FESTIVAL REVIEW: WMNF’s 31st Annual Tropical Heatwave (Plus Top 55 Photos)
By: David Wolfson, Nicole Kibert, Kelley Jackson, Brian Mahar, and Ray Roa
When the dust settles after WMNF’s annual bacchanalia of music, food, drink, and friends — aka Tropical Heatwave – it’s clear that the one-day festival (which celebrated its 31st birthday last month) is an irreplaceable asset to the Tampa Bay community. In essence, the soiree achieves much of what most local promoters try to do year round, which is bring in top national and international acts to play alongside the best that our region of the Sunshine State has to offer.
In the course of a day at Heatwave, revelers are always faced with the all-important decision of which bands they would like to see less as each half-hour block beholds the promise of a handful of bands all playing at the same time. The bottom line is that you’ll never be able to see everything you want to at any one Tropical Heatwave, but that’s the beauty of it too. Around each corner is a band that’s been hand-picked to ensure that you — the festival goer — have the best live experience possible, and you’ll almost always never be disappointed.
Even with three photographers and half of a writer, it’s still tough to capture all that is Heatwave. Still, SubAp!’s got the rundown of the sights and sounds of Tropical Heatwave 2012 below. Follow the links above to see each of our photographers’ personal favorite shots and head to the end of this post to see a the Top 55 shots from WMNF Heatwave 2012.
John Allen at Centro Ybor, 3:05 p.m.
With music officially kicking off at 2:30 p.m., Heatwave 2012 was shaping up to be an almost 12-hour day, so it was nice to see that Ybor visitors has pretty much occupied every table in the Centro Ybor plaza to see John Allen work his way through his mid-afternoon set. The Set and Setting bass-player wowed us with an December 2011 opening set that featured rosewood mastery and deft, solid-songwriting. This set delivered much of the same, and while that December set found Allen nervously stumbling through a few picking patterns and chord changes, watching him expertly work his way through “Autumn Song” proves that Allen is now way more comfortable on stage. We hope he plays out more. (Ray Roa)
Tampa Taiko at Cuban Club Bandshell, 4:35 p.m.
Ron Collins and Julius Mendoza — aka Tampa Taiko — had the dubious honor of playing their set barefoot and crouched while the summer sun beat down on the canopy covering the Cuban Club Bandshell.
“There is a reason they call it Tropical Heatwave,” exclaimed Collins a few songs into the set, “they’re gonna have to mop the floor!” It’s always cool to see festivities being kicked off with world music (remember when Flat Earth Society got weird in the best way last year?), and Tampa Taiko were no exception with their reconditioned wine barrel Japanese drums and chants. It was a marriage of martial arts and music, who wouldn’t wanna see that?
The Garbage-Men at Cuban Club Cantina, 5 p.m.
Heatwave is guaranteed to always give you something that you’ve never seen before, and unless you caught them on America’s Got Talent or PBS, then you probably had no idea what to expect before Sarasota-based outfit took the cantina stage. Literally littered with cereal-boxes, half-filled winebottles, and other instruments made from recycled trash, the Garbage-Men debunk their youthful appearance by performing fun covers of cuts from The Beatles, Van Morrison, Cream, and The Kingsmen. A fun set — and a sure sign of good times to come. (RR)
Mud Flappers at Centennial Park, 5:40 p.m.
Loafing in the Park — a new, quarterly outdoor music series — kicked off their stay in Ybor City by hosting five Tropical Heatwave acts within the confines of Centennial Park. Catching music outdoors is an experience like none other, and the set from Orlando, Fla.’s Mud Flappers epitomized that in so many ways. As they worked through songs like “One Stop Shop (Giggity),” the subtle smell of cigar smoke swirled about the crowd as the sounds of mandolin, uke, and muted horns mixed with kazoo and mandolin to create the Flappers’ brand of Floridana folk. (RR)
Lauris Vidal at New World Brewery, 6:30 p.m.
Heatwave has been around longer than (almost) all of us at SubAp!, and that undoubtedly means that loads of unforgettable moments had already been forged in festival goers collective minds before I was even an idea, but when Lauris Vidal appeared on stage at New World Brewery, a brand new personal Heatwave high point was created. Filling in for Orlando’s broken down Roadkill Ghost Choir, Vidal — who had originally planned to play alongside Damion Suomi & The Minor Prophets — donned his cigar-box uke, borrowed Will Quinlan’s instantly recognizable six-string, and pinch-hit for WMNF in a very big way.
It’s been great to see Vidal’s audience and fanbase grow, but his success is deserved and unsurprising. He is an eternally positive performer who foot stomps and smiles his way through every set that I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. As he accidently unplugged the guitar during set closer “Freed,” he led the audience through a sing-along of the cut’s chorus, and proved that he will forever have a place in Florida’s already rich folk-music history. (RR)
Hunter and Avery at CL Space, 6:50 p.m.
After trolling their Bandcamp page’s five songs for months, I finally found myself at a Hunter and Avery show. CL Space served as the perfect setting for the Moore sisters’ brand of simple, stripped down folk music. A Huner and Avery harmony falls somewhere between devine and spellbinding, but what’s most impressive about their live set is how great they make simple sound. Sticking to a sonic aesthetic built from acoustic guitar and keyboard, the duo are a prime example of how many layers are really going down during a stripped down performance. Easily one of my favorite sets of the day. (RR)
He’s My Brother She’s My Sister at Crowbar 7:30 p.m.
