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Gasparilla Music Festival: Attendance hits 15,000, organizers eye growth in 2015

Jason Isbell performs for 6,000 fans at the Gasparilla Music Festival on May 9, 2014.

Kent Nishimura

Jason Isbell performs for 6,000 fans at the Gasparilla Music Festival on May 9, 2014.



After months and months of preparation, and several nearly sleepless nights, by the time Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue closed out the 2014 Gasparilla Music Festival on Sunday, exhausted executive director Ty Rodriguez was primed for an emotional release.

“I got to have my kids come up to Trombone Shorty onstage with me,” Rodriguez said, “and my daughter, who’s 11, and she’s got a wicked memory, she tugged on my shoulders and said, ‘I remember you talking about wanting to be a band manager. Look at what you did.’ And I lost it.”

Two days later — including eight much-needed hours of sleep — Rodriguez was finally able to reflect on the third annual Gasparilla Music Festival, which drew more than 15,000 fans to Curtis Hixon Park this past weekend, including more than 9,000 for the Flaming Lips on Saturday and 6,000 for Trombone Shorty on Sunday.

Considering this was the first year GMF had expanded from one to two days, it’s that last number that has Rodriguez most excited. “We feel exuberant about (Sunday’s) turnout,” he said. “We would have been happy with anything over 2,000. Sunday was the same thought as Year 1 — if we got more than 2,000 or 3,000 people, we would be ecstatic.”

But Sunday’s success wasn’t just about the numbers. “There were a lot more kids this year,” he said. “That was the first thing we completely and utterly noticed. There were a lot more families, for sure.”

Though it wasn’t a sellout, organizers are happy with the outcome, having endured only a few major logistical hiccups. Amanda Shires had to drop out at the last minute due to a family medical emergency, and organizers had to rely on social media to get the word out. Delta Spirit missed their original flight to Tampa, so after booking a second flight, “they flew in and (came) straight from the airport, got in just in time,” Rodriguez said.

And of course there was the end of the Flaming Lips’ set on Saturday. Singer Wayne Coyne apparently thought the band had the stage until 11 p.m., even though all the festival’s schedules said the music would end by 10:30, per city permit. That meant the band had to end abruptly with no encore.

“He doesn’t hold anything against us and we don’t hold anything against the Flaming Lips at all,” Rodriguez said. “This is what happens at music festivals. We just have to adjust, and make sure there’s better communication that goes on.”

Which brings us to next year. Organizers have hinted that GMF may grow yet again in 2015 — possibly into MacDill Park to the south or Water Works Park to the north — but Rodriguez said that’s likely to hinge on progress of Tampa’s downtown-spanning Riverwalk. “If the Riverwalk is open and it is, in fact, wet-zoned, I think it’s a no-brainer,” he said.

One potential roadblock is the festival’s ability to balance additional ticket sales with Curtis Hixon Park’s capacity of 10,000. In order to accommodate more fans, Rodriguez said, they’d likely need to have another act playing in another park at the same time as the main stage headliner.

Rodriguez noted that GMF’s first electronic act, RJD2 drew a big crowd on Saturday, proving that fans might flock to another big-name DJ. “Maybe we have a DJ opposite the headliner,” he mused.

It won’t be long before talk of GMF ’15 turns serious. Until then, there are still a few more days to unwind.

“We were really, really happy,” Rodriguez said, “and got a lot of love.”

— Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 4:16pm]


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