Ysanne Taylor c/o Gasparilla Music Festival
On Friday night, the scent of cannabis filled the atmosphere as gospel legend Mavis Staples joined psychedelic soul group Black Pumas onstage to duet on “Dirty Dirty.” You guessed it: The annual Gasparilla Music Festival was going down at Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Park.
Scroll to the bottom to see all the photos from Gasparilla Music Festival 2022.
For its 11th outing, GMF brought in about 45-50 different artists for its demographic to discover, or rediscover. But here’s the thing: GMF isn’t like Glastonbury or Bonnaroo where you’ve got insane headliners on the level of the Foo Fighters or Beyonce. Every year, GMF schedules names that are generally not radio favorites. When was the last time you heard Trombone Shorty on a radio station that wasn’t WMNF? How about Cimafunk? Margo Price? These are artists with more of a cult following, rather than a widespread fanbase that ranges from casual fans to die-hards. For now, not a lot of Joe Schmos say “oh wow, Neal Francis is in town. Let’s go see him.”
The line of the three-day event was “music festivals are all about discovery,” and in no way is that false. Rock and roll offspring was off the chain, when John Fogerty’s kids Shane and Tyler fronted Hearty Har, and the Allman Betts Band not only featured Gregg and Dickie’s kids, but on the drums was Roy Orbison’s youngest, Alex. When local favorite Camille Trust did her soundcheck, people still crowded around the Replay Guitar Exchange stage as her band strummed a few chords, and she filmed a selfie-style video for her Instagram story. And who knew that Black Pumas had never played Florida before? The Grammy-nominated group made serious airwaves last year, during President Biden’s post-inauguration Celebrating America concert, so it’s no wonder that sweaty fans draped in shirts promoting the band would see Black Pumas on the main stage, as opposed to Kiley Gardens’ mid-sized Morgan Automotive Stage.
Blake Yeager c/o Gasparilla Music Festival
Speaking of world leaders, we all know what happened in Ukraine last week, but GMF served as an escape from that harsh reality. There was one concertgoer there to remind us of our shared humanity, none of the acts outside of Pinegrove brought it up. All in all, there was just a total lack of distress, despite the fact that most of GMF’s attendees have pretty similar views—case in point, not an eye rolled when Pinegrove frontman Evan Stephens Hall was talking about climate change and the Democratic Socialists of America. Same deal with Arrested Development and its Black Lives Matter flag on Saturday.
And while fans were waiting for the spirit of New Orleans to arrive alongside Trombone Shorty on Sunday, Cha Wa brought it early on Saturday (Mardi Gras weekend, mind you), not just at its funky afternoon set but again for a second line pop up performance soon afterwards.
Sunday had seemingly the most diverse lineup: On the Morgan Automotive Stage, there was former “The Voice” contestant Kenzie Wheeler, and for the kids, the Imagination Movers, which had a mid-to-late-aughts TV show that served as Disney’s more honest version of The Wiggles. On the Replay Guitar Exchange stage was Wahh World Fusion Band, which did an Indian jazz version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” at one point. Now that Ravi Shankar and George Harrison are gone, you don’t see many mainstay sitars on American stages anymore, so Rajib Karmakar sitting and playing away—with the pop of Shankh Lahiri's tablas—was a rare treat.
Then there was GMF’s only Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
At age 82, Mavis Staples is insanely necessary for a festival occurring in a DeSantis-era Florida, not just because she’s a living legend.
“I hear a lot of people talkin’ about taking our country back. To where? The ‘50s and ‘60s?” she asked. “Lemme tellya, I was there!” Believe you me, she’s a fighter and not at all a force to be taken lightly.
Like we all should be, Mavis is pissed that certain government officials are trying to silence Black voices, but she was otherwise mirthful throughout her performance. She lead an all-hands-in singalong of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” and after her “If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me)” opener, she grabbed a Liquid Death to slurp. “I thought it was beer!”
Mavis laughed to guitarist Rick Holmstrom. And because of the message conveyed in “Touch A Hand, Make A Friend,” a guy in a Grateful Dead teddy bear Hawaiian shirt officially became my bestie for the rest of Mavis’ set. Hey, Kevin.'
And while Mavis put forth her radical set, The Venus did a half-hour run through its own set of revolutionary psych-rock, all colored by trumpet from St. Pete-raised Jason Charos (who played on a Grammy-winning big band album last year
). Soon after, a name that could be household within the year, Neal Francis, sent the backline Leslie whirring into the sunset with a set of soulful indie-rock and soul.
It’s a hard truth to face, but at a music festival, you’re not gonna catch everything. While trying to hold tears back during Mavis Staples’ set, there was the sacrifice of missing Summer Hoop on the side stage, too. But at the very least, most of those side-stage acts are locals, and GMF probably wasn’t the last we’ll see of anybody. Hell, we might even see Mavis again soon, according to her.
"You ain't seen the last of me yet," she told the crowd before leaving.
And as we sit and wait for next year, it's hard not to feel like GMF made a case for forever this weekend.
Creative Loafing Tampa Bay's request for turnstile numbers from the weekend has not yet been addressed, but Friday night's crowd was as big as the festival has seen on any weekend (my best estimation, based on previous years, is 7,000 people on day one of GMF 2022); for a brief moment outside, two lines spanned the length of the 400 block sidewalk. Saturday looked like a sell-out (although a friend said they were able to buy a ticket to get in as late as 4 p.m.), and the Sunday closing sets from the Allman Betts band and Trombone Shorty found folks hanging out dangerously late on a school night (how're those hangovers everyone?).
Ysanne Taylor c/o Gasparilla Music Festival
Notably, GMF started to age down this weekend, too, specifically with the additions of Peach Tree Rascals and Grouplove. If the festival can continue to feed Tampa's growing population, it's hard to see it not inching closer to selling out each night, every year forward. Staging a festival is always hard work, but especially so for a nonprofit, independent operation competing in a world where aforementioned mega festivals tip the scales when it comes to who's available and how much festival acts get paid. For 11 years, GMF has been up to the task from its tastemaking talent buying to its near flawless execution of hospitality for both artists and attendees alike.
We're all waiting for next year for sure, but hoping GMF can continue to grow for many more years after that.