Despite rumors, no fires erupted Saturday at Tropical Heatwave, the annual music fest sponsored by community radio station WMNF-FM. Though a fire the day before caused $40-million in damages to the area surrounding Heatwave's six venues, flames had nothing to do with the hour-plus delay for Latin band Los Moscosos to begin playing in the Cuban Club Bandshell.
The problem was an overheated fuse box. A few melted wires.
Still, Los Moscosos, a large multicultural band from San Francisco, lit up the night with its sultry blend of ska and hip hop and a cover of War's party tune Spill the Wine. The crowd, as diverse as the band, bumped and grinded to the coy rhythms, rich trombone and saxophone, and political lyrics about barrios and borders.
A celebration of music no commercially minded Top 40 station would ever play, Heatwave each year attracts more than 5,000 music lovers. Its theme? Better to swim swiftly against the tide than float belly-up and bloated in the mainstream.
That, and Whoo, boy, let's down some beers and dance!
The radio station is committed to keeping on-air programming provocative _ and eclectic. Same goes for Tropical Heatwave, now in its 19th year.
Deborah Coleman, a Heatwave headliner, won over new fans with a powerful performance in the El Pasaje Courtyard. Coleman is a rare find: a young, gifted, black female who wails on lead guitar and belts out heart-squashing blues like Koko Taylor. Coleman honored Taylor as "the undisputed queen of the blues" before her smoking rendition of Taylor's signature tune, I'm A Woman.
The petite Coleman swiveled her hips and tossed her braided hair as she solicited quivering notes from her guitar on several solos.
At the same time, inside the packed Cherokee Club, Chuck Prophet, one of alt-country's bright new singer-songwriters, gave an intimate performance for several hundred fans who dripped with sweat despite the chugging air conditioning unit.
The buzz was strong about rootsy headliners Buckwheat Zydeco, the Iguanas and Alejandro Escovedo, but excitement surrounded edgier new sounds on the Heatwave bill this year.
JoEllen Schilke, host of WMNF's popular Art In Your Ear program, has been a part of the last 17 Heatwave events. She said the station succeeded in attracting younger people to Heatwave this year.
"We're seeing a lot more young people in their late teens and early 20s," said Schilke. The station, Schilke said, also lowered the ticket price to $24 _ about a buck a band _ to attract young folks. "We are consciously trying to reach that community by having DJs here and younger bands. This is good. This is the future of WMNF."
Brigid Ochshorn, a 17-year-old WMNF listener from Tampa, is a veteran of several Heatwaves. Dressed in black, with a buzz cut Sinead O' Connor would admire, Ochshorn was there to see favorites such as D.C. punk rockers the Dismemberment Plan and the all-female art rock Homer Erotic.
"It's cool that they are catering to people our age," Ochshorn said, adding that the all-ages scene is fun for everyone, even those underage.
"You don't need to drink," said Ochshorn, "The music and the environment is good enough." Ochshorn met two new friends at this year's Heatwave. Lili Ringold-Brown, who attended the last five Heatwaves with her parents, and best friend Renata Hooley, are both 15 and from St. Petersburg. They spent the night with Ochshorn strolling from venue to venue. The three said Heatwave's party atmosphere is a great way to discover new music.
The only drawback to this _ and any _ all-ages event?
"Old men who have been getting trashed all night and don't realize we're kids," said Ringold-Brown. "I've had five really old guys _ like in their 40s _ try to pick me up."
Many kids hung out with Mom and Dad all night, with music as a bond. A common sight: pony-tailed hippies with their pierced, spiky-headed offspring, all munching on falafel sandwiches. Many took in the sights and sounds of dozens of booths filled with a hodgepodge of crafts people and activist groups, who furthered Heatwave's emphasis on diversity.
Those selling jewelry, reggae clothes and tie dye T-shirts convened near advocates for the American Cannabis Society, the Friends of the River environmentalists, even a woman who gave tarot card readings to those who put faith in such ridiculous gobbledygook.
I will keep my fingers crossed about all those career and love opportunities in the next few months.
Gina Vivinetto's e-mail address is ginasptimes.com.