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Tropical Heatwave evolves to keep pace with music festival culture

By Jay Cridlin

Times Staff Writer

With new music festivals sprouting up seemingly every weekend in Tampa Bay — Antiwarpt, Funshine Fest and the Gasparilla Music Festival, to name just a few — it begs the question: How is Tampa's original music festival, Tropical Heatwave, keeping pace?

Now in its 32nd year, WMNF-88.5's annual extravaganza of the eclectic will bring nearly 60 bands to 10 stages in and around Ybor City's Cuban Club on Saturday. And for the first time in years, the 2013 edition is a two-night affair, with more artists performing on two stages at the Cuban Club on Friday night.

The festival evolves every year, said WMNF station manager and head Heatwave honcho Randy Wynne, and it remains WMNF's most prominent fundraising event. Last year's Heatwave drew between 5,000 and 6,000 people, raising $43,000 for the community-supported station.

"When Heatwave started, it was more of a wild party, and it gradually got more and more of a serious-music approach," Wynne said. "But it's always had this criteria of live excitement, bands that have something visual about them. . . . No matter what genre you do, it should be something that is compelling in a live setting"

He said new festivals like Gasparilla and Antiwarpt have adopted a similar approach in downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, respectively. "The truth is, Heatwave influenced them," he said. "Gasparilla has a lot more money than we have to book big-name acts, but I think the approach is the same, of eclecticism. That's unusual for a festival, to really be eclectic and have alternative rock next to R&B bands."

To keep from remaining staid, every year WMNF surveys Heatwave attendees to get an idea of what worked, what didn't and which artists they'd like to see back. For example, last year fans complained about security at the Ritz Ybor, a first-time venue. "People felt like they were being harassed, and there were long lines, which doesn't work for Heatwave," Wynne said. He said the venue has pledged to make fan access a little easier this year.

The surveys reveal a lot about fan demographics, too. A few years ago, Heatwave began spreading into more Ybor City clubs; last year featured 13 stages, nine of which were outside the Cuban Club. Wynne said more young fans have tended to gravitate toward the local and indie bands that play those club stages.

One thing, he said, has always been consistent: Fans come because they want to discover new acts. Even if they manage to see less than a fifth of the bands on the bill, it still makes for a mighty exciting night. "That's part of the fun of it, is figuring out a strategy to get as much as you can out of it."

Who's got heat?

This year's fest features some faces who will be familiar to attendees of Heatwaves past — singer-songwriter Paul Thorn, blues chanteuse Sarah Borges and rockabilly acolytes Rocket 88, to name a few. But there are a few new and notable names worth spotlighting. Here are several can't-miss acts.

n Cody Chesnutt

What's this? A Heatwave performer with actual Top 40 cred? Yes, the Roots and Cody Chesnutt scored a hit in 2005 with The Seed (2.0), a reworking of a track from the neo-soul singer-songwriter's acclaimed 2002 album The Headphone Masterpiece. But that hit aside, Chesnutt has spent the better part of the last decade in self-imposed exile. It took 10 years to record his second LP, 2012's Landing On A Hundred. It's an unexpected booking for Heatwave, but one that should create a great party vibe. (10:25 p.m. at the Ritz Ybor)

Stooges Brass Band

This New Orleans brass ensemble has won numerous accolades and performed at huge festivals like Bonnaroo, thanks to a rambunctious style that incorporates elements of funk, hip-hop and R&B. If you love Trombone Shorty, you won't want to miss this one. (5:20 p.m., El Pasaje Plaza)

The Heligoats

Heligoats singer-songwriter Chris Otepka specializes in eccentric, literate and hummable folk-rock, a la the Decemberists, Mountain Goats or Clem Snide. And though he hails from Bellingham, Wash. — the home of Death Cab for Cutie — he's got love for the Sunshine State, as evidenced by his bouncy song Florida Panther: "They say you're never quite the same / After you've seen a Florida panther," he sings. (8:10 p.m., Cuban Club Cantina)

Ana Popovic .

We have absolutely no doubt that a guitarist born and raised in war-torn Serbia would have just as much reason to sing the blues as anyone raised in Memphis. Perhaps that's why the global blues community has been so quick to embrace the award-winning singer and guitarist, who recently performed at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. (8:45 p.m., Ritz Ybor)

If you go

The 32nd annual music fest starts at 6 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at venues in and around the Cuban Club, 2010 Avenida Republica de Cuba, Ybor City. Friday tickets are $20 advance, $30 gate; Saturday is $30/$40; weekend passes are $40/$50. Youth tickets (ages 12-20) are $12 per day, $18 for weekend. For info: (813) 238-8001 or see

Tropical Heatwave evolves to keep pace with music festival culture 05/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 6:08pm]
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