Tag Archives: Mike Hammonds

Ask The Locals: Okesene Tilo

Okie Tilo Ask The Locals 2014
Ask the Locals: Okesene “Okie” Tilo of the RITZ Ybor
by Heidi Kurpiela

Okesene Tilo is the director of public relations, marketing and events at The RITZ Ybor. He arrived at the storied theater in 2008 after it had undergone a transformation from seedy nightclub to hip new concert venue.

Tilo –– known as “Okie” among Tampa Bay artists, musicians and Ybor clubbers –– is a 34-year-old social butterfly; an Ybor denizen with a weakness for Madonna, music festivals and comfort food.

An Army brat, Tilo was born in Berlin, Germany and moved to Tampa in 1991, where his knack for bringing people together made him the obvious choice for senior class president at Armwood High School in Seffner.

He studied political science at the University of South Florida and in 2005 produced his first fundraising event. The project proved the perfect outlet for a party-going extrovert with an admitted “OCD streak.”

For five years Tilo served as the managing director of Square One Creative, a collective of artists, designers and entertainers best known for hosting raging art parties at venues across Tampa.

In addition to his work at The RITZ, Tilo is the managing partner of the Up Up Up Group, a special event, festival and attractions planning company. He serves on the steering committee for Pride & Passion at the Tampa Museum of Art and the planning committee for Festa Italiana.

Best Ybor watering hole: First Chance Last Chance in Ybor. “It’s not too overwhelming or too loud. It’s a good place to have a conversation with someone over drinks.”

Best place to people watch: The bench in front of Honey Pot. “You’ll see rockers, hipsters, drag queens and people in fetish costumes coming and going.”

Best reason to cross the Howard Frankland bridge: Sake Bomb. “They make my favorite saketini. I’ve tried to replicate it at home and I can’t.”

Best cheap date: Five Bucks Drinkery in St. Pete. “Nothing costs more than five bucks. You can get loaded tater tots, a root beer float and a Frito pie. It’s like a Jack in the Box.”

Best weird food fusion: Nitally’s Thai-Mex Cuisine. “Thai food mixed with Mexican food is a nice little twist. It’s an interesting place. You’ll always leave with your nose and eyes burning from the spices.”

Best food truck: Aloha To Go. “Whenever they feature the Loco Moco I go nuts. It’s a hamburger patty over rice with gravy on top. Their Facebook page tells you where the truck will be. They go to Tampa General a lot. I’ve got no shame. I’ll follow that food truck to the hospital.”

Best hidden park: Edward Medard Park and Reservoir in Plant City. “It’s a gigantic park with hiking trails and tons of outdoor activities. It feels like you’re in North Carolina.”

Best act to play the RITZ: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. “Everyone I know was going crazy for her and she actually lived up to the hype. She was at the merch table at the end of the show talking to every single fan. She was very down-to-earth and natural. I felt like I’d known her for years.”

Best place to stretch out: Yoga Loft. “Yoga actually works! I started going two and half years ago. Now I can completely touch the floor.”

Best new local band: The Sh-Booms out of Orlando. “They’re amazing. I saw them at The Hub. I’m somewhat of a Sh-Boom stalker now.”

Best wild Friday night party: The Filthy Richard Party at The RITZ. “If you want to full-fledge drink and dance this is the place to go.”

Best all-American eating: The Florida State Fair. “I don’t eat fair food regularly, but when I do go all out. My friends and I go on rides first, then eat every ounce of fried food we can find: fried Pepsi, fried bubble gum, fried butter, funnel cakes, elephant ears … This isn’t just one day of cheating, it’s destroying your entire eating plan for the month.”

Best way to burn off fair food: Spin class at Powerhouse Gym. “I take Mike Hammonds’ class every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. DJ Jason Krouth spins EDM, dance, Top 40s and 90s hip-hop. The guy has a following because his class is always full.”

Best bargain basement finds: Revolve Clothing Exchange in Ybor. “I once found this Michael Jackson Thriller jacket. It was such a rare find I got a call from someone at the store asking if I still had it. Apparently it was in high demand.”

