DJ Lele Beats (center) at Gasparilla Music Festival 2021.
It's one hell of a time to live in Tampa Bay. Over the course of the pandemic, countless people have relocated to our neck of the woods to either work remote or leave their jobs for something better altogether. While Gasparilla Music Festival (GMF) lifers will come flocking to downtown for the 11th straight year, there will undoubtedly be some in the crowd who're experiencing Tampa's premier multi-genre, homegrown, 100% independent-as-fuck, and driven-by-volunteers nonprofit music festival.
With that in mind, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay simply wanted to welcome newcomers and time-tested GMF-ers to one of the live music calendar's best weekends by running down 26 things to know about the party. We can't wait to be in the park with you all. Afterparty
In pre-COVID years, The Hub, just a four-minute walk from GMF, was the de facto post-festival watering hole where you could rub elbows with performers and watch them try to try and tackle the famous "Hub pour." With vaccination rates as good as they're gonna get in Florida, and cigarette smoke eliminated from the situation, the dive continues to be the place to be. In recent years, the West River's Hooch and Hive (where Small Black plays this Sunday) and Crowbar in Ybor City (home of Ol' Dirty Sundays) have been sure shot post-GMF gatherings, too.
GMF Executive Director David Cox told CL that beers—including the bevy of local options from places like Coppertail—would be priced at $7 this weekend. Not sure if you've been to a large concert or festival lately, but that's about half the price you'd pay anywhere else.
That's what GMF's pop-up food hall is called, and one could argue that the annual event is a foodie fest, too. We're sad to see the Malio's steak sandwich exit in 2022, but relived that tried and true GMF food favorites like Cafe Hey, Big Ray's Fish Camp, The Independent, Ichicoro and Nebraska Mini-Mart are still on the bill. Calle Cocina newbies we're definitely going to try this year include Big Red BBQ, Clam Master Jay and Loli's Mexican Cravings.
GMF is cashless, so save your dollar bills for tips and the afterparty at The Hub. Plastic can be used, along with RFID wristbands which can be charged with cash credits if you don't believe in the largely predatory practice of credit cards.
When asked what GMF has to do to make it another 11 years, another 11 years after that, and so forth, Executive Director David Cox told CL the festival simply has to constantly evolve. The tastes of its fan base—established and incoming—are always changing; therefore, lineups look different every year. GMF won't ever evolve into a mega pop festival—and as 11-year talent buyer Phil Benito said, "We can't afford Coldplay, that would go beyond our entire budget"—but it has to think about the 25 year olds coming through the gates and make sure it keeps up so they're still buying tickets five years down the road. Friday
GMF tested the three-day festival waters with last fall's outing, but it stepped on the gas in 2022 to present a Friday lineup that starts early (4 p.m., with Tampa native and Red Bull Thre3style Southeast champion DJ Ku) and drops some big names including indie-soul band Melt, "Bojack Horseman" loving indie-pop group GroupLove (listen to "Back in the 90's") and Friday headliner, Grammy-nominated Texas psychedelic-soul band Black Pumas.
If you like to be moved to tears before your first bloody mary, get to GMF early on Feb. 26. The remixed fall version of GMF was an exception, but every year has featured a gospel choir opening the mainstage on Saturday. You don't have to believe in a higher being to be overwhelmed by the power of a couple dozen voices—always backed by the best musicians in Tampa Bay—singing praise classics.
Since its inception, GMF has embraced the local hip-hop scene, and over the last five or six years sets in the Kiley Gardens amphitheater have made legends of rappers like Dynasty, Mike Mass, Queenofex and Pusha Preme. This year is no different, and while Orlando producer Kaelin Ellis (Lupe Fiasco) provides one hell of a warmup on Friday, all eyes will be on Tampa expat Vinny Virgo and Wave Theory rapper K.III who play in the amphitheater and Tibbetts' Corner, respectively, on Saturday. Bonus points if you get to the Tibetts' on Friday to see what GMF alum Sam E. Hues has in store for his return to the festival. And if you're trying to get absolutely lit, catch Orlando collective Seeyousoon playing on Friday, too.
