'Twas the night before Gasparilla Music Fest, and all through downtown Tampa the GMF buzz could already be heard. The main stage at Curtis Hixon pulsated with anxious lighting and sound checks, lasers from the stage already illuminating the surrounding condos. Wayne Coyne, of the Flaming Lips, and the huge GMF crew were already at the park preparing for the festival that was mere hours away. The psychedelic visionary himself, Coyne, who has inspired a plethora of indie artists, wandered around Curtis Hixon in a puffy jacket to evaluate the new lighting system for Saturday's show. I could actually feel the creative energy blossoming in the park that chilly Friday night, and I could tell the weekend ahead was going to be good.
Saturday the sun was hot, and for the first time in a while it felt like summer wasn't too far away. People moved in constant flow from the food to the main stage to the stages at Kiley Garden. A quick walk by the river led us to an insanely entertaining and high-energy set by Those Darlins. Jessi Zazu's high-pitched Southern twang wooed the crowd, and her intense eye contact made anyone watching feel a direct connection with the angsty Nashville native. The crowd progressively grew throughout the set, the girl power rock-and-roll vibes unabashedly addictive.
Delta Spirit jammed and turned up the crowd's energy level, but most festivalgoers found themselves torn between Delta Spirit and RJD2's set. I chose a nice dose of both, joining the RJD2 crowd just in time for the infamous song A Beautiful Mine, also known as the theme song for Mad Men. The crowd grooved along with Ramble John Krohn and his four turntables, as a flock of colorfully lit hula hoopers twirled along to the electronic R&B beats.
The Flaming Lips set proved a visual spectacle as much as an aural one. Coyne kicked off the set creepily cuddling a prop baby, even though I'll admit I was worried for the first 30 seconds that it was real. The show was thoughtful, a slow-motion version of the high-energy, fast-paced display I had heard stories about and was expecting. There were moments when the lights would trip and the song's pace would be so slow that I thought for a split second Coyne had somehow entranced Tampa into some odd flashing female-genital-sprinkled vortex of sound and light. But, just as Tampa was hypnotized, Coyne would pull the crowd out with "c'mon Tampa!" and reality was established again. Though the set closed without the expected encore, no need to dwell on an awkward ending when the rest of the set was meticulously executed.
Sunday was just as crowded, dispelling worries about attendance on the second day. Families frolicked around the park. NPR favorite Jason Isbell drew a huge crowd and delivered a set that could be absorbed and enjoyed easily, unlike the mind-tripping Lips set the night before.
Troy Andrews, a.k.a. Trombone Shorty, flashed his dreamy smile in between smooth vocals and powerful trombone and trumpet playing, breaking the stereotype that New Orleans trombone players have to be over 50 and sport pot bellies. Every song the band played could be danced along to. Trombone Shorty closed the festival with a bang: The collaborative drum solo at the end of the set resonated with seemingly every audience member. I seriously don't remember seeing one person who wasn't dancing to the N'awlins groove in some form.
As expected, Gasparilla Music Festival was two days of wide-ranging aesthetics and fun, curated for almost any demographic and interest. With the success of this year's diverse lineup and community collaboration, Gasparilla Music Festival ended with a guarantee that it isn't done growing.