The Magnificent Seven Acts to Check Out at Gasparilla Music Festival

The Gasparilla Music Festival is set to spread out over Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa this Saturday and Sunday, March 7-8 (unless you’re hitting the special Friday performance by Tone Lōc at SOHO Cycling’s Ride the Park 2020. Proceeds benefit GMF’s Recycled Tunes instrument program).

One quick glance at the 40+ names on the lineup tells you this is an incredibly well-rounded festival with something for almost everybody. The amazing headliners include Brandi Carlile, Portugal. the Man, De La Soul, Rival Sons, Anderson East, St. Lucia, Curtis Harding, and Sales, and the undercard is equally impressive.

With that in mind, we’d like to offer seven sets you would be wise to check out. There are four stages with music going on several simultaneously, so you just cannot hear every note, but it’s worth a try! We’re going to give it a shot!

 

THE WORD

Robert Randolph is one of the acknowledged masters of sacred steel, the pedal steel guitar which has emerged from its church setting. For two decades, his prowess has been on display with his family band and with countless sit-ins with an amazing array of stars of funk, rock, and soul. Also 20 years ago, former North Mississippi Allstars bass player Chris Chew and guitarist Luther Dickinson (NMAS) recruited Randolph to form an all-instrumental sacred steel band called The Word with John Medeski on keyboards and Cody Dickinson (NMAS) on drums.

This supergroup doesn’t tour regularly, but when they do, the buzz is huge. Everyone familiar KNOWS that this is true Soul Food, which is in fact the name of the group’s second album (2015). Medeski’s work on the Hammond B3 organ and electric piano meshes so well with Randolph’s playing and Luther Dickinson’s deep blues guitar stylings. And the band is propelled by that incredible rhythm section of Chew and Cody Dickinson.

Those who attended the recent Funk Fest Punta Gorda got a great dose of Randolph and the Family Band, a fine preview of what The Word will bring to GMF.

 

BIG FREEDIA

There is nothing else on the GMF lineup quite like Big Freedia (pronounced FREE-da). Especially if you’re not hip to bounce music, the hip hop movement born in New Orleans. Freddie Ross, who performs as Big Freedia, helped popularize this movement from its underground roots. She made her debut in 2003 with her album Queen Diva and made a huge splash with her 2010 record Big Freedia Hitz Vol 1. She has collaborated with Lizzo, Galactic, RuPaul, Diplo, and numerous others.

The auditory attack is almost machine gun-like, pounding you relentlessly with the beat and the lyrics, and, well, a lot of, you know, derrieres. Her videos for “Louder,” “Explode,” “Duffy” and the ever-popular “Azz Everywhere” will tell you everything you need to know. Suffice to say: keep your ears AND your eyes wide open.

You might need to shower later.

TAUK

If you are not familiar with jazz-rock fusion as it emerged in the ’70s, may we suggest you check out TAUK, the quartet from Long Island who successfully honor the almost 50 years of that musical tradition every time they hit the stage. We’ve been privileged to hear them for at least seven years. Back in 2015, we wrote (and still stand by) this:

The engine driving the band is powered by bass and drums courtesy of Charlie Dolan and Isaac Teel. You might not notice Dolan at first; he’s a bit reserved compared to his band mates. Once you start paying attention to his monster bass lines, however, you can ignore that innocent look. He’s guilty, all right, of providing a great foundation for the music. Teel can be powerful and display his deft touch, all in the space of a few bars. He reminds me most of Alphonse Mouzon, but perhaps even more multidimensional.

Most importantly, Isaac Teel famously said: MUSIC IS THERAPY FOR LIFE. No argument from us music-aholics.

Matt Jalbert’s guitar can shoot out wicked flame-throwing chords and solos and then reel it all back in for a sweet passage. The whole band rocks, but Jalbert literally puts a face on it, gyrating, grimacing, smiling, making you feel every note.

The secret weapon is Alric “A.C.” Carter at the keyboards. Piano. Electric piano. Organ. Clavinet. Synthesizers. His many paintbrushes color the music in magical ways. Consider, for instance, the band’s cover of Zep’s “Immigrant Song.” Right where you expect Robert Plant’s high-pitched voice, out pops a perfect-sounding synthesizer to mimic the vocal. Because there aren’t any.

