gasparilla music festival live review 2016

The Gasparilla Music Festival Sashay: Two Hours of ‘Treme’ in Tampa! | Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers + Lucero Live Review and Festival Photos | March 12, 2016

by • March 30, 2016

For the outsider, everyone in New Orleans is impossibly charming. Second line music, Mardi Gras, Tipitina’s, magnolia blossoms, the word magnolia itself — it all seems beautiful, important, and romantic. The great thing about HBO’s Treme was its characters. David Simon’s (The Wire) love letter to The Magnolia was brimming with flawed characters who were easily remedied.

Among those characters were Kermit Ruffins, a real-life New Orleans staple whose name carries weight in the Big Easy and abroad; and Ben Nichols, leading man of Memphis-bred alternative-country-folk-punk-cowboy-bad-ass-band Lucero, whose character is the love interest of central protagonist Annie, a struggling musician turned star.

Nichols and Ruffins, the two men playing themselves in Simon’s gorgeously produced ode to NOLA, played Tampa’s Gasparilla Music Festival back-to-back on a perfect Saturday afternoon. For those two hours, Tampa turned Treme.

“We partyin’?!” Cheers universally fly from the Curtis Hixon Stage crowd. “All aboard?”

New Orleans trumpet legend Kermit Ruffins stands to the side grinning ear to ear while his keyboard player sashays through a solo. Kermit grabs his can of Bud Light — most makes his mouth, but a tiny dribble hops onto his shirt, like a golden seal of authenticity. Kermit Ruffins is exactly as dramatized. He picks up his trumpet and blows that sweet, gritty New Orleans sound. The feel of the genesis of American music fills Curtis Hixon Park — all of the pain that built blues and jazz along with the fun afforded by America’s excess.

Ruffins takes a break and looks over at his band, face contorted like he just ate a cinnamon-covered lemon. His look slurs, “My band is nasty as fuck.” Ruffins is lost in the music. The hips of each patron swaying with classics, from Louis Armstrong to the NOLA stalwart “Iko Iko.” There is something magical about the way New Orleans Jazz moves the body.

Gasparilla Music Festival | Curtis Hixon Park, Downtown Tampa | March 12-13, 2016 | Photo by Jason Earle

Meanwhile, Ben Nichols and Lucero are taking the main stage. A few of us shake that direction. We depart in small disconnected waves, but like-hearts tend to find one another. We are shortly swelling against the barricade singing every lyric right back at Ben as if we have the right. Lucero nurtures that feeling. They are from Memphis, but it seems like they are from everywhere. Ben Nichols as Cajun fiddle player Annie’s love interest on Treme never seemed like a stretch. He seems to fit in there as much as anywhere.

Tampa already seems transformed after Kermit Ruffins. The transition of energy from Ruffins to Lucero is seamless. Even with Ben’s often painful songs, the GMF crowd still hears the call of “All aboard?!” We have come to expect certain things from Lucero. They play loose, without a setlist. Each performance is a unique party coming together for this particular group of people. Nichols plays the songs we expect. “Texas and Tennessee,” “Slow Dancing,” and then throws a couple of curveballs.

Now, we are obnoxiously screaming lyrics back at him — “She had a weakness for writers and I, I was never that good with words anyways” — hopefully not overpowering his monitors. If we were obtrusive, Nichols does not show it.

Lucero hardly ever seems to play tunes from Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers, which for many purists, this author included, is a favorite. The album was their first with accordion and horns. It acts as a bridge between the hard-charging punk country of early Lucero and the Memphis soul-tinged recent releases. Nichols treats us to the album’s rollicking opener, “What Else Would You Have Me Be?”, then takes a monumental risk by following a lost classic with an untitled song he wrote just two days ago, commenting “it should be in [his brother’s new] movie.”

Ben’s brother is the wonderful filmmaker Jeff Nichols. Mud, Shotgun Stories, and Take Shelter are a sampling of his beautiful efforts. Jeff’s newest film, Loving, is about the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, which looked at the constitutionality of asinine miscegenation laws banning interracial marriage. Ben sings,

I might not be good enough for them, but I just wanna be good enough for you”

Gasparilla Music Festival | Curtis Hixon Park, Downtown Tampa | March 12-13, 2016 | Photo by Jason Earle

Nichols was good enough for Treme, the real thing, and its proxy on the Hillsborough River. So was the legendary Kermit Ruffins. Gasparilla Music Festival once again put together an eclectic lineup of seemingly unrelated acts that flowed more naturally than their lack of commonality would suggest. Music’s unifying power was on full display.

Gasparilla Music Festival Live Review by Jason Earle.
Concert photos by Martin Cardenas and Jason Earle.

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