Photos by Jeffery Tremmel
I wasn’t going to go to DeLuna Fest. This is the third year of the festival, but I have never been. As in past years, I glanced over the lineup, saw a couple of bands I would like to see, maybe one or two I’d even be super psyched about, like Pearl Jam, but as far as attending a three day festival, well, I’d rather spend my money on some other shows and festivals in the area.
Nevertheless, when the last minute opportunity to represent JBO at DeLuna arose, I thought, “what the heck,” I’ll go…Great decision! I mean, dancing in the sand to Jimmy Cliff singing “I Can See Clearly Now,” and “Many Rivers to Cross,” a pineapple smoothie in one hand, the other waving free… bliss. And the weather…bright, bright sunshiny weekend… just gorgeous, clear skies, relatively low humidity for this area, and a gulf breeze that made the hottest hours of the day, temps of almost 90 degrees during the afternoon, bearable.
But even those temps didn’t seem to slow anyone down, musicians or the audience. And the music was just as hot, hotter even. Didn’t hurt the eyes either to see the slightly sweat soaked shirts of Anders Osborne, Eddie Vedder or Dave Grohl …yeah, hot! Don’t worry guys, there were plenty of beautiful women shakin’ it down in their bikinis too!
The festival opened on the beach stages with two high energy bands, Fishbone at the large Deluna stage and Honey Island Swamp Band at the smaller Heritage stage, to small but enthusiastic audiences. As the day went on, especially in anticipation of headliner Pearl Jam, the crowds grew exponentially, and you could feel the excitement growing.
At the Windcreek Stage, a larger stage set back off the beach, I watched City and Colour and Ben Folds Five, both of whom drew fairly large crowds as you would expect. I was not familiar with City and Colour, who is Canadian rocker Dallas Green, but it is now my mission to become one of his fans!
Upbeat , rockin, yet folky, Green’s stunning voice and the catchy melodies were an immediate draw, but the added ethereal tones make him unique. And his lyrics, I could totally identify with them as he sang “my nerves will be the “Death of Me,” though the festival atmosphere and cool tunes actually chilled me right out. The audience too, already fans, sang every word with him during “Waiting” and “The Girl,” and oh, did the girls like him!
Ben Folds Five was actually another surprise for me. I am familiar with Ben Folds and for whatever reason, though I appreciate Folds’ talent, I’ve never been that into his music. But at DeLuna, the band played a lot of songs from their new CD The Sound of the Life and the Mind, including “Draw a Crowd,” which they certainly did — people came up to me to ask who this was on stage — and “Do It Anyway” that had the whole crowd jumping. I have now changed my mind about BFF.
Passing by the DeLuna stage again on my way to hear Hot 8 Brass Band and Ivan Neville’s Dumstaphunk, I had to pause for Guided by Voices as they sang “Doughnut for a Snowman” to a hyped -up audience. Who in the South doesn’t like Krispy Kreme doughnuts?
While there were a lot of jambands, there were also a lot of punk bands, along with jazz, country, electronica and of course the DJ’s — anyone out remember DJ Jazzy Jeff?
Of the punks, old and new, the one that had me ready for some slam dancing , which would have quite the scene in my tie-dye hippie skirt, was Bob Mould who played Sunday afternoon as well as making an appearance with the Foo Fighters on “Dear Rosemary” and the Tom Petty cover “Breakdown.” (talk about your surprises!) Seeing and hearing Mould, who looked more like an average middle-age Dad with his closely trimmed gray beard and moustache and wearing a blue and white plaid button down, took me back to my high school and college days. What struck me most about the crowd for Mould was the diversity, especially in terms of age and the number of parents there rockin’ out with their teenagers. Who’da thunk it…Bob Mould … “Copper Blue”…a bridge between the generations?
Besides the mixed age groups, and numbers of families there, the whole DeLuna experience was different than any other festival I have attended…certainly different than any others in the Gulf Coast/ North Florida region….Not quite as large as Hangout Festival and nowhere near as many beach balls or glow sticks and certainly not as many hippies, or neo-hippies, as Wanee. There wasn’t a lot of tie dye or hula hooping, though there were a few of us, and you could actually smell the Gulf, which was invigorating, though occasionally some more interesting smells found their way to me. But this was definitely a cool crowd with a great vibe.
Something that struck me was that people, for the most part, were all about the music. Don’t get me wrong, it was quite the beach party, but the music drove the party. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Heritage Stage that featured local and regional bands, including many fromNew Orleans: Ivan Neville, Anders Osborne, Bonerama, and the Grammy award -winning Rebirth Brass Band.
