Review: Gasparilla Music Fest wraps up with Trombone Shorty, Jason Isbell and more in Tampa
I heard a rumor on Sunday that Wayne Coyne’s “F--- YEAH TAMPA” balloon ultimately came to rest on the front porch of some unsuspecting family in Tampa Heights. Not your usual Sunday wake-up call, that’s for sure.
But maybe, for at least one family, it was a reminder that this year’s Gasparilla Music Festival was two days, not one, and the crowd that descended on downtown Tampa for the festival’s second day was perhaps even more laid back and loosey-goosey than on Saturday.
In contrast to the chilly, surreal spectacle of the Flaming Lips' Saturday-night set, Sunday brought beach-blanket weather to Curtis Hixon Park, and the riverside half of the park became a patchwork of quilts, sundresses and dancing families. And the lineup was a touch more all-ages accessible than Saturday’s, with big brass, global grooves and singer-songwriters taking center stage.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue took the top slot on the main stage, and they’re pros at this game – a crowd-pleasing and across-the-board fabulous band led by a man, Troy Andrews, who’s the brass-funk world’s answer to Prince.
The New Orleans outfit can do the brassy NOLA thing without breaking a sweat – On Your Way Down is a breezy slice of Connick-like jazz – but their set reminded everyone that they’ve got a little punk in ‘em, too, veering from a Sandinista!-era Clash-like instrumental number to a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls On Parade early in their set. But Andrews couldn’t help show off his formidable training on the trombone and trumpet, trilling, squealing and wringing impossible life out of notes sustained to jaw-dropping lengths.
Alt-country hero (and NPR favorite) Jason Isbell was one of the weekend’s most hotly anticipated acts, though there was briefly some concern he might not show after his wife, Amanda Shires, had to cancel her own set due to a family emergency. Thankfully, Isbell came through, flexing his Muscle Shoals muscle on gritty, lived-in story-songs like Stockholm and the tender ballad Different Days.
Isbell proved himself a devastating guitarist, such as when he unfurled a gnarly slide solo on the mournful Decoration Day, and on the grinding track Outfit, by his old band the Drive-By Truckers. And he has a gift for rough-and-tumble lyrics that would make Springsteen jealous – just check out Super 8, a raucous recollection of a bad night turned worse; or Traveling Alone, a song that name-checks “Ybor City on a Friday night.”
“Some of that song took place right down the street,” Isbell said after performing Traveling Alone. “I’ve had some real serious discussions with (The Hold Steady’s) Craig Finn about who’s gotten drunker in Ybor.”
Earlier, as Grammy-winning Latin funk ensemble Grupo Fantasma got the crowd moving on the main stage, New Orleans brass collective the Soul Rebels blasted out an endless string of funk, world-beat and hip-hop covers, from the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams to Jay Z’s Hard Knock Life.
And as was the case on Saturday, local talent popped up in every corner of the festival, from Bradenton Americana outfit Have Gun, Will Travel (a last-minute fill-in for Shires); to newly independent pop singer-songwriter Matt Hires, who played a few new, unreleased songs.
Attendance for both days of GMF 2014 wasn’t immediately available, but to the untrained eye, the crowd looked comparable to last year’s, even a little bigger at times. Organizers spent both days cheerily walking the crowd, chatting up as many people as they could, driving home the message that no matter how many thousands of fans show up, GMF is still largely a DIY endeavor.
Don’t be surprised if the festival grows again in 2015. If so, organizers might want to plan some more room in their marketing budget for balloons.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*