jam

Summer Jam 10 marks the end of this beloved, homegrown Ybor mini-fest.

click to enlarge Joe D'Acunto and Durium "Deacon" Jones. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Joe D'Acunto and Durium "Deacon" Jones.

Joe D’Acunto’s heart isn’t on his sleeve. It’s in his mouth, ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice. And regardless of the situation — be it a mellow afternoon chat at New World Brewery or a last-call rant at The Hub — you’re going to get every ounce of that heart shoved down your throat.

The hulking, bearded New York transplant has cultivated a passion for Tampa Bay since he started booking shows here in 1998. Part of that passion dies on Saturday, when the curtains fall on the 10th and final installment of Summer Jam — one of Ybor City’s longest running music festivals.

This year’s lineup is arguably its best, most eclectic to date and includes a few Georgia bands (dance-pop weirdos Reptar and garage-rock savants New Madrid) plus nearly a dozen Sunshine State artists plying everything from Americana to electronica on two stages. The party has been known to host local acts before they break, too. Merchandise’s Carson Cox (now signed to UK imprint 4AD) brought an early band — Dry County — to play Summer Jam 2, and fast-rising blues rocker Benjamin Booker (a Hillsborough High School grad now signed to ATO Records) played just last year.

Still, it’s never been about booking the “next big thing” for D’Acunto, 35. According to him, Summer Jam is about connecting artists to the community in the hopes of creating a higher level of consciousness within everyone’s minds. “I’ve always been one to make snap judgments and congruently, I’ve always been committed to my decisions, be they right or wrong,” D’Acunto explained. “Part of the ethos of what we do is to give someone a shot, believe in someone, guide the listeners, support the artists, give back — that’s what a lot of the artists we’ve had on the bills have done for us, and we wanted to share that, share them.”

Snap judgments haven’t always worked out for Summer Jam, though. The first few were scheduled in June and saw rain, while a veritable monsoon was forecast for Summer Jam 4. A more progressive act headlined that bill, Orlando-based dancehall-pioneers South Rakkas Crew, freshly signed to Diplo’s then-fledgling Mad Decent label. But the plan to let the show go on despite the weather completely backfired; just three people — D’Acunto plus Cameron Correa and Jack Spatafora of Tampa’s Soft Rock Renegades — were in attendance for the Crew’s set as the storm forcefully washed the streets outside Crowbar.

Summer Jam organizers — D’Acunto, along with his cohorts DJ and promoter Durium "Deacon" Jones and creative director Michael Delach — have since adapted. The shindig is now held the last weekend of August, when autumn’s cooler temps finally start balancing the oppressive heat, and this year’s lineup encompasses seasoned acts like Roadkill Ghost Choir (fresh from Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza stages) as well as breaking bands like Hollywood, Fla. garage-pop outfit Beach Day and Sarasota's twins-led, cello-and-guitar-wielding indie folk-rock darlings Good Graeff. There’s even a world music/hip-hop element thanks to Best Of The Bay-winning collective Gwan Massive.

The mishmash of genres reflects a Staten Island childhood where D’Acunto’s parents would blast Sinatra, Lou Rawls, and Donna Summers while their son prepped meatballs and braciola in the kitchen. When he stayed with grandparents in the Lower East Side, D’Acunto would head to Knickerbocker Village’s basketball courts and watch his cousin play pickup. It was the ‘80s, so a new genre of American music — hip-hop — was blaring out of every boombox. Drives into Manhattan for his father’s midnight-to-noon shift at Fulton’s Fish Market were soundtracked by Four Tops, doo-wop, and even old Italian music. By the ‘90s, D’Acunto was incessantly listening to his own cassettes (Genesis, Bell Biv DeVoe, Public Enemy), and getting turned on to Pearl Jam and the alt-rock movement by his best friend and mixtape-making big brother Vincent. “It was intoxicating, visually and emotionally,” D’Acunto said about the sounds and scenes that shaped his tastes. “I felt like I was growing up.”

Hard times forced his family to relocate to Ft. Myers in 1992, and with Vincent in college, D’Acunto turned inward and depended on his headphones to get through lonely days in a new town. Things brightened up a bit when he studied at USF while entrenching himself in the campus radio station, but after graduation he continued to struggle, balancing day jobs and relationships with the stress of running his now six-year-old promotions company, THX MGMT. He called the last decade “one long, deranged experiment,” professionally and personally: “It’s been a juggling act of explosives.”

He’s endured, however, and even succeeded in growing downtown Tampa’s Rock The Park music series into a monthly must-do for residents of every type and tax bracket. “Stubbornness has always got me through the low times of my life,” he says.

That stubbornness reared its head when we suggested he might be bluffing about nixing Summer Jam for good. “Zero percent. Sometimes you gotta know when to fold,” he said without pause, mentioning new projects he’s working on and voicing appreciation for the support he’s received over the years. “We started this when we were kids. We’re grown men moving in new directions, and that’s a good thing.”
Here’s to celebrating another good thing one last time. 

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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