Gasparilla Music Festival • April 29, 2023 • Cutis Hixon Park — Tampa, FL • Photos by Jacob Hayes — instagram.com/jhayes822
Gasparilla 2023 Live Review
Review by Spencer Storch
Year after year, Gasparilla is known for delivering amazing artists, fantastic food, and fun for the whole family. Historically hosting huge muscians like Nas, Trombone Shorty, Gov’t Mule, Sylvan Esso, Gary Clark Jr. and many more! So it’s no wonder that Central Florida is amped for Gasparilla Music Festival at Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa, FL. Now in its eleventh year, GMF is taking on its biggest foe: water. The first droplets of concern came when Kiley Gardens, the upper adjacent park up the stairs from Curtis Hixon, was closed by the City Of Tampa. It could no longer be included in the festivities because of structural issues and “water intrusion” from nearby Hillsborough River. This challenged GMF to try and find a new home but it was too late for 2023, however they brilliantly improvised.
Gasparilla’s five stages are now spread out at four different locations. Water Street Tampa Stage at Curtis Hixon Park, Ferman Riverwalk Stage at Straz Center Riverwalk (5 min walk), Sparkman Wharf Stage, Sail Pavilion Stage @ Tampa Convention Center, and the pop-up Rinocubes Stage in the back of Curtis Hixon Park.
Saturday begins with excitement and hope to see hip-hop headliners Run the Jewel and the electro-funky Chromeo. But upon arrival at the festival, it’s already evident that they are preparing to evacuate. Normally families are allowed to set up chairs and blankets wherever but, they are restricting that for ease of evacuation. Flipturn’s Florida indie-rock is my first music of the day. Their guitarist, Tristan Duncan, is wearing flashy red pants and together the team delivers their full indie sound with a side of complementary dream vibes. The presence of echoing reverb heightens my emotions, while the Aerial dragon performers in their orange outfits rotate on their performance ring in front of the stage.
But this excitement has an expiration with the impending storm approaching. Unfortunately, about thirty minutes after arriving on site, Gasparilla Music Festival Saturday festivities are cut short by the threat of weather. City leadership quickly shuts down the music and clears the park shortly after Flipturn’s last song. In the name of safety they evacuate the venue before the storm has even shown its face. Spread out in downtown bars, eager music fans clamor for updates on social media. After a three hour delay and the passage of the storm the decision was made to cancel the rest of the night’s music.
Sunday I arrive on site for George Pennington and the Odyssey over on the Ferman Riverwalk Stage at the Straz Center. They’ve done a great job of utilizing the Riverwalk back patio area and turned it into a very nice stage. Here George and his team navigate the beautiful breezy day with a full set of awesome jams. The first song is “The Battle Without Honor or Humanity” by Tomoyasu Hotei. It was featured in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and sounds like the music they play during ESPN highlight reels. From here they move onto The Doors, “LA Woman” and wow do they take this for a ride all the way around the festival. They definitely have my mojo risin’ as they weave a gorgeous jam tapestry from the classic ‘71 rock song.
I skip back over to Water Street Tampa Stage, ready for my very first set of Rising Appalachia. Led by the sounds of activist sister duo Leah and Chloe Smith from Atlanta (however Chloe is on maternity leave), this Appalachian folk band soothes the growing crowd. They consider their voices their primary tool, but don’t be fooled: both these ladies play a ton of instruments. Their stunning harmonies and raw earthiness draw me into their setting sun. I tilt my head back and let the music wash over me. The sisters bless and uplift the natural world around us with their tune “Stand Like and Oak.” I can definitely feel my roots after this one. Growing together with my GMF family we sway as they play an old mountain song they learned from their grandmother. Their songs flow like a mountain stream, trickling into my ear.
I leave them with love as I head to the Ferman Riverwalk Stage for St. Pete’s own, Minim. I arrive on scene to see a whole bunch of people having a good time. Dancing, movin’ and groovin’ are the standard as Minim plays their original “Buttered Pearls.” Hunter Richey stands out on the bass guitar as they flow to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” which is commonly played by Phish and known as “2001.” It’s a beautiful composition which has a huge build up and all of a sudden we’re back in “Buttered Pearls.” Finishing out the set strong, they let loose a “Layered Mirrors” before “Concrete” caps off a fantastic hour of music. This is my second time seeing this jam outfit and both times have been great. I can’t wait to see them rock out at Suwannee Hulaween in October.
Local Natives are an L.A.-based indie-rock band that plays buoyant, infectious songs that brim with sunny melodies and three-part vocal harmonies. Opening with their big hit “Dark Days” they have me floating along the riverwalk and enjoying the gorgeous weather in no time at all. “Just Before the Morning” is a dreamy tune that starts slow and gains momentum just like this festival. Out of nowhere lead singer Taylor Rice jumps off the stage and creates a dance party right in front of the stage. He performs the rest of the song there before returning to the stage. This band is full of energy and the crowd is giving it back to them.
I scoot back over the Ferman Riverwalk Stage for the legendary Cope, my second sibling band of the day. These guys fill in all the frequencies, employing reggae, funk, and jam to get their fans to shake it! The Stadelman brothers are as sharp as ever as they slice through the late afternoon with “Creeker>Into MIne.” Kenny (bass) and Dennis (guitar) have the right balance between structure and improv as they make their way through “Awake” and “Sometime.” Juan Montero soothes the crowd with his sweet sax solos. One thing this band knows how to do is jam. The group flows and grows: becoming a taller and taller wave as they approach. Soon the song is a cresting wave that Dennis shreds down with his frothy guitar work. It’s true, these guys know how to carve the wavelengths when they’re “Going Home.”
Closing out GMF ‘23 is the one and only Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. This Grateful Dead centered band has been jamming all over the country for the past decade. Featuring the talents of drummer Joe Russo (Furthur, Shpongle) and Marco Benevento (Benevento/Russo Duo) on key, JRAD takes the Grateful Dead to the next level. They begin with “Jam>Help on the Way>Slipknot>Jam” and I start to have warm fuzzy feelings for this band. I love that it feels like it’s Benevento’s job to play anything except the song. Russo spends his time during the lengthy solos chasing him back to the top of the song only to have Marco narrowly slip from his grasp. “Bertha” has the crowd dancing and singing along before driving into the iconic “Truckin’.” Guitarists Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger take turns doing the heavy lifting, keeping this crowd moving. “Fire on the Mountain~>I Know You Rider” takes the band over the finish line, giving Tampa a little extra on Sunday night. The traditional “Not Fade Away” ends a fantastic set and closes out a lopsided Gasparilla 2023.
Gasparilla will be issuing refunds for Saturday ticket holders and getting back to its original format next year when they throw this party in a new Tampa riverfront park. GMF 2024 will be held Friday-Sunday, February 16-18. at Julian B. Lane Park just across the river from its longtime home. See you in 2024!
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