If you've been to a local music festival lately, chances are good that concert promoter Sean O'Brien had a hand in it. O'Brien, 36, started Brokenmold Entertainment with Phil Benito about six years ago. Last month, they put on the Gasparilla Music Festival, drawing more than 9,000 fans. They also book Tampa's Tropical Heatwave and St. Petersburg's Antiwarpt Music Festival. Last year, they revamped Guavaween as a music festival at the request of the Ybor Chamber of Commerce, scoring bands like Ybor-loving the Hold Steady but drawing a lower turnout than expected. Brokenmold still puts on regular shows, with O'Brien recently announcing two of their biggest names yet in rapper Ghostface Killah and Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy. Times staff writer Jimmy Geurts talked with O'Brien about shows he has put on and his experiences.
What was your involvement with Gasparilla Music Festival?
Phil is on the board. He's the vice president of the board of GMF. Essentially, we book all the talent for the show, and our design guy Brad Askew designed the logo and all the signage. We kind of run the show — the backstage production area. We get all the people who set up the stage, run the sound, all the different runners and the people taking care of the bands.
How gratifying is it to see how big the festival's become?
Oh, it's amazing, us having grown up here. I got here when I was 13, and Phil's lifelong. To just see all our old friends that never go to our smaller shows because they have kids, or our older relatives all together in place, having a great time. It's kind of like throwing a huge party that all your friends get to come to.
It's been great for the city. The board's been great with using all the local restaurants and vendors and everything. It's just something that really is a good showcase for the city itself.
What was it like to see Antiwarpt, which started off almost as a joke, to what it has become now?
It's been really gratifying. That's been another thing where we see the whole music community come together. Everybody's out there, there's a bunch of bands enjoying other bands' sets. There was a little article in Vice where they mentioned us as one of the great things about the Florida music scene, which is pretty awesome.
It's been gratifying to see all these things grow from this little thing. The first Antiwarpt, like you said, was a fun little thing and we had about 700 people show up to that. Last year, we had over 3,500. The same with GMF, we had no expectation on how many people would show up. Within two years, we have over 9,400 people show up to that.
You were also asked to do Guavaween last year. What were your feelings on that?
It was a weird situation because we were brought into it really late. We had months essentially to totally revamp a 26-year-old festival. We were amazed with who we were able to still get in that time. With Antiwarpt and GMF, we usually book six months in advance. And with something this size, to only have a little less than two months to do it was quite an undertaking.
The attendance wasn't where the chamber was hoping it would be. For a first-year, totally different thing with no parade, I was happy with it. There were good crowds in a lot of the rooms, and everybody was thanking us.
Guavaween started getting a bad name violence-wise and to all the people in the community itself in Ybor. There were only three arrests last year. It's usually in the high 20s. All the restaurants did great business. They usually do no business because the vendors are out on the streets selling corn dogs and beer, so a lot of the bars don't do good. This year they all did great.
What was the process of getting Ghostface Killah and Peter Murphy, two very big but very different acts you announced within days of each other?
The Ghostface Killah thing spawned from Adrian Younge, who's touring with him. We had him at Antiwarpt last year and also at Guavaween. He had been telling us at Antiwarpt, 'By the way, I've got something pretty crazy I'm about to start doing. I can't talk about it now, but I'll tell you soon.'
When Guavaween came around, he told us about the Ghostface thing and we were like, "Man, you got to tell us if you end up touring with that; we want to do it really bad." When it came around, he was a man of his word. He had his agent call us and luckily we're the only Florida date for it, so we're really excited because they weren't planning on doing Florida at all.
Peter Murphy, we're actually doing with a friend of ours that has a similar promotion company in Gainesville. We'd been working on that forever with him and it just happened to coincide. He gave us the go-ahead the same day we got the go-ahead for Ghostface. It's rare that you get that day that you get two big shows in one.
What's your favorite concert that you've ever put on?
The festivals are what excite me the most, but a single show, I'd have to say either one of our Bright Light Social Hour shows at the Hub were pretty awesome. The Hub wasn't known as a music venue, and we started doing a lot of shows there and it's our favorite Tampa watering hole. To see a big, fun band like Bright Light with the Hub packed wall to wall with people dancing and getting crazy is pretty cool.
Since you've started, how would you say Tampa Bay's music scene has changed?
I'd have to say there just seems to be more and more people getting involved, which is exciting. There's more shows going on. When we started doing Brokenmold, part of the reason we were doing it because there wasn't as much stuff going on. If there was a band we wanted to see and they weren't coming to town, we were like, "Let's see if we can have them come to town."
Now there seems there's just more and more stuff going on. There's tons of great music for free, even — the Rock the Park events, and New World Brewery does the free BBQ Tuesdays. Almost every day there's somewhere you can go see good music now, it seems, and that's great. And there's people that want to go see it.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.