What a year of music in 2017 around the Suncoast and Tampa Bay and it covers a lot of ground, from Spring Hill to Clearwater, St. Pete to Sarasota and every town in between. Music is everywhere from the clubs to the arenas and we are lucky to have some of the best musicians who live on the west coast of Florida. It’s tough to pick a few to acknowledge but I will do my best to list the notables of the year that came our way. Starting with some of the biggest arena and stadium tours:
1. Paul McCartney – Sir Paul showed all musicians who have come after him how it is done! Playing a 39 song set list for 2 ½ – 3 hour shows at age 75 with a wealth of hits from a Beatle and one of the greatest songwriters of our time, Paul still loves the audience and it showed! A great band and state of the art stage at the Amalie Arena, singing everything from “A Hard Day’s Night” to the iconic “Let It Be”, it is everything you would want from one of the kings of rock & roll!
2. U2 – Playing Raymond James Stadium, Bono and Company brought the 30th anniversary of the “Joshua Tree” album tour to Tampa. The Edge, Larry and Adam were all there to remind us that we “Still Haven’t Found What We’re Looking For” in an amazing show with Bono marching the American flag down the catwalk. Political as when they started and glad they haven’t changed.
3. Carlos Santana – The guitar icon played Tampa with his incredible band. From “Evil Ways” to “Black Magic Woman”, Mr. Santana had the Amalie Arena eating out of his hand! His amazing guitar riffs are as “Smooth” as they were almost 50 years ago when he played “Evil Ways” at Woodstock. His band is stellar with his wife Cindy Blackman on drums. This show was all about the music, no big stage effects, none needed!
4. Lady Gaga – She is a visionary with an incredible voice and talent to go with it. One of the best tours of the year, she brought heart, soul, costumes and entertainment to the Amalie in her sold out show! Stephanie is one of the great talents of her generation. She gave it her all and a “Million Reasons” to not miss her anytime she comes to town. Las Vegas is lucky to have her for a residency!
5. Foreigner – 40th Anniversary tour with Cheap Trick and Jason Bonham – A great summer rock tour at the Mid-Florida Amphitheatre on an August night! Some of the 70’s and 80’s best music from Foreigner and one of America’s best bands, Cheap Trick! Jason Bonham giving us Zeppelin to start it off was almost too much! No, not really! Still love Lou Gramm, but Kelly Hansen does a good job as front man for Foreigner. Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander is still “The Voice” and they brought new music out as well as the hits like “Dream Police”. Someone had a great idea putting this crew together!
A couple more shows that were pretty great – Ed Sheeran and John Mayer came to town with solo tours. Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper brought a great double bill to Tampa and Lionel Ritchie had the arena dancing, “All Night Long”.
Some of the smaller theater venues had some great artists on stage during the year. Sarasota’s Van Wezel hosted “The Boss” Diana Ross, who brought her Motown glamour and tunes to a sold out crowd! Boston came and rocked with a state of the art graphics show. Frankie Valli, who is still touring at age 82, put on a fun, sing-along show for his audience. Smokey Robinson was another sold out event at the VW, he is still as smooth as silk! Van Wezel put on some great outdoor events with Friday Fest on the lawn with locals Kettle of Fish and Jah Movement! Some of the best musicians around the SRQ!
Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater brought us both indoor and outdoor gigs with shows from big names of rock like Roger Daltrey of The Who doing a solo gig! Performing songs from his solo career & The Who, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had the audience screaming! REH also booked Buckingham/McVie from Fleetwood Mac on their tour to promote their new duet 2017 album. It was great to see Christine and Lindsey but looking forward for the Mac tour in 2018! Brian Setzer brought his orchestra and the “Christmas Rocks” show to the Ruthie! A great way to rock the holiday, it is one of the best shows of the season! REH also hosted the Coachman Park series with the smooth sounds of Kenny G’s sax on a beautiful balmy night and then rocked with a rescheduled hurricane show with Sammy Hagar & the Circle, Night Ranger opening. For a Tuesday on a school night, the place was packed! The REH Blast Friday series in downtown Clearwater had some great shows including John Waite and The Lords of 52nd Street which consist of members of Billy Joel’s original band. A great way to rock Friday night for FREE!
Locally, there are so many shows I can’t possibly be at all of them but I managed to hit a few! Starting with Sarasota’s Thunder by the Bay, which wasn’t by the bay this year but the music was still on the money with Kimberly Betts and the Gamble Creek Band, who also does a great Sugarland tribute band, Tampa Bay’s great Bobby Friss Band and headliners, Blue Oyster Cult. In 2018, Thunder will be back in Sarasota at the fairgrounds and Main Street on Friday night February 16th with Twinkle and Billy Rice. Speaking of hometown SRQ songbird Twinkle, her band toured Europe and then came home and played the final day of George Generoso’s Five O’Clock Club, the benefit for Mack Doss, Sr. at the Swordfish Grill and the hurricane benefit at the Skybar at Kelly’s Live for local musicians. Twinkle and Rock Soul Radio consistently give back to the community and rock it wherever they play. You are missing a treat if you haven’t seen this band! Duane Betts put on a tribute show to Gregg Allman at Stottlemeyer’s Smokehouse, and it was packed to the gills! Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones, Ted Stevens and the Doo Shots and Tim Chandler rocked for charity at the “Giving Back” event for The Blessing Bags Project at the Swordfish.
Up in Clearwater, one of the best local bands “The Black Honkeys” drew a huge crowd for Blast Friday! A mix of cover tunes and originals, with a horn section and Nicole & Bro Phil on vocals, they are a good time, get up and dance band! Tampa rocker and guitar wiz Gary Schutt put on his Ozzman tribute show at Shepard’s on St. Pete Beach over July 4th weekend! One of the most talented guitarists around, be sure to check out Gary with his band “Panic Fire”! Bluesman Selwyn Birchwood did an interview for The Sarasota Post to talk about his new tour and album “Pick Your Poison” which climbed the charts. The Greg Billings Band celebrated the 35th Anniversary of the release of the first “Stranger” album with a sold out show at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater. Robin Taylor Zander, son of Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander is a young talent in his own right with a band called “Smile” in Nashville and playing local spots like the great listening room “The Hideaway” in St. Pete when he is home visiting the family. Local rocker Lisa Larkin of “Seven Years Past” found herself in the unique position of singing in the US tour of the “Decades Rewind” show and coming home to perform at the Van Wezel!
Taking time out to honor those musicians we lost this year, Gainesville’s rocker Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, J. Geils, Chester Bennington and of course Gregg Allman, who once lived here and has many friends and family here. The world wouldn’t have been the same without any of them and their music!
2018 is shaping up to be a great year with both your favorite local musicians and national acts! Billy Joel, Andrea Bocelli, Mary J. Blige and Pink are just some of the arena shows coming to Tampa. Ruth Eckerd has Jackson Brown in January and Barry Manilow is coming to our own hometown venue Van Wezel! Don’t miss your favorites, buy the concert tickets and go! YOLO!
Photos by Vicky Sullivan / Rock the Lens Photography