The music scene in Sarasota and the Tampa Bay surrounding areas in 2018 was full of great shows both local and national. We are fortunate to have a mixture of venues to experience live music within a couple of hours drive from stadiums and arenas in Tampa & Orlando to some of the best theaters in Clearwater, St. Pete, Sarasota and south to Ft. Myers. Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium (Home of the Tampa Bay Rays) hosted both the Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran shows. Sheeran’s tour, being the largest selling tour of the year according to Billboard, with Swift coming in a close 2nd.
Camping World Stadium in Orlando saw the Eagles new lineup with Glenn Frey’s son Deacon and Vince Gill doing a double bill with Parrothead leader Jimmy Buffett. Pink is in the top ten and brought her high-flying show to Orlando’s Amway Center. Bob Weir, John Mayer and Dead & Company came to the Big Mouse city too! Justin Timberlake, another top ten grosser with his “Man in the Woods” tour came to Tampa’s Amalie Arena, also the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. National treasure James Taylor came to Tampa this year as well as Maroon Five, Hall & Oates with Train, Mary J. Blige and Def Leppard, rocking one of the best shows of the year with Journey. Trans-Siberian Orchestra killed it with the incredible “Ghosts of Christmas Past” extravaganza to bring the year to an amazing finish of rock shows at the arena.
Not to be forgotten, the Mid-Florida Amphitheatre in Tampa, the largest outdoor music venue, hosted a variety of shows mainly over the spring and summer months. Country artists like Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum came to town, so did Kesha, Foo Fighters with the Struts, Foreigner, Dave Matthews Band and those Leto brothers with their band 30 Seconds to Mars! Recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Janet Jackson played Mid-Florida in August. Audiences dealt with the occasional summer rain to see their favorite artists, part of the outdoor concert experience!
Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater is in the middle of outside renovations for improvement but continues to have great shows coming and going throughout the year from Broadway to shows like Alice Cooper, who brought his wild craziness to Clearwater and, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening; two great rock shows! Brian Setzer’s 15th Anniversary Christmas Rocks tour brought rockabilly for the holidays! The Capitol Theatre, one of the coolest small venues had some great intimate shows with artists like Michael McDonald, Eddie Money and local Safety Harbor rock hero, Robin Zander of Cheap Trick with his son Robin Taylor and daughter Sailor, showing the audience the next generation of musicians in the Zander family. Ruth Eckerd also presents outdoor shows on Cleveland St. with “Blast Friday”, free shows for anyone to bring a chair and rock on Friday nights with popular local acts like the Greg Billings Band and the Black Honkeys and national acts bringing their hits like John Waite or The Fixx.
Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Pete is another theater venue offering stellar acts from music genius Todd Rundgren to the upcoming Nile Rodgers and Chic show in January 2019. Al Lang Stadium (Home of the Rowdies), which is next door to the Mahaffey, is now having outdoor concerts. Poison with Bret Michaels and Pop Evil did a fun show in July and more concerts are scheduled with Carlos Santana bringing his world class band in April 2019.
Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Center is another great venue that offers an eclectic array of shows from traveling national theater to artists that have changed the American music scene like Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Judy Collins, and the iconic Tony Bennett to 80’s favs like rocker Rick Springfield. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld came to town this year with local celeb Jerry Springer sitting in the audience. Van Wezel hosts Friday Fest on the bay with local bands, food and great sunsets. The Van Wezel was the grounds for the charity event of “Giving Hunger the Blues 2018”; the day long music event has been going strong in Sarasota since 1996.
One of the best shows of the year was the Aretha Tribute put on at both the Palladium in St. Pete and the Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton. There was an amazing array of local voices including Katt Hefner, Yaya Diamond, Brenda Watty, Lauren Mitchell and Twinkle. This show could have been a Broadway production, it was that good! I hope they do some more of these real soon! Aretha would have mad respect for this show!
On the local scene in Sarasota, there are several live music venues keeping it rockin’ including the 5 O’Clock Club which has been a Sarasota music institution for both local bands and famed musicians like Gregg Allman, Brian Johnson, or Rick Derringer who have jammed at the 5-0. The White Buffalo Saloon which recently brought rocker vocalist Sebastian Bach to Sarasota with a sold out show! Hope to see more of this! Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse, an open air live music venue, with local music rotating on a regular basis that features bands from Kettle of Fish to Duane Betts doing an occasional show. Voted 2018 Best of the Bay reggae band Jah Movement puts on great live shows. Sarasota Skybar & Club has a great lineup of local and Florida musicians on the weekends with Selwyn Birchwood and the Sean Chambers Band coming in 2019.
Mattison’s, in both the SRQ and Bradenton, has live music. The Swordfish Grill and Tiki Bar has live music outside on the deck as well as putting on the annual Stone Crab Festival with a weekend of live music and those awesome stone crabs! Speaking of festivals, there is Thunder by the Bay in February at the Sarasota Fairgrounds. To start things off in 2019, the Sarasota Seafood and Music Festival is January 18-20 with local music favorites Twinkle & Rock Soul Radio and The Billy Rice Band.
2019 is bringing some more big tours to Florida including The Rolling Stones. Elton John will be making up the shows he missed in Tampa and Orlando due to illness, Bob Seger is doing a farewell tour, Cher is making The Hertz Arena in Ft. Myers her opening show for her “Here We Go Again” farewell tour. Billy Joel is at the Amway Center in Orlando on January 11th. Andrea Bocelli, Michael Buble, Queen with Adam Lambert and Pink are just a few of the shows coming to Tampa’s Amalie Arena in 2019! Lots of great music coming our way whether you go to one of the big shows or a more intimate venue, there are many choices. Do yourself a favor and buy the concert tickets if you can! Check the websites of the venues for the most updated information!
Most of all please support your local musicians! This area has some of the best musicians anywhere! Looking forward to a new year of music on the Suncoast! So much music, so little time!
Photos by Vicky Sullivan / Rock the Lens Photography and DepositPhotos