Back 40 Fest brings live music to Little Manatee River State Park

Back 40 will bring visitors to little-known Little Manatee River State Park Saturday.
This festival is “so much closer to us, which is really nice,” says Dean Johanesen. LUIS SANTANA  |   Times
This festival is “so much closer to us, which is really nice,” says Dean Johanesen.LUIS SANTANA | Times
Published October 9 2013
Updated October 9 2013


From Antiwarpt to Blues Fest to Coastline Festival, there's been no shortage of Tampa Bay music festivals in recent years.

But an all-day music festival in Wimauma? That's a little more unusual.

The inaugural Back 40 Music Festival will be held Saturday at Little Manatee River State Park. Gates open at 10 a.m., local musicians perform until 11 p.m. and concertgoers can camp overnight. All proceeds benefit Friends of Little Manatee River.

Park manager and festival coordinator Christy Burch said she hopes Back 40 makes people more aware of, and more likely to visit, the park.

"Our goal is to increase access, and hopefully increase visitation … Our park in the past has been an underutilized park," she said.

Burch is also a fan of music festivals. And besides WMNF's Little Manatee River Jam, which is held by the river's canoe outpost, she said there weren't many options for SouthShore residents.

The event will be held in the park's equestrian parking area. And like a smaller-scale, more local version of Coastline Festival, a daylong concert scheduled for November at the Mid-Florida Credit Union Amphitheatre, it will feature a combination of music, food trucks and vendors.

The food will be provided by Suncoast Food Trucks, which has barbecue, ice cream, pretzel and wrap trucks, Burch said. There will also be vendors and exhibitors such as Camp Bayou. The musicians will perform on a stage on loan from the Florida Folk Festival held at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park.

One of those performers will be Bradenton singer-songwriter and 2013 tbt* Ultimate Local Artist Dean Johanesen. The musician has played several outdoor festivals including Orange Blossom Jamboree, Suwannee and Little Manatee River Jam, which he said offer a nice respite from his typical shows.

"I do a lot of three-hour gigs, and I kind of like the showcase gigs where you can play 45 minutes and also take in music from bands you haven't heard of yet," Johanesen said. "So that part's really enjoyable to me."

Having played Little Manatee River Jam, Johanesen said the area's appeal is a similar environment to Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, but not several hours away.

"With going to Springfest and Magnolia Fest, you have to drive all the way to Live Oak for that kind of a setting," he said. "This one's so much closer to us, which is really nice."

Burch hopes attendees want to visit again after seeing the concert and sleeping over, with campsites that include electric, water and picnic tables. She said there wasn't a lot of the promotion of the park in past years.

"I think people just didn't know about it," Burch said.

She said they've tried to increase awareness of the park lately. It was a host location for the Real Florida Run Series, and they've started offering after-hours events like owl prowls.

And one of the long-term goals, Burch said, is to make Back 40 a multiday music festival.

Jimmy Geurts can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3402.

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