By Gargs Allard
The weekend of what would have been Tom Petty’s 68th birthday marked the 2nd annual Tom Petty Festival in Gainesville, just a little more than a year after the legendary rocker’s sudden death.
Thousands of fans from all over the country and the world joined many of Tom Petty’s personal friends and family members to honor one of the greatest rock artists in American history in the town that calls Tom Petty their favorite son.
The celebration, which is not actually officially called “Tom Petty Fest,” was divided into three segments 1) The Tom Petty Weekend at Heartwood Soundstage 2) The Tom Petty Birthday Bash at Depot Park and 3) The dedication and renaming of Northeast Park to Tom Petty Park.
All three events had the blessings of Tom Petty’s family members, with Tom’s brother Bruce Petty and his daughter Adria Petty speaking on Saturday, which was Tom Petty’s birthday, during the park dedication.
About the park, which is only a couple blocks away from the home that Tom and Bruce Petty were raised in, Bruce spoke fondly.
“My brother and I grew up in this park, and we played as kids. And my cousin reminded me of my remarks the other day that it was a sanctuary, and it really was. It was a place for us to escape and be kids and have fun. So, the fact that we are doing this today in the park that we played in, just makes it so much more special to our family and myself. I know Adria’s mother Jane played in this park, and my wife Beth played in this park. My kids have played in this park, and today, when we’re done, my grandkids and my brother’s grandchild are going to play in this park,” Bruce Petty said with that familiar drawl that so many adoring fans have associated with his brother. He choked up at the end, triggering a warm reaction by the large, emotion-filled crowd.
Tom’s daughter Adria thanked the crowd for coming, saying their support had made their last year dealing with her father’s loss easier and that they are now part of her family in certain ways.
“Gainesville is an extraordinary place, and if you listen to my dad’s music here it has a different meaning,” she continued. “I don’t know if some of the fans have felt that maybe driving around, but the idea of the ‘air smelling good’ and ‘the trees were green,’ I mean there’s nothing like this park to illustrate that.”
“[The song] ‘Dreamville’ has been blasting in my brain since I landed in Florida,” Adria said.
Adria, who is a brilliant filmmaker, director and artist, and who has made music videos for the likes of Beyonce and Regina Spector, went on to quote Mayor Lauren Poe that Gainesville is a very special place because it fosters artists and creativity in general.
She just completed and released a moving music video for a recently released song of her father’s called “Gainesville,” which Tom wrote in 1998 – that uses footage from her dad’s youth and burgeoning music career in the ’70s, along with footage she just recently shot of her dad’s hometown.
Adria, along with some members of the Heartbreakers, like Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, painstakingly went through many of Tom’s unreleased songs, outtakes and demos and compiled the beautiful Tom Petty: An American Treasure. Available in vinyl, as well as abridged and deluxe CD formats. The collection is filled with absolute gems that is sure to have Tom Petty fans putting the songs on repeat play for months and years to come.
Florida transplant and California native, Jan Acton, was particularly instrumental in getting the park permits, getting the word out about the event, and helping to arrange for a drone that flew above the crowd at the end of the event and took pictures from a bird’s eye view.
ONE FESTIVAL BECOMES TWO
Although Heartwood Soundstage co-owner Dave Melosh and Heavy Petty frontman Jason Hedges are good friends, their strong creative natures caused differences in the way they envisioned how the 2nd annual “Petty Fest” would go.
Last year, almost spontaneously, about 1,000 people or more filled the outdoor portion of Heartwood to celebrate the life of Tom Petty, less than three weeks after his passing. Heavy Petty performed as the headline band and Heartwood served as the venue, and it was a great success, with attendees saying they hoped the same could be repeated the next year.
This year, though, with more time to think about it, plans became bigger, and after sometime it was decided that it might be best if the two festivals operated side by side, within five minutes walking distance of each other.
Many bands from both Gainesville and all over the country agreed to perform, including former bandmate of Tom Petty in Mudcrutch and the Epics, Tom Leadon, who brought band his band The Bayjacks from Nashville to play in Tom’Petty’s honor.
In a storytelling session on the first day of festivities at Heartwood, Leadon told stories of Petty’s nerve to stand up to authority, which Petty didn’t much care for, including slapping away a school official’s hand who had dared to touch his long hair. Leadon, who had some acumen in basketball as a youth, said he was threatened to be blackballed from school sports by the basketball coach when Leadon refused to practice with the team during the summer because he had committed to play with Petty’s band.
