TAMPA — To really make a music festival special, to make that sucker stick around for a while, you need moments, a lil' magic sprouting up among all the tunes and food trucks and Ferris wheels and slouchy kids with cue ball-sized holes in their lobes. It would also help if it stopped raining fer cryin' out loud.
At 9:18 p.m. Friday, the inaugural Big Guava Music Festival at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre caught a dry, delirious break.
Those sparring ATLiens in hip-hop duo OutKast, making nice for their 20th anniversary of sonic lunacy, appeared on the main stage. The daylong downpour had been a buzzkill; the first night of the three-day Big Guava needed oomph. Enter the Hey Ya! kids: Big Boi, who packs the wallop, and Andre 3000, who packs the weird, were tucked inside a glowing diaphanous Stankonia pyramid. (Listen, I'm on a roll here. I can't stop and explain everything, okay?)
When OutKast bazooka'd into opening number B.O.B., a rock song and a rap song and a dance song and something not unlike Wilson Pickett's Land of 1,000 Dances, the crowd went head-swiveling bonkers, 10,000 hands in the air, strobe lights illuminating finally drying faces. It's one of the most uplifting things I've ever witnessed in this venue. And it happened at Big Guava, no longer the Big Soggy. Lo and behold: moments, magic.
Last year, Live Nation experimented with a similar fest, something called Funshine. Train was here, an earnest dude from American Idol, too. Nice — but just nice. This year, instead of backing away from comparisons to Coachella (the nation's best fest) and playing it safe, Big Guava has embraced the challenge, booking uber-cool alt-rock and hip-hop bands, all mixed equally on four stages over three days.
Give Live Nation credit for trying to build Coachella East. It could happen. You never know. After all, Friday certainly had myriad highlights:
• Call her Kid Rockette. Or Gwen Stefani's evil twin. Alexis Krauss led Brooklyn noise-pop band Sleigh Bells with all parts sex, savagery and soothing coo, charging through the song Bitter Rivals like a Beastie Girl as partner Derek Miller needled out sharp guitar riffs, trying to draw blood. It was controlled chaos, a beautiful booming racket. Plus, in a nice accidental ad for Big Guava's mix-and-match mission, Krauss looked down at one point and said: "I can actually see OutKast's set list. I'm stepping on it right now. Sorry, Andre!"
• Live Nation is touting a smarter layout this year, with the four stages closer together and better situated for crowd flow. Rapper Vic Mensa played on one of the outdoor stages (the Orchard Stage, to be exact); his neon-lovely backdrop was the carnival midway (the Himalaya, to be exact). Nice touch there.
• Jay Cridlin, the tireless, if damp, music critic from tbt* and our SoundCheck blog, was pretty much on site when the doors opened. As I huddled somewhere warm and dry, Jay was out among Mother Nature's fury. Here are some of his ramblings from the (muddy) field: "Downpour early, but some 200 fans were here for opening act Betty Who ... Confusion about Orchard Stage — NONONO canceled, never got an official reason ... As rain slowed, midway rides started working again ... I thought Twenty One Pilots did pretty well; their drummer took his kit out on a plank over crowd to drum-surf."
Vampire Weekend (great get!) and Foster the People will headline today and tomorrow, respectively. Let me know what you think of the whole shebang. I don't expect another diaphanous Stankonia pyramid to appear, but hey, I'm sure the folks behind Big Guava would love to have one.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.