Talent buyers have never been afraid to pepper the lineup with sounds from outside the U.S., and this year is no exception. Cimafunk is an Afro-Cuban rock star who would've made the folks at Ybor City's Sociedad La Union Marti Maceo proud, and his sound brings rhythms of the Caribbean to fans who've long-known what critics are starting to discover (Cimafunk's 2021 sophomore LP El Alimento was ranked no. 3 Best Spanish-Language and Bilingual Albums of 2021 by Rolling Stone, listed on NPR's Best Latin Music list that year and topped the Latin Music favorites in French newspaper LaMonde). And while Cha Wa calls New Orleans home, its Grammy-nominated, brass and Mardi Gras aesthetic feels like it's from another planet. Jabs
In the fall, GMF required proof of a negative test to get in (vaccination could be presented as an alternative). Not this year. GMF currently does not have a test or vaxx requirement. The festival's FAQ section says that could change, but as we went to press on Tuesday, GMF's Executive Director told CL that there is no vaxx requirement for GMF attendees.
Children 12 and under get in free at GMF, and after a scaled back Kids Fest last fall, 2022 sees the return of a more full-blown version featuring a graffiti wall, tie-dye station, plus Sunday performances and appearance from Disney+'s Imagination Movers (1:45 p.m.) and the Rays' DJ Kitty (2:30 p.m.) Nearby will be art installations from the Crab Devil crew. Prudes, be aware that beer and liquor are part of the equation at GMF, so folks get more loose as the sun crawls across the sky. " ...mid afternoon to evening, it is not recommended for young children. There also may be some music with profanities during those times," GMF writes online.
When it comes to booking a multi-genre spread of the best acts that live in Tampa Bay (and sometimes just beyond in nearby parts of Florida), GMF has no rival. Since the first year when locals carried the load, to this weekend when they're scheduled next to some big national names, your neighbors are the best reason to always come to the festival. CL's mentioned a few of its favorites in this guide, but others you should try to catch include psych-surf band The Venus (Sunday), feel good funk and soul trio Treis & Friends (Friday), "Voice" contestant and bonafide Dover-born country star Kenzie Wheeler (Sunday), unapologetic pop songwriter Camille Trust (Friday) and perennial Americana favorite Have Gun, Will Travel appearing Saturday in support of a new single "Buyer's Remorse."
Jeff Fox has been the secret weapon for a lot of Tampa bands including at least one iteration of punk legend Pink Lincolns, but he's found his calling in the shadows of this night crawling, vintage gear-toting psych-rock outfit that likes it sound to wear a little sunscreen but also live in "the space between 'The Shining' and 'The Wizard of Oz'" with a side of grunge. Find Moonthing on Saturday at 4:45 p.m. in Kiley Gardens.
Actually, a lot of people will be watching you when you step into the Kiley Gardens Silent Disco, but only you will hear the sounds coming from any one of the three channels available and all curated live and in-person by some of the best local selectahs including DJ Casper, DJ Friki Donya, DJ Deacon and Von Garden Jr. Keep your self-contained party on the dancefloor (aka the river overlook at Kiley) or feel free to take your headset throughout the festival grounds. Photo ID and credit card required.
It's not everyday you see Nic Hamersly playing outside of The Bends or Emerald Bar, but the analog-loving producer and composer heads over the bridge to play his beautiful brand of dance music, utilizing modular synths. If you're looking for a darkwave-flavored, nostalgic injection of synthesizer-porn, don't miss his Saturday set (7:30 p.m.).
Admittedly, I might have also labeled this one "problematic." Musically, Pinegrove (playing a sundown set on Sunday) was one of the most promising bands in America. Its 2016 album Cardinal is emo-country-rock that's introspective, meticulously arranged and ready to turn on a dime, going from quiet, almost lonely laments on life in the suburbs to shouted, jangly odes about breaking away. Frontman Evan Stephens Hall is a Kenyon College product with a literary streak that makes its way into every lyric, but he also got caught up in the #MeToo movement in 2017. Hall explained—in his trademark longwinded manner—that he'd been accused of "sexual coercion." The news sent Hall to therapy and aloof fans trying to figure out exactly what that meant (it's "the act of using pressure, alcohol or drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will"). Going forward Pinegrove—which almost played its first Bay area shows at the since-shuttered Transition Art Gallery DIY space before the gig was moved to Ybor City—was either canceled or consumed in private by fans still drawn to the intimate character sketches and heartbreak on a 2018 album, Skylight, and warmth of 2020's Marigold. In January, Pinegrove released another deeply layered album, 11:11, which its supports this weekend. There are emo DJ nights that won't play Pinegrove anymore, and I'm still conflicted on all of it. However, I've never missed a Florida show from the Montclair, New Jersey outfit, and I doubt I'll be outside of earshot at GMF.
