Gasparilla Music Festival expands influence year-round

Gasparilla Music Festival 2016 invites residents and visitors to unite downtown under the joy of music of many genres in an experience that showcases the riches of local talent, mixed with nationally and internationally recognized acts.

Organizers say they strive to integrate diverse music with the diverse communities of Tampa Bay, a process they call “an art form of its own,” and think kicking off the activities Saturday morning with yoga riverside might help reflect and encourage that balance.

A solid lineup on five stages this weekend, March 12-13, will include headliners Erykah Badu and Stephen “Ragga” Marley. New this year is a dedicated Latin stage at MacDill Park featuring Carlos Varela, Pirulo y la Tribu, Sol Caribe and Larry Duran. 

Families are welcome and there are headliners just for kids, too, like DJ Kitty, Mr. Tommy and 2015 winners of the Parent’s Choice award in music, Andrew & Polly.  In addition, there is an instrument petting zoo and an interactive kids zone. To encourage family participation, organizers made sure kids under age 12 are free. Adult tickets are $30 per day ($20 for the Latin-only stage on Sunday). 

“We have created Tampa’s signature music event,” says Carter Henderson, a board member of the Gasparilla Music Festival since its inception. “We feel like the festival itself is an asset to the community, but we wanted to create an impact beyond the festival.”

The result? The Gasparilla Music Foundation (GMF), the nonprofit organization that puts on the festival, has a mission that is much more far-reaching than just the weekend event. 

“Supporting local music, downtown Tampa and the arts youth music education were the three pillars of the Gasparilla Music Foundation from the beginning,” notes Henderson.  “We felt like if we wanted to be sustainable and build, grow our impact, we needed it to do more:  It’s giving back, it’s for a good cause. That’s why we did it.”

He is referring to the Gasparilla Music Foundation’s involvement in promoting music education in the Tampa Bay region.

Live music and kids

“Kids don’t [usually] get to see live music because it’s too late or too expensive,” says Jamie Zinober, another GMF board member. It was important to her that children, including her own, experience music in person, “and get to the point where they can appreciate live music.” Once she felt the kids’ part of the festival was successfully established -- kids participation has been steadily growing and last year more than 2,000 children attended -- she wanted to focus on music education. 

“The price of a new instrument can be almost overwhelming for some families,” says Zinober. She and other board members wanted to find a way to ease the burden, particularly for children who show a keen interest and ambition for learning but aren’t able to have an instrument of their own to practice with. “What happens when these kids are excelling and can’t leave with the instrument?”

To this end, GMF partnered with South Tampa music school Don Banks Music and started a program called Recycled Tunes. The program collects used musical instruments from the community in exchange for tickets to the Gasparilla Music Festival. Don Banks Music then refurbishes the instruments and gets them ready for distribution to local schools. Over the past three years, they have been able to place more than 200 instruments, initially handled through Instruments of Change.

Wanting to “follow the instruments,” GMF has more recently partnered with Little Kids Rock, which has established ties to local music teachers. Little Kids Rock is a national nonprofit dedicated to promoting modern music to public school children through training teachers, building music programs that focus on popular music and by providing instruments. In addition to the refurbished instruments, GMF has donated $5,000 to LKR to purchase new ones for local classrooms.

Music education in Tampa

Hillsborough County has been named by the NAMM Foundation as one of the best communities for music education in the country -- one of just 300 nationwide -- for the past several years and is slated to make the list this year as well. Even so, everyone interviewed for this article insisted there is a need for deeper and broader music education, particularly given the proven benefits, which run the gamut from improved SAT scores to critical thinking and improved decision making.   

Melanie Faulkner, Hillsborough County Elementary Music Supervisor, says that in addition to the many kid-friendly activities and exposure to instruments that take place at the Gasparilla Music Festival, the event itself supports music education in that it engages kids and helps bridge the gap between “music in my world, my home and school music.”  

She says that while educators have a curriculum to follow in school, with pop music, “there is an immediate connection.”  This connection, she says, enhances the opportunity for children to become musically literate and become a music maker on some level.” 

This connection, of course, is also one of the main objectives of Gasparilla Music Foundation and Little Kids Rock.

Little Kids Rock! 

“Popular music is meaningful to kids, to people,” says Dann Shea, Little Kids Rock’s Tampa Regional Program Director and Coach. Shea is also a music teacher at Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School. “As educators we know that we have teach kids first where they are, the music they know.  We have to capture that, the knowledge, the listening ear.” 

Shea says these programs are making a difference. Little Kids Rock over the years has donated 4,000 instruments -- worth about $250,000 -- to close to 150 area schools, mainly guitars, keyboards, drums and bass guitars. 
“Our students reached for this year alone is 31,948,” Shea says. He notes that LKR offers more than musical instruments. “When LKR comes in and offers another round of training, there are many educational teacher resources donated and trainers to pay that are not factored in.” Shea says that when instruments are donated this way, the music teacher has more discretion and can get instruments home to kids who want to be able to practice more. “If a kid is really rockin’ it, I might just give it to them for the summer,” says Shea.

These instruments, which are not generally part of the budgeted public school inventory, enable him to do cool things during the day like teach his entire class the chords to Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me”. They are sending a video to the American Idol super star in hopes he’ll visit them when he is in Tampa.  

Having the right instruments also enables to teachers to form student rock bands and guitar clubs. At Shea’s elementary school, their rock band, The Jam, practices Mondays after school. They are currently working on AC/DC’s TNT (“with changed lyrics”).  

One of the Little Kids Rock bands will be performing at the Gasparilla Music Festival this year.

Read more articles by Kendra Langlie.

Kendra Langlie is a freelance writer and communications consultant for regional and global businesses. Though she has always been passionate about arts and culture, she spent many years in the tech and B2B corporate worlds both in the U.S. and abroad. With a degree in Economics and International Relations from The American University in Washington, DC, she considers politics her favorite sport and follows it avidly with as much humor as she can muster. Based in the Carrollwood neighborhood of Tampa, Kendra is a mother and wife, a news junkie, and lover of all things creative.
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