Editors update: A Tampapalooza coordinator reached out to me saying this “first day was far less than ideal.” However “we have made some changes” for Sunday’s event to go “more smoothly” and “enjoyably.” I’m adding this hopeful comment to the top of this post– it’s always a good thing when organizers realize mistakes and work to change them instead of acting pompous and ignorant. Thank you for reading and reaching out.
Attending free local events in their ‘inaugural’ year is always a gamble because this is the time to make mistakes so you learn from them in the future. Looking back, I wonder if the mistake of Tampapalooza was having one in the first place. But let me rewind. There was no way this Tampa Bay lover could say ‘no’ to a free festival promising to celebrate “everything local in Tampa!” With humid heat and no predicted rain, I armed myself with a frozen water bottle, sunscreen and floppy hat.
Before I even stepped foot in the event, an immediate dislike was planted by the parking admission. While a parking cost was never mentioned on the official website, both Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Times online yelled FREE parking at the event. $6 wasn’t going to kill me, but I had been severely misled.
Still I pressed on into the Fairgrounds. Tampapalooza occupied an area the size of a football field. While that’s awesome and offers lots of potential, there were not enough vendors present to fill that large area. What resulted were lots of empty space and very thin crowds. There were whole groups of vendors the crowds wouldn’t even approach because of the strange layout.
There was a running theme throughout the event and it was obvious from the moment I walked in to the moment I exited the gates… the lack of celebrating “Tampa Bay.” There were a few nods to Tampa’s pirate-crazed celebrations as a few costumed characters walked or stilt-walked around. Cigar City Brewing even had a great location under a large, shaded tent… but nothing else screamed Tampa Bay pride. Did the birds from Busch Gardens not want to attend? Were the student performers from the USF too shy? Did the armored vehicles from McDill Air Force Base not want to get touched? And the worst one… not a single known Tampa restaurant was present like the Columbia or Taco Bus— I know I’ve seen them sell food on the streets before. At least an appearance by Gigi’s Cupcakes represented a Tampa store with a booth.
Instead half the vendors were similar to the smaller stalls you see at the State Fair selling Kettle Corn or Italian Sausages. Big sponsors Cricket and Mazda both had large booths including a test-driving area for Mazda’s VIP ticket holders. Other vendors weren’t Tampa Bay locals but visitors from elsewhere in the state such as Calypso Salt and Soaps from Davenport, FL (I’ve never seen handmade soap this artistic looking so I bought a couple). All these vendors probably would’ve sold more if they had moved to one of several Farmer’s Markets in the Bay area today.
At least the local talent on the stage was entertaining. Young Francesca belted out original and cover songs while playing an acoustic guitar. Another band (their name escapes me) rocked out. Unfortunately the beating sun kept everyone far away from the stage. I tried to get a schedule of performances but the vendors I asked and even some volunteers in the children’s tent had no idea.
Perhaps families with small kids were better off. An entire corner of Tampapalooza was filled with an inflatable playground. Under the ‘Children’s Tent’ markers, poster paper, and wind spinners were thrown around and left for the children to get creative with. None of this interested me.
After pushing two hours there (I had to justify paying $6 to enter a place easily completed in less than an hour) I left. If Tampapalooza ever decides to return, please move to a more welcoming location like Curtis Hixon Park. And please bring more Tampa-based representatives and entertainment. There was barely anything for an adult to do except shop—I could’ve just shopped St. Pete’s Farmer’s Market for that. Instead of a winning celebration, this was just a Tampapa-lose-a.