Petty

Fireworks and a large crowd marked last year’s Tom Petty Birthday Bash. This year's virtual event will celebrate what would have been Petty's 70th birthday.

Gainesville’s annual Tom Petty Birthday Bash will continue virtually this year following COVID-19 concerns with an all-star lineup featuring over 60 artists. 

The free event will be held online and on SiriusXM today. Traditionally held as a free live music festival in Gainesville, Petty’s hometown, the event honors the music icon’s legacy while giving back to the community. Proceeds are donated to the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program, said Jason Hedges, one of the founders of the birthday celebration.

Hedges said the five-hour show will begin at 4:30 p.m. when fans with SiriusXM subscriptions can tune in to Tom Petty radio to hear performances from artists such as Grouplove, The Killers, Starcrawler, SunKat and more. At 7:30 p.m., fans can head to the official Tom Petty website to watch livestream performances from special guests, including Adam Sandler, Beck, Chris Stapleton, Foo Fighters, Kiefer Sutherland and Stevie Nicks.

Hedges, the frontman of local Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tribute band Heavy Petty, said he organized the first Birthday Bash in 2017, only weeks after Petty’s death. The first event featured nine local musicians and bands and ended with over 2,500 fans in attendance. He will be hosting this year’s event with his wife and fellow founder Sarah Hedges.

Hedges said while having to hold the festival virtually in light of the COVID-19 pandemic was unfortunate, he looks forward to seeing the star-studded lineup honor Petty’s legacy.

“The silver lining to this is that we are able to get access to artists that we never would have been able to get or afford to come fly to Gainesville,” Hedges said. “It’s a cool thing.”

This year marks the celebration of Petty’s 70th birthday, which coincides with the release of “Wildflowers & All the Rest,” a reissue of Petty’s 1994 album “Wildflowers” featuring unreleased music from the original collection.

Two notable livestream guests will include Mike Campbell, former guitarist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Benmont Tench, the band’s keyboardist. Hedges said the Florida natives will come together for a special performance, which has rarely occurred since Petty’s death.

“The band is reluctant to ever play without Tom again. They’re still grieving,” Hedges said. “For the fans, it was really hurtful, but no one could possibly know what it was like for the family and the band who was with him. It’s a healing thing that they’re doing.”

Hedges said fans can expect more musical content to be released on social media in the week following the birthday bash, spotlighting some musicians and bands not featured on SiriusXM or the livestream.

Hedges said he has been a musician in residence with the UF Arts in Medicine program for six years. He performs music at the bedsides of patients and finds raising donations for the program to be an important contribution made by the annual event.

“Our goal here is to reunite people through music and healing in a time where the world seems so divided,” Hedges said. “We’re just going to have people come together and heal through music.”

Xander Boggs, a 20-year-old UF music junior, said the use of music in medicine is particularly special to him and makes the Birthday Bash important locally.

“It uses the arts to humanize the hospital environment, which research shows can support health and well-being,” Boggs said. “The event both honors the history of the Gainesville community and provides support for the members within.”

Donations to Arts in Medicine can be made during the livestream performances or on the Bash’s official website. 

Tune in to the virtual Tom Petty 70th Birthday bash Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. here

Contact Marlena at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @marcar313.

Avenue Staff Writer

Marlena is a second-year journalism major at the University of Florida and the art and theatre reporter for The Avenue. When she is not writing stories or drinking chai lattes, she turns her attention to her many plants.