What began three years ago as a passing conversation between co-workers at Daddy Kool Records now is one of downtown St. Petersburg's most successful grass roots movements: The Antiwarpt Music Festival.
Anna Serena and Manny Kool envisioned an alternative to the Vans Warped Tour and the name Antiwarpt stuck, although they have nothing against the Warped Tour itself. The timing of the festival served as an angle to bring together heaps of local bands.
The two enlisted the help of local promoters Sean O'Brien and Phil Benito and graphic artist and designer S. Bradley Askew, and together the crew pulled off the inaugural shindig in a month's time.
"We had such a response from the community that it wouldn't have been right if we didn't do another," Serena said.
The organizers hosted the second annual Antiwarpt last year, and O'Brien said that cemented it. "It started as this little thing with Warped and grew into regional and local pride."
With the third annual event Saturday, Antiwarpt has become a hotbed for up and coming Florida talent. This year's event features 99 bands throughout 10 venues in one day, all within a radius of four blocks. Ninety-five of the bands are from Florida, with 45 from the Tampa Bay area. That's a five-fold increase since 2010.
The local approach is vital to the festival's success. Said Kool: "The area doesn't have anything like this. It's something similar to Tropical Heatwave, but a minority of bands at Heatwave are from the bay area; most are national and international. This is all about Tampa Bay, Central Florida and the state."
Their homegrown idea attracted 2,500 fans last year. "I knew we were creating something different. I've been calling it 'the People's Festival,' " Askew said.
The venues win, too. Kool said alcohol sales at last year's Antiwarpt were among the venues' best nights of 2011. That success keeps the venues and bands eager to participate. Morean Arts Center wanted to participate, so they're building an outside stage in its parking lot.
"We love our neighborhood and music is part of it. It's a great thing for the city," said Wayne Atherholt, interim executive director at Morean Arts Center.
As the festival takes on a life of its own, organizers have encountered a few hiccups. This year, they've dealt with venue changes, bands pulling out and other last-minute headaches.
But that hasn't slowed them down. They hope to bring national attention to the bay area music scene, and to inspire other cities and states to follow their lead.
"It's all for the love of the music," O'Brien said.
Stephanie Bolling can be reached at (813) 226-3408 or [email protected]