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50 concerts, 50 venues, one summer: What did I learn?




Let’s begin with a simple question: Why?

Why would anyone voluntarily attempt to see 50 concerts at 50 different venues in a single summer? Why would anyone choose to stay out until 3 a.m. on a work night, just to see some band you don’t know perform songs you don’t like for friends you’ve never met?

Also: Why do all of my T-shirts now reek of Camels and Pabst Blue Ribbon?

These are all good questions. I wish I’d thought of them back in April.

Instead, I shrugged and thought: Eh, why not. Fifty concerts, 50 venues, one summer. It was to be an all-encompassing tour of the Tampa Bay music scene, a way to experience everything that’s out there, and then some. That's me at Tropical Heatwave, above.

You name it, I saw it. Local bands, national bands, even a few international bands. I saw concerts in bars, arenas, theaters, malls, coffee shops, parking lots and even a library. I saw pop (Lady Gaga), country (Darryl Worley), hip-hop (Snoop Dogg), indie rock (Bon Iver), death metal (Ovid’s Withering), big band (Helios Jazz Orchestra) and hellbilly (Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers). I spent good money on artists I’d never heard of (Jadiel), and artists I actively disliked (3 Doors Down). I saw a comedy-folk duo with its own TV show (Flight of the Conchords) and a pianist who has performed with Cole Porter (Rosa Rio).

I drove hundreds of miles, took hundreds of photos and wrote close to 50,000 words’ worth of reviews for this blog. It was an overdose of live music, more than 100 hours of it, nearly as many concerts as I’d seen in all my other years combined.

And you want to know the weird thing? I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

The amount of live music that takes place throughout Tampa Bay on a daily basis is staggering. On Saturday alone, there are more than 150 live shows in and around Tampa Bay — and those are just the ones listed on MySpace Music, a good source for upcoming local concerts. They range from big-time events, like Rob Thomas at Ruth Eckerd Hall, to guys with guitars at Pinellas County beach bars.

Therein lay the challenge of this project. How could I force myself to sample so much music, spread across so many different genres, in such a short period of time?

That’s where the “50 venues” part came in. By refusing to hit the same venue twice, I could avoid falling into routines of comfort and laziness — for every great band I saw at an awesome venue, I’d have to see a not-so-great band at a not-so-awesome venue.

So I went concerts in big arenas (St. Pete Times Forum, Ford Amphitheatre), smaller clubs (Crowbar, New World Brewery) and a few unconventional spaces (Hot Topic, the Salvador Dali Museum). And from the beginning, the results were hit-and-miss.

On April 6, I saw Flight of the Conchords, a band I love, at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. The next night, I fought through a cold to see Lady Gaga at the Ritz Ybor. Both were excellent. Two shows, two winners. This was gonna be a cakewalk!

Then, on April 12 — Easter Sunday — I visited Tampa’s now-defunct Kelly’s Pub for a concert by four experimental noise-rock bands. Over the course of four hours, there were audio problems aplenty, equipment blowouts and even a power outage. The music was dense, feedbacky and brain-meltingly loud. It was a thoroughly unpleasant night.

That’s when I knew: This was going to be a long, long summer.


You learn a few things about live music when you see so many concerts in rapid succession.

Steer clear of the pit at metal shows, lest you be flogged by headbangers doing hairwhips. If you’re at an indie show, and you want to look cool, stand as far from the stage as you can, and do your best not to smile. And whatever you do, at a country concert, don’t come between a middle-aged woman and her honky-tonk hunk.

Before this summer, I didn’t really follow the local music scene. But it didn’t take me long to realize that some Tampa bands, like GreyMarket and Nervous Turkey, are better than many national bands. If you don’t believe me, see them for yourself. You’ll be stunned by their talent and energy.

As the summer progressed, there were plenty of low points, moments when I wondered why (there’s that word again) I ever thought this was a good idea. I was sick of wristbands and cigarette smoke and the ringing in my ears. I wanted to quit working late nights and weekends, wanted to end to those long drives to far-flung venues in Pasco County or New Tampa. I wanted my leisure time back. I wanted a good night’s sleep. I wanted out.

And still, for every low, there was a high. Maxwell singing This Woman’s Work. Bon Iver performing Skinny Love. Snoop Dogg on Drop It Like It’s Hot. Roller-skating break dancers. Bands dressed like zombies. A dude named “Space Cowboy.”

You want more? Here are just a few highlights:

• I partied with Stone Phillips, Joe Theismann and Craig Stadler during a Montgomery Gentry concert (No. 4).

• I was in the pit at Club Skye when a rapper named Bizzle (No. 33) showered the crowd with $1,000 in $1 bills.

• I was at a concert when I heard Michael Jackson died. Some guy got a text with the news and broke it to everyone there, including the performer, punk singer Joey Cape (No. 24).

• I crashed a girl’s Sweet Sixteen (No. 29), a couple’s wedding reception (No. 32) and a band’s 10th anniversary party (No. 50)

• I used what might be the finest restrooms in Tampa Bay (Nova 535, No. 31), and what are quite possibly the worst (Pegasus Lounge, No. 46).

• I saw a zaftig but wholesome-looking woman win a borderline NC-17 booty-shake contest (No. 34).

These are not experiences I’ll remember on my deathbed, of course, but they were all pretty amazing at the time. And had it not been for this experiment, I wouldn’t have been part of any of them.

And that, I suppose, is the real lesson here. Oddball events like this occur every single night at concerts around Tampa Bay. You might not know it, if you never leave your own little world, never see a band you don’t know or visit a bar for the first time. But they’re out there. I’ve seen them. And at times, they can be glorious.

I can’t say I’d recommend attempting to see 50 concerts at 50 different venues. Only an idiot would try something like that. But one concert at one new venue? That’s doable. Anyone could try that.

With so much music all around us each day, there’s no reason not to partake in the action.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

To read more reviews from this 50-50 project, click here.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:13pm]


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