In eight years on the Tampa Bay music beat, I'm not sure I've seen such a glut of bold-facers lined up and eager to gobble your ticket money. The 2013 concert schedule is already silly with megastars — Taylor, Rihanna, Pink, Muse — and there are still swaths of calendar yet to be filled. It's further proof that our shores are still the ultimate, and most reliable, music destination in Florida. And when big albums and resultant tours just happen to compete at the same time, we benefit in a big way. And to think, the summer concert slate has yet to be announced, and there's still too much to choose from. ∑ So let me help a bit. Herewith, 13 for '13, the most interesting shows, from the intimate to the arena-sized, on the docket thus far. Plus, because it's crowded out there, we have 13 more concerts. Hint: BIEBER ALERT!
NATALIE MERCHANT Ruth Eckerd Hall | Jan. 18
When I interviewed the former 10,000 Maniacs songbird a few years ago — she was predictably intimidating but ultimately charming — the mercurial mom hinted that she might stop touring for a spell, or maybe altogether. That hasn't happened, but who knows? Merchant, 49, will bring with her a full symphony and a robust setlist sprinkled with Maniacal faves (These Are Days, Verdi Cries), solo gems (Wonder, Kind and Generous) and cuts from 2010's children's album (but not really) Leave Your Sleep. [$35-$75. (727) 791-7400]
MERLE HAGGARD Mahaffey Theater | Feb. 8
At the impressionable age of 17, I spent a summer in Norway, staying with a middle-class family (and their free-spirited blond daughter). Although it was 1987, the most prominent song I heard that summer was Haggard's 1969 hit Okie From Muskogee, featured on the soundtrack for 1986 movie Platoon. The song is satirical, a smirky shot at Vietnam War protesters. The Norwegians didn't get that, but no matter: To them, ol' Hag was the epitome of cool. At the age of 75, the man still is. Catch the legend while you can. [$39.50-$89.50. (727) 892-5798]
GRACE POTTER AND THE NOCTURNALS Jannus Live | Feb. 15
Vermont's Potter can sing, she can vamp and she proudly struts the most prominent pop legs since Tina Turner. Her most popular contribution has been as Kenny Chesney's duet partner on funny-but-true ballad You and Tequila. But her own sound is a mix of Janis Joplin holler and ZZ Top grind. It's hot stuff. [$25 advance, $30 day of show. (727) 565-0551]
FISHBONE State Theatre | Feb. 15
Ask me my five fave LPs of all time, and depending on the day, Fishbone's 1988 masterpiece Truth and Soul just might make the list. (U2's Achtung Baby always makes the list. Just sayin'.) From the funkin' cover of Curtis Mayfield's Freddie's Dead to the raucous ska thrust of Bonin' in the Boneyard, the pretty much perfect album rambunctiously captured the eclectic facets of the L.A. band. Frontman Angelo Moore is a sax-blowing, cane-twirling carnival barker, and guitarist Rocky George brings metal vibe to the R&B. [$10 in advance, $12 at the door. (727) 906-0811]
MUSE Tampa Bay Times Forum Feb. 23
Matthew Bellamy and the British brainiacs in Muse have lost a bit of the "Next U2" oomph they were riding after 2009 album The Resistance and Queen-sized hit Uprising made them mondo stars. But 2012's The 2nd Law still debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, and this year's arena-specific headlining tour could finally vault them into the next level of music superstars. Expect all manner of over-the-top theatrics and paranoid (but catchy!) lyrics. [$32.25-$62.25. (813) 301-2500]
PINK Tampa Bay Times Forum Feb. 27
It was only a few short years ago that Pink was, well, Ke$ha. A hard-partying girl who either had legit talent or merely a well-connected publicist. But as it turns out, Alecia Moore, now 33 and a mommy, had the goods, and then some, to stick around. She can play a little, she can write a lot, and she can sell a thoughtful ballad (Family Portrait) as well as a hard-charging rocker (Trouble, So What). Personally, I'd prefer less of her Cirque du Soleil high-wire shtick, but hey, she's a party-starter and a thrill-seeker. I'm a wimp and a fan. [$36.75-$96.75. (813) 301-2500]
BON JOVI Tampa Bay Times Forum | March 1
