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Tampa's Big Guava Music Festival won't return in 2016

Fans waiting on a lineup announcement for the 2016 Big Guava Music Festival are in for a long wait.

After three years in Tampa, the huge indie rock festival at the Florida State Fairgrounds is taking a year off, according to organizers Live Nation.

"Due to an overabundance of returning and new festivals in Florida in 2016, Live Nation has elected to take this year off with the Big Guava Festival in Tampa," the concert promotions giant said in a statement provided by David Harb, general manager of the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre.

While Live Nation is leaving the door open for a future relaunch, it's still a blow to the company's festival strategy in Florida.

Big Guava is the second of three Live Nation festivals launched in 2013 to bite the dust, following Tampa's Coastline/Coral Skies Music Festival last year. Only the Sunshine Music Festival, a jam- and blues-centric event that returns to St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park on Saturday, is still around.

But Big Guava, a multi-day fest that had Coachella-like aspirations yet struggled to stand out in North America's crowded mid-tier festival market, was Live Nation's biggest gamble. That it won't return in May will be tough news to tens of thousands of Tampa Bay music fans.

"It's kind of disappointing that they're taking a year off," David Cox, executive director of the Gasparilla Music Festival. "Our perspective has always been, the rising tide floats all the boats, so to speak. We just thought, if those guys are putting on a festival and can bring all those bands in, that's just great for Tampa."

The event launched in 2013 as the Funshine Music Festival, which promised a combination of food trucks, carnival rides and an odd mishmash of music — classic rock (Ted Nugent, R.E.O. Speedwagon), radio rock (Train, Smashing Pumpkins, the Wallflowers) and country (Josh Thompson, Gary Allan).

In 2014, the event rebranded as Big Guava, with a more focused lineup aimed at younger indie rock fans, including headliners like Outkast, Vampire Weekend and Foster the People. But cold and rainy weather, particularly on Outkast's opening night, had a brutal effect on attendance. Organizers were hoping for a crowd of 40,000 to 60,000 over three days; the actual total ended up closer to 20,000.

Last year, Live Nation cut Big Guava from three days to two, yet booked arguably its strongest lineup to date — the Strokes, the Pixies, Pretty Lights, Hozier, Ryan Adams, Run the Jewels, James Blake and many more. Daily attendance improved, but apparently not enough.

The company never publicly said how much it spent on infrastructure, marketing and talent for Big Guava, but it was a significant sum. "They have a much bigger budget than we do," Cox said.

Live Nation still has a stake in two other Florida festivals — Miami's South Beach Comedy Festival and Live Oak's Wanee Music Festival, both scheduled for April.

One big factor in Big Guava's decision to sit out 2016 may be the impending launch of the Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival, a major new event on a campground in South Florida. That event, scheduled for March 3-6, has booked a deep roster of talent, including Mumford and Sons, Kendrick Lamar, Robert Plant and Skrillex.

"My reaction is (Big Guava) wasn't the success that they had hoped for the first few years, and Okeechobee made an impact in the market," said Mike Childs of Ledge Entertainment, which created the original Coastline with Live Nation, and whose local event roster also includes 98 Rockfest and the Mix 100.7 Mistletoe Show.

But like Big Guava, Okeechobee is no guaranteed success, either. Despite the festival industry's massive growth worldwide, Florida has proven an oddly resistant marketplace for new entries. The past five years have seen several high-profile events come and go, including Orlando Calling (2011), Pensacola Beach's DeLuna Fest (2010-2012), Live Oak's Bear Creek Music Festival (2007-2014) and South Florida's Langerado Music Festival (2003-2009, with a planned 2011 relaunch scrapped due to poor ticket sales).

The Gasparilla Music Festival, launched in 2012, is one of the state's most successful new fests, and will enter spring as Tampa's premiere indie rock event. But that doesn't mean organizers are cheering the fall of the deeper-pocketed Big Guava.

"More stuff for people to do in Tampa is great," said Cox, "particularly with music."

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Tampa's Big Guava Music Festival won't return in 2016 01/14/16 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2016 4:15pm]
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