MARCO BENEVENTO

Marco Benevento is a supremely talented keyboard player who has been on the scene for more than 20 years. One of his first area appearances was with his long-time partner Joe Russo in the Benevento/Russo Duo (and a bass player named Mike Gordon!) at Jannus Landing. Benevento is also a member of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, one of the best bands honoring the tradition of the Grateful Dead. Benevento has ten albums under his name, and he has also played with Garage A Trois. His shows are electrifying, as we saw a year ago. In part, we said:

Marco Benevento is a true entertainer. He always puts on a great show. At Suwannee Hulaween, I intended to listen for a few minutes but got sucked — gladly — into the entire set. He and his bandmates — Karina Rykman on bass and Andy Borger on drums — strode out on stage decked out in sparkly gold/silver matching jackets, Benevento in his signature top hat.

They dove immediately into “Solid Gold,” with Rykman on backing vocals. Benevento’s piano rock walks along the edge of pop, clearly demonstrated on “Send It On a Rocket.” And speaking of pianos, it’s unlikely you’ve ever seen anything like the one Benevento has created, its compact size belying its amazing power. He used it for a beautiful intro to “Dropkick.” …

They closed the set with “Golden,” which was totally WOW. The crowd demanded an encore, and they graciously complied with “Limbs of a Pine,” which segued into Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire,” the revered vocals perfect. Benevento said, “Let’s do one more! This is the best crowd we’ve ever had in Tampa!” And with that, they sent us home with “At the Show,” giving Borger a nice feature on drums.

NOTE: Rykman also electrified with a brilliant set at Suwannee Hulaween in October.

TONY TYLER TRANCE Performs Derek & the Dominos

Closer to home, triple threat Tony Tyler (guitar, keyboards, and vocals) brings his band Tony Tyler Trance to perform Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos, the only studio recording of the band which emerged out of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends and from George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass sessions: Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon. We all know that Duane Allman was the catalyst who ignited the Layla sessions in Miami in the summer of 1970, but  Allman was not on the Europe live dates and only played on two in the U.S.: December 1, 1970, at Curtis Hixon Hall, which operated on the grounds now known as the park, and the following night in Syracuse (now THAT must have been a haul!).

Tyler and bandmates have done this sort of exercise often, playing track by track Live at the Fillmore East, Eat a Peach, and The Song Remains the Same, among others. He will be joined by some Bay area titans, including Kenneth Harvey on bass, Brad Elliott on drums, Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris; Tony Morales, percussion; Mark Mayea, keyboards; and Mike Nivens, guitar. (Harvey and Morales also play with Holey Miss Moley, Mayea and Nivens with Ajeva.) Tyler will soon release a new single, “Bad Love,” which he recorded recently at the newly reopened Capricorn Studios in Macon.

 

SHEVONNE & THE FORCE

Her band is accurately named The Force, but Tampa vocalist Shevonne is a force of nature all on her own. Since her emergence on the local scene, she has continued to WOW audiences with her razor-sharp sets, perhaps none more so that at this past year’s Suwannee Hulaween, where MFN’s Dalia Jakubauskas properly heaped praise:

Saturday began with an unanticipated surprise discovery, which is always the best kind. I was headed past The  Patch Stage to catch another act to start the day when I was stopped dead in my tracks by a young artist and her band who brought me to my knees. The first act of the day at The Patch, Shevonne and her band of out-of-this-world musicians were holding dozens (and soon to be hundreds) of enthusiastic Hulagans in thrall with a set that blew a hole in the upper atmosphere.

From Tampa, Shevonne (a.k.a. “Shevizzle,” a.k.a. Shevonne Philidor) is a force to be reckoned with whose super-sized stage presence belies her diminutive figure. She’s what happens if you took DNA from Prince, Aretha Franklin, Lenny Kravitz, and Whitney Houston, threw it in a boiling cauldron of funk, rock, pop, R&B, reggae, and soul with a splash of Living Colour and The Runaways thrown in.  She’s about as uniquely and gorgeously fierce an animal as I’ve seen in a while.

With her equally ferocious band (Julian Christian on keys, Andrew Warren on guitar, Devon Gilbert on bass, and Davon Emanuel on drums) backing her, Shevonne obliterated lines separating genres in a jaw-dropping performance that included tunes off her 2016 killer debut album Shevizzle including “All My Days,” “Just Right” and “Sell Out.” She also broke out a brand-spanking-new song, the achingly beautiful “Strange Love” that tore our hearts to pieces. 

SILENT DISCO

We have no idea who’s performing at the silent disco. Not important. If you’ve never tried it, then this is a good opportunity to check it out. We say: FUN!

Silent Disco – Javier Ortiz

 

It’s certainly not too late to pick up tickets, and they will be available at the door (but save yourself a few dollars now). Both days will be gorgeous but a bit chilly for the locals (warm during the weekdays, cold on the weekends), so prepare accordingly. Sunscreen is a must for daytime sets!

 

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