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How the Gasparilla Music Festival keeps the local lineup so fresh

Handout photo of Houndmouth, who are performing at the 2016 Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa. Credit: Shore Fire Media
Published Mar. 8, 2016

After five years, you'd think organizers of the Gasparilla Music Festival would be out of top-notch local bands. Especially when their goal each year is to make the lineup look totally different from the ones that came before it.

"It's not always the easiest thing," said programming director Phil Benito.

But once again, this year's Gasparilla Music Festival, which returns to Curtis Hixon Park Saturday and Sunday, pulled it off. In addition to national heavyweights like Erykah Badu, Stephen Marley and Lucero, the lineup boasts several local notables who are just now playing their first GMF.

There's Damon Fowler, the nationally signed blues guitarist and festival regular who's in the midst of a string of shows with George Thorogood. There's Gumbi Ortiz, the Latin jazz percussionist who tours with guitarist Al Di Meola. And there are a slew of acts from all genres who have played festivals all over town — the Ries Brothers, Resinated, Poetry 'n Lotion, DieAlps!, Gwan Massive — but somehow not GMF.

Often, it's all a matter of scheduling, Benito said. Ortiz, in particular, had been on the road during GMFs past. Other times, the timing wasn't right to get a particular artist on the bill.

"There's been times through the year that we see a band and hadn't seen them in a few months or a year, and they've obviously taken a step forward, and things seem to have clicked with them a little more," Benito said. "You can picture them playing at GMF. That helps a lot of times, too."

Benito books local and national concerts throughout the year via his production company, Brokenmold Entertainment, so he has a hefty database of local artists to consider. Some acts come aboard via open submission — like Gritt, a group of Tampa natives now based in Gainesville, who recently recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala.

"Things just seem to be happening for them," Benito said. "We just try to give them that platform to be seen by a little bit wider audience and demographic."

Beyond Fowler and Ortiz, Benito cited a handful of GMF first-timers to watch, including indie surf-rock outfit FayRoy, rap-rock-funk group Samurai Shotgun and alt-soul rockers Jackson Davis and the Jackettes.

For them, their first GMF promises to be a memorable experience.

In 2013, jazz and jam quartet Acme Jazz Garage was a first-time GMF performer. They played early in the day, and later got to meet some of their heroes, the Meters' George Porter Jr. and Phish's Page McConnell.

"Just to be in the company of some of those bigger names can be a difference," said Acme Jazz Garage's Philip Booth. "Being part of something that large, and a festival that's helping to put Tampa on the musical map, is something we're pretty excited about."

This year, Acme Jazz Garage joins the rare fraternity of return local acts at GMF. They'll perform on the main stage at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

"That points to the strength of the music in our area, that the people who put the festival together feel like there's enough to choose from that we keep seeing new local people on the schedule," Booth said. "They've done a good job of presenting a really interesting mix of music."

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

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