Gasparilla Music Festival has been seeing steady growth over the past several years. Here Executive Director David Cox sat down to share the festival's vision, as well the challenge of putting on a festival as a non-profit.
Guest post from PledgeMusic News
A hidden gem among music festivals can be found in the Tampa Bay area, a fan-friendly, musically diverse weekend that has been steadily growing over the last six years known as Gasparilla Music Festival. This year, several PledgeMusic alumni like Cage the Elephant, the New Mastersounds and The Marcus King Band will play alongside other heavyweights like Ryan Adams, Moon Taxi, Chronixx and more. And as great as the festival weekend will be, perhaps the best part of all is how the weekend will end up fueling music education in the area throughout the rest of the year.
We recently sat down for a few minutes with David Cox, Executive Director of the Gasparilla Music Foundation, to ask about the festival’s vision, their hopes for arts education and the pressures of putting on a festival when you’re a non-profit organization.
I know you’re coming up on this year’s festival with only a few weeks to go. How are things feeling?
Yeah we’re definitely in the weeds. [Laughs] But it’s also good. Our biggest challenge is getting bands. We’re a 501©3 non-profit, so it’s just the timing of getting all of that together is always tough for us. I’d love to get the full line-up out in November, but it’s late January and we’re still putting some things together.
Credit: Anthony Martino
Does being a non-profit make things more difficult or present different hurdles than what other festivals face?
It does. We’re independent. Our foundation operates throughout the year, but our festival is only two days. But we’re labeled a festival like any other festival when we’re talking to bands and competing with some big players, the AEGs and Live Nations of the world who put on mega-festivals. It’s a different model for us, but it’s good because it keeps us independent and lets us do our own thing.
Working with music education and support there is a big part of what you do on the non-profit side, correct?
Yeah, that’s our big thing. We have a program called Recycled Tunes. The program provides local public schools with new and used instruments. When I say used, we collect a lot of used instruments and we refurbish them. People can also exchange them with us for a ticket to the festival. Then we go out and we pay to have them refurbished so we can donate them back to the schools.
Then we have another arm which is called GMF Productions, but it’s really just to provide support for local musicians and bands. We try to program about 50 percent of the bands we have at our festival to be local and regional bands. Throughout the year, we try to find paying gigs for those artists throughout the year — outside of clubs and things like that. One monthly program we have is Streetcar Live, and it brings a different band playing on a historic streetcar in Tampa.
There are different initiatives like that. Each year we can do more, and we want to support the bands who are dedicated to the craft and making original art. We want to see those guys prosper and support them however we can.
Is the goal for the festival, then, to provide funds and awareness for the programs or are there other goals?
Absolutely. That’s predominantly where the funding comes from is by putting on the festival.
Credit: Caesar Carbajal
This will be the festival’s sixth year. Does it feel like you have a good groove with it.
I think we’re still finding our way. One of the good things about our group and our organization and our core values is that we’re always reaching to grow the festival and our contribution to the community. That can include expanding our programming, growing our venue. We started as a one-day festival and then switched to two days. So we’re always looking for ways to grow and get people involved and stay fresh and current. But we also have to remember that we’re non-profit so we have to take baby steps along the way.
You’ve mentioned your vision and some of your values, so how does that affect, if at all, the music you decide to bring in to the festival?
If definitely affects it. We’re set up to be a community event, but we bring in a lot of people out of town. About 25 percent of our ticket sales come from outside the Tampa Bay region and about 10 percent from outside the state of Florida, but we really want to appeal to all types of music listeners, so we’re not stuck with just one genre like rock or R&B or whatever it is.
We want to reflect all those different tastes in music, and we work very hard to program it so that when you’re there, you can find a trail bouncing around. Maybe you’ll hear something new along the way, but you can find your groove throughout the day to find something that suits your musical tastes a bit more.
Last year we had Eryka Badu playing on Saturday night. This year we’ve got Cage the Elephant on Saturday and Ryan Adams on Sunday. That’s a little more alt-rock and Americana versus more R&B heavy last year, but each year has its own complexion and represents a different side of the community a litle bit.
If you can dream a bit, where would you hope to see things in the next year or two?
It will take more than a year or two, but our goal would be for us to have a big hand in ensuring that every kid in the Tampa Bay area that needs a musical instrument has access to it. Part of the reason we got into this is because the arts funding was just getting cut everywhere. Music is a bit thing and helps long-term build a better community. The kids who take music classes score better and test better and they’re socially better. There is so much benefit to it, so that’s our goal is to make sure we can fulfill that need.
For the festival, we’d like to continue to expand if we can. We’re looking at some ways to make our venue a little bit bigger and add some additional stages along the Riverwalk and downtown Tampa. But our focus has always been on the fan experience, so we want to make sure we elevate that reputation as a great festival for fans to go to. Our ticket prices are going to be half the price of other festivals. We want to make sure the fans are having a good time and that it’s good for them.