After four years of eclectic indie rock, the Gasparilla Music Festival has found its soul.
Grammy-winning R&B star Erykah Badu leads the initial 2016 Gasparilla Music Festival lineup, unveiled Friday. She tops a diverse bill that also includes hip-hop legend Talib Kweli and veteran soul and funk singer Charles Bradley.
Other acts performing at the festival, March 12-13 at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa, include indie rockers Houndmouth and Blitzen Trapper; Americana outfits Greensky Bluegrass and the Whiskey Gentry; and electro-pop outfits MS MR and Savoy. Elsewhere on the bill, fans will find sounds ranging from jazz (Kermit Ruffins) to Cuban pop (Carlos Varela) to Afrobeat (Antibalas) to Cajun fusion (Sweet Crude) to children's music (Andrew and Polly).
"This is our fifth year, so that was a big goal of ours, to put that stamp down, accumulating what we've done the first four years and really trying to emphasize some of that eclectic diversity," said David Cox, GMF's executive director.
More acts will be added in the coming weeks, including at least one more headliner. In all, look for more than 50 bands across five stages — one more than in years past, with the addition of a new stage in MacDill Park along the Tampa Riverwalk.
"This is the first year that the Riverwalk is open, so we're making a big push to integrate the river more into the festival this year," Cox said. "We just think it's a great asset to the city, and we've been waiting for a few years to really start to integrate it."
GMF scored a coup with its Saturday night headliner, the enigmatic and at times controversial Badu, a four-time Grammy-winner with hits including On & On, Tyrone and You Got Me. In recent years she's dabbled in more experimental projects like last year's telecom-themed mixtape But You Caint Use My Phone.
"What we wanted to highlight this year, what GMF's done — in being diverse and fun and funky and eclectic — she's just the epitome of all that," Cox said. "She's truly an original artist, and that, to us, is exactly what we want people to think when they think of GMF."
The lineup once again includes a host of local notables playing GMF for the first time, including blues hero Damon Fowler, Latin fusionists Gumbi Ortiz and New Groove City, and hip-hop and reggae collective Gwan Massive. Also performing are unique local entities including the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Seminole Indoor Percussion Ensemble and the Dunedin Highland Middle School Pipe Band.
Other acts on the bill include David Wax Museum, New Breed Brass Band, Fruition, Resinated, DieAlps!, Serotonic, the Woolly Bushmen, Poetry 'n Lotion, the Ries Brothers, Samurai Shotgun, Jackson Davis and the Jackettes, Gritt and Mr. Tommy.
More eyes than usual might be on GMF this year following news that Tampa's other big indie rock festival, Big Guava, won't be returning in 2016.
But Cox said the festival has cultivated such a dedicated following over five years that fans snapped up all early-bird tickets even before a lineup was announced.
"That's one of the things that we are very proud about, that people trust that it's going to be fun, it's going be good, and we're going to put on the best user-friendly customer experience," Cox said. "That's what we come from, is a fans-first mentality."
Two-day tickets to the Gasparilla Music Festival are on sale now for $60. Saturday-only tickets are $40; Sunday tickets are $30. VIP tickets are $150 for the weekend, $100 for Saturday and $75 for Sunday.
For all the details on the 2016 Gasparilla Music Festival, see gasparillamusic.com.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.