It’s the end of the third quarter and in usual fashion, fans in The Swamp are locked arm in arm, singing along to “We Are the Boys of Old Florida.” But, there’s another tradition Gator fans have become acquainted with.
Since Oct. 7, 2017, Tom Petty’s "I Won't Back Down" blares over the stadium speakers every home football game, with fans singing along to the Gainesville native’s hit song in honor of his passing.
But this was just the beginning of Gainesville’s tributes to the rock ‘n’ roll icon.
Jason Hedges, front man for the local Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tribute band Heavy Petty, organized the first Tom Petty Birthday Bash on Oct. 20, 2017. Over 2,500 fans gathered for the free six-hour music festival, showcasing exclusively Petty’s songs.
Now, the festival is entering its third year, with around 10,000 people expected to attend. The event will be held this weekend at Depot Park, coinciding with Petty's birthday.
Attendees will enjoy over 20 live performances from artists such as Low Cut Connie, Sunkat and The High Divers. There will also be food trucks from vendors such as Humble Pie, Dank Cakes and Hoggetowne Creamery.
Sarah Hedges, wife of Jason Hedges and the marketing director for the Tom Petty Birthday Bash, sees the festival as a way to keep Petty’s music alive for generations to come.
“We invite local and national bands to come pay tribute to Tom,” she said. “It’s really important for us that they do play their original music and that all of the bands we have have either been affected by Tom Petty’s music or influenced and respect him.”
Sarah Hedges also said the event helps support and raise awareness for the local nonprofit, UF Shands Artsin Medicine program.
“It’s a program that my husband Jason’s really involved with,” she said. “He’s been on staff there as a musician in residence for five years and they actually bring music and art bedside to patients in the hospital. So, they’re helping transform that hospital experience.”
This year’s Bash will also include Tom Petty memorabilia that will be on display, said Sarah Hedges. After the festival, the collectibles will be on display at the Matheson History Museum.
Pop-rock singer, Tristen Gaspadarek, who performs under the name Tristen, is one of the artists traveling to Gainesville to perform. She is visiting from Nashville, Tennessee, to play a set Sunday evening.
Tristen began writing songs as a teenager and learned to play guitar so she could perform her own music. She said writing music is a way to highlight our shared human experiences in a lighthearted way.
“I believe a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” Tristen said. “I tend to take more serious ideas and make them feel good on a song. I think art, above all, has a purpose to heal our sorrow and connect us to each other, our ancestors or even to the idea we’ve created of ourselves.”
The Tom Petty Birthday Bash will be the first time she performs in Gainesville.
“I was asked to perform and I love Tom Petty,” she said. “It seems like a really cool festival and I can get 100 percent behind celebrating Tom Petty because he’s a great American songwriter.”
The Tom Petty Birthday Bash is open to people of all ages. Guests are encouraged to reserve a free ticket before attending the event, which can be downloaded on the Bash’s website.