Die-hard music fans from around the U.S. are converging on Gainesville this weekend to celebrate the birthday of the rock and roll legend, who would’ve turned 68 on Saturday.
For more than four decades, Bob McPeek has played an active role in Gainesville’s vibrant music scene. He once co-owned Hyde and Zeke Records, he ran Mirror Image recording studio, has played in a number of bands and, more recently, helped launch Heartwood Soundstage.
However, one of McPeek’s greatest regrets is never having crossed paths with the late Tom Petty, the Gainesville born-and-raised Rock & Roll Hall of Famer.
“I moved to Gainesville in November 1976, which I believe was the exact month the first Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album was released,” McPeek said. “They exited Gainesville probably a couple of years before I arrived. … I’ve met Stan Lynch a few times. I’ve worked with Bernie Leadon and with Tom Leadon, but not with Tom Petty himself.”
This week, however, McPeek and his Heartwood Soundstage team are celebrating Petty’s incredible legacy on the anniversary of what would have been the musician’s 68th birthday. The Tom Petty Birthday Celebration Weekend is a four-day festival that will feature more than 20 musical acts on indoor and outdoor stages and other activities designed to please hardcore fans expected to flock to his hometown.
One of the headlining acts both Friday and Saturday night is The Bayjacks. The band includes Tom Leadon, a former member of one of Petty’s original Gainesville bands, Mudcrutch. Ending both nights of the music festival will be Free Fallin’, a national touring Tom Petty tribute band. (For the lineup, scroll to the bottom of this page.)
While Heartwood is honoring Petty, there will be free events at Depot Park and First Magnitude Brewing Co. known collectively as the Tom Petty Birthday Bash. There will be two stages at Depot Park and another stage at First Magnitude, spotlighting local and national bands. Guests can upgrade their free tickets with VIP packages that begin at $35. All proceeds benefit UF Health Shands Arts In Medicine.
Festivities at Depot Park begin at 5 p.m. Friday and at 12:40 p.m. Saturday. The Bradenton-based band Have Gun, Will Travel will be the headlining act on the main stage Friday night at 9:50. Heavy Petty, Gainesville’s own Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tribute band fronted by Jason Hedges, will headline on Saturday night at 8:30.
(For the complete lineup, scroll to the end of this article.)
Several thousand people are expected to attend the Tom Petty events. They will include hundreds of members of Tom Petty Nation, who will make a pilgrimage to Gainesville as they did a year ago following Petty’s unexpected death in Southern California on Oct. 2, 2017.
Last year, Hedges along with Heartwood’s Dave Melosh hastily organized a free, one-day Tom Petty Tribute at the downtown soundstage. It was an overwhelming success.
“It was so well received,” Melosh said. “It just showed us how many people absolutely love Tom Petty. There were 2,000 people here, maybe more. There were people crying the whole time. It was a really special experience that I didn’t know we were getting ourselves into.”
Melosh said he was struck by how many people in Gainesville have stories about growing up in Gainesville with Tom Petty.
“It was more than a rock star they cared about — it was somebody who was really part of their lives,” Melosh said. “To a lot of people, Tom Petty’s music was a soundtrack to the most important moments in their lives. They played Tom Petty songs during their weddings and things like that, so the tribute ended up being a much more emotional experience than I realized. It was really a beautiful experience.”
And that helps explain why there will be two separate events honoring Petty this year — to meet demand.
“Six months before we started planning, we heard people were already making plans to come to Gainesville to do something [to honor Petty],” Melosh said. “About six months ago, we realized that just the number of people who are going to be showing up for this exceeded what Heartwood could do on our own. It made more sense for Jason to do his own thing at Depot Park. There was no way we could fit everybody here.”
The Heartwood Soundstage festivities begin Thursday at 5 p.m. with a meet-and-greet for fans coming from out of town. Jake Thistle, a teenage musician influenced by Petty’s music, will perform. Thistle will also perform indoor and outdoor sets on Friday at Heartwood and on Saturday at both First Magnitude and Depot Park.
Meanwhile, McPeek will oversee the live streaming of all performances on Heartwood’s indoor soundstage this weekend. He will also get in on the act when his band, The Relics, open the outdoor stage Friday at 5 p.m.