When it comes to the Garden State's Bad Medicine boys, there's either something wrong with me — or something seriously wrong with you. I'm not crazy about them; a lot of you flat-out love them. I'm willing to take the hit on this one, that my elitist inability to enjoy Jon and Richie (and Tico Torres and his goofy oversized drummer gloves) is actually some great snobbo failing on my part. I'd rather skinny-dip at Gatorland than hear Wanted Dead or Alive one more time. So: Who out there wants to review the show for me? [$16.75-$136.75. (813) 301-2500]
BLAKE SHELTON Florida Strawberry Festival | March 10
If an opening act wants to vault into the Big Time, at some point, at some show, they're going to have to play a headliner off the stage. It happened last year when opener Luke Bryan set the table a little too well for Jason Aldean at the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre in Tampa. The year before that? Opener Blake Shelton absolutely crushed Brad Paisley in the same spot. The Voice hunk is bigger than that now, yet he's still humble enough to take a homespun gig like the Strawberry Fest. This one's going to sell out, and sell out fast. But Blake is worth it. I'll see you there for sure. [Gate admission: Before Feb. 27: $8; at the gate: $10. Reserved Shelton tickets: $55. (813) 752-9194]
LADY GAGA Tampa Bay Times Forum | March 13
Gaga plans on dropping a new album, ARTPOP, sometime this year. Her Little Monsters will eat up anything she does, but it will be interesting to see if casual fans (a.k.a. the rest of us) still have a rabid interest in the Born This Way iconoclast. Same goes with a pricey concert ticket. When Gaga was last here in April 2011, her appearance made the front page of the Tampa Bay Times. (That doesn't happen very often.) Is she still big enough, and buzzworthy enough, to score the same real estate? Gaga's next act will be one of the more intriguing pop-culture stories of 2013. [$49.50-$175. (813) 301-2500]
KENNY CHESNEY AND ERIC CHURCH Raymond James Stadium | March 16
Is there a more perfect party song than Church's Drink in My Hand? And how loud is that sing-along going to be at RayJay?! No offense to "King of Summer" Chesney, but for the first time in his supersized summer-tour schedule, the wee troubadour is in serious trouble of being upstaged by his opening act. A genuine blue-collar bard from Granite Falls, N.C., the 35-year-old Church is the hottest thing around, and with good reason. His 2011 album Chief was a smash, with ballad Springsteen and the heavy Creepin' supporting the life-affirming Drink in My Hand. [$25-$250. (813) 350-6500]
ROGER HODGSON Ruth Eckerd Hall | March 22
Don't you dare scratch your head at this one. Hodgson, once the creative guru behind the tremendously underrated Supertramp, will once again be having Breakfast in America in, like, America! And this time, he'll be backed by a rock symphony. Art-pop classics such as The Logical Song and Take the Long Way Home (the latter sounding as fresh today as it did when it was first released in 1979) will now be even more over-the-top in attack. Seriously, my pulse doubled as a I wrote this. Awesome to the nth power! [$49-$69. (727) 791-7400]
RIHANNA Tampa Bay Times Forum | April 19
When's the last time the Tampa Bay Times Forum had a back-to-back, Friday-Saturday one-two punch like this one? You can start your weekend with Ri-Ri, who has compiled a ridiculous streak of hits (most recently, We Found Love, Where Have You Been and Diamonds) and just as much suspect press for her continued relationship with the man who once abused her, Chris Brown. Rihanna is the all-time leader in digital-singles sales, so even though we endlessly, ubiquitously get her for free on the radio, we still buy her product too. But what about when it comes to concert tickets? This can be a fickle town for R&B shows. [$36.75-$122.75. (813) 301-2500] What we are not fickle for is the next night's performer . . .
TAYLOR SWIFT Tampa Bay Times Forum | April 20
All this 23-year-old does is break records. The latest one? Album Red became the fastest-selling album in more than a decade, moving 1.2 million copies in its first week alone. With the music biz in disarray, that's almost an impossible feat — even more so when you consider the album is a rock- and pop-infused departure from her rootsier, more country-based earlier work. But hey, Swift is as talented as she is popular. As a result, her Tampa Bay show (with Dylan-esque opening act Ed Sheeran) sold out almost instantly. But hey, there's always a chance they could add more seats.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.