The Hold Steady has appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman, the Colbert Report and the covers of major music magazines. Movie stars have called the hard-rocking indie outfit their favorite band.
Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., the Hold Steady has found a second home that many other New Yorkers have found over the years. Florida. Specifically, Ybor City.
The connection between the band and Tampa's historic cigar district is strange, whimsical and nonsensical. But among fans, it's strong and will be on display Saturday night when the band returns to Ybor City to headline Guavaween, giving the annual Tampa Halloween tradition some major national cred from a band with pseudo local ties.
But what exactly are those ties if they aren't from here?
Who is the Hold Steady?
Formed in 2004, the Hold Steady consists of five members led by lead guitarist Tad Kubler and singer/spoken-wordist Craig Finn, whose bespectacled, bookish appearance belies an infectious, frenetic, smiling onstage preacher persona that's hard to take your eyes off.
The band is musically often compared to Bruce Springsteen's bands. Finn, however, is one of a kind with his staccato verses that exist somewhere between rap and rock, though he has evolved into more of a singer on later albums. The band released its fifth album in 2010, Heaven Is Whenever, which peaked on the the Billboard 200 chart at No. 26. The most famous song is arguable, though 2008's Stay Positive was featured on TV's Friday Night Lights.
What's Ybor got to do with this?
Well it started when "Ybor City" ended up in the band's lyrics on the last song of the first album. Then Tampa's entertainment district starred again on the next album. And again. And again.
People wondered why. Well, in several interviews, Finn has said he saw the historic cigarmaking district on a map and liked the way it sounded. In 2006, the band made its first tour stop in Ybor City at the now-defunct Masquerade. The room was smoky and the crowd was sparse, made up of mostly hard-core fans who had traveled just to see the band in the city referred to in songs.
What exactly does the band say about Ybor City?
Song: Most People are DJs
"Well hold steady, Ybor City. You're up to your neck in sweat wet confetti."
Song: Cattle and the Creeping Things
"Later on we did some sexy things, took a couple photographs and carved them into wood reliefs. But that's enough about me. Come on, tell me how you got down here into Ybor City."
Song: Killer Parties
"Ybor City is tres speedy but they throw such killer parties. Killer parties almost killed me … If she says we partied then I'm pretty sure we partied. I really don't remember. I remember we departed from our bodies. We woke up in Ybor City."
Song: Slapped Actress
"Don't tell my sister about your most recent vision. Don't tell my family they're all wicked strict Christians. Don't tell the hangers-on, don't tell your friends. Don't tell them we went down to Ybor City again. Don't tell the dancers, they'll just get distracted. Don't tell the DJs, they already suspect us. Don't mention the bloodshed, don't mention the skins. Don't tell them Ybor City almost killed us again."
How many times have they played in Ybor?
Besides the 2006 Masquerade show, they played a few months later in the old Orpheum and again for a packed house at the cavernous club Czar in 2008. In 2009, they played a free show at the Ritz Ybor. But then a strange thing happened.
In 2010, the band dissed Ybor and played not one but two shows in Orlando. Some fans — such as this one, who has attended every Ybor City Hold Steady show as well as a performance in Chicago — declined to make the short drive east on Interstate 4 and support the band. The band had, after all, spurned Ybor City.
But this year, they're making up for it by headlining the Halloween music fest in Ybor. Guavaween and the Hold Steady in Ybor City. Definitely a killer party.
Justin George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 226-3368 or Twitter @justingeorge.