Surviving the Heatwave

By Julie Garisto, tbt* Staff Writer
Published May 10, 2007

There's no doubt Tropical Heatwave will get you sweaty, but the tunes promise to be refreshing.

The annual one-day festival in Ybor City presented by WMNF-FM 88.5 - the listen-supporter station that broadcasts music and public affairs you won't hear on commercial radio - busts out a likewise alternative mix of rock, blues, funk, folk, Latin, world beat and all sorts of off-the-radar bands on six stages at three venues. All on Saturday night.

This year's event, as usual, runs the gamut of styles and tastes. Plus, a street festival on Ninth Avenue features a variety of vendors. Don't be surprised by some vegetarian nosh, like falafels, along with meaty fare. And you might find merchants selling clothing made from hemp, dream catchers and colorful Guatemalan bags. Expect activists dispersing pamphlets, too.

Think of Heatwave as a live microcosm of the station's ongoing bohemian bonanza.

Now celebrating its 26th year, the fest takes up the city block between 13th Street and Republica de Cuba Avenue and Ninth and Palm avenues at the Cuban Club and El Pasaje Plaze courtyard. Satellite venues the Orpheum and New World Brewery extend the party another block to Eighth Avenue with great local and regional music lineups. More than 30 acts on six stages at three venues. You need a strategy. Here are some suggestions.

Be prepared to be on your feet a lot. In other words, think twice about those high heels, girls. Because bands play multiple stages simultaneously, Heatwavers pass back and forth between areas to sample a cross-section. Even at New World Brewery, with its ample indoor-outdoor seating, the place gets so packed it's nearly impossible to find a seat. "I guess I define Heatwave differently from a lot of festivals, " WMNF program director Randy Wynne says. When you go to Blues Festival, you kick back in a chair and lounge around." But he reassures there will be some seating: "There are chairs in the courtyards and they tend to be back further. So there are a few places to sit when you need a break."

Find out who's playing ahead of time. Go to wmnf.org/heatwave to print out a schedule and descriptions of the bands not mentioned here.

Walk around the block to avoid the crowd. You can walk around the outer perimeter of the Cuban Club and El Pasaje to get from one courtyard to another if you don't want to migrate with the herd. Wynne says the opening between the courtyards has been widened, but it still gets bottle-necked.

Stay fed and hydrated. Bottled water will be on sale for $2 and plenty of food vendors will be on hand, but you can bring your own snacks and non-alcoholic drinks in a backpack. Note: No coolers will be permitted. Freeze bottles of water ahead. A sampling of food and drink vendors:

Alessi: coffee, beignets and lemonade

Linda Wilcox: barbecue meats

Skippers: barbecued meats, fish and devil crabs

Thurston's: Italian ice, pretzels, snacks

Mix a Lot: jerk chicken

The Bean Pot: vegetarian food

Uncle Leroy's: jambalaya

Ali Glover: arepas

Sandra Cooper: conch fritters

If you like to dance, hang out at the Cuban Club ballroom. The bands that play danceable tunes perform in the room with the macked-out dance floor. This year you'll hear jam-band Infectious by Nature, Latin jazz act Freddy Montes y Su Son, rockabilly Rocket 88, roots-rocking Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs and reggae-jamming Mr. Specialist.

Beer up before you go to New World. There will be several vendors throughout the Cuban Club and El Pasaje selling beer, wine and liquor. The line at the bar at New World Brewery can be 15 people deep. It's better to get there in time to see bands you like and avoid the bar altogether. If you're there a while, don't worry. The number of people at the bar fluctuates between sets, and the fast-on-their-feet bartenders will serve you a lot quicker than you think.

Chill out between bands on Ninth Avenue. "Two years ago we moved almost all of the vendors out of the courtyard, because they took up a lot of space, and we put them all on Ninth Avenue, which has become like a little street festival, " Wynne says. "We have arts and crafts vendors. It's kind of a cool place to go, to hang out and meet people."

Get in for free by helping clean up Sunday morning maybe. Event volunteers get in for free, but most of the tasks are assigned already. Sunday cleanup usually has the fewest takers, so call volunteer coordinator Carrie Core at (813) 238-8001, Ext. 134, to see if any slots are open.

Get in for half-price by arriving late. At 11 p.m. you can purchase arm bands that allow access to all the venues for only $15. Bands play until the 2 a.m. curfew, so that's a solid 3 hours of entertainment (even if the schedule says the last band finishes at 1:20 a.m. - they tend to run late).

Show up 10-20 minutes late to each act. That way you avoid wasting time waiting for sound checks and other pre-show preparations.

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