During Japanese Breakfast’s late afternoon set on the first day of the sophomore Innings Fest Tampa, lead singer Michelle Zauner shone a light on one of the festival’s main purposes: “This is the festival where indoor kids and outdoor kids can commune with one another,” she observed.
Zauner wasn’t exaggerating, either.
Kids who play Little League, former and current high school emo kids indeed had an entire weekend to take on the batting cages (where former MLB players offered tips and coaching), and witness a handful of the most recognizable names in alternative rock, pop, and even the jam band scene.
And when the music wasn’t quite their forte, there were complimentary hydration stations to take advantage of, $20 chicken tenders and tater tots to chow down on, and—like at last year’s installment—onstage interviews with MLB names to be conducted by former Chicago Cub Ryan Dempster.
But in truth, it was pretty hard to find at least one band or artist that didn’t appeal to you.
Austin-based rock five-piece Briscoe kicked everything off on the main Home Plate stage, singing about girls losing themselves to Elton John, and toying around with saxophones and even a melodica. And after Santa-Barbara-based reggae rock outfit Cydeways soothed the pain of those who wished they could be at Reggae Rise Up over on the Right Field side stage, Joey Valence and Brae became the first of only two hip-hop acts to appear at the festival at all. “That’s me playing the flute,” Valence joked before launching into “Underground Sound.”
Tai Verdes is still a relatively fresh face to R&B—thanks to TikTok—and has the humility of someone still coming to terms with their newfound fame. In just over an hour, the 27-year-old California boy crossed funkadelic and Motown with hip-hop and the occasional tinge of reggae. Tai also offered tongue-in-cheek dating advice to guys, and asked if he should move to Florida. “I’ll think about it,” he offered.
Oh, and Weezer guitarist Brian Bell was in the VIP section, enjoying the show with some non-Weezer friends.
The skies opened up near the end of Japanese Breakfast’s set on Home Plate an hour later. “Holy shit, Florida! This happens all the time,” Michelle observed. Luckily, things cleared up when Grouplove took Right Field. The Gasparilla Music Festival alum—not wearing light blue jumpsuits this time
—managed to present a handful of live debuts from a forthcoming album (“Hello,” “Climb”), and early in the set, rhythm guitarist Christian Zucconi flung his guitar pretty high up, and managed to catch it.
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
Pitbull plays Innings Festival in Tampa, Florida on March 18, 2023.
After Pitbull fulfilled the purpose of his weekend road trip from Miami, fans who had just witnessed the sex symbol, the icon, Mr. Worldwide himself on Home Plate, headed to Right Field to see 52-year-old ex-celibate Rivers Cuomo
The world’s dorkiest rock posse is gearing up for a summer tour with the likes of Modest Mouse, Future Islands, and Momma, so playing around with a new setlist isn’t the worst idea in the world. For an hour, Cuomo and the gang mainly took on their greatest hits, as well as a few numbers from Pinkerton
(“Pink Triangle,” “The Good Life”), and a few Matt Sharp-era deep cuts (“Susanne,” “I Just Threw Out the Love of My Dreams”). Oh, and hearing Brian Bell sing the AJR version of “All My Favorite Songs’” last verse
was a nice touch.
It had been close to five years since headliner Imagine Dragons performed in Tampa
, so perhaps lead singer Dan Reynolds owed it to everyone to continue spending 100 minutes belting out his songs shirtless. While he spent most of his time on the catwalk, bassist Ben McKee was slapping a model with the colors of the transgender flag, alongside guitarist Wayne Sermon—who looks like Kevin Parker of Tame Impala to Reynolds—and drummer Daniel Platzman.
Let’s just say that in the morning, when paying $50 for parking at Raymond James Stadium, not many attendees staying for Imagine Dragons only to check out the hype knew that they’d walk away with much more respect for the Vegas outfit. And it wasn’t just the trans bass, either. Nor was it Reynolds admitting that if “Natural” were a nicer song, he would have dedicated it to the sign-language interpreter on the side of the stage.
