Gainesville’s native son celebrated with a weekend of music
On this weekend of the late Tom Petty’s 72nd birthday, Heartwood Soundstage of Gainesville hosted and organized Tom Petty Weekend, a celebration of the late rock star’s greatest hits and stories.
The celebration started Oct. 20, Petty’s birthday, and ended Oct. 22. On Thursday night, the weekend kicked off with a few musical guests, giving attendees a taste of what was to come. On Friday, storytellers from around the country shared their personal stories about Petty indoors to VIP guests, while more music was being performed outside.
On the last day, the event lasted way into the night with a near nine-hour concert filled with Petty’s greatest hits as well as some of the performer’s own.
“All of the different bands that are coming out are really good,” said David Schack, 53, a resident of Boca Raton, Florida. “They all have their own take on the Petty songs.”
Petty, a Gainesville native, grew up with an immense love for music. Not much of a student, Petty dropped out of Gainesville High School at the age of 17 to form his first band, Mudcrutch. He spent the early 1970s with the band but broke up after they went to Los Angeles. From there, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was born.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were a huge success, selling nearly two million copies on their third album, “Damn the Torpedoes.” By their fourth, “Hard Promises,” the band had already played at Madison Square Garden, toured in the United Kingdom and went platinum.
Petty was an inspiration to musicians and fans alike, sticking with people through their entire adult lives.
“I was probably 16 or 17 when I heard my first Tom Petty song,” Schack said.
When asked about his favorite song, Schack chuckled.
“Won’t Back Down, obviously,” he said.
Ashley Johnson, 23, might not have grown up in the peak of Petty’s career, but she still feels his impact.
“My dad always had his music on,” Johnson said. “It just kind of grew on me and now I’m a fan too.”
Petty’s music has touched many lives, but nothing feels quite as good as being able to perform his music. Shine, 32, a singer and musician from Summerfield, Florida, has been singing and playing music since she was age 12 and loves how she feels when performing.
“Music is my passion,” Shine said. “When I listen to Petty… it’s so real and honest, anyone in any part of the world can listen to his songs and just relate to them.”
Shine opened the day on Saturday, but said she still gets the jitters before getting on stage.
“I had a whole set list written down on my hand, but once I got out there and saw the crowd, I forgot about half of them and just played my heart out,” Shine said.
Residents of Gainesville, as well as visitors from around the country, gathered to listen to a wide collection of bands and musicians play Petty’s greatest hits. One attendee in particular, Paul Zollo, had a different reason for traveling to Gainesville.
“I was very fortunate to get to write a book with Tom called ‘Conversations with Tom Petty.’ It was basically a series of interviews about his music,” he said.
Zollo, 64, is a songwriter, singer, author, photographer and music journalist from Chicago. He has written many books on songwriting and has collaborated with multiple artists before Petty. Zollo attended the event as one of the storytellers, sharing his experiences of writing the book with Petty.
Zollo spent a lot of time around Petty in LA, getting to know him and his music pretty well.
“His stuff is brilliant, but it’s not obviously brilliant, you don’t even realize how much genius it took to get these songs,” Zollo said. “All these other musicians go out and party all the time, he would stay home and write.”
Petty didn’t grow up with money, so he fought to keep his ticket and album prices low, sometimes even free.
“We used to joke, ‘I could pay my mortgage or see an Eagles show’,” Zollo said.
As the weekend ended, Schack was overjoyed with the number of people that showed up and appreciated Gainesville’s own.
“This is his hometown, so I can imagine it means a lot here to the community,” Schack said.
Over the three days of the event, approximately 4,000 attended. Not only did Petty create everlasting music, but he created a bond with his fans in the process. Even after his passing in 2017, his fanbase has never been stronger, especially in Gainesville.
“He never lost that connection and true love for writing,” Zollo said. “And I think that is why he is still such a huge influence on the rock community and honestly the world.”