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Rockin' the midway at inaugural Funshine Music Festival

The Smashing Pumpkins perform on stage during opening night of the Funshine Music Festival in Tampa.

LUIS SANTANA | Times

The Smashing Pumpkins perform on stage during opening night of the Funshine Music Festival in Tampa.

TAMPA — It was while I was on the skyride, zipping by my lonesome from one concert stage to another, floating in the glorious fat-fryer haze, when I totally fell hard for the inaugural Funshine Music Festival, an ambitious three-day smooshing of music, midway rides and food-truck delectables at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Behind me on Friday night boomed the gritty rock of Georgia band Dead Confederate; ahead of me was American Idol sensitive guy Phillip Phillips belting out massive hit Home. And there I was, caught in the middle of one funky skyride mashup.

Yeah, I like Funshine. I like it a lot.

We live in a land of endless music festivals, one after another. A cynical pop music critic can get a lil' wary about yet another fest showing up on his work schedule. But Funshine — $30 at the door gets you seven stages of pretty good bill of new and classic acts, better-than-normal rides, all of it ticketless and free-flowing — is a smart, unique idea.

Is there work to be done? Sure. Live Nation organizers should mix up the lineup a bit next year, maybe get some metal, some hiphop, a few women who rock. (No offense to REO Speedwagon and Styx, who are here tonight, but aren't they always here?)

Some of the smaller stages with the coolest bands, including incandescent L.A. kids Youngblood Hawke, had teeny crowds, so planners need to figure out how to disperse people better.

But still, this a great start. Herewith, a few thoughts, scenes and coaster-nerd musings from the first night of Funshine:

• Cheap Trick sorta-kinda kicked off Funshine with a loose, loud set in the Expo Hall, where — despite it basically being a barn — the acoustics were surprisingly crisp. Safety Harbor's own Robin Zander can still wail almighty, and constantly mugging guitarist Rick Nielsen's licks rang out clean and sharp. Alas, despite me staring at him intensely for 30 minutes like a psychopath, a sidestage Billy Corgan, whose Smashing Pumpkins were up next, did not join Cheap Trick for I Want You to Want Me" or Surrender. Boo!

• Intrepid TBT music writer and all-around swell guy Jay Cridlin reports that the longest walk from any of the stages is approximately six minutes, which is just about right if you want to catch as many acts as possible. Go to tampabay.com for a full rundown of today and Sunday's music plus tips for how to enjoy, and survive, Funshine. (Psst: Wear sneakers.)

• Okay, so I tried to watch some of Phillips' show on the Amphitheatre stage, but I got antsy. So I tried out "the largest portable steel roller coaster" in the country. It's wobbly and it's, um, PORTABLE, but it's also awesome. If you're like me and you have 18 kids (okay, fine, two daughters), you get tired of spending a fortune on fair rides. So I'm digging the ticketless thing.

• Kudos to organizers for ditching a lot of the cruddy fair food and bringing in a hipster caravan of food trucks, including the ubiquitous (but delicious) Taco Bus and something called Hott Mess, which serves a "bacon-wrapped deep fried hot dog."

• The biggest crowds showed up for Smashing Pumpkins in the Expo Hall and then Train in the Amphitheatre. (Final crowd tally was not available.) Corgan's Pumpkins, still a ferocious band, brought a massive pyramid light show, which made a cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity that much more mesmerizing. And Pat Monahan's Train drew about 10,000-12,000 for a tight show of such catchy bar-band hits as Drive By and Fifty Ways to Say Goodbye.

.if you go

Funshine Music Festival

The festival starts at 11 a.m. today and Sunday at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. Styx, Ted Nugent and REO Speedwagon headline today; Gary Allan, Kix Brooks and the Lone Bellow are part of the lineup Sunday. $25 per day ($30 at the gate), $15 children 6-12, under 5 free; includes unlimited rides on the midway. (813) 621-7821.

Rockin' the midway at inaugural Funshine Music Festival 05/03/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 11:39pm]
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