Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

St. Petersburg's Whigfest expands with more music, art

Tony Casoria tosses around the names of festivals like Burning Man, Bonnaroo and South By Southwest when talking about Whigfest, the music and arts festival he's co-organizing this weekend in and around Jannus Live.

It's lofty thinking. But the way he sees it, the spark is there.

At last year's inaugural Whigfest, some people took the name to heart and, without prompting, actually dressed up in period costume from the 1700s. Casoria said bartenders at the bar he co-owns, Mandarin Hide, will do the same this year.

"If you were a Whig back in the day, you were a badass, you were a rebel, you were a revolutionary," Casoria said. "Whigfest felt like a natural fit for the type of party we were having, and the type of vibe we were trying to do."

Whigfest organizers are doubling down in Year 2, expanding the festivals to two days, Saturday and Sunday, and bringing in some 50 indie rock bands, including national headliners Surfer Blood and Pinback and a top-notch lineup of locals. But they're adamant about not toning down Whigfest's whimsical, artistic attitude.

"St. Pete's very quirky, and so I'm trying to make art a big part of it, give it that self-expression element," Casoria said. That means making art and theatricality as big a part of the festival as the music, with art displayed around the festival grounds and live art demos taking place on the Jannus Live stage.

"Music's why everybody comes to these things, but I'm really connected to the art scene, and St. Pete has got such phenomenal artists, I wanted to make it a true arts festival," Casoria said. "A lot of festivals say they're about art, but I want to make the art as loud as the music."

That extends to the festival's branding. Last year's poster and graphics were created by St. Petersburg's Pale Horse Design; this year's, Bask. They already have a well-known local artist lined up for Year 3.

Casoria and Whigfest co-organizer Kevin Lilly have been building toward an event like this for years. In 2012, Lilly organized the Backline Music Festival with Tonic in St. Pete's Williams Park. The pair now co-run the St. Petersburg label Attic Records, as well as Rock Brothers Brewing, which has produced local band-themed beers.

Last year's event was almost entirely local, but this year they increased the band budget to boost their profile. "I think the top eight bands this year are bigger than the biggest band last year," Casoria said.

Whigfest is centered in a relatively compact footprint. There are two stages in the Jannus Live courtyard, and three more accessible only from the courtyard — Ringside Café, MacDinton's and Mandarin Hide. But if all goes as planned, Whigfest could expand to Williams Park in the next year or two.

"I want it to be a festival like South By Southwest, where people come in from all around the country, and there are 20,000 tickets," Casoria said. "We're trying to make this thing as big as it can get as quickly as possible, with responsible growth.

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