Best of 2016: Leon Bridges, Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings among Tampa Bay's best concerts
(All week on Soundcheck, we’ll be revisiting our favorite Tampa Bay concerts of 2016. Today’s picks come from Soundcheck contributor Stephanie Bolling.)
So many Bay area shows to choose from, which is a good problem to have in music. Tampa Bay hosted numerous benefits, local gigs and tireless up-and-comers I look forward to seeing more of around town. Challenged with narrowing the top down, I ended up grading my shows on two criteria: Was it memorable, and was it good?
Had March’s Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival been 100 miles closer, than you, like all my friends, would have to hear me going on about it incessantly (I’m looking at you Odesza, Bonobo, Robert Plant, Marian Hill, Booker T. Jones, Mumford and Sons, Kendrick Lamar and PoWoW). Here, however, are my favorites from Tampa Bay.
Clearwater Sea Blues Festival (February 20-21, Coachman Park): The two-day waterfront festival featured a bundle of blues artists for free. Patrick Sweany, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings all shared the stage on Saturday. Sweany crooned his hit Them Shoes, followed by a powerhouse St. Paul and the Broken Bones set that gave play to almost every track off their first album, Half the City. Each act built on the next until the dynamite, unrelenting headlining performance by Sharon Jones. Little did we all know it would be her last ever in Pinellas County (RIP, Queen of Funk). Beth Hart closed out the festival Sunday, covering much of her discography. I’d waited 20 to cross her off my bucket list, so not much else that day compared to the personal gratification of hearing Leave the Light On live.
Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires (March 13, Gasparilla Music Fest, Curtis Hixon Park): The fifth annual music festival in downtown Tampa brought some big names like Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli and Stephen Marley. However, with his red suit and soulful pipes, Charles Bradley easily stood out as the top performer of the weekend. The 67-year-old Screaming Eagle of Soul brought the stage to life with his gritty ballads, animated theatrics and messages of love. Maybe I’m a sucker for soul, but they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Leon Bridges (Sept. 14, Ruth Eckerd Hall): The Texas native brought classy and clean back to town. I’m no prude, but it was refreshing to see everyone revering a performer for their talent and not their sex. Bridges, relatively fresh in the industry, seemed like he had been at it for years. He did serious, he did jovial and he did tasteful, all to the tune of ‘50s and ‘60s gospel, blues, funk and soul. The naughtiest he got was a retro rendition of Ginuwine’s Pony. He performed all the highlights from his debut album, including Coming Home, Smooth Sailin’, Better Man, Lisa Sawyer and River. Along with appearing as a straight up gentleman, he oozed nostalgia, and that’s sort of, well, unforgettable.
Dead Prez (Nov. 20, The Local 662): The Local 662 venue seemed too small for the legendary duo. But it turned out to be symbolic for them to bring their anti-establishment, socio-political messages back to the very city that introduced them to the Uhuru movement. Despite them going on after midnight and the crowd enduring one hype act after the next, Dead Prez delivered a nearly 90-minute dense set including some of the most beloved tracks from their debut album, Let’s Get Free. Among the favorites were Police State, They Schools, Discipline, Mind Sex and the quintessential Hip-Hop. I doubt I’ll ever be able to get that close to (or make eye contact with) Stic.man and M-1 in my life again.
Honorable mentions: Alabama Shakes (Cuban Club, April 29), Modest Mouse/Brand New (MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, July 9), Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band/Julien Baker/Pinegrove/Petal (Orpheum, Nov. 5).
-- Stephanie Bolling