Friday, January 19, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

After 35 years, WMNF suspending Tropical Heatwave festival in Ybor City

It's the end of an era in Ybor City.

Community radio station WMNF-88.5 FM is suspending its long-running Tropical Heatwave music festival, an eclectic event that for 35 years has brought hundreds of bands and thousands of music fans to the Cuban Club and other venues.

Blame an overcrowded music festival industry that has priced WMNF out of the game, said WMNF general manager Craig Kopp.

"The festival market is just too competitive," Kopp said Friday, a day after announcing the news to a group of some 40 station volunteers. "Bands that would be a couple of thousand dollars are now 10-, 15-, 20 thousand dollars because that's what they're paying for a third- or fourth-stage (performer) at a Bonnaroo or an Okeechobee. We can't afford to play. It's just too much money."

It's the second Tampa music festival to be canceled in 2016 due to competition from events like the Gasparilla Music Festival and Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival. The Big Guava Music Festival, a Live Nation-backed event at the Florida State Fairgrounds, also announced in January it was going on hiatus "due to an overabundance of returning and new festivals in Florida."

For Heatwave, Kopp said, the writing has been on the wall for several years.

"This station did it for a long time, and they did it strictly for fun, and a couple of times they made some good money," he said. "But when it gets to the festival level in the current competitive market, it's really not for us. We've got to find the next thing."

Since it was founded in 1982, Tropical Heatwave has brought such varied acts as Bo Diddley, Sun Ra, Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Alvin and the Hold Steady to Ybor City, in the process becoming one of Tampa Bay's signature music events. In many ways, it set the stage for events that followed, such as GMF in Curtis Hixon Park.

But once it no longer became the only game in town, Heatwave's fortunes sank — or at least fluctuated wildly. One year, Kopp said, the station lost $40,000.

This year, Heatwave took a huge hit when it left the Cuban Club for the first time ever, instead shifting to handful of clubs and stages in and around Ybor City in April (a move forced, in part, by the Cuban Club hosting an unrelated concert by the Alabama Shakes the night before). The station barely made money — "Enough to buy a crappy used car," Kopp said. Not enough to keep things running.

The news came as a shock to Tom DeGeorge, the owner of Crowbar, a regular Tropical Heatwave stage. The festival was always a strong night for his club — "the last big event before the slow summer months," he said — and this year's event was no different. DeGeorge couldn't believe station officials pulled the plug without first consulting him and other local partners.

"I really wish that they would've reached out to a few of the players that maybe could've done something to try to help out," said DeGeorge, who sits on the board of directors of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce. "It's something that's profitable for everybody, so if they weren't making money, and we needed to bend on certain things, I for one would've done something to try to help."

Kopp said there was no reason to inform the venues in advance.

"We absorbed all the costs of the shows" — about $100,000 per year, he said — "and so it really had to be our decision to make."

Cuban Club president Patrick Manteiga wasn't surprised, but was disappointed nonetheless.

"Any tradition that we lose in Tampa is a sad passing, whether it's Valencia Gardens closing or Tropical Heatwave boarding up or one of a hundred other things that have passed or faded away," he said. "I'm sure there were a lot of people who their one foray into Ybor each year was going to be Tropical Heatwave. Anytime you have those kinds of events, it's always good for Ybor."

Kopp emphasized that the station itself is doing fine, even gaining listeners over the past year. Its signal strength and programming remain strong, he said. And the station still does well sponsoring concerts at venues like Skipper's Smokehouse, including Sarah Jarosz and Parker Millsap on Sept. 29 and Cracker on Oct. 8. The station plans to keep the "Tropical Heatwave" brand alive in some form.

But after this year's lackluster Heatwave, many station employees were resigned to the fact that it might not return in 2017.

"For me and the rest of the people that were very involved, it's pretty emotional," said WMNF special events coordinator Linda Reisinger, who has been with the station since the beginning. "But it's time to venture out. We can't keep up with the big guys."

"The most painful part for the longtime volunteers and longtime listeners is that that's just been a part of their lives for 30 some years," he said. "To see people you don't see all year long? That's the hard part. Change is hard, but part of our responsibility is, it's not our radio station. It's the community's radio station, and the community is changing. And we want to change along with it."

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

   
Comments
SoundBytes: Fall Out Boy, Indigo Girls, Spin Doctors, Erasure and more

SoundBytes: Fall Out Boy, Indigo Girls, Spin Doctors, Erasure and more

— If you missed Fall Out Boy's Tampa concert last fall, they're coming to Orlando in September. They'll play the Amway Center with Machine Gun Kelly on Sept. 16. Click here.— Moon Taxi will join Fitz and the Tantrums on the bill for a fre...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

We're about a week out from the announcement of Live Nation's 2018 Country Megaticket, a multi-concert package that usually brings about a half-dozen acts to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. As such, country acts left and right are slipping ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

FORT LAUDERDALE — Rapper Kodak Black has been ordered held without bail in Florida on seven felony charges that include child neglect and drug possession.The Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested the 20-year-old rapper, whose real name is Dieuson Octave,...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Journey, Def Leppard coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

Journey, Def Leppard coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

Your radio is going on tour.At least, it'll feel that way when Journey and Def Leppard, two of the most-played, most popular classic rock groups of all time, team up for a summer co-headlining trek featuring an absolute cavalcade of hits: Don't Stop ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Gary Allan replaces DNCE as Florida Strawberry Festival’s opening night headliner

Gary Allan replaces DNCE as Florida Strawberry Festival’s opening night headliner

Got a concert crisis on your hands? Call Gary Allan.A couple of years ago, the country singer was a last-minute replacement for Kenny Rogers at Busch Gardens' Food and Wine Festival. Now he's doing the same favor for the Florida Strawberry Festival.N...
Published: 01/18/18
SoundBytes: Black Angels, Black Lips, Carbon Leaf, Ripe and more

SoundBytes: Black Angels, Black Lips, Carbon Leaf, Ripe and more

— Psych-rockers the Black Angels, above, and Black Lips are teaming up for a spring tour that'll hit the State Theatre on April 18. Click here for details.— Nathaniel Rateliff and the  Night Sweats are coming to Jannus Live on May 5 ...
Published: 01/17/18
Steve Martin, Martin Short talk about building their two-man show, surprising each other on stage and more

Steve Martin, Martin Short talk about building their two-man show, surprising each other on stage and more

It's barely been a year since Steve Martin and Martin Short last brought their roadshow to town. But there was never a doubt in their minds they'd be back."We thought — and I seriously mean this — we've got to play Florida more....
Published: 01/17/18
Dave Matthews Band coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

Dave Matthews Band coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

Just like that, the Dave Matthews Band is returning to Tampa, and all is right with the world.After a rare year off from touring, Dave and company are gearing up to get back on their regular summer road schedule, including a late-July stop at Tampa's...
Published: 01/17/18
Kid Rock to perform during NHL All-Star Game in Tampa

Kid Rock to perform during NHL All-Star Game in Tampa

The NHL has announced its first in-game performer for this month's NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, and it's a guy whose heart bleeds Red Wings red: Kid Rock.The Detroit rocker will perform during the second and third periods of the game on Jan. 28 at Ama...
Published: 01/17/18
Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

It’s barely been a year since Steve Martin and Martin Short last brought their roadshow to town. But there was never a doubt in their minds they’d be back."We thought — and I seriously mean this — we’ve got to play Florida more." Martin said in a pho...
Published: 01/17/18