How St. Pete’s Reggae Rise Up festival became one of the biggest in the country

Published March 13

When you think reggae music, one city naturally comes to mind: Salt Lake City, Utah.

No, seriously, it makes sense if you think about it, said Vaughn Carrick.

"It really kind of fits," said the 33-year-old founder of the Reggae Rise Up festival. "In lieu of the surfers, we have the snow and the snowboarders. Being outdoorsy really fits well with the culture and the demographic out there."

It also fits in well in St. Petersburg. This weekend, Reggae Rise Up will stage its fourth local festival in Vinoy Park, expanding for the first time to three days, and expecting up to 10,000 fans daily. If its not already the largest reggae and reggae-rock festival east of the Mississippi, Carrick believes it soon will be.

"I say this very humbly, but I think we are the festival on the East Coast," said Carrick, whose company, Live Nite Events, has staged reggae festivals in Utah for the past eight years. "Theres not not that I know of anything anywhere close to it."

Before Reggae Rise Up brings headliners Rebelution, SOJA and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley to Vinoy Park, Carrick talked about how its evolved over the years.

How did Tampa Bay become the East Coast home for Reggae Rise Up?

I was actually dating a girl in Florida, and so I spent a lot of time there. As I was there, I picked up a little bit of the culture, and felt there was a void there in the reggae world, and thought that we could fill that.

When did you get a sense that this was a pretty strong market for reggae and reggae-rock?

Around the same time, 2013 or 2014. It was pretty specific to Tampa and St. Pete, just watching a lot of tours going through, some of them selling out Jannus on back-to-back nights. So we hopped on in there.

All the subgenres of reggae and reggae rock all the fan bases tend to get along?

Yeah, I think so. You do have your diehard traditional reggae fans, who are, I think, transitioning into some of the surf-rock stuff. But weve done a good job of really mixing those genres so if they are only into the traditional stuff, its still worth it to come for the weekend. And vice versa, if the surf-rock side doesnt want to get involved in the traditional stuff, they can still get what they need.

What was involved in the decision to take Reggae Rise Up to three days?

Its always been part of the plan. We really wanted to make it a destination event so people could come and get the music they wanted, they could come down to Florida, or if they were already in Florida, just come and enjoy it. Theres an event out in California called California Roots that we consider our competitors, and weve always wanted to create that on the other side of the country.

You mentioned Jannus Live, which I know is a target on the tour schedule for a lot of these bands. But what else struck you about the appetite for this music here in general?

I think its just the community aspect of it. I just could see how people come together. Theyre able to just let loose (from their) everyday work schedule and life as a whole, and kind of leave it behind and show up and have a good time. Not to say that we dont see that out in Utah, but it just seems like its so much more out there. Its a much stronger pull.

It seems like bands know this is going to be a good market when they come to Florida. That must be something you dont have to sell them on.

Yeah, I definitely had to sell it a lot more in Utah. Not anymore, as weve established ourselves. But Florida is much, much easier. People want to come down there. When were there, its normally pretty chilly across the country, and here, we go down to Florida and can be at Vinoy Park on the water and enjoy some sunshine and good music.

Youve said you could have up to 10,000 a day. How big do you see it getting?

Obviously wed love to continue to grow, but we want to do it in a manner that still allows the overall consumer experience to still be proper. So well see. I think this year will be that moment where we decide if were going to keep it at 10,000 a day or if well go up to 12. I think the most wed want to go up to is 12,000 a day.

Could you see it moving to another site in the Tampa Bay area?

I dont think so. I think thats where we hope to stay. It just fits. We love working with the city of St. Pete, and a lot of the hotels and businesses have become extended family of ours. Wed like to keep it there if we can.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.