Best way to tick off your dentist: Binge on croissant donuts at Piquant. “Everything they bake gets reserved. Basically you have to call and place an order. There’s a waiting list. My friends made fun of me for loving this place and then they had a croissant donut and now they’re hooked. It’s heaven.”

Best guilty-pleasure greasy chain: Church’s Chicken. “I’ll go to get my fried okra on. A big box of okra at Church’s is cheap!”

Best way to spend a silly Sunday: At an auction at Myers Fine Art & Antiques. “Once or twice a year my friends and I get dressed up and go to Myers in St. Pete. We don’t go to bid. We go to watch. It’s crazy what some of these things sell for. People are actually on the phone with bidders. You’ll see someone throw down $5,000 for a spoon.”

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Pride & Passion 2014: an avant garde wedding

Yet another Pride & Passion event gone by!

In its 8 years, the event has slowly transformed into a fashionable night out downtown to dress up and party.  This year’s theme was an avant garde wedding celebrating the union of art + community + diversity.  I decided to play with the theme, and turned the pimp factor level up a few notches when dressing as my interpretation of an avant garde groom.  And that’s one of the many things that I love about Pride & Passion: how one can be decked out in leather and fur with opera goggles in Florida during the summertime, and not one person bats an eyelash at the ridiculousness of it all.  Pride & Passion is a night to play dress up, and an evening to play with one’s Uncle Karl Lagerfeld André Leon Talley Okie Fierce alter ego.

However, the true importance of this event is the $75,000.00 net that was raised from just one evening for the Tampa Museum of Art, its exhibits and community programs.  As an avid supporter of the arts and of Tampa raising its profile, I applaud this year’s Chairs Kevin Reder and Rick Scherer, the Museum staff, and the Pride & Passion steering and host committee for a spectacular event.

P.S.  Next year, I plan to dress even more ridiculously!

Photos courtesy of Nicole Abbett, Owen Hunt Photography, Todd Montgomery and Nicholas Cardello.

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“I Can’t Keep Up” by Tourist featuring Will Heard:  There’s just something in the way that Will Heard sings SANGS this song that does something to my soul.  When the frenetic pace changes up at the 3:00 mark, the song becomes pure, unadulterated audio ecstasy.

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My Coachella

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Coachella14 Okie Neil Mike Fest

The Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival… holy @#$! shit, what an absolute amazing experience!

This was my second time attending the nation’s reigning mother supreme of music festivals (and the most-successful festival according to Billboard Box-Office).  For anyone with a hard on for live music of all genres, Coachella is the ultimate wet dream.  There truly is no other way to describe the magic that is everything Coachella.  My obsession with Coachella stems from the diverse line-up all in one setting, surprise superstar performances, and 100,000 music and art lovers dancing, singing, and getting their life in the California desert.

LA14 Dinner Group

LA15 Club Group

This year’s Coachella adventure kicked-off with a friends’ reunion in Los Angeles with my best friends Cheri and Harry a.k.a. Hit & Run (childhood friends from Tampa) and Kristin (who just so happened to be visiting California the same weekend).  I linked up with other former Tampons Jamal and Robert that evening, and received the ultimate surprise when I found out that my New York friends and family (sans Jason ::insert tears::) were in L.A. celebrating Gary’s birthday.

It was one big, fat, gigantic Tampa reunion in Los Angeles that just so happened to come together randomly.  The entire randomness of it all is best described by Nadia’s greeting to me when we first ran into one another that evening: “What the fuck are you doing here?  Are you real?  Is this night even real?”

Cochella14 Girls Group 1 Coachella14 Prom Girls

The weekend continued as we met up with Daddy Neil and Rusty, drove to Palm Springs and prepared for the onslaught of the next three days.  One of the weekend’s highlights was meeting Chloe and Erin, two fabulous (and quite hilarious) beauties from the UK.  We instantly clicked on night one during Outkast’s ho-hum reunion performance, and spent the rest of the Coachella weekend singing and dancing the nights away.

