“We are going to tell the world Tampa has arrived!” Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced to the crowd gathered in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

It was opening day of the fourth annual Gasparilla Music Festival. More than 40 bands were scheduled to play on four stages set up throughout the downtown park. We’ve come to this festival every year and watched it evolve from a one-day affair with a lot of local bands, to a two-day event that pulls in a solid lineup.

Over the years we’ve seen some great performances: Jason Isbell, Dr. Dog, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, to name a few. But what I love is the event’s local vibe. The Gasparilla Music Festival is delightfully Tampa. Independent restaurants sell Cuban sandwiches. Local bands pack the house. Cigar City, the granddaddy of Tampa beers, pours freely.

The location, smack dab in the middle of downtown, shows off the Hillsborough River and the minarets of the University of Tampa.

It’s a real come as you are event. You’ll find yourself dancing next to people with dreadlocks or designer glasses, tie dye or board shorts. Because the park’s capacity is limited to 10,000 people, the crowds are never overwhelming.

Buckhorn, the mayor, has boasted this music festival is a sign of downtown Tampa’s revival. And it’s true. When we first moved here ten years ago, this strip of land was a parking lot. No one came downtown on the weekends.

On stage, the mayor jazzed the crowd with talk of the upcoming events in downtown. An extension of the city’s Riverwalk is opening at the end of the month. Next week they’re dyeing the river green for St Patrick’s Day. The week after that, an international film festival kicks off at the historic Tampa Theatre downtown.

But tonight, Buckhorn said, it’s all about the music.

“Let’s rock and roll!” he said.

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Wax Wings performs at the amphitheatre in Kiley Gardens, our favorite stage at the festival. In the background, you can see the Hillsborough River and the minarets of the University of Tampa.

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Another shot from a performance in the ampitheatre. Tampa rapper Dynasty hugs an audience member who had participated in her show. Dynasty’s set was by far the highlight of the festival for us.

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The action isn’t just limited to the four official stages. Bands perform impromptu sets throughout the park. On Saturday, the Kuumba Dancers and Drummers of Tampa performed on the lawn of Curtis Hixon Park.

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The Gasparilla Music Festival’s logo was projected on the downtown skyscrapers Saturday night.

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