Ok I may be a bit biased, since I have lived in this area quite a while and am a huge fan ofNew Orleansjazz, funk, and blues. But truly, every band I saw there started with a somewhat sparse audience that by the end of the set was shoulder to shoulder, as people migrated towards the big sounds coming from that small stage, everyone dancing, hands in the air, and I swear I almost saw a second-line break out more than once.
All of these bands were on fire! Bonerama never fails to get a crowd jumpin’ with their mix ofNew Orleansstyle jazz and funk that just make ya feel good to their smokin’ originals like, “Funky Brown Shorts,” or throwin’ down on covers like “The Ocean” and “War Pigs.” War Pigs on trombones? Yes! So to tear myself away from Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk or Anders Osborne, tearin’ it up on a 20-minute “Burning on the Inside,” to go see Joan Jett? Unthinkable…no disrespect to Joan.
And I have to say, though the Heritage Stage was the smaller of the two beach stages, I was grooving in the sand to Kermit Ruffins playing “Boogie on Reggae Woman” … the sound was just incredible. Flanked on one side by a nearby restaurant only, it was an open area and sand. Not exactly an acoustics paradise, but Steve Havard on the soundboard really helped to make magic happen there. I overheard many folks commenting on it. The sound was as rich and full as if you were in an intimate club.
There were a couple of other surprises for me. One was Antoine Knight, also at the Heritage Stage…a Pensacola native, whose soulfulness and power on the saxophone was beautifully balanced by a singer he called Pensacola’s Sade.
The other was Walker Hayes . Labeled country, he sounded more neo-folk or country-rock, to me. Labels aside, he had a great laid-back sound, playing acoustic guitar, and with his humorous lyrics singing “Coffee” and “Pants, “ he had an easy-going, but fun, stage presence. I had to listen.
On Sunday, three other quite down-to-earth bands with stellar talent played: Ben Sollee, The Wallflowers and the Wood Brothers. As dragonflies tried to take over the festival, Ben Sollee, only one of two cellists at DeLuna, had the crowd mesmerized with his unique indie-folk sound and, as an avid biker, even touring on bike, was inspirational, if not directly responsible, for some of the hundreds of bikes people rode to the festival that day.
The Wallflowers never disappoint, and though they played at the large DeLuna stage, their chilled sound was perfect for a Sunday afternoon at the beach, as people swayed to “6th Ave Heartache”, a new song “It’s A Dream,” and a cool cover of what Jakob Dylan said was one of his favorites, Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding.”
The Wood Brother’s though were hands down the coolest cats at DeLuna. Yeah, you’d think I’d save that description for one of the funk bands. But they were funky, and then folky, then rockin’, then bluesy. They hit it all, even having the drummer come out to “play” the “shitar” as Oliver Wood called it. (He didn’t actually strum it – he drummed it!) Playing “Heaven is a Honey Jar” and “Shoofly Pie,” I have to say musically they were one of my favorites, if not THE favorite, but picking just one is too hard. I did wish they were on a beach stage, preferably with a bonfire, instead of at the Gopensacola.com stage which was set back on the concrete. They just set that kinda mood.
Band of Horses is one other cool band that deserves mention before the headliners. Southern indie-rock at it’s best… From their opening song, “Knock Knock” to “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands,” Band brought everything they had rockin’ hard until the end finishing off with a moving “No One’s Gonna Love You,” “Is There a Ghost,” and finally, “Funeral.”
Pearl Jam, of course, was the big draw at the Festival, playing a 2-plus hour set Friday night. Opening with an appropriate “Oceans” and then into Pink Floyd’s “Intersteller Overdrive,“ so you knew you were going to be in for quite the ride.
Really, much to my delight, I didn’t think they were ever gonna quit. I ended up somewhere in the middle of the crowd, dancing nonstop, as they played both older and newer songs keeping the night beach party theme going with “Given To Fly,” “Among the Waves,” and “Even Flow.” There were people as far as I could see all around me. And during the course of the day I met a lot of people who had come to the festival just to see PJ, including a group of firefighters from NYC who were following the PJ tour. (What do you call them? Pearlheads? I’m not sure) Of course when they played “Even Flow” everyone was on their feet and singing at the top of their lungs. No worry. Vedder’s voice soared over the crowd.