The music highlights of this year’s Coachella include:

  • Empire of the Sun…  I had been dying to see them live since I was first hypnotized by their “Walking on a Dream” single six years ago, and the boys certainly did not disappoint.  They were the perfect blend of pomp, flash and drama needed for the Sahara tent, and my pick for the best performance of the weekend.
  • Skrillex… Sonny Moore remains one of the few prominent on the EDM scene whose artistry and craft emanates from his every DJ set.  For those cynics who wrongly insinuate that there is no true talent or work in being a DJ, Skrillex’s thrilling set at Coachella is the receipt to silence them.
  • Rudimental…  It was a treat to finally see this British band perform, especially to witness how their music which encompasses drum and bass, R&B and soul, and pure funk came together in a live setting.
  • Calvin Harris…  Mr. Harris now boasts the second largest performance attendance in the history of Coachella, second only to 2012’s Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg Lion and the 2Pac holgram’s historic California Lovefest.  He played an effortless set of his greatest hits, from “Feel So Close” to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” to new single “Summer.”  No guest performances, no surprises.  And for those cynics who complained that his set played it safe, well why reinvent the wheel when it is still spinning?
  • Arcade Fire…  I will admit that I only knew a few handful of Arcade Fire songs.  I am not infatuated with Arcade Fire like their hardcore following of fans, nor am I one of their many detractors who simply do not understand their hype.  I have always stood on neutral ground with them, so  I was anticipating their headlining, closing performance to find out in which direction I would be swayed.  In the end, I enjoyed their performance, despite lead singer Win Butler’s misguided comments regarding us in the VIP section.
  • MGMT…  I forgot how much I loved MGMT until I woke up from my afternoon nap on the lawn and was greeted by the sounds of their music.
  • Lorde…  if only she could follow the rule of “less talking, less storytelling, more singing,” then she would have had an A+ set.
  • CHVRCHES…  when a band sounds as glorious as their studio recordings, it’s a win-win situation.  CHVRCHES lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s voice sounded like heaven.

A random festival-goer summed up the entire weekend best, when he and I accidentally walked into one another.  I immediately apologized during our run-in, and he just laughed it off, smiled and remarked, “it’s all good man.  No need to apologize.  It’s the best weekend of the year.”

…and yes it was.

To my dear friend Mike Hammonds, thank you for being the best music festival partner in crime.  Daddy Neil, thank you for being you, for teaching me the music festival bunny ways, and for reminding me that this was “my Coachella.”  And lastly, dear Coachella, I’ll be missing you next year, but will return in 2016 to cash in on the best weekend of that year!  [READ: 2012’s Coachella Adventure post]


“Comfortable” by The Knocks featuring X Ambassadors:  I am pissed that I missed The Knocks at last year’s Governor’s Ball in New York City, because I become more and more enamored with their music each and every passing day.  “Comfortable” was this year’s unofficial Coachella anthem.  Perhaps because I demanded that this song be played on repeat at high decibels.  Or simply because this anthem ROCKS, and will serve as a reminder of this beautiful weekend in Coachella Valley.  :: sigh ::

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The RITZ Ybor Photo: Big Gigantic

Big Gigantic 2014

Big Gigantic‘s The Night Is Young Tour with CAKED UP
at The RITZ Ybor
on Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Photo by Nicole Abbett

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The Rooftop Eve 2014 – Cabaret en Rouge

FINALLY… a New Years that was epic!

NYE14 Rooftop

Year after year of either last-minute or zero New Years Eve plans, I actually had a fabulous gameplan to welcome 2014.  Jocelyn secured a private cabana at the sold-out Rooftop Eve party in Hyde Park Village, and invited a few friends to help her “drank” bottles of Grey Goose and Moët.  It had been nearly a decade since I rang in a brand spankin’ new year at such a massive event that I completely forgot how much fun they truly were.  I had slowly become one of  those social naysayers who branded New Years parties as amateur night when in truth, getting older had gotten the worst of me.   Being hangover-free in my 20s had escalated to weeklong hangovers in my 30s.  Afternoon naps were necessities and not perks.  Given my recent track record, I had pretty much reverted into being an amateur myself.   So who really cares?  Amateur night or not… get me out of the house and let it rain vodka!