McPeek said it’s important for Tom Petty’s hometown to pay its respects to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
“I think what he means to Gainesville, in part, is that he was a guy who stayed true to his music and true to his spirit and succeeded on those terms and just showed that it’s possible to do that,” McPeek said. “He’s certainly the biggest star, with the possible exception of Stephen Stills, who’s ever emerged out of Gainesville. I think that’s pretty profound.”
According to McPeek, it’s important for Gainesville to put together a memorable weekend for Petty fans.
“I think we want to have people walk away from the event going, ‘Wow, that was one of the best things that ever happened,'” he said. “It’s pretty important to me that we don’t disappoint those people and that we exceed their expectations. And they have pretty high expectations.
“I’m hoping they’ll say, ‘Wow, this is Tom Petty’s hometown. This was Tom Petty’s hometown doing him right.'”
— Noel Leroux
Tom Petty Birthday Celebration Weekend at Heartwood Soundstage, 619 S. Main St.
Soundstage: Storytelling, 3 p.m.; Jake Thistle, 4:40 p.m.; Maggie Clifford, 5:40 p.m.; Resonance, 6:40 p.m.; Someday Honey 7:40 p.m.; Someday Honey 8:40 p.m.
Outdoor Stage: The Relics, 5 p.m.; The Shambles, 6 p.m.; The Mudpies, 7 p.m.; Jake Thistle, 8 p.m.; The Bayjacks, 9 p.m.; Free Fallin, 10 p.m.
Soundstage: Matthew Fowler, 4:40 p.m.; Don’t Pet the Grass, 5:40 p.m.; Steven Davis, 6:40 p.m.; Matthew Fowler, 7:40 p.m.; Sam Pacetti, 8:40 p.m.; King Complex 9:40 p.m.
Outdoor Stage: Wild Blue Yonder, 4 p.m.; The Hails, 5 p.m.; Flipturn, 6 p.m.; The Imposters, 7 p.m.; The Bayjacks, 8 p.m.; Robbie Litt, 9 p.m.; Free Fallin 10 p.m.
For further info, visit the Tom Petty Weekend at Heartwood website.
Tom Petty Birthday Bash at Depot Park and First Magnitude Brewing Co., 1220 SE Veitch St.
Depot Park Dreamville Mainstage: Hedges & Friends, 5 p.m.; Scott Free & Friends (Bo Diddley Tribute), 5:30 p.m.; Whiskey & Co., 6:20 p.m.; Hedges, 7:10 p.m.; The Artisanals, 8:30 p.m.; Have Gun, Will Travel, 9:50 p.m.
Depot Park Wildflower Acoustic Stage: Rod Guynn, 5:20 p.m.; Kyle Keller (inside), 6 p.m.; Mark Connelly, 6:50 p.m.; Salt & Pine (inside), 8:10 p.m.
First Magnitude Honeybee Stage: Noah MacGinnis, 5:30 p.m.; Foxes & Lions, 6:30 p.m.; The Threetles (Beatles tribute), 7:30 p.m.
Depot Park Dreamville Mainstage: Salt & Pine, 2 p.m.; Mudpies, 3 p.m.; Hannah Wicklund & the Steppin Stones, 4:05 p.m.; Edan Archer, 5:10 p.m.; Gregg McMillan, Lance Howell and Mark Connelly, 6:15 p.m.; The High Divers, 7:15 p.m.; Heavy Petty, 8:30 p.m.
Depot Park Wildflower Acoustic Stage: Chris Gallon, 12:40 p.m.; Noah MacGinnis , 1:40 p.m.; Maggie Clifford (inside), 1:40 p.m.; Max Helgemo, 2:40 p.m.; Jason and Sarah Hedges (inside), 3:50 p.m.; Lance Howell (inside), 4:50 p.m.; Dylan Gerard (inside), 6 p.m.; Foxes & Lions (inside), 7 p.m.; Jake Thistle (inside), 8 p.m.
First Magnitude Honeybee Stage: Vena Kava, 3:30 p.m.; Week in the Knees, 4:30 p.m.; Jake Thistle, 5:30 p.m.
For further info, visit the Tom Petty Birthday Bash website.