A commonly used phrase at last weekend’s 21st annual 97X Next Big Thing was “end of an era.” Don’t worry, it had nothing to do with the legendary festival ceasing to exist next year. It just meant that for some bands and artists—specifically Machine Gun Kelly, lovelytheband, and The Maine—it’s time to scrap their own respective “fresh outta COVID” era, and move onto new horizons.
Luckily, the artists preparing for the holidays found it in their hearts to end their year—and current era—in the Sunshine State, no matter how familiar they are with Tampa.
Saturday night’s four-name lineup was plenty seasoned with acts very familiar to the Bay area. Gayle (“abcdefu,” “luv starved”) opened for AJR earlier this year on the same stage, and her electrifying 30 minutes on stage included her song with Blackbear (“fmk”), a cover of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” which she admitted to dancing in her room to as a 15-year-old, and all the light-hearted, bitter sarcasm you could want. “Even if you fucking hated [abcdefu], thanks for the stream,” the current Grammy nominee acknowledged.
Photo by Phil DeSimone
Giovannie & The Hired Guns
As hot of a take as it may seem, if you close your eyes, Giovannie & The Hired Guns sounds similar to Nickelback. Its act seemed to be somewhat well-received, but most audience participation bits fell painfully flat. At the end of the day, most of the energy was onstage, in front of a very polite crowd.
All Time Low sounded significantly better than it did during last year’s NBT, when frontman Alex Gaskarth was getting over a head cold, and had trouble singing. There were some Freddie Mercury-esque “ay-o’s” tested out, a solid cover of The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” and even a fond memory of performing at a Stanley Cup celebration concert for the Tampa Bay Lightning. “I hope Gronkowski's here tonight,” Gaskarth yelled, although it's unclear why he referenced a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end.
At 9:25 p.m., a version of Paramore’s “Misery Business” done by Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker blared over the speakers, seen by some as a cruel reminder that Paramore unfortunately could not be secured for a spot at NBT this year. But all that was forgotten when MGK, clad in a white “burn out” crop top, black and white pants, and black military boots, sauntered out while smoking his first of many cigarettes to be smoked onstage. Once handed one of his Schecter PT guitars, the 32-year-old ripped into a jam session with his four-piece band before segueing into “maybe.”
“Florida, we’re fuckin’ home,” MGK—who was once arrested for disorderly conduct after a St. Pete gig—yelled into his mic stand after ripping through “god save me.” “I say that because anywhere I’ve been arrested feels like home,” he admitted. “Pinellas County? That’s where shit got weird.”
A different sort of weirdness would be brought on by the biggest name in pop rap for the next hour and 10 minutes. He stopped “drunk face” a few seconds in, and asked a roadie for a cigarette while performing, which was his second one out of four in total.
After demanding every middle finger in the house to go up during a cover of The Kid Laroi’s “FUCK YOU, GOODBYE,” MGK suddenly announced that he had the confidence that he could outsmoke Snoop Dogg, which commenced his rendition of “ay!,’ a collaboration with Lil Wayne.
It’s safe to say that he was not anywhere near Snoop Dogg high by the time his set came to an end, but he took at least one puff during every song to come. While how much instrumentation MGK was actually providing is anyone’s guess, he played—or mock-played—“emo girl” with a tessen fan in hand, with “at heart“ printed on one side.
Once MGK kicked off “forget me too,” featuring Halsey’s isolated vocals backing her parts up, he had two major acknowledgements to make. One for 97X, for helping put him on the map, and his devoted fanbase. He threw his shoutout to the radio station into “forget me too,” appropriately (“Thanks to 97X for not forgetting me, and inviting us to the show, too.”) He even invited the latter onstage to dance during “kiss kiss,” provided that said fans were in the pit, of course.
Sunday morning’s crowd felt so much different. Some NBT devotees showed up anyway, mainly due to French rock group Phoenix playing its first ever show in Tampa.
But first, the Achieva Credit Union Side Stage was due for some usage. Tampa rock quartet Pet Lizard kicked things off, with its lead singer remembering attending an earlier installment of NBT as a middle schooler.
Beach Weather, fresh off of a nearly five-year hiatus came next, with tunes from its 2016 Chit Chat
EP, and of course, TikTok sensation “Sex, Drugs, Etc.,” which began the band’s venture towards being widely known. “We’ve had a wild year. I meant to say ‘crazy’ and ‘wild,’” lead singer Nick Santino expressed.
New York-based Cafuné, featuring Sedona Schat and Noah Yoo at the forefront really seemed to enjoy Florida’s version of December weather during its set. That is, until the band had to stop playing during “Running.” “This weather is doing things to our equipment,” Yoo shunned, causing Schat to remember another outdoor show she had done, where the band’s laptop flat out died midway through.
BoyWithUke, who gained popularity through TikTok with his single “Toxic” was scheduled to be on the bill, but fell ill and cancelled his set a few hours before it was set to start.
Once The Maine finished up its electrifying, crowd-participation reliant set—promising to return next year with a new album—fans moved over towards the main stage inside the old Gary to witness lovelytheband, a more recent friend of 97X’s. Along with the regular set of hits (“these are my friends,” “broken”) came a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” dedicated to lead singer Mitchy Collins’ mother and sisters, who just moved to Florida.
Photo by Phil DeSimone
Half Alive made its choreography-enthused Tampa debut, Yungblud returned with his usual hyper antics, and once they were done, French pop band Phoenix’s live debut in Tampa went down. There was hardly any banter, and the graphics on the screen were so vital, they almost took away from the new wave-esque talent in front of us.
Reggae-rap group Dirty Heads’ big deal was that Rome Ramirez has been on the bill with it ever since this year’s NBT was announced. As a result, the singer only came out for “Lay Me Down,” and headed back into the wings, never to be seen again.
Truthfully, there were more issues with timing than the supply chain during Jack White’s all-too-short headliner set, clocking in at only 16 songs in 70 minutes. But his first gig in Tampa since his days with the White Stripes still felt like a perfect retrospective of his storied career. The 47-year-old—backed by a three-piece band and a marble statue of himself—made it no secret that he was the only guitarist in the band while looking back on his days in The White Stripes (“The Hardest Button to Button,” “Icky Thump”), The Raconteurs (“Steady, as She Goes”), and supergroup The Dead Weather (“I Cut Like a Buffalo”). Needless to say, “Seven Nation Army” was a rollicking way to cap off yet another installment of Tampa Bay’s last festival of the year.
See more of Tracy May and Phil DeSimone’s photos below.