My only complaint was not about them, but on one occasion, when Vedder was talking to the crowd, and then again during “Black,” there was noise-interference from 12th Planet at the Windcreek stage. That was, however, the only time where the sound from one stage interfered with another. Just hugely unfortunate that it happened during one of my favorites. I also have to say it has been a long time since I’ve seen PearlJam. Vedder was as gorgeous as ever, but more importantly, the entire band was phenomenal. Even the older heavy grunge was played hard, but tight. As they finished the night rolling from “Alive” into ”Baba O’Reily” and “Yellow Ledbetter,” I did not want the show to end.
I didn’t do a head count, lol, but I’d have to say that Foo was the biggest party of the festival… at least from where I was. From the second they hit the stage you could feel the energy ripple through the crowd. Dave Grohl came out screaming “You wanna make some F*ckin noise DeLuna?!? And they went right into “White Noise.” It was crazy for two and half hours. Somehow through all those people, I managed to hook up with some friends by the water. People were skinny dipping in the Gulf to the Foo Fighters! They were incredible, and it felt like a private beach party with a few thousand of my closest friends.
As I was jumping and splashing around on the water’s edge to “Learn To Fly“ a guy asked me if I was trippin? My friend said, “No man, we’re trippin on life and on the music!” He wasn’t lying either. Grohl brought Joan Jett on stage on stage to give her a birthday cake, and we all sang Happy Birthday. Then she hung out and they played “Bad Reputation.” It was wild. There was one downer when the PA went out for just a few moments…the only time I heard that happen all weekend, and the guys rocked, just as hard, straight through it. Didn’t even think they noticed until Grohl asked good-naturedly if everything was fixed. It was quickly forgotten. They ended the set with an amazing “Everlong.”
I’m not sure that Florence and the Machine were considered headliners, but they packed that lot as they closed out the Windcreek Stage. They always deliver, not just good musi, but a full theatrical mystical musical experience.Florence’s powerful operatic voice, the gospel sounds of the backup vocals, mix of electronica and traditional instruments and the color-change stained glass backdrop gave an otherworldly performance that momentarily raised you off the beach and into the stars.
The Zac Brown Band closed out the festival Sunday night for me. I managed to wiggle my way through the cowboy hats to just a few rows back from the stage and was able to see some incredible pickin’ without the big screens. Again, the audience hung on every note, dancing and laughing, but when the fiddle player Jimmy DeMartini went to town during “Isn’t She Lovely/Neon,” the crowed just roared. I was even more disappointed that I had to leave early when I heard they had covered Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name “ and Nirvana’s “All Apologies “.
So much for my paying attention to the line-up, because there were other bands I would have liked to have seen, like Blackberry Smoke and Charmaine Neville, or at least seen more of, like Joy Formidable, but that is nature of a festival and as a music festival goes, DeLuna nailed it! As far as a festival, in general, however, DeLuna still has some issues to work out, including improving VIP packages. Apparently there was an issue Friday night before Pearl Jam in the VIP viewing area when VIPs were told by security to clear out to make room for those who had purchased CID travel packages and the police had to intervene. And then there was the trolley ride: the Deluna Express, which for me, driving back and forth fromMobileeveryday was a nightmare. The “Expressless,” as I started calling it, was disorganized and unreliable to say the least. DeLuna issued an apology Saturday morning for both, promising that both issues would be resolved. Nevertheless people continued to be disappointed with the VIP package… and the Expressless? Saturday night, while waiting for the trolley for over an hour in a parking lot at 1:00 a.m., I got to witness a near riot as the people tried to block and force a disembarkation of a trolley that the driver loaded at the back of a very, very long line of exhausted and at that point understandably agitated festival goers.
It struck me that there were an awful lot of marketers there and very few vendors. So, some people loved the PS2 and Marlboro trailers, and found some great vodka and cigars. I even picked up some cute dog tags at the Hushpuppies trailer where they took my picture (an unfortunate incident) to enter me in a contest I certainly won’t win. Ok, so I liked the Hushpuppies set up, but I would have preferred to see that balanced out with more independent vendors and definitely would have like to see a lot more local artisans there. There was one vendor inside the festival that I was a little surprised to see. They were selling glass pipes and bongs…YES, inside the festival! I’m no festie newbie, and I think I’ve seen it all being sold outside the gates, but that one got me. The same goes for the food. There were a few food vendors in addition to a couple of restaurants on the beach that were accessible, but in terms of local restaurants, they just weren’t there. Admittedly, I did not eat at the BBQ, but was told their food was fantastic. But next to that booth was the Free Lovin Foodery fromGainesvilleFlorida. The black beans and rice bowl was to die for as were the veggie burrito and chicken tacos. And their specialty non-alcoholic drinks were a welcome change from water, soda or beer. Still, seeing more local businesses, artisans and chefs would be a welcome sight.