Review / photos: Cage the Elephant, Ghostface Killah, more bring Gasparilla Music Festival closer to fans in Tampa
It didn't take long for a trend to set in at the 2017 Gasparilla Music Festival.
Early on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, Clay Frankel of indie rockers Twin Peaks ambled out on stage with a cooler of iced-down PBR and a message for the sun-stroked masses beyond the sparse VIP pit in Curtis Hixon Park's Kiley Gardens.
"If you folks on the fence want to push it down and come on in, that's all right with me," he said. "These don't look like very important people to me."
Sure enough, as soon as Twin Peaks started playing, the pit filled up and came to life.
"Everybody's a VIP today!" said bassist Jack Dolan. "Hope we don't get in trouble!"
At the Gasparilla Music Festival? No way. No actual barriers came down during Twin Peaks’ set on Saturday. But metaphorically, the lines between performer and fan proved endearingly blurry all day long. Artists playing among fans, fans performing alongside artists – it all felt natural at this year’s GMF, a festival that when it’s cooking might be Tampa’s best.
“Tampa, has anyone ever told you you’re beautiful?” said singer Matt Shultz of headlining alt-rockers Cage the Elephant. “I bet you get told that all the time.”
With a flock of eager fans packed up to the stage, Cage the Elephant showed why they’re secretly one of the last big rock bands in America, shooting onstage like confetti and getting right up in fans’ faces all night.
Looking like a cryogenically frozen specimen from the British Invasion – snug black suit, wide crimson lapels, gold faux-snakeskin boots – Shultz was a tornado of limbs and hair and sweat from the jump on openers Cry Baby and In One Ear, constantly twirling and leaping and stomping the stage so loud it shook. On infectious songs like Cold Cold Cold and Mess Around, he moved so much it’s a wonder the mic still caught his voice. Shultz rarely gets mentioned as one of the great live frontmen in rock, but he’s cut from the same cloth as Mick, Iggy and Axl, right down to how he dances, and that’s pretty rarified company.
Somehow guitarist Brad Shultz beat his inveterate stage-diver brother into the crowd hopping offstage during the rusty Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked (and hurling his axe back up when it was time to return). But Matt -- who spent much of the set on a stage thrust, surrounded by fans on three sides -- got his in the end, stepping into a mass of fans on closer Teeth, then falling back into their arms with a smile on his face.
Also smiling on Saturday: The two Wu-Tang Clan fans called up on stage to perform with Saturday’s other big name, Ghostface Killah.
A crew member spent a few minutes before the set searching for potential partners to fill in for Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard on Protect Ya Neck, with medium luck. When the song came up, the MC had his doubts the two slightly lubricated fans chosen could pull it off. But lo and behold, when their verses kicked in, they held their own – good enough to crack Ghostface up and earn the fans a spot on stage while he rapped Shimmy Shimmy Ya, Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit and C.R.E.A.M.
Other national artists on Saturday kept their acts largely on stage. Atlanta soul singer Lady Wray’s sultry, simmering love jams suited the sizzling afternoon heat, while the elated passion of alt-rockers Moon Taxi, N'awlins boogie of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Latin grooves of Los Amigos Invisibles carried the day into a much cooler night.
As always, GMF shone a bright light on local acts, giving them prime slots to reach large new audiences.
Ukulele-totin', verse-spittin', range-scalin' phenom Ari Chi was a spark of life and personality in the Kiley Gardens amphitheater, leading an audience-wide sing-along of INOJ's I Want to Be Your Lady Baby. The ascendant Tampa talent channeled jazz and classic soul through her closer Sugar Rush, drawing a joyous standing ovation.
Young but sharply polished St. Pete dance-rockers Miroux shimmied through the midday heat at Tibbetts' Corner with some thumb-snapping bass solos and singer Jonah Hollander's infectious moves. St. Pete electro-pop artist Shane Schuch, a.k.a. Pajamas, kept things cool in the amphitheater with a chilly, groove-oriented set. And electro-ambient composer/one-man-band Rogerthomas enchanted a jam-packed amphitheater with his swirling, psychedelic soundscapes.
And even the locals couldn’t help getting up close and personal with the GMF crowd. When rap-rock ensemble Bangarang played the fittingly named Jose Gaspar, guitarist Wes Bland ambled down from the stage, where fans put him up on their shoulders while singing, “This is my hometown!”
But the audience-interactive moment of the day might come from Tampa rapper Queenofex, as she ended her set by snaking carefully through the crowd at the amphitheater, stepping level to treacherous level through smiling and high-giving fans until she reached the top, overlooking the rest of the fest.
"I have nothing more to give you," she said when she got back to the stage. "Well, actually, I have plenty more."
Good news for fans. And great for GMF.
The festival continues Sunday with Ryan Adams, Chronixx, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, the New Mastersounds and more. Click here for details.
-- Jay Cridlin