Any event that transports me out of Tampa with its energy, decor and pizzazz is a must-attend event, and I gladly add The Rooftop Eve party to that list of local events.  Any individual seeking a posh, swanky and fun New Years Eve partay, add The Rooftop Eve party to YOUR calendar list.  It’s definitely worth every penny of the admission price.

THANK YOU Queen Jocelyn for the tickets.  Happy New Year everyone, may 2014 be in your favor.

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“Ready” by Elizabeth Rose…
Neil has christened this hyptonizing dance single from Australian DJ Elizabeth Rose as the winter anthem of 2013-2014.

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Fine Dining Into Ecstasy

Every year, I host some type of birthday party for myself, with last year’s celebration being the absolute best one yet.  This year, my plan was to celebrate with each of my best friends over one-on-one lunches and dinners in Tampa before jettisoning off to Chicago to spend time with my other family.

And while in Chicago, my vacation goals were as follow:

  1. eat
  2. be day drunk
  3. nap
  4. watch as many movies possible in a horizontal position (but without developing bedsores)
  5. fondle the TV remote control
  6. eat some more
  7. eat some more full-fledge pig out
  8. be day drunk with my friends
  9. watch a 3D movie while day drunk
  10. just effing relax

After all, I had officially entered my mid-30s so it’s all about taking it easy from here on out.  Relax.  Relate.  Release.

My traveling partner-in-crime Mike joined the Chicago fun, and recruited new friend Jonathan to drive-up and join in as well.  I hung out with Sterling and Adam, experienced a drive-by dinner visit from Rusty and embarked on a culinary cruise through Chicago where I ate the most delicious food imaginable.

My first stop began with a visit to Alinea, the #2 Top Rated restaurant in the U.S., the #15 Top Rated restaurant in the world and the venue that served me my most-expensive meal ever.  How to describe Alinea?  It was a ticketed establishment for starters, meaning you had to buy a ticket to dine at the restaurant.  Despite their sold-out schedule, Neil was fortunate to secure 4 tickets to Alinea.  Tickets allowed one to enjoy a finely crafted 14-course meal of molecular gastronomy dishes, with each creation paired with a different wine, champagne, beer and/or sake.  The dishes were so beautiful, that at times, I didn’t want to eat them out of guilt that I would be destroying miniature visual works-of-art.

Desserts that were plated on the entire dinner table and resembling a Jackson Pollock piece… Bites suspended on wires and pins…  Tastings that were time-sensitive to eat because the wax bowl would melt if you weren’t fast enough…  Burning leaves and pine to play with your sense of smell… Dehydrated green apple filled with helium served as a balloon…

There were moments where everyone at the dinner table collectively closed their eyes and sighed upon a first bite.  The dishes were THAT unbelievably and heavenly appetizing and orgasmic.  I failed to snap any photos of the dishes, because I wanted to take in every single second at Alinea.  So the below photos are ones that I found online to help give you a visual idea of what was served.

Alinea 02Alinea 01Alinea 03My food orgasm continued the following evening at Vince and Gina’s Dinner Party at their house.  She recruited her friend Ken to help create an 8-course meal paired with different wines and champagnes.

On the menu that evening:

  • Deviled Eggs a la Spotted Pig
  • Red Kuri Squash and Apple Soup  ::orgasmic::
  • Roasted Beets with Greek Yogurt and Micro Kale
  • Clams Oreganata
  • Pork Tenderloin, Apple Mostarda & Carmelized Onions
  • Beef Tataki with Pho Ponzu
  • BBQ Ribs, Hong Kong meets Memphis Style
  • and the best FLAN that I ever tasted in my life!  ::Heaven on Earth::

Photos of the dishes are below and were taken by moi.  Fill me up with bubbly and I apparently become as snap-happy with the phone camera as I become Chatty Cathy.

