Review: Avett Brothers top an eclectic all-day hootenanny at the Gasparilla Music Festival

Once again, Tampa's best music festival showed why it's among the most underrated, and best curated, around.
Published March 10
Updated March 10

By the time the Avett Brothers hit the stage Saturday at the Gasparilla Music Festival, Curtis Hixon Park was as full as it's ever been for a Night 1. A top-tier headliner tends to have that effect.

But if all those fans spent more than a couple of hours checking out GMF's all-day eclectic buffet, they actually got more than just one headliner.

With temps in the comfortable parts of the 70s and 80s all afternoon, the city was once again kissed by the weather gods for its best live music event, a celebration of Tampa food, music and civic self-love that keeps finding new ways to stay interesting.

No doubt, snagging the Avetts was a coup for GMF; in these parts, the Americana heroes usually play arenas or more established festivals. But while they had all the name recognition, they weren't the only reason to buy a ticket. A diverse and deep roster of national and local acts raised their game for the occasion, even if they were relegated to a second stage.

For example; Kiley Gardens hosted three acts that easily could have burned up the main stage: Ten-piece New Orleans funk-hop ensemble Tank and the Bangas, D.C. rapper Oddisee and his live band Good Compny, and West Coast alt-rap vetreans the Pharcyde all crammed 10 pounds of performance onto a five-pound stage, weaving jazz, soul, hip-hop and an embrace of the moment into their electrifying sets.

Maybe keeping Tank, Oddisee and the Pharcyde all on the same secondary stage made sense from a curatory perspective; it is typically where GMF sticks its funk and hip-hop acts. But then explain how chillwavers Toro y Moi laid down such impossibly smooth electro-funk vibes on the main stage at sunset, ushering in the last night of Daylight Savings with some of the best grooves of the night.

Compared to everything that came before it, the Avetts' set couldn't help but feel the slightest bit predictable. Still, there's no denying them the top spot on the poster. The band came out pickin' with the instrumental Black Mountain Rag, with singe-guitarist Seth Avett looking like a cross between Dave Grohl and Almost Famous's Russell Hammond, willing the eager crowd to get into it.

Seth and brother Scott Avett traded vocals on a wide range of beloved songs, from the heartbreaking, acoustic Murder in the City to the rubbery, sung-shouted Ain't No Man. The band's alt-country DNA jumped out when they and bassist Bob Crawford stripped down to an acoustic trio for songs like the quiet, intimate I Wish I Was and heartfelt I Would Be Sad.

But seeing as this was a rock festival, it was the swinging, careening, crowd-pleasing foot-stompers like Talk On Indolence, Satan Pulls the Strings and call-and-responsey Kick Drum Heart that got the crowd up. Even newer songs like Roses and Sacrifice and Neapolitan Sky felt like classic Avetts, which bodes well for whichever corner of festival circuit they'll look to conquer next.

Elsewhere on the rock side of things, Richmond, Va.'s Sleepwalkers channeled power-pop legends like Boston, the Cars, Big Star and Springsteen with a tight fusion of classic-sounding rock and psychedelic funk. And Austin rockers White Denim combined Grateful Dead leads with Thin Lizzy riffs into a ferocious haze of heady psych-rock, mad and mathematic in equal measures.

Just as good as some of the national acts were this year's slate of locals, who managed to be both made-in-Tampa original while still wearing smart influences on their sleeves.

Leaning into the Buffettishness of their name with flowered fashions and tunes tinged with yacht rock, Parrotfish stirred up one of many great afternoon dance parties, with singer Conor Lynch stripping down and scaling speakers in the sun. JoBro-looking, Hall and Oates-sounding Danny and Alex wowed a down-to-dance amphitheater crowd with a slick set of retro funk and pop, including a snappy cover of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer. Soul combo Venus Bleu lit up a sundown crowd with a transformative, barn-burning cover of MGMT's Electric Feel. And speaking of covers, synth-rock group Fr33dback closed with a sing-along remix of The Sign by Ace of Base, a left-field but welcome choice after dark.

If anyone fell short of expectations, it was the night's second-billed act, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The California alt-rock trio was as menacingly muscular as always, but their bristling brand of cig-dangling, leather-jacketed blues-punk was at odds with GMF's inviting, up-with-people atmosphere. Everything sounds cooler with Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll as a backdrop, but there weren't a ton of people singing "Suicide's easy / what happened to the revolution?" on Berlin.

And the reason for that is that GMF remains, as always, about looking on the bright side together -- of music, of chicken-and-waffle sandwiches, of everything. Which is why it felt right to have the night wind down with the crowd and the Avett Brothers singing I and Love and You. Everyone had just gorged on a day of different sounds. They sounded pretty good all together.

*CORRECTION: Scott Avett sang the Avett Brothers' Murder In the City. An earlier version of this story misidentified the singer.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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