Soggy Gasparilla Music Festival Still Brings Enjoyment to Music Fans 

Festival Review

Gasparilla Music Fest. Photo by Tampa Earl.

By  “Tampa” Earl Burton 

GoldenEra. Photo by Tampa Earl.

Review: Gasparilla Music Festival – Julian B. Lane Park, Tampa ,FL-February 16-18, 2024

One of the biggest “things” in Tampa is the celebration of Gasparilla. Honoring Jose Gaspar, the fictional pirate who allegedly was the terror of the Gulf of Mexico (and allegedly tried to “sack” Tampa Bay, but was rebuffed), Gasparilla is a celebration that the City of Tampa has created over the past century-plus. Gasparilla has berthed two parades (a children’s parade, where the little tykes can get candy and other cute items, and an “adults’” parade, where things can get a little more risqué), a series of long-distance running events, an art festival and what occurred last weekend, the Gasparilla Music Festival.  

Over the years, the Gasparilla Music Festival has brought in some of the biggest names in music – and it isn’t limited to just one genre. Rock, reggae, EDM, country, alternative, and many other musical stylings all take to one of the four stages that were arrayed around Julian B. Lane Park, the home for the festival in 2024. Although it was a soggy weekend, the fans still flocked to the Tampa waterfront to enjoy the fifty bands that looked to bring some sunshine to their lives.  

Friday Brings the (EDM) Funk 

The sun was shining brightly on Friday when the 2024 Gasparilla Music Festival opened for business, and the crowd grew as people ended their workweeks and headed to the party. Kicking off the party was DJ Sandman, the “Godfather of Tampa hip-hop.” Sandman spun the wheels for over an hour on the Riverfront Stage, walking the listeners through a tribute to the history of hip-hop music, and even threw in some excellent soul and R&B tracks. It was an entertaining kickoff to what would be a nice night on the Main Stage. 

In between sets, patrons could wander the park to the other stages on the Julian Lane Park site. Another stage featured the music of the band GoldenEra. Decked out in their Gasparilla regalia (AKA pirate gear), GoldenEra featured some excellent funk jams with a pop sheen to them. The marketplace also was quite the stop for festivalgoers, as many forms of CBDs were available for purchase.  

DJ Surf Mesa. Photo by Tampa Earl.

EDM was the star of the show on Friday as Surf Mesa took to the Riverfront Stage as the sun began to set on Tampa. Surf Mesa hails from Seattle and enthralled the audience with an hour of well-crafted electronic music. Mixing in his originals with some recognizable tunes, Surf Mesa has had some success in the past, and it is tough to understand why this performer has not gotten more attention in his young career. 

There was one thing that caught my attention that I was not expecting. There was a “Silent Disco” on the grounds of the festival. A “Silent Disco” is where the participants wear headphones that feature a particular style of music of their choosing – at this particular “Silent Disco,” there were three different musical offerings. The people then danced to that music, independent of what someone else was doing.

The reason this seemed out of place to me was that, especially with the EDM DJs doing their thing, wouldn’t that be enough for people? Or, if EDM wasn’t your thing, couldn’t you go to one of the other stages? 

The Friday night (for me, anyway) wrapped up with the music of Big Gigantic on the Main Stage. Big Gigantic, otherwise known as saxophonist Dominic Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salken, put a unique spin on electronica, mixing in the sax with jazz stylings on an EDM level. It was quite surprising how good it was, as you could identify the musicianship, especially with Lalli’s sax work. 

A Soggy Remainder of the Weekend – and What Could Have Been 

Silent Disco

The downside of the 2024 Gasparilla Music Festival was the turn in the weather that struck on Saturday and Sunday. Not only did the rain come, completely drenching everything, but the temperatures dropped down also. The combination caused the crowds to be a bit smaller but, with that old show biz adage “the show must go on,” the GMF held to its “rain or shine” billing and continued with the party.  

Saturday saw jazz (the Rebirth Brass Band), hip-hop (Digable Planets), and alternative (Coin and Young the Giant) mesmerize the shivering crowds, allowing them to shake away the doldrums of the weather and enjoy the music. But the biggest issue for the 2024 GMF was yet to come, and the way they managed it makes you wonder just how much bigger the party could have been.  

In a last-minute announcement, the Sunday closer for the Gasparilla Music Festival, Lake Street Drive, had to cancel due to an illness. Who did festival organizers get to fill in literally at the last minute? Noted rapper/activist (and three-time 2024 Grammy Award winner) Killer Mike was available, bringing along the equally notable Big Boi (Outkast) to bring the end of the festival to a close with a bang. While Lake Street Drive was a nice get, the bombast of Killer Mike and Big Boi certainly was the thunderous finale to a great weekend of music – and makes you wonder, if the weather had cooperated more, just how big it could have been. 

The vibe was laid back, the music covered the gamut of genres, and the people were a mixture of the youth of today, families with their toddler children, and wizened veterans of the festival scene. And they all came together to enjoy the celebration of Gasparilla and the music that was offered. It was a top-notch festival, one that fans should jot on their calendars for 2025 – and hope that the weather is better a year from now! 

Tampa Earl

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