Review: Don't Stop St. Pete, Plan-B Block Party divide the Tampa Bay scene, but still draw crowds in St. Petersburg and Ybor City
Hard choices are a part of the music festival experience. But Saturday night took the problem of festival scheduling to a whole new level.
At around 9 p.m., for example, you could have checked out the pulsing polyrock grooves of Polyenso on the 600 Block of St. Pete’s Central Avenue; the reunion of Tampa indie rockers Sleepy Vikings at Crowbar in Ybor City, the raw rock of Georgia’s Cusses at St. Pete’s State Theatre; the frenetic folk of Gainesville’s Greenland is Melting at Ybor’s Dirty Shame; the soulful alt-rock of Alexander and the Grapes at Ybor’s New World Brewery; or the driving rock of Variance at St. Pete’s Local 662.
Or you could have been where I was: Crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge en route from the Don’t Stop St. Pete festival in St. Petersburg to the Plan-B Block Party in Ybor City.
Both festivals evolved from St. Pete’s popular Antiwarpt Festival, which imploded this year over a dispute among organizers over its name, future and mission. Before Saturday, both sides downplayed the competition between the festivals, which divided some 110 bands between Tampa and St. Pete. But the way the split played out no doubt kept many Tampa music lovers in Tampa and St. Pete music lovers in St. Pete – convenient, perhaps, for those who don’t like crossing a bridge, but it did little to coalesce the local music scene in any meaningful way.
The truth is, there was really only one genuine music festival in Tampa Bay on Saturday, and that was Don’t Stop St. Pete. Don’t Stop embraced Antiwarpt’s existing format and expanded it, adding two free outdoor stages and blocking off the 600 Block for pedestrians. There were nine stages in all, plus food and craft vendors and a SweetWater Brewing truck.
The free outdoor stages alone were worth the visit. Early on, the mountain-manly harmonies of RedFeather and searing post-rock of Tides of Man attracted crowds who stuck around and crowded the stage for another nice touch: A fashion show, featuring looks and designs from clothiers on the 600 Block, including MISRED Outfitters, All Sewn Up Boutique and 1 of 1 Customs. (P.S.: Whoever decided 1 of 1’s runway music should be Jay Z’s Picasso Baby is a genius.)
Aside from two venues, The Bends and Everything Dolce, that were a bit of a hike from the 600 block, the stages were fairly closely clustered, always a plus at a festival, and a no-brainer in a place like the ‘Burg. There were five stages in the 600 block alone and two more in the 500s; keeping the fans tight seemed to be good for local businesses (Daddy Kool Records, for example, apparently did gangbusters business throughout Saturday).
Even for those who left before headliners Murder By Death (like yours truly), there was plenty of impressive music everywhere you looked – the growly agit-folk of Lonly Monster at the Bends; the electric art-rock of Sons of Hippies at the State Theatre; the jammy roots-rock of Paint the Town Red and fierce, fulfilling folk of Jun Bustamante on a smaller outdoor stage.
Over in Ybor City, Plan-B came about as an offshoot of Don’t Stop, and aside from a few banners and doorkeeps in matching T-shirts, there wasn't much that tied the whole thing together as a festival -- especially amid all the other usual Saturday-night hubbub on Seventh Avenue. It was simply a night where there was a lot of good music in Ybor City. In fact, purely in terms of local and Florida acts, Plan-B’s lineup was arguably stronger than Don’t Stop’s (though perhaps not as diverse; punk and alt-bluegrass were generally about as far from indie rock as Plan-B’s genres strayed).
Trying to hit both festivals meant I had to miss the much-anticipated reunion set by Sleepy Vikings, but I did arrive in time to see some of the best and most innovative rock ‘n’ roll from around Florida, including Orlando’s Trogg-tastic garageabilly trio the Wooly Bushmen at Crowbar; Tampa blues/swing/rock upstars Booker & Norton at Market on 7th; and over at the Dirty Shame, Naples' Wholetones, who have strings for days and know just how to use them to get the crowd dancing. Wisconsin’s YoungBlood Brass Band, who performed at Crowbar, were another of the night’s more innovative and unusual offerings.
Plan-B made creative use of some innovative (if far-flung) venues, such as the Ybor City Social Club, where Brooklyn twang-punks the So So Glos performed late; and an event space called the Grande Room, located across from the Dirty Shame. The recent closure of the Roosevelt 2.0 forced a last-minute stage change to the Grande Room, and when Orlando dream-pop group Saskatchewan took the stage there, the arty, minimalist space made it feel like you’d wandered into a Terry Richardson photograph. (Bonus points to Saskatchewan for their WTF/OMG cover of Drake’s Hold On We’re Going Home.)
I realized fairly early on that it was a fool’s errand to try to attend both Don’t Stop and Plan-B. For 99 percent of Tampa Bay’s music-loving public, one or the other would have sufficed. Still, who would have opposed a collaborative approach? Staging a festival with simultaneous music on both sides of the bay might actually work – but only if all parties involved worked together to group bands, time out sets (both fests suffered from occasional schedule hiccups) and make it feel like one unifying experience.
At the end of the day, I may not have been the only one who wanted to bridge both sides of the bay. Word on the street was that after everyone’s favorite lupine punks, Wolf-Face, closed down the Dirty Shame for Plan-B, they were going to race across the bay for a surprise set at Fubar to close down Don’t Stop.
Wolf-Face had the right idea. Why should anyone have to chose? Why can’t Tampa and St. Pete come together? Why, in this case, wouldn’t one have been better than two?
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*