John Paul Pitts knows what it's like to grow up an indie rock fan in Florida.
He's driven to Atlanta for concerts. He's road-tripped to festivals like Harvest of Hope in St. Augustine and Langerado in the Everglades. He's had to explain the Florida music scene, which he describes as "mysterious to people outside of the state," countless times over the years.
So out of all the flashy young artists at the inaugural Coastline Festival, which takes place Saturday at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre and Sunday in Pitts' hometown of West Palm Beach, it is his band, Surfer Blood, that might be the most excited to play.
"It's been a long time since we've played either of those places," said the singer. "It's really weird that we're playing the Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm, because that's where I watched the Red Hot Chili Peppers when I was in middle school."
It's not every day that indie rock and pop acts like Passion Pit, Two Door Cinema Club, Matt and Kim, The Neighbourhood and Surfer Blood get to play the same stage as a Hall of Fame group like the Chili Peppers. But Coastline isn't your everyday concert. It's the third in a series of midsize festivals organized by promotions titan Live Nation, which is aiming to grow its already significant influence in Florida by creating new types of music experiences in Tampa Bay.
First there was the Sunshine Music and Blues Festival in January at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. In May came the three-day Funshine Music Festival, bringing an eclectic mix of mostly mainstream artists (Train, Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Gary Allan) and carnival rides to the Florida State Fairgrounds.
Coastline may be Live Nation's most calculated fest yet. Dubbed a "musiculinary experience," it'll feature two stages, a craft beer garden, food-truck rally and mini art festival. They're hoping to draw more than 10,000 fans — not bad for any first-time festival, particularly one whose headliners typically play much smaller venues.
"It just seemed to me that there was a void in the marketplace to try and do something to get those 10 to 12 bands that were on the up-and-coming, but hadn't broken through," said Live Nation Florida president Neil Jacobsen. "We want to make this a little different kind of an event, a little different amphitheater experience, and I think people are going to have a great time."
An underserved market
For small to midsize indie bands, touring in far-flung Florida often doesn't make financial sense. Pitts said he relished any time a group like Animal Collective or Of Montreal came to Florida, simply because those concerts were so rare. "I feel like since they weren't shows you'd go to a lot, the ones you went to see were that much more special," he said.
Here, Jacobsen saw an opportunity. Festivals have become an increasingly important part of Live Nation's growth — the company manages the Wanee Festival in Live Oak and the South Beach Comedy Festival in Miami, among others — in part because they don't necessarily hinge on which artists may be touring at any given time.
"I can't really put together Bonnaroo or Coachella," Jacobsen said. "Those are massive, massive festivals with $10 million budgets. We don't have the site or the infrastructure to do that. But we felt we could produce a number of smaller to midsize festivals that could appeal to different genres."
Take Coastline, for example. Most events at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre are "classic rock, a lot of country, the occasional teenybop/Jonas Brothers-type band," Jacobsen said. Often left out of the mix are alternative rock fans between the ages of 15 and 30, which is the demographic Live Nation is targeting with Coastline. (Not so coincidentally, it's also the prime demographic of 97X's annual Next Big Thing concert, which last year fled the Live Nation-managed Amphitheatre for St. Pete's Vinoy Park, taking 15,000 young fans with it.)
"A lot of these kids have never been to the Amphitheatre," Jacobsen said. "We wanted kids to come there for the first time and have a different experience."
Looking to 2014
Live Nation approached this new festival series knowing there would be some trial and error involved. Funshine, for example, drew between 30,000 and 40,000 people over three days, but reviews were mixed, with some complaints about the distance between stages and too many artists (REO Speedwagon, Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Styx) that skewed much older.
"We learned from our mistakes," Jacobsen said. "I don't think we appealed enough to the younger demographic, as far as the talent goes."
Nevertheless, Live Nation was always committed to trying to bring all three festivals back for a second year. Sunshine will return to Vinoy Park on Jan. 19, with headliners Tedeschi Trucks Band, Galactic and Leon Russell. Funshine will be back in the spring with a new name and "radically" revamped format; Jacobsen said two headliners are already booked. And as for Coastline, "I have no doubt in my mind we'll be doing it again."
Each festival, he hopes, will be not only more user-friendly, but bigger and better as well.
"We're in it for the long haul," he said. "So hopefully we will succeed and be able to prosper and grow."