ST PETERSBURG - As the late morning sun began to heat up today, thousands of people - the vast majority of whom appeared considerably younger than 30 and thoroughly tattooed - were making pilgrimages from downtown St. Petersburg's far reaches to the typically serene Vinoy Park waterfront for the annual Vans Warped Tour. The sounds of hard-core punk music drifted all the way down to the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, and finding parking anywhere downtown was nearly impossible. A touring, daylong music festival that started 18 years ago as a means of showcasing independent punk bands, the Warped Tour now consists largely of big-label acts such as The Used and even, one year, pop sensation Katy Perry. Locally, the event has inspired music promoters and musicians to organize their own music showcases over the same weekend, if not the same day. Such events, namely the Antiwarpt festival of recent years, have thrived as the number of venues - and audience demand for both homegrown and touring acts - has been on the rise. While St. Petersburg's indie music scene clearly still needs work, it's been flourishing in recent years.
"We're kind of at a peak," said Daniel Williams, who plays in the Clearwater-based punk band Wolf-Face. "Lots of people coming out to shows. All sorts of music, all sorts of bands to check out." Walking east on Central Avenue from the State Theatre on any given weekend will yield a range of sounds coming from venues such as Local 662, Fubar, the Emerald Bar, the Garden, Jannus Live from acts such as Jun Bustamante, Geri X, the Black Honkeys and Permanent Makeup. The blaring punk, neosoul and psychedelic rock contrasts with St. Petersburg's reputation in a bygone era as a sleepy retirement town. "What a lot of people used to refer to as heaven's waiting room is now becoming a lively . market," said Brian Bailey, who publishes local blog ilovetheburg.com. "There's just buzz here." For Amanda Polk, 25, who was on her way to the Warped Tour with a friend, downtown St. Petersburg is a draw nearly every weekend. She and a friend drove over from Tampa last Saturday to catch the sold-out Marilyn Manson show at Jannus Live but wound up seeing and meeting the band Pacific Dub at Local 662 instead. "There definitely is [stuff happening]," she said as she bought tickets for the band Passafire's Friday show at Jannus Live at Daddy Kool records. "You just have to go out and look for it in the right places." The scene may have expanded in part due to more organized efforts on the part of promoters such as Sean O'Brien of Brokenmold Entertainment. O'Brien and Phil Benito, who cofounded the company, are some of the people behind Antiwarpt, which O'Brien said was started as a lark in 2010 but was, in part, an effort to draw focus to the local music scene. "It was kind of just poking fun at [Warped Tour]," O'Brien said. The event's attendance that year was 740. In 2011, it was 2,000, and the following year 3,000 people showed up. Although 94 of the 99 acts last year were from Florida, they were able to bring in national indie act the Mountain Goats as a headliner. "It's turned into its own thing," he said. The future of that festival is uncertain due to a rift between the festival's founders, but a separate effort to put on the event is having an Antiwarpt preparty Saturday. Several venues will host local bands, and part of the lineup for a bigger, related event will be announced. Antiwarpt even inspired anti-Antiwarpt last year, a punk-focused festival that takes place on the same weekend. Due to copyright issues, the event was called "The Worst Day Ever" (a play on Warped's "The Best Day Ever" theme). Organizer and promoter Kat Lynes said the smaller, St. Petersurg-centric feel captures the spirit of what Warped tour once was. "The initial idea was to get a couple of larger bands that people knew but really to give smaller bands to tour nationally and get more exposure," Lynes said. "Really, it's become commercial, which is really ironic. I mean, a few years ago, Katy Perry was on." O'Brien said he's seen greater self-awareness for the music scene in the Tampa Bay area, in general, but it's been an uphill battle due to the challenge of getting national acts to play here. That can be a boon to local bands, which can be booked to open for their well-known touring counterparts. Part of the problem is Florida's geography: Bands don't have a number of cities to play within a several hundred-mile radius like they do up north. "Once you get to Florida, there's nowhere to go," O'Brien said. "They'll go to Miami and fly out." Brokenmold wants to reach out to other similar outfits throughout the state to put together Florida tours they can pitch to traveling bands. "We're trying to link up with other promoters in other cities," O'Brien said. For now, festivals such as Antiwarpt and the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa are helping bring national acts to town because of their ability to draw so many ticket holders, he said. Not everyone's happy with the local scene, though. "It sucks," said Anthony Hale, 28, of St. Petersburg. Hale, who plays in the metal band Adversaries, was bound for the Warped Tour to see Black Dahlia Murder today. He said there's little money in playing shows here, and getting an opening slot for a touring band is nearly impossible. "It's fun, but that's the extent of it," he said. "If you get paid anything, it's only a few bucks; the little percentage you get from the door." Part of the negative perception of the local music scene is that more people just need to get out to more shows, said Manny Kool, a managing partner of Daddy Kool Records downtown. "We do have a good thing here," he said. "If people just went out, they would realize that it's good. If you look at a list and say 'Oh, I don't see anybody I like,' there might be someone you don't know." firstname.lastname@example.org (727) 215-7999 Twitter: @kbradshawTBO