PHOTOS: The 9 Best Moments of Gasparilla Music Festival’s 9th Year

A cloud filled blue sky over the Gasparilla Music Festival stage and crowd

Hey #ThatsSoTampa, it’s Ysanne, your resident concert junkie. Tampa’s beloved Gasparilla Music Festival has come and gone yet again for the 9th time! I have to say, it was one of my favorites yet. The cool weather absolutely divine, the 40+ bands were stunning, Calle Cocina was my happy place, and well, there’s so much more, but here’s what you really need to know:

Young students play violin in the Tampa Metro Youth Orchestra
The Tampa Metropolitan Youth Orchestra | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

Music is for everyone. A festival that gives back and inspires the next generation.

What many don’t know is that the Gasparilla Music Festival is run by the Gasparilla Music Foundation, a Florida 501(c)-3 non-profit corporation. Yep, they do really good things. They supply hundreds of instruments to local students through their Recycled Tunes program every year. Have an instrument from that one time you played clarinet or trumpet in middle school sitting in your closet? Donate it to them! They’ll refurbish it and make sure it gets into the hands of an eager, young student hungry to make music right here in Tampa Bay.

School of Rock Tampa | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

Those students even got to play their recycled tunes instruments at the Festival! The Tampa Metro Youth Orchestra started Day 2 off with a rousing Queen melody at the Water Street Tampa Stage. Local students at School of Rock Tampa lived out the rock n’ roll dreams I never did when they played the Ferman Amphitheatre.

A young kid with spiderman face paint holds a baritone as another picks up a guitar
Recycled Tunes Instrument Petting Zoo | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

There was even an instrument petting zoo where all day long, I saw kids pick up and play with violins (de-strung), baritones, guitars, and even a trombone. They played on traditional rhythmic drums and a full drum kit with not a care in the world.

Bless our Tampa foodie scene.

Calle Cocina, one of the festival’s best features in our opinion, showcases the local foodie scene instead of the typical chicken tenders and hot dogs available at most events and festivals. Concert goers could nosh on a Chicken and Waffle Sandwich from Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, Vegan Curry from Ichicoro, or even Beef Cheek Bánh mì from Haven & Elevage.

The options were many and there were even gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian-friendly options. Also, the arepas at Nico’s Arepas Grill are my GMF guilty pleasure in my gluten-free world. Give them a try and thank me later.

Brandi Carlile | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

Brandi Carlile is legendary. Full stop.

It was only right that one incredible lady introduced another. Our own Mayor Castor took the stage before Brandi Carlile’s set and asked the audience to give her a proper Tampa welcome.  She also snuck in a bit of Carlile wisdom, imparting on the crowd that you can dance in a hurricane, but only if you’re standing in the eye.

So when Carlile and the twins (brothers, Phil and Tim Hanseroth) stepped on stage it was instant magic. Giant vintage lights illuminated her green velvet jacket as she plucked a twangy melody and her phenomenal vocals roared over the crowd. It really was like dancing in a hurricane. 

Brandi Carlile with hair flowing and a giant grin as she plays her guitar in motion
Brandi Carlile | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

She spoke to the massive crowd about how hard and dark life and the world could be so during her set, we were all going to live in a universe of healing. She delivers her song, The Story, and I’m blown away. Everything feels right in the world. The crowd is eating it up and thriving off every moment.

Saving the planet, one concertgoer at a time.

The Gasparilla Music Festival prides itself on its massive initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint and as a whole, create a more eco-friendly concert experience. It brought joy to my heart seeing the separated Recycling/Compost/Trash bins, the number of metal reusable cups in use, and compostable food serving items over styrofoam. Teer Cart even served their non-alcoholic tea concoctions with a hay straw.

Florida Blue sponsored FREE water refill stations and I’ve never been more hydrated in my life. The cost of water is always a dreaded expense at a festival but the reusable water flasks they gave out and the convenience of the refill stations were lifesavers. I’d love to see these stations at all major events.

Argonaut & Wasp, The Wandering Hearts, Anderson East, and The Nude Party.

Look ‘em up, Tampa. These are the bands that played some of my fave sets of the day. Argonaut & Wasp is my new indie dance electro jam for warm summer nights.

London’s The Wandering Hearts is a four-part harmony whose Americana vocals I want to live in forever as I’m serenaded straight into a sunbeam.

Anderson East, wearing blue aviator sunglasses sings into the mic on stage
Anderson East | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

Anderson East is a soulful crossover of some of my fave genres and I’ll be swaying to this every breezy afternoon from now till 2021.

And I couldn’t forget The Nude Party, because a trip into another decade of rock vibes is always welcome. Theirs was a particular form of nostalgia that I couldn’t quite put my finger on but enjoyed all the same.

Fre$h P is the hype man I want at every festival ever.

From the moment he, dressed in military fatigues, brought his mama down to sing to her in front of a packed Ferman Amphitheatre crowd, I was hooked. I mean, he sang for his mama. Fre$h P has a quick wardrobe change while a friend hypes the crowd up, and emerges dressed head to toe in a full drum major uniform. He bounds the steps of the amphitheater blasting a metal whistle as he marches through the dance party they’ve spun up. It was one of the most joyous moments of my weekend, and I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

Rival Sons are glorious. Come back soon, please.

Holy heck, they were good. Reminiscent of Cage the Elephant’s 2016 GMF performance, Rival Sons brought rock and roll to its feet. I cannot begin to describe the energy and tenacity that their lead singer, Jay Buchanan, exhibited on stage. Thick guitar rhythms, a southern drawl, and booming backing vocals made for a dang brilliant set.

Rival Sons | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

Big Freedia. The dance *bounce* party you didn’t know you needed.

Big Freedia, the queen of bounce music and her all business, ridiculously athletic dancers, brought Saturday night’s GMF crowd a surge of energy that we were all grateful for. After a wonderful long day of incredible music and bands, the twerk-a-thon that graced the Ashley Furniture stage, with and without some audience participation, brought us joy. Tampa’s own, Painkiller Cam got to introduce the legend. I’m hoping to see Big Freedia return to the Tampa Bay area soon. I need more of this energy in my life.

If I ever have kids, they’re listening to Bears and Lions.

The second band I had the pleasure to watch was Gainesville’s Bears and Lions. Honestly, I didn’t think my day would peak so early. But hey, when a band describes themselves as the “greatest animal band the world has ever seen,” you think you might be getting into something special. But even that quote didn’t do them justice.

Kids dancing at Bears & Lions | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

In a world where what keeps me going on a daily basis is wholesome dog content on Twitter, Bears and Lions’ song “Good Boy” was soul-lifting. Lyrics like “he’s a good boy”, “my dog’s my best friend”, and “everything is a-okay” brought a goofy grin to my face and joy to the crowd of both kids and adults.

A young musician | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

See you next year, GMF. Thanks for being so wonderful.

Be sure to follow the Gasparilla Music Festival on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay in the loop for next year’s show. Also, if you have any old instruments laying around gathering dust, do a good thing and donate it (or money if you’re able) to Recycled Tunes.

Written by Ysanne Taylor

Ysanne Taylor

Photo Editor of ThatsSoTampa.com. Ysanne Taylor is also the art director at RKC.me. Email: ysanne@rkc.me