Tampa's Big Guava Music Festival Lives Up to the Hype

We in South Florida like to think our neck of the woods is the hottest place in the world, but Tampa staked its claim this past weekend not just with the temperature but also with the incredible lineup at the Big Guava Music Festival. Saturday was a meeting of rock legends, up-and-coming hip-hop masterminds, and electronic dynamos, all under the watchful eye of a glowing ten-story-high Ferris wheel.

But first let’s talk about the temperature. It was blistering hot, but it was a dry heat, something foreign to South Florida's persistent humidity. Fortunately, the most interesting acts of the daylight hours were in the air-conditioned cavernous Nectar auditorium. Action Bronson, a 300-pound New York MC famous for physically clobbering any fool who bum-rushes his stage, went on at 3 p.m. His early-afternoon set meant no one was yet drunk or brave enough to test his wrath as he went through hits like “Easy Rider” and “Strictly 4 My Jeeps” as well as covering a verse of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.”
Next came the hip-hop of Run the Jewels, which brought ADHD-level energy and enthusiasm. Coming out to a DJ playing Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” El-P and Killer Mike bounced up and down the stage with foul-mouthed lyrics to high-decibel beats. Killer Mike had his arm in a sling due to a shoulder injury but said he wasn’t going to miss their first show ever in Florida. El-P added, “Tampa, this is the best hip-hop audience I’ve ever seen.”

It felt a little hurtful for an out-of-towner to hear all the ass-kissing Tampa’s crowds were receiving. When I heard bands at local venues say how great Fort Lauderdale is, I was naive enough to believe our connection was true; now I’m wondering if all us audiences are interchangeable.

One thing I do have to give Tampa crowds credit for is how punctual they are. The crowd was keeping tabs on the festival schedule and migrating from stage to stage to check out different acts. Moving from the lone female presence of Banks to the heavy Canadian rock of Death From Above 1979 back to the English trip-hop of James Blake. To the festival’s credit, every act was onstage on time, but sadly that meant no encores.
Brooklyn noise rockers TV on the Radio played ten songs in the early evening on the Grove stage. Perhaps the event organizers had a sense of humor that a band famous for the song “Staring at the Sun” played on a stage at a time that left audiences doing exactly that. But temporary blindness and singed corneas were a small price to pay for TV on the Radio's sonic fury. The band's live experience included a trombonist who added an extra oomph to “Wolf Like Me.”

Next on that stage, after the sun had mercifully set, came the Pixies. Just a week earlier, I had seen the indie-rock four-piece play a tremendous set at SunFest. They played for Tampa a different batch of songs. “Tame,” “Velouria,” “Caribou,” “Planet of Sound,” “In Heaven,” and “Brick Is Red” all soundtracked the party for Pixies completists. They were as incredible, amazing, and loud as ever, an impossible act to follow. 
The Strokes, the New York City garage rockers, tried their hardest. They sounded great, just like their recorded work. While plenty of people in the crowd were jitterbugging their best and worst dance moves to “Last Nite” and “Reptilia,” it was hard for me personally to get into them from so far away.

After seeing all these other great bands up-close and intimately, the Big Guava Stage felt massive. With its enormous bandshell and lawn seating, the stage is nearly an identical twin to Coral Skies Amphitheatre, and that did make it hard to appreciate the Strokes. Though it probably didn’t help that lead singer Julian Casablancas was acting like a trust-fund brat, making snide comments about Tampa and the festival. He would never do that to Fort Lauderdale or Palm Beach, would he?
The Strokes Set List:

Welcome to Japan
Barely Legal
Automatic Stop
You Only Live Once
All the Time
Machu Picchu
You Talk Way Too Much
One Way Trigger
Heart in a Cage
Taken for a Fool
Under Control
Last Nite
Take It or Leave It
Under Cover of Darkness
Is This It
Hard to Explain
New York City Cops
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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland