It's a spectacular venue.
That much is evident from anyone who's spent much time at the relativcely new Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa. From the center of the park, your 360-degree panorama includes the radiant, modern new Tampa Museum of Art, the colorful Glazer Children's Museum, the towering Skypoint condos and the downtown Tampa skyline. To the east are effervescent fountains; to the west, Hillsborough River, minarets of the University of Tampa, a playground and, of course, the sunset.
It's potentially a phenomenal concert venue. But to date, there's only been one major concert there -- Collective Soul in early 2010. There is, however, great local music there every week, at the Thursday night Rock the Park concert series and the Friday Extra Concert Series.
On Cinco de Mayo, tbt* commandeered Rock the Park for the first of two concerts featuring this year's Ultimate Local Artists: Marksmen, Alexander and the Grapes (above) and Dynasty featuring d'Visitors. Instead of one show, as we staged in 2009 and 2010, we're splitting it up into two shows. The next one comes in June.
The Rock the Park concert series has been growing for months, first moving from a small corner of the park to an amphitheatre-like setting at the foot of the TMA. Hundreds of fans, parkgoers, picnickers and passersby check out each show; it's been as many as 1,000. It's always a young, diverse crowd, with plenty of children.
THX Mgmt promoter Joe D'Acunto said Thursday's turnout was the best yet, with hundreds of fans arriving early and staying until well after the music ended. We'd like to take credit for it, but really, the strong local lineup sold itself. (Okay, we'll take some credit -- we did pick the bands, after all.)
We won't pretend to present this as an unbiased review of the music itself. Alexander and the Grapes turned in a lovely, wistful, lush set of warm alt-country tunes. Dynasty proved why she's one of Tampa's best MCs, kicking things off a cappella and then launching into a full-band set, her first with d'Visitors (who added a funky, reggae-ish vibe) and DJ Sandman. As the sun set, she performed favorites like Magnificent and Femcee that had the crowd standing and dancing.
The night ended with Marksmen, the Southern alt-rock foursome that's emerged as one of Tampa Bay's most acclaimed and in-demand bands. With singer Matt Segallos stomping and howling all around and in front of the stage, fans trickled down to dance, bump and grind in front of the speakers. The band's energy rose and ebbed throughout the night, with drummer Reed Murray and guitarist Chris Brickman, both highly energetic, shouting and singing behind Segallos. No doubt they won a few new fans who would otherwise never find their way down to Crowbar or Orpheum to see them on a weekend. At least one gentleman picked up a copy of Marksmen's latest CD, Sister of Mine, at the merch booth, and promptly walked down to the stage to get it signed.
After the show, Marksmen bassist Glenn Espinoza praised the park -- it was a cool experience to play there, he said, because it's so much to take in at once. You never know when you're going to play a place like that again.
He's right. But you'll have another chance to see some of Tampa Bay's best artists there next month. Cope, 10th Concession, Friends of Giants and Jeremy Gloff will take the Rock the Park stage at 6:30 p.m. June 2.
Get out there for the music. Stay for the venue.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*