There is usually a point in the Heatwave experience where inebriation and the shear humidity of the afternoon take complete hold. That happened at Crowbar during He’s My Brother She’s My Sister‘s set in front of a packed house at Crowbar, and while I wasn’t even near having a buzz (blame being broke), Los Angeles-based freak-folk troubadors HMBSMS blew the doors off Heatwave with a sweaty, swealtering performance marked by their trademark tap dancing drummer, soaring anthems (“Can’t See The Stars”), and an energy level that may have been the highest of event. Watching (real siblings) Rob and Rachel Kolar hold the crowd captivated during a stirring version of “Lazy Daze” cements the idea that rooms like Crowbar won’t be able to contain this show for much longer. (RR)
The Groves at Centennial Park, 8:40 p.m.
The Groves call a 40-acre farm in north Tampa home. They live and make music on the massive property, and their brand of pure American rock & roll reflects the energy of the Sunshine State soil they call their own. Blame it on their roots, but a perfect breeze seemed to accompany the quartet during their set at Centennial Park. In a world where artists are continually genre-bending and expanding the ideas we have about art, it’s great to see a band committed to fine tuning and refining a classic American sound. (RR)
Saskatchewan at The Bricks, 9:45 p.m.
It’s strange that it took us this long to get to The Bricks stage, but to our delight the room had already been warmed up by the healthy crown gathered to see Orlando synth-pop quintet getting things started under a twinkling disco ball and lights casting an iridescent magenta glow. There aren’t any flashing bells, whistles, or dance moves to make a Saskatchewan set unforgettable (although Brother Chandler apparently managed to rip his shorts to shreds at some point in the evening), but the band’s set may have been one of the best of the festival. It’s unclear if the harmonies are drenched in the dreamy synth or vice versa, but it’s all incredibly delivered and the combination is intoxicating. (RR)
Jensen Serf Co. at The Bricks, 10:30 p.m.
Let it be known: Jensen Serf Co. give absolutely no fucks. And that’s how we like them. This particular incarnation of the lineup featured a four-man set up that took to the stage of The Bricks and played a set as if they were in their basement or garage with absolutely nobody watching. To say the set was loud is an understatement, but if I’m going to develop tinnitus, then I want to get it at a JSC show. Their crushing wall of distorted guitars and fuzzy vocals are caked the ghosts of Huntington Beach, Calif., and songs from their split cassette range from catchy (“Johnny Panic,” “Lido Beach”) to crushing (“Clean Air,” “Billy Don’t”). It was so good that someone in the crowd wanted to by frontman Benjamin Saylor a beer. Saylor’s response: “Can I have a Sprite?” Classic. (RR)
The Growlers at The Ritz, 10:00-11:00 p.m.
The Growlers played their brand of loose, gothic-tinged surf rock to an equally loose, but receptive, crowd that took advantage of the empty dance floor space they were afforded at The Ritz. Lead singer Brooks Nielson was the one to watch in this band, shuffling across the stage in sync with The Growlers’ rhythm section, which led the proceedings musically. The Ritz’s exceptional lights display was also utilized well in creating a dark but fitting atmosphere for The Growlers to work with, and the result was a set that got the job done in terms of getting the crowd to groove right along with the band’s tunes. (David Wolfson)
Spiller at CL Space, 11:15-11:45
Spiller had an unenviable time slot: right after Tallhart, a band with whom they don’t seem to share much of their fanbase, and conflicting with major acts like The Bright Light Social Hour and Barely Pink (and the Spiders From Mars). As a result, CL Space wasn’t as full as I expected it to be for a quality reunion act, but that didn’t stop Spiller from being in good spirits, joking around and even unveiling a new song near the end of their set. They got off to a late start, but they made up for it with an extended set that rewarded those who stuck around with an enjoyable mix of power pop, surf rock, and melodic post-punk, a-la early Weezer or perhaps the Dismemberment Plan. – (DW)
The Bright Light Social Hour at El Pasaje Plaza, 11:25-1:00
The Bright Light Social Hour’s headlining slot at Heatwave this year was more of a victory lap for the band than anything else. Since playing a highly buzzed-about set at Crowbar at last year’s Heatwave, the Austin, Texas blues rockers have hit up the Bay Area a jaw-dropping four times by my count, each time sending attendees out spreading the good word for months after. It isn’t hard to see why, as this year they delivered a high-octane set to close El Pasaje Plaza, fueled by a major festival-worthy reception from the Heatwave crowd. Some bands just seem to have it all in terms of the tools needed to put on a great live show, and The Bright Light Social Hour is one of them; they look the part, they have impeccable stage presence, they can play as well as anyone at their level can, and their songs translate well to the live setting. Bright Light’s combination of southern rock, blues, and psychedelia has long been a favorite of the Tampa music scene in general, and it was great to see those feelings being reciprocated, with the band members thanking WMNF and Tampa for being the first place outside their hometown to help break them, and delivering a fitting ending to their tour. – (DW)