Gina Chicago 2013
Leave it to a quote from Gina to perfectly sum up my 34th birthday weekend…

Gina:  “Okie, we’re old now.  This is what we’re supposed to do now.  Dinner parties, wine and conversation.  Welcome to your mid-30s!”

…annnddd I’m not mad at that!  Gina’s fabulous dinner party actually inspired me to host my own Saketini and Appetizer Party for my close friends, and reminded me to always enjoy life by the glass.

The weekend wouldn’t be complete without giving a BIG thank you to Neil for the VIP, non-Gen Pop hospitality and friendship.  Happy Birthday (again) to me!

Here is the souvenir menu from Alinea for those curious foodies:

Alinea Menu







“Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut:  Yet another song that Neil got me obsessing over and playing on REPEAT…

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Halloween Temptation 2013

Since I was a child and even as a candy-addict adult, I just never got into the whole concept of dressing up in costume, trick or treating, getting spooked out and celebrating Halloween.  In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve ever dressed up, with six years ago being the last time that I donned a costume.

With Tampa’s largest Halloween party called Temptation taking place at my work on Halloween night, along with one of my best friends hosting a Halloween party at her abode the weekend after, I decided to get into the All Hallows’ Eve groove and break tradition by dressing up.  I constructed my first Halloween costume (Fifty Shades of Grey) from Home Depot paint sample color cards for the Temptation party, and lazily threw together whatever I could scrounge from my closet (Dirty Hipster Sex meets Ooooooohhh… on the TLC Tip!) for Jess’s party.

Two Halloween costumes in one year?  Sometimes, I spook myself out.

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Temptation 2013 Group B
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Temptation 2013 Jess Jenn

Temptation Halloween Party: The Haunted Theatre
@ The RITZ Ybor on October 31, 2013
www.temptationhalloween.com



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Jess’s Halloween Party
Saturday, November 2, 2013



“Do What U Want” by Lady Gaga featuring R. Kelly: Hands down, Mother Monster’s most hypnotic and BEST single since “Pokerface”!


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The RITZ Ybor Photo: Olly Murs

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Olly Murs LIVE at The RITZ Ybor on Wednesday, May 8, 2013

You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to receive this photo!  THANK YOU to Christina for resuscitating it from digital limbo and sending it my way.

And if you’re looking for a fun and catchy pop album to listen to this summer, check out Olly’s stateside debut album, Right Place Right Time.  Jess described his album best: “Olly sounds like a charming mix of Bruno Mars meets Maroon 5 meets Gavin Degraw!

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The Event of 2013!

Okie Group 07

The beginning of summer.  The time of year when your AC thermostat lowers while your electric bill rises.  The start of beach season and sunbathing.  And that time of year when Pride & Passion, arguably one of thee top events in town takes place.

The 8th Annual Pride & Passion was held on Saturday, May 18, 2013 at the Tampa Museum of Art, which this wonderful event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for each year.  In the four years that I have attended Pride & Passion, it has rapidly become one of Tampa’s signature fashion events known for its pomp, flash and extravagant entertainment and decor.  This year’s event was no exception and easily tops previous celebrations in grandeur and eminence.

This year’s Pride & Passion also happens to be the first that I sat as the Public Relations, Marketing & Host Chair.  So it was fulfilling to not only attend this kick-ass party but to also help plan this event with the rest of the fabulous Steering Committee members.  If you missed out on this year’s festivities or have (gasp) never attended a Pride & Passion, mark your calendars for May 2014 and make plans to be there!

Pride & Passion 2013Okie Boys Group 01Cake Areis Rayda 01Shane Aimee Mike 01Group 01Group 03Okie Boys Group 04Okie Jonathan Cheri Linley JocelynOkie Jess 02Okie Linley 02Okie Linley Billy 01Okie Jocelyn 01

Photography by Radko Keleman
Select Photography by Todd Montgomery & Ruslana.Studio
Noticeable Photography by Okie Tilo’s cellphone

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…and in dedication to my fan that became the it-prop of Pride & Passion 2013:

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