He went into a spiel about how he understands that there’s a youth mental health crisis that seems to continue getting worse. Reynolds himself has dealt with depression and anxiety for much of his life, and because he had many older brothers who didn’t, he felt ashamed until coming to grips with how there’s zero shame in seeing a therapist, which he openly expressed. “Depression is not sadness, it’s grayness,” he began. “It’s incredibly important that you hang on. Stay alive, stay with us.”
It’s safe to say that Reynolds saved a life Saturday night, and some people with a newly restored lust for life moseyed back down to RayJay on Sunday to check out the names on the bill that were more roots-based, and less mainstream radio friendly.
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
Marcus Mumford plays Innings Festival in Tampa, Florida on March 19, 2023.
For one thing, Marcus Mumford—who has only been to Tampa once before
—is promoting Self-Titled
, his debut solo album, and his most personal work to date. “I don’t know what you were expecting, but it’s just me,” he announced upon hitting the Home Plate stage, acoustic guitar in hand.
He opened with “Only Child,” before admitting that it still felt weird to not have a real band behind him. Instead, he introduced an imaginary band of fictional characters, including Gandalf and Hermione Granger. “Frodo’s not available, so it’s Bilbo on drums.”
While we don’t take Mumford’s tunes for granted—no matter how personal and deep they are—his eyebrow-raising sense of humor was the real star of his personal set. He admitted how vulgar he has been on this current run of shows, already seen by his mother, and children as young as six. Instead of taking the effort to learn the “Ted Lasso” theme song, Mumford only did the “yeahhh” part, because he knew that was all anyone would care to hear. And the platinum people in the very front? He asked if everyone would be so kind to flip them all off.
As for our Day 2 headliner, Dave Matthews Band? Let’s just say that with Bruce Springsteen no longer completely turning his setlists upside-down night after night, the Charlottesville-based group did a pretty good job changing things up, while still tackling a few hits near the end. Matthews threw in a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain,” due to the lingering, occasional drizzle coming out of the sky all evening, and later, after announcing that the band would not be conforming to the 11 p.m. curfew, it was Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” “So Right” had only been performed a handful of times this decade, and before riding through that one, “Crush” entailed a full, 10-minute Grateful Dead-style jam session.
The band was suffering from the cold front, too. Guitarist Tim Reynolds had the hood on his black hoodie over his head for most of the show, as would saxophonist Jeff Coffin for a song or two. Dave himself was frigid as well. “I had to borrow this shirt! I was just gonna go with a t-shirt, and lo and behold!” He joked.
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
Dave Matthews Band plays Innings Festival in Tampa, Florida on March 19, 2023.
But before all that went down, Tampa Bay’s own Ries Brothers, who have played just about every festival in Florida—with the exception of Hulaween, according to six-string whiz Kevin Jordan Ries—opened everything up. As usual, the guys took reggae rock to a whole new level, with whimsical guitar solos, and brother Charlie multitasking on drums, bass-keyboard—ala Ray Manzarek—and lead vocals. In short, it’s no wonder that they’ve been everywhere, and more.
But Innings Fest held a different meaning to Kevin and drummer-singer brother Charlie than, say, Gasparilla Music Festival.
As kids, they both aspired to be baseball players, but one summer, Charlie was given a choice by his mother to either take swimming, tennis, or piano lessons. “She said I picked piano because it was inside and air-conditioned,” he told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay backstage. Over time, the boys got into The Beatles, Kevin started playing a Fender Stratocaster, and Charlie was asking for a drum kit.
But even with music infused into their blood, the Ries Brothers’ love for America’s pastime hasn’t diminished at all.
“We still play baseball on the road,” Charlie added. “When we have a day off, we find a baseball field, and that’s how we work out on the road.”
Even if it was a show day, the guys spent the rest of their time at the festival seeing Third Eye Blind’s uplifting set, taking on the batting cages, and watching former touring mate David Shaw—who the boys opened for a few times—play new and old songs in The Revivalists, from the side of the Right Field stage.
Case in point, with the indoor kids and the outdoor kids, sometimes there’s an in-between.
See Caesar Carbajal's photos below.