GMF has one of the most no-frills layouts in the local festival scene, and its infrastructure has been emulated by other organizers trying to pull off similar large-scale events at The Curt. That doesn't mean you can't get confused. Luckily, the festival is staffed by what feels like an army of volunteers all wearing "Roadie" and "Crew" shirts. Almost all of them have the exact answer you're looking for, so don't be afraid to ask.
Folks seem to always overlook that for the last 11 years, GMF has raised money for its foundation, which helps propel a Recycled Tunes program that collects musical instruments year round, sends them to Don Banks Music for refurbishing, then redistributes them back into local music programs. There aren't very many things that feel better than giving a kid an instrument, and GMF does it over and again year in and year out. Catch the Tampa Metro Youth Orchestra in action on Sunday (1:15 p.m.) to see the fruits of the effort.
Despite past sets from queens like Erykah Badu, seeing Mavis Staples on the 2022 GMF lineup feels like a major coup that really puts GMF on a lot of new fans' radars. The 82-year-old is a global festival favorite and still enjoying a major indie-scene resurgence on the heels of collaborations with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. Staples' appearance will be bittersweet, however, because her longtime backup singer—Skylark's Donny Gerrard—died early this month at the age of 75 after a bout with cancer. Expect Staples to pay tribute to him, perhaps with a cover of Skylark's 1972 hit "Wildflower."
They're still available online, and easy to get at the gate. Early birds are always the best deal, but $45 for a single-day ticket and $70-$95 GA two and three-day passes aren't bad either. Drinks don't come with VIP entry anymore ($125 & up), but you do get special viewing and entrance areas, tents and bars plus air-conditioned restrooms.
There are a lot of good things about GMF in this preview, but I still think the festival punches above its weight. A really big chunk of that credit goes to a fanbase that bought in 11 years ago, kept coming back, bringing their kids, and some who even took their devotion a step further by volunteering. It's heartwarming to see a few dozen unpaid volunteers (I think there are, maybe, five, paid positions in the organization) come together each year to make this happen.
There might come a day when GMF outgrows its home at the Curt and Kiley Gardens, but we hope like hell they never leave and just expand to four days instead. While you'll be surrounded by friends and great music this weekend, don't forget to pause and just take in the vistas featuring the Hillsborough River and minarets at University of Tampa. The Aces, Band of Horses and Allman Betts band own the sunset sets on the mainstage this year, and from anywhere in the park, the scenery at golden hour will be unforgettable.
Drink it. A lot of it. It's for sale at the festival, but there's also a refill station in Kiley Garden. Sponsor Florida Blue usually has refillable satchels, but you're also allowed to bring in one factory-sealed 1-liter bottle.
OK, we bent the alphabet a little here, but this is a good chance to mention some of the bands getting extra credit—aka coming back to GMF for encore performances—this year. Leading the charge is obviously New Orleans bandleader Trombone Shorty who played a tremendous party set to close out 2014 when the third-year festival really started to get its feet underneath it. Also coming back is Margo Price, who first played the festival in 2015 under a different band name (Margo & the Pricetags). Price went on to sign to Third Man Records which released her 2016 breakout Midwest Farmer's Daughter. Since then, she's become an icon of the new outlaw country movement and left the storied label for Loma Vista, a division of Concord which is releasing her still-unnamed new album.
Children 12 and under get in free at GMF, but kids are also part of the artist lineup, too. From 20-somethings (Mak, read more on p. 49) to 14-year-old country songwriter Judyanne Jackson, to Jim Chambers Music Box all-femme band Boycott and the School of Rock Tampa, the future of music is always on tap at GMF.
This is going to be an unpopular take, but don't be afraid to do nothing at GMF. There's a lot of open space on the festival grounds, and if you can find a place to sit—and maybe even some shade—take a beer nap. With all the ambient entertainment programing on deck you might wake up to the sound of a second line blaring tuba music as the sun goes down. And even if you totally sleep on GMF altogether this year, I'm willing to bet you'll get a chance to make up for it in 2023.