Travelers expecting to zip off of Tampa International Airport's inter-terminal tram and zoom down to baggage claim experienced something unexpected one Friday night in October.
Swing dancers jumped and jived as local power-lounge quintet the Vodkanauts played a live set — stage and all — in between gates A and C in the airport's main terminal.
Lead singer Jonathan Harrison waved at bedraggled passers-by and in between lyrics reminded them where they were.
"Welcome to Tampa," he offered.
That night, organizers say, they felt the start of something big.
The Friday Flight concert series is the brainchild of airport CEO Joe Lopano, said Kari Goetz, the airport's marketing director. "He wanted to bring back that idea that we are the community's airport," Goetz said. A month later, the airport was back at it with the band John Q and local hula hooping troupe the Hula Monsters.
On Friday, TIA brings retro country group the Sara Rose Band for the airport's first hootenanny, replete with line dancing, cowboy boots and yee-haws.
Guitarist Mark Warren said the gig wasn't a hard sell for his Sara Rose bandmates since he's already played Friday Flight with his other band, the Vodkanauts.
"It's kind of awesome," said the 45-year-old manager of Skipper's Smokehouse. "You got to see the play of emotions as people got off the monorail. It went from surprise to intrigue to joy, and then they were taking out their smartphones and snapping pictures."
Warren even spotted a few patrons coming over to have a drink and relax before heading to baggage claim.
Goetz said a couple that came in on a direct flight from England on British Airways actually put down their luggage and swing-danced, to the amazement of the crowd.
"They went out there and blew everyone's minds," she said. "We applauded, they smiled and nodded and went to baggage. It was very 'Welcome to Tampa.' "
But the party isn't exclusively for travelers.
The concerts are held in the public area before security checks for tickets. Airport officials envision a future where people come to hang out at the airport on Friday night just as they would in Ybor City.
Other major airports, such as Nashville International and Austin-Bergstrom International in Texas have long embraced their local live music scenes. Austin's concert series happens daily for ticketed passengers, and anyone can catch shows in Nashville as a part of the Arts in the Airport program founded in 1988. Nashville maintains four stages — one outside security — and hosts 125 performances a year, said Emily Richard, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority.
"We are Music City, and we definitely take that seriously," she said. "We're excited that other cities are embracing music and the arts experience in airports. We take that as a form of flattery."
Goetz said those programs offer inspiration, but Tampa's approach will be uniquely Tampa. "The biggest challenge for us is trying to keep it to scale. We have to rein ourselves in sometimes. A petting zoo just wouldn't be good for an airport terminal, but we have thought about that," she laughed.
There will be no petting zoo Friday night from 5 to 7 p.m., but for those willing to party somewhere different, Warren promises a good time.
"We'll be doing honky-tonk pre-1978: Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Lynn Anderson — the cool stuff," he said. "If you're not a country fan, you'll say to yourself, 'But I knew every damn song they played.' "