What the Sex Pistols’ 1976 gig and Tampa Bay Startup Week 2018 have in common

by Joey deVilla on February 12, 2018

Modified Sex Pistols album cover: 'Never mind the bollocks: here's the Tampa Bay Startup Week'.

I’m going to start with a controversial statement: in theory, Tampa Bay Startup Week 2018 should amount to nothing.

Animation of Princess Leia saying 'What?'

Good — I’ve got your attention now.

It’s an easy argument to make. Tampa Bay’s cities — Tampa, St. Pete, and Clearwater — don’t have the sort of entrepreneurial or tech cachet that other places, from the usual suspects Silicon Valley, Austin, and Seattle to upstarts like Raleigh, Boulder as well as Toronto and Montreal. Tampa, St. Pete, and Clearwater are also  overshadowed by other, better-known Floridian cities: Miami and Orlando. Tampa Bay’s geography and horrible traffic fracture the area, and between bridges and drive times that are twice what they should be, locals are reluctant to travel within their own areas, never mind the nearby sister cities.

With these challenges, what could the well-intentioned team behind Tampa Bay Startup Week 2018 possibly hope to accomplish?

If we play our cards right — and by “we”, I mean the organizers and us, the intended audience , Startup Week’s accomplishments could be bigger than anyone dreamed. I say this because we’ve seen this sort of thing before, over and over throughout human history. Of all the examples I could pick, I’m going to take one that’s close to my musician’s heart: a seemingly unremarkable event in a failing city in England that would later be known as “The Gig That Changed the World”.

Manchester, 1976: The Gig That Changed the World

Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall.

The Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England.

You could draw a number of parallels between Manchester, England and Detroit, Michigan, especially in the 1970s. Both were cities that grew to become industrial powerhouses in the first part of the 20th century, and both saw their fortunes decline drastically and become bleak urban wastelands after World War II. Both would also end up changing the course of music history in unexpected ways.

The Sex Pistols: Glen Matlock, Johnny Rotten, and Steve Jones in 1976.

The Sex Pistols: Glen Matlock, Johnny Rotten, and Steve Jones in 1976.

In June of 1976, a relatively unknown band called the Sex Pistols played a concert at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. There were a mere 42 people, which is respectable for a band that plays at your local bar on a Tuesday night, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of gig that would “change everything”. What separated this gig from all the other Tuesday night gigs with fewer than 50 people is who were involved and showed up:

The headlining act (the Sex Pistols) and the organizers (who’d go on to form the Buzzcocks) of this poorly attended, seemingly insignificant gig were so influential that they’d end up in Jack Black’s lesson in School of Rock…

You can see the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks listed under “Punk”. Click here to see the full blackboard.

…and the concertgoers from that gig would go on to build the foundations of alternative rock and influence a lot of people who took up the electric guitar, synthesizer, or turntables.

In theory, this concert should’ve amounted to nothing, but in the end it changed everything in the music world.

The Gig That Changed the World brought together people with similar interests who were passionate about what they did. Its attendees saw that popular music was changing, and after being inspired by a group of troublemakers, decided that they could be part of that change. They went on to create music their way, and they made their mark on the world.

Tampa / St. Petersburg 2018: The week that could change the world

Photo: Organizers of Tampa Bay Startup Week 2015.

The people behind Tampa Bay Startup Week (the 2015 team is pictured above) may not look punk rock, but they’ve most certainly got its DIY, “we have an idea and we’re going for it” spirit. Like the Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto organizing the Sex Pistols gig, they’re a band of troublemakers putting on an event on a shoestring budget (yes, Chase is sponsoring, but without them, the budget would likely go from shoestring to none), and at the moment, it isn’t being noticed by most of the world outside “the other bay area”.

Like the music scene in Manchester the mid-late 1970s, the work-life dynamic in Tampa Bay in the mid-late 2010s is undergoing some big changes:

The team at Tampa Bay Startup Week have done their part by organizing their event for Tampa and St. Pete, just as Shelley and Devoto did back in 1976 by bringing the punk rock to Manchester. How the rest of the story ends is up to us.

I’ll repeat what I said at the start of this article: In theory, Tampa Bay Startup Week should amount to nothing. In practice, and as shown by music history, if we take inspiration from the event, make friends and connections, and take action, it could be that gathering that changed the world.

Further reading

Tampa Bay Startup Week, featuring Anitra Pavka, Joey deVilla, Laurie Voss, and Gary Vaynerchuk.

Visit Tampa Bay Startup Week’s site to find out what’s up this week!

For those of you who’d like to know more about The Gig That Changed Everything, here’s the BBC’s special on the event, titled I Swear That I Was There:

This article is the 2018 revision of an article I posted in 2015.

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