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By photojournalist Jeffrey Moellering

The 11th annual Gasparilla Music Festival 2022 seemed like a long time coming, despite the previous event being held as recently as October 2021. However, it seems that we’ve been living in a kind of time warp the past few years, throughout the waking nightmare of the Covid pandemic, with cancellations, re-schedules, and seemingly no bearings or compass to guide our way through to safety. With this year’s festival resuming its typical calendar slot, there was a sense of familiarity and comfort that finally settled among the attendees.

The Gasparilla Music Foundation is the organizer of this now famous local festival, which is a Florida 501(c)-3 non-profit corporation that supports instruments for music students, scholarships, and worthy causes throughout Tampa Bay. It’s become a great pillar in the community, and many parents gave heartfelt thanks while introducing musical acts, describing how their children went onto achieve music degrees at a famous music school, or who found other successes in their careers as a result of the good works of the foundation.

This year’s lineup featured a broad variety of local and national acts, though all came infused with a streak of independence and dedication to preserving the spirit of art for art’s sake. That commitment has fueled the growth of the Gasparilla Music Festival, the idea that anyone can nurture and bring their creative vision to light, remaining true to their intent without worry about judgment.

Highlights from Friday evening’s opening festivities included the remarkably funky Afro-Cuban cosmic gumbo of Cimafunk, who filled the stage with horns, dancing, percussion, harmonies, and polyrhythms which set the frantic fans into a frenzy. Topping off the inaugural night was the soul sensation, busker turned multi-Grammy nominated Black Pumas, whose marvelous mélange of spiritual, Motown infused gospel revival performance uplifted the Gasparilla revelers with highest thanks and praise.

Saturday’s lineup kept things rolling all day long, while the entire weekend was blessed with summer-like conditions, during a forthcoming Fat Tuesday week in Florida. Toasty, but not too hot; the vibe was just right for dancing and soaking in the vitamin D of the bronzing sunrays.

90s hip-hop legends Arrested Development got the flow going on the big stage by the riverside, transporting the faithful back to what seemed like a simpler time, with their message of positive power. Alt-metal act Moonthing, put their spin on what they describe as “cinematic psychedelia moon grunge rock n’ roll”, which is an apt description of their very riveting act, featuring a charismatic female lead vocalist, and a welcomed addition in a traditionally male-dominated genre.

New Orleans based “Cha Wa” is a Native American “grand gumbo of singing, chanting, intoxicating rhythms, & some deep funk grooves that are simply impossible to resist”, according to PopMatters, and I’d be the first to second that!  Their traditional dress and deep commitment to their core values is indeed an amazing experience not to be missed.

Nashville sensation Margo Price made herself right at home with a warm blend of passionate country-pop, exhibiting her developing craft as an emerging songwriter to be reckoned with.

Andy Frasco and the UN are a frenetic band of funksters that set the crowd into dancing fits with their infectious, nonstop thrashing and gyrations. I was exhausted by simply watching them, trying to keep up as a photographer!

Charleston, SC outfit Band of Horses brought a subdued southern vibe to the Hillsborough River banks after sunset, and really set a nice tone somewhat reminiscent of Tom Petty; tasteful and erudite in their approach.

Topping things off was New Orleans’ own retro-rockers The Revivalists, who practically re-invented Mardi Gras themselves in downtown Tampa. While their recorded output emotes a kind of classic blue-eyed soul and roots rock, their live act is a fury of passion, pouring forth from all bandmembers. The huge T-shaped stage was hardly enough to contain the strutting up and down during their spirited performance, which won’t soon be forgotten by those in attendance.  It was truly something that sent home the Saturday night crowd feeling awestruck.

Sunday’s wrap up performances featured fine showings by gospel and soul royalty Mavis Staples, Fender Rhodes retro-rockers Neal Francis, the always amazing sons of rock legends Allman Betts Band, who totally tore it up, quirky and endearing young alt-rockers Pinegrove, the astonishing all-star band of Kristopher James, featuring some of the finest musicians in all of Tampa Bay, and finally with a fitting finale, the flamboyant finery of Trombone Shorty, with a stellar display of funk, musicianship, vocals, tight arrangements and attention to detail that kept the faithful absolutely rapt to the last moments, hoping for more and anticipating their next visit.  Shorty is indeed an act which truly revives a belief in the goodness of humanity, demonstrating a shared camaraderie, and what’s indeed possible when we all work together towards a greater good.

The Gasparilla Music Festival organizers truly got it right when they decided that Trombone Shorty was emblematic of the mission and vision of the event’s ideals, promoting this community’s support and development of the arts for the next generation through education and opportunities. That commitment has grown and flourished during the eleven years of the non-profit’s existence; it seems that we’re finally beating back the pandemic and are on track to catapult the arts community to even greater heights in Tampa Bay. The spirit and passion of Jose Gaspar remains strong and will fight on, surely establishing the Gasparilla Music Festival as one of the marquee destination events for many years to come.