About Petty, Leadon, whose brother Bernie was the original lead guitarist for the Eagles, humbly said, “I miss him so much but I’m just so gratified to be here at this event. He would not want us to be sad or moping around. He would just want us to be having a great time together.”
Both venues had Tom Petty cover bands headline the separate shows for the final acts, with Minnesota’s Free Fallin’ playing at Heartwood and the Jason Hedges led Heavy Petty playing at Depot Park. Having walked back and forth between the two venues, it was amazing to this writer that both acts were playing to nearly full capacity at the same time.
Jason Hedges not only performed as a solo artist, but in Heavy Petty and with many of the other guest performers, like 14-year-old guitar phenom Jake Thistle, who rode down with his parents from New Jersey to play in both festivals, and is a huge Tom Petty fan.
Hedges, as mentioned before, was the coordinator of the Tom Petty Birthday Bash, along with his wife Sarah.
When the festival was over he said,
“We are extremely pleased. It was a great turnout we met people from all around the world. It was an honor to have the Petty family come on our stage and say such sweet things about our festival. It was a nice validation that our vision was something that would have made Tom proud. The sound and production was absolutely phenomenal. The community really embraced it – embraced the young bands that came here from around the country to play and who were inspired by Tom. Another cool thing is that we had just as many if not more female performers than males. They all rocked!”
Hedges, also performed a song he wrote in tribute to Tom Petty just after he left his physical body. When this writer turned around to take care of some business in a different part of the park, I had forgotten Jason was playing and genuinely thought it was Tom himself for a number of seconds.
About the experience, Jake Thistle said,
“Being a part of both festivals this weekend was really amazing; it’s something I’ll always remember and I feel honored to have been a part of it. You could tell by the thousands and thousands of people who came from all over the country and the world how important Tom Petty has been to people’s lives– and will continue to be. It was my first time in Gainesville, and to see where Tom came from and to have his friends and family show me around and tell me about Tom growing up here really put things into perspective. And to be able to play in his hometown in his honor was extremely special.”
“Not only that, but it was a chance to thank in person thousands of people who supported my love of Tom’s music. To be down here for the park dedication and to play for and with so many great people and to make so many new friends– that’s special. Tom will always be a part of Gainesville, and he’s meant a lot to me. My life would literally not be the same without him. He introduced me to music. I can’t ever repay him for that, but his family told me that he would have been honored by the events this weekend, so I couldn’t be happier to have played for them. These have been amazing days with amazing people, and I’ll carry that with me forever.”
Both festivals were put on very well and organized down to many exacting details. Heartwood had vendor booths, a face-painting booth for kids, and a number of food trucks, while the Depot Park Festival had the normal restaurants and businesses that run along the side of the park. Even the port-o-lets at Heartwood were clean and had nice touches like a high shelf to put your things.
Despite the great organizing, Heartwood coordinator Dave Melosh was humble and said that he could think of a long list of things he did wrong. If that was so, it doesn’t appear that anyone noticed.
About his experience, Dave said,
“This weekend was a incredible opportunity to showcase Gainesville to hundreds of music lovers and Tom Petty fans from all over the country. We got to show off the incredible musicians in our town as well as show off a little bit of why Tom’s music was so inspired by our city.”
When I asked him if he planned to do it again next year, he said “Next year is happening,” and that he “Hoped everyone enjoyed themselves [this year].
Petty childhood friend Mike Boulware played with both the Mudpies and the Beatle cover group, the Imposers, Another childhood friend, Danny Roberts, performed with the Mudpies in both venues along with his sister Gail.
From the Bayjacks to Have Gun Will Travel, and from the Hails to Matthew Fowler to the Threetles, almost every band left the stage having played a memorable performance.
One of the most memorable was a young band from Fernandina Beach fronted by Dillon Basse. The band has released two EP’s and can be compared to Geddy Lee doing power pop, with a songwriting ability not commonly seen in bands of any tenure.
About his experience performing for the Petty Fest, frontman of Flipturn, Dillon Basse, said,
“It was great to see everyone dancing and singing to all the Tom Petty covers like it was their first time hearing them, when it was probably their 20th time. The energy from everyone there was incredible, and overall it was a great celebration of Tom’s life.”
The Tom Petty Weekend at Heartwood Soundstage utilized both an indoor and outdoor stage, as did the Tom Petty Birthday Bash at Depot Park. In addition, the Birthday Bash also had acts play at The First Magnitude Brewery, which was also only walking distance away.
For a full list of bands who played the 2nd annual “Tom Petty Fest” in both festivals please see this Tune Groover article previewing the show.