Monday, November 20, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Big Guava Fest promises big changes from last year's Funshine Festival

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If you want to get under the skin of any Live Nation executive this weekend, all you have to do is utter one little word:

Funshine.

The concert promotions giant would probably rather you forget last year's inaugural Funshine Music Festival at the Florida State Fairgrounds. It's not that Funshine was a terrible event — cheap tickets, big-name bands, food trucks, carnival rides; what's not to like? — but it still fell well short of organizers' and fans' expectations. In the end, Funshine drew about half as many people as expected.

So in January, Live Nation unveiled plans for the revamped and renamed Big Guava Music Festival, which takes place Friday through Sunday at the Fairgrounds. The overall concept is more or less the same, but whereas Funshine was billed as a mainstream-friendly weekend event, Big Guava has been called Florida's answer to Coachella, the Southern California indie-rock spectacle held in April. Many of the same bands that played Coachella also are playing Big Guava, including reunited hip-hop duo Outkast in its only Florida concert.

It's a big, pricey gamble, but one that's already garnered national attention. If Big Guava is a success, drawing 40,000 to 60,000 people over the three-day weekend, officials say it could get even bigger in Year 3.

Before then, we've still got Big Guava, which aims to improve on Funshine in just about every way. Here are four tweaks you'll notice:

A more focused lineup

Live Nation Florida president Neil Jacobsen admits that in trying to be all things to all people, Funshine's lineup ended up falling flat. Train, REO Speedwagon, Josh Thompson and Smashing Pumpkins have all had nice careers, but none would be considered a big-name "get" to the hordes of 20- and 30-something fans who typically flock to multiday festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza.

In 2014, those fans are squarely in Big Guava's sights. "We doubled the budget, and as a result, they went out and found some acts that, quite honestly, are just mega-acts in that age demographic," said Chuck Pesano, executive director of the Florida State Fair Authority. That includes Outkast, the biggest band on this summer's festival circuit, which will be playing only its fourth show in the past decade.

More food, beer

One good thing about Funshine? Local food trucks provided the grub. Live Nation built upon this concept by adding a craft beer garden at November's inaugural Coastline Music Festival, a smaller indie-rock festival that served as something of a beta test for the new Big Guava. It was so popular that some vendors ran out. "We were astonished by the response we got," Jacobsen said. So this year, they're increasing the number of food trucks and expanding the beer selection.

Fewer rides

One of Funshine's signature elements was a midway featuring more than carnival rides included with admission. Fun idea, but it didn't really move tickets the way organizers had hoped. So this year, the rides and games are being scaled way back, from more than 60 to around 15. "We want it to be a music-intensive festival," Jacobsen said.

A smaller footprint

A side effect of that carnival midway was a sprawling festival footprint, which made it tough for fans to race from stage to stage between acts. This year there are fewer stages — four instead of six, with two at the Amphitheatre and two at the Fairgrounds. That means less legwork and, hopefully, fewer schedule conflicts.

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