Every summer, Tampa’s Tropical Heatwave music festival takes over Ybor City, Tampa’s nightlife and live music hub.

The event – now in its 32nd year – is a fundraiser for Tampa’s community-supported radio station WMNF. Last year it pulled in more than 5,000 attendees and $43,000, according to @JayCridlin on TampaBay.com.

This year, concert-goers ranged from 23-year-olds in Urban Outfitters dresses and skinny jeans, to grey-haired folks who brought their own chairs. There was plenty of craft beer and glassy eyes. The vibe was diverse and relaxed.

At dusk, a man in his 60s jumped on a rickety folding table in the Cuban Club and danced, kicking over full beers while he ignored his friends’ urging to get down. A bouncer gently escorted him off the unstable table.

At the nearby corn dog stand, a man wearing red high heels and a lace garter belt chatted up passersby.

Video: Scenes from Tampa’s 32nd annual Tropical Heatwave

About 50 bands played on 10 stages throughout Ybor. The schedule ranged from the “bluegrass-metal, folkcore” band The Wholetones, to “psychedelic booty-shakin’ rock n’roll” from Florida group Swimm.

At New World Brewery, one of my favorite bars in Tampa, New Orleans’ Dirty Bourbon River Show donned marching band uniforms and played “gypsy circus rock”, jamming out with vocal harmonies and saxophone solos.

Video: 30 seconds from New Orleans’ Dirty Bourbon River Show at New World Brewery

One of the more anticipated acts at the 2013 Tropical Heatwave was Cody ChesnuTT. Cody had a Top 40 hit with The Roots, The Seed (2.0), in 1995.

Despite the hype, the crowd struck me as surprisingly small. About 100 people had plenty of room to dance at a venue that typically hosts acts like Broken Social Scene and Sleigh Bells.

Video: Cody ChesnuTT takes the stage at The Ritz

Tropical Heatwave made Ybor City, my favorite area of Tampa, even livelier than usual. Police patrolled the crowds on horseback. Representatives from the local Scientology center shoved flyers into the hands of everyone who passed. On Seventh Avenue you could pay to pose with a five-foot-plus yellow python kept in a plastic bin on the sidewalk.

My only regret was leaving the festival for what turned out to be an epic two-hour dinner of grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches at The Bricks restaurant. Despite several empty tables, service was friendly but too slow.

Insider’s Tip: Don’t veer from the festival. Ybor will always be there, but Tropical Heatwave only occurs once a year.

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