Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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Review / photos: The Roots, Spoon rock through the rain at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa

Now we know: Not even rain can dampen the mood at the Gasparilla Music Festival.

By the time the Roots hit the stage as Saturday's 2018 headliners, ponchos were off and hula hoops were swinging and there were even a few stars in the sky above Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park — a far cry from the gray skies that hung around day.

The festival's first-ever hip-hop headliner — and maybe its most mainstream booking to date — was met by its first real weather test in seven years, with rain around what would normally be an Instagrammable sunset, and a beastly little breeze off the Hillsborough.

But it didn't cool down the Tonight Show's house band, who delivered a 90-minute workout of a set that, apart from a couple of mini DJ sets in the middle, felt like one long, solid, late-night jam.

The heart of the Roots remains drummer Questlove, whose signature Afro was nattily cornrowed on this day, but whose love of vintage funk, soul and New Wave shone through in songs like Dynamite and Love of My Life, not to mention a meaty cover of Jungle Boogie. But rapper and freestyle king Black Thought shone brightest against the backdrop of the University of Tampa's minarets, breathlessly pumping verse after verse after verse through the speakers, some dating back to 1996's Illadelph Halflife. Nothing topped his frenetic flow over Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up, punctuated by a brawny "Wakanda forever! Can you dig it?" near the end.

Whenever Black Thought needed a minute, he ceded the spotlight to his more than capable crew: Sousaphonist Damon Bryson, who puffed and stomped across the rain-slicked stage early on; bassist Mark Kelley, who ripped off a virtuosic solo during The Next Movement; and guitarist Capt. Kirk Douglas, who not only filled in for Erykah Badu on You Got Me, but led the whole band on a cover of Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine. The three of them spent much of the set circling one another in something of a three-man weave, occasionally stopping to bounce in unison like the world's most athletic pep band.

The Roots performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Apart from a few delays that seemed more related to tech issues the weather, the sets sailed mostly on time, which had to have organizers thanking the heavens.

The drizzle actually suited some performers, particularly L.A. indie outfit Warpaint, making their Tampa debut. Awash in a fog of pink and indigo hues and one geographically appropriate Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, courtesy of singer Emily Kokal, the group set the fest's hipster contingent swaying to their slinky yet aggressive mood music. No band and fan base benefitted more from the absence of a deadly boiling mid-afternoon sun.

"Is this boring weather for you? Because this is nice!" Kokal said.

"It's moody!" added guitarist Theresa Wayman.

Warpaint performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Warpaint performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Singer Britt Daniel of Texas dance-rockers Spoon ventured out to the uncovered lip of the stage during Inside Out, casting an arm to the sprinkly heavens as if in a command to cut it out. Sure enough, after the very next song, the drizzle was back to a mere mist, allowing Spoon's jittery cuts Don't You Evah, Can I Sit Next To You and the fierce Got Nuffin to work their magic.

Spoon performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Spoon performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

And rain or shine, no one seemed to be having a better time than Jurassic 5 rapper Chali 2na, who was backed by New Orleans jazz-funk ensemble Naughty Professor for a joint set. Even before he grabbed a mic and started spitting out Jurassic 5, Ozomatli and solo tracks in his motormouth baritone, Chali couldn't help but lay back and admire the band from behind the drum kit, grinning and bobbing his head as the jams unfolded. Show-stealing, smile-inspiring set of the day.

Chali 2na and Naughty Professor performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

Lots of poncho-wrapped Tampans were right there with him. At the end of the day, the Gasparilla Music Festival isn't just about music. It's about the vibe of the city on its very best days — pop-up shops and pop-up food fairs and pop-up performances in the crowd, all of it showcasing an idealized vision of the 813. Untimely weather is just a part of the package.

But the impression it left wasn't all bad, either.

"This is the first time for this festival? Second? Many times?" Daniel said, the enthusiastic crowd down front correcting him each time. "We've never been invited!"

No one wants a repeat of Saturday's weather on Sunday, which brings Father John Misty, Nikki Lane and more. But at least now we know a little rain won't be a problem.

Fr33dback performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
C-Rena performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
The Underhill Family Orchestra performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)
Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa on March 10, 2018. (Jay Cridlin | Times)

— Jay Cridlin

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