Music jumpstarted immediately at the Gasparilla Music Festival (Tampa) on Sunday, March 12th, with sets from Come Back Alice and Show Biz Kids overlapping. Come Back Alice, a local band that has played major fests such as Hulaween, was on fire. After popular favorite “Coraline,” they band unveiled a new tune that might be their best work ever: “Love is the Answer.” It was a very powerful song, stretched out to give all band members the opportunity to solo, including guest bassist Taylor Gilchrist and guest keyboard man Mark Mayea (both from Ajeva). Then they blew up a superb Allman Brothers-like jam with both Tony Tyler and Dani Jaye on guitars. They closed with a stunning rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” their voices completely intertwined.
Show Biz Kids was having a party of their own on the main stage. This Steely Dan tribute band from Tampa, a dozen members strong, was excellent. They launched their set with “Kid Charlemagne” and “Black Cow.” They did a super “Bodhisattva” before really blowing out a long version of — naturally — “Show Biz Kids,” with a great keyboard solo from the band’s musical director, Phil Magallanes. They shut it down with “My Old School.”
On a side stage, The Freecoasters from Ft. Myers were having a bouncy good time with their blend of ska, reggae and rock. Fronted by Claire Liparulo on rhythm guitar and vocals, they attracted a nice crowd at the Shea Barclay Stage. Kelsey Waldon brought her Nashville band to Tampa, centered similarly around her vocals and rhythm guitar. This was straight-up country, including a very good pedal steel player.
One of funk’s true kings blew out a tremendous set on the main stage. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe has headlined funk and jam festivals everywhere, and it was great to see KDTU in Tampa. Denson plays tenor saxophone and flute. It was all dance party on “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo,” continuing through “Down, Down, Down” and “I Just Got Paid Today.” Drummer Alan Evans (also with Soulive) pushed the pace all set and sang “Down…”
Both guitar players — DJ Williams and Seth Freeman — crushed solos. After new tune “I’m Your Biggest Fan,” Denson, who like his bandmates wore jacket and tie, commented on the warm, sunny weather and took his jacket off. With his white shirt’s short-sleeves rolled up, he jumped on the joke before we could: “Welcome to the gun show!” For real! Best song of the set was a 1971 Cold Blood classic, “Funky On My Back,” so soulful and spun Latin style.
The most frustrating overlap for jamsters was happening, as The Marcus King Band had begun 15 minutes before the end of KDTU. King is the young guitar slinger touted by Warren Haynes; you should believe the hype. This was King’s second visit to the area following WMNF’s Little Manatee April Fool’s Jam Fest last year. What sent this set even higher was the inclusion of Justin Johnson on trumpet and trombone and Dean Mitchell on saxophones. They perfectly matched the Southern soul and psychedelic sounds of the band.
How that voice comes out a newly minted 21-year-old is a truly amazing. As we arrived, he had just launched into “Goin’ Down Slow,” with Mitchell on a hot tenor solo and then King strutting his stuff. After a blues ballad from their new album, they returned to the debut album for a smokin’ Allman Brothers-like jazz jam that by turns also reminded you of “Fire On the Mountain.” You’re going to be hearing about Marcus King for a very long time!
We were excited to see Grandpa’s Cough Medicine back in Tampa. The long-time Jacksonville bluegrass giants are now in Asheville, and clearly the word was out. This was a confluence of events: the only real bluegrass act on the schedule, the band’s great reputation preceding them, and the smallest stage area in terms of seating. The concrete amphitheater in Curtis Hixon Park is perfect for such events… but it could have filled up twice over with the people trying to find a seat (there were none).
We saw them for a few minutes and heard about half of their excellent set, introducing us to new member and mandolin player Caleb Hanks. Brett Bass (guitar), Banjo Boy Coker and Hanks romped through a number of fan favorites, including the title track to their hilarious album 180 Proof. Pickin’ at its finest.
Chronixx and the Zincfence Redemption held sway over the crowd at the main stage with their mellow approach to reggae. There was great give and take with the fans dancing in the sunlit field.
And then there was Veiny Hands. This was fascinating: four young musicians (three young ladies and a young man) playing some energetic pop/punk something, very entertaining. They are from St. Petersburg and just left for a tour through Texas, California and other Western states. You’ll want to check them out.
For some of us, the Sunday highlight occurred in the next set from The New Mastersounds, the Leeds quartet just wrapping up their current tour, about to go their separate ways until Jazz Fest. Their set was an amalgam of jazz, funk, Meters, brilliance and comedy. Comedy, because Simon Allen could do standup with ease — no drum kit needed! After four songs, Allen asked, “What do you think of this string section?” referring to guitarist Eddie Roberts and bass player Pete Shand. Roar from the crowd!
“Be Yourself” was a nice pop ballad, followed by “Made for Pleasure,” one of the songs on which the band members sing in chorus. In the midst of the next song, NMS hit that moment. Right there. It all revolves around the propulsive beat that Shand and Allen create. Just brilliant. Afterward, Allen said, “That’s disco jazz. Yeah. So you can tell your friends you like disco.” And they honored Tampa’s cigar-making history as Allen, or perhaps it was Roberts, said, “So here’s a song of our most recent album (Made for Pleasure) called ‘Cigar Time.’”
Perhaps the biggest buzz of the festival surrounded closing headliner Ryan Adams. He has a huge following and has been hailed as one of the most important singer-songwriters of his generation. By now, you’ve probably heard about his insistence, correctly, that photographers not use flash equipment, because he suffers from Ménière’s disease, in which flash photography can trigger seizures. Those of us all too familiar with variations of vertigo can relate.
So there was that one guy who used a flash, prompting Adams to unleash a profane torrent in the dude’s direction (plus a Twitter tennis match later), and it birthed an impromptu song about it.
About the rest of the set: Let’s just say your mileage may vary. I went in with no knowledge of him at all and left unimpressed. He did play one excellent metal tune (metal is part of his extensive résumé), but he followed that up with this soliloquy after talking about playing depressing downer songs:
“This is what I should be playing! Metal! Why am I playing this shit? What the fuck?”
I can be as profane as the next guy, but for an early evening with so many families and children still in attendance, I was underwhelmed. And left.
The party shifted from Tampa to St. Petersburg, for those in the know (we did NOT know). The Sunday Funk Jam at Ruby’s Elixir began with Tony Tyler (Come Back Alice) and two of the Ajeva boys, Travis Young and Taylor Gilchrist. St. Pete exploded when Simon Allen (drums, the New Mastersounds), Matt Lapham (bass, Shak Nasti), Matt Jennings (keys, Marcus King Band), Marcus King, and Heather Gillis (guitar, Freight Train Band) all joined in the jam.
What were we doing at home?
See what we thought of Saturday at Gasparilla Music Festival: