There are days on the Tampa Bay concert calendar — rare days, blessedly, but days nonetheless — when music fans have to make a choice.
On this side of town: an awesome festival. On that side of town: an awesome festival.
On one side of town: Grammy winners, hitmakers and critically acclaimed disruptors. On the other: the same.
This used to happen every year, when Tampa’s Gasparilla Music Festival and Wild 94.1′s Wild Splash in Clearwater would throw down on the same Saturday each March. Add in Plant City’s Florida Strawberry Festival and you’d have three major festivals drawing upwards of 40,000 fans on the same inconvenient spring Saturday.
But pitting Gasparilla Music Festival and Wild Splash against one another seemed especially cruel. From 2012 to 2015, if you attended every Gasparilla Music Festival, you’d have missed Snoop Dogg, Meek Mill, Future and Childish Gambino at Wild Splash. If you attended every Wild Splash, you’d have missed the Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Dumpstaphunk and Dawes at Gasparilla Music Festival.
For the last four years, thankfully, the festivals have been held on separate weekends, meaning fans could catch Lil Wayne and Erykah Badu, Migos and Cage the Elephant, Cardi B and the Roots, Kodak Black and the Avett Brothers.
This year, though? You guessed it: Gasparilla Music Festival and Wild Splash are back on the same weekend. To make matters worse, the two fests have booked some of their best and most eclectic Saturday lineups in a while.
You really can’t go wrong either way. But if you’re still on the fence, at least weigh all the facts before you decide. Let’s break down both events.
What it is: Hip-hop station Wild 94.1′s biggest annual event, a sprawling waterfront party that over the years has hosted everyone from Snoop Dogg to Pitbull to Gucci Mane. It’s a mid-March tradition for countless spring breakers visiting (or staying put in) Tampa Bay.
Star power: Only the guy with the No. 1 song in the country, Roddy Ricch. The 21-year-old Compton phenom has ruled the Billboard Hot 100 for weeks with The Box, and recently won a Grammy for his Nipsey Hussle collaboration Racks in the Middle. He’ll be joined by a guy with almost as much heat, DaBaby, who performed on Saturday Night Live in December and ended up on a string of best-of-2019 lists thanks to singles like Suge, Bop and Post Malone’s Enemies. YBN Cordae’s lyrical flow earned him a Best Rap Album Grammy nomination for his debut The Lost Boy. And holding down this year’s veterans’ slot is Wale, who’s had a handful of albums go Top 10 in the last decade.
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Undercard highlights: The bench isn’t deep, but it’s solid. Doja Cat is a viral, occasionally controversial singer, rapper and social media star with several hit singles (Juicy, Say So, Candy) to her name and Coachella gigs booked next month. Memphis rapper NLE Choppa, 17, already has a platinum hit under his belt in Shotta Flow. And Rubi Rose — no, not Batwoman Ruby Rose — is starting to show Megan Thee Stallion-like promise on tracks like Big Mouth and Hit Yo Dance.
After-parties: DaBaby is booked at Whiskey North, 11921 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa; tickets are $40 and up on Eventbrite.
Why pick this one? With Wild 94.1′s Last Damn Show having bitten the dust, it’s hands down the best hip-hop festival in the area, and it’s one day only. Gasparilla Music Festival is two days. So if you have any lingering doubts about skipping Gasparilla Music Festival on Saturday, you can always check it out Sunday instead.
Details: Gates open at 1 p.m. March 7 at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater. Tickets are $40 and up through etix.com and station ticket drops. For details, see wild941.com/wildsplash.
GASPARILLA MUSIC FESTIVAL
What it is: Tampa Bay’s best music festival. Your tastes may vary, but if you’re not married to pop stars atop the poster, Gasparilla Music Festival always offers a tremendously eclectic, creatively curated lineup, with a diverse mix of locals that’s second to none, and food stands featuring some of the city’s signature cuisine.
Star power: Headlining March 7 is Brandi Carlile, the Seattle singer-songwriter and LGBTQ hero who’s racked up 10 Grammy nations — including two for Song of the Year — in the last two years alone. She’s joined by legendary hip-hop trio De La Soul, New Orleans bounce queen (and Beyoncé/Drake/Kesha collaborator) Big Freedia, California alt-rockers Rival Sons and New York indie pop outfit St. Lucia. The March 8 lineup is led by Feel It Still oddballs Portugal. The Man; soul singer Anderson East; prog-fusion band Tauk; and the Word, a roots-rock supergroup featuring Robert Randolph, John Medeski and members of the North Mississippi Allstars.
Afternoon highlights: With three dozen artists across two days, there are plenty to choose from. North Carolina’s the Nude Party (4:30 p.m. Saturday) are fun, psychedelic garage-rockers; Vermont’s Argonaut and Wasp (2:45 p.m. Sunday) sound like Chromeo covering Tame Impala. But Gasparilla Music Festival’s daytime standouts are usually local artists. Saturday’s best include a pair of American Idol alums, indie rocker Kerry Courtney (2 p.m.) and soulful singer-songwriter Shevonne (5:45 p.m.), as well as St. Petersburg’s Photo Fire, playing on the heels of their dreamlike, Death Cabby new album Foreign Voice. Stylish doom-pop trio Vetnough (3:30 p.m.), gauzy folkadelica outfit Charles Irwin (2:30 p.m.) and veteran Tampa singer-songwriter Will Quinlan (1 p.m.) are all worth getting there early for on Sunday.
After-parties: Maseo from De La Soul will host this week’s edition of Ol’ Dirty Sundays, the weekly old-school hip-hop night at Crowbar in Ybor City. It starts at 10 p.m. Sunday; cover is $5.
Why pick this one? Gasparilla Music Festival is about way more than music. It’s about Tampa music, Tampa food, Tampa vendors, Tampa culture and Tampa people. No event makes better use of picturesque Curtis Hixon Park, spreading four stages far enough apart to avoid noise bleed. There are kid-friendly events at the start of both days, but families often stay throughout the day. It’s the kind of fest some folks go to no matter who’s playing, because they know it’ll always be great.
Details: Gates open at 11:30 a.m. daily at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa. Tickets are $40 and up per day, $60 and up for the weekend. For details, see gasparillamusic.com.