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Tuesday, October 2

Review: DeLuna Festival - Pensacola, FL - Sept 21-23nd

The DeLuna Festival took place on the weekend of September 21st to the 23rd, 2012 in Pensacola Beach, Florida.  Competing directly with the Southern Ground Festival in downtown Nashville, Tennessee and the Music Midtown Festival in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, DeLuna was the only festival not smack dab in the middle of a city, and situated quite nicely on a beach island on the pristine shores in the Gulf of Mexico. That being said, the festivals had varied lineups and choosing may have been hard for some, but for me, a beach concert, well, was really a no-brainer. Some of my favorite bands were going to be jamming out on the beach?  Oh, yeah! That’s my kind of festival. 
The three day festival featured acts ranging from Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters to lesser known up and coming bands like Trampled By Turtles and City and Colour. Nods to country music were present including a performance by Zac Brown and his band but also pure country acts like Dwight Yoakum (still sporting sequins) and bands from New Orleans like Brass-o-holics and Rebirth Brass Band. In fact, the lineup was deep and imaginative and appealing to all types of fans.  My only complaint was the multiple stages that allowed for such a deliciously tantalizing lineup made it hard to see bands without bringing your go-to music fest clone. I cursed my inability to be in multiple places at once on quite a few occasions this weekend. The choices were that rich.
I’ve heard stories about other festivals, like the naked, drug soaked, dirty, mind-altering event that is Burning Man. I’ve seen pictures of the happily drunken, well-partied crews roaming the beaches at Hangout Festival.  I endured the “addytood” of the city dwellers who swarmed Made in America in Philadelphia.  DeLuna Festival was surprisingly different. The majority of folks at the festival really seemed to be there to hear their bands. Here and there I saw folks who had had a few too many stumbling around.  I did see one young fan rolling around on the ground.  I saw one over-served older man escorted out rather forcefully.  I was surrounded by a few pot clouds here and there. But, overall, the people were very relaxed, laid back and just there enjoying the music. The majority of festival attendees seemed to be in the mid thirties to fifties range. There were college kids and families too. There was a nice mix of all kinds of people all seeming to be getting along and meshing very well. 
Two of the stages were directly on the beach, the main stage, “DeLuna” and the “Heritage Stage” were both located on the beach. The DeLuna stage was much larger with a much larger viewing area. Fans put down blankets, made “sand chairs” and even took a dip during some of the shows. My only complaint (and it’s a dumb one) was that standing and walking in sand is just a bit more challenging over time. One thing we didn’t think of before the event was creating sand hills to elevate us just high enough above the crowd! Next time!  The three other stages were located throughout the event property. The set up was nice except when two bands were playing simultaneously near each other which could sometimes affect sound quality. One of the best features was that leaving and returning to the festival was permitted so should you desire to go back to your hotel, you weren’t trapped in the event.
As far as the concessions went, there were charitable fundraising booths, free water filling stations, a prominent first aid booth, beer (Budweiser family), frozen daiquiri trucks, and even a vodka bus from a new vodka distiller.  PS3 and Marlboro Black brought out their fancy big rigs to lure festival goers inside. On the festival site, there was a beach front, full service restaurant, Crabs We Got ‘Em.  As well as a beach front bar, called The Dock, that contained the fifth stage at DeLuna located inside the bar. Food vendors included Chinese, beer, pizza, vegetarian, bar-b-que and something that looked like a place that satisfied any “fried” craving you might have.  The main thing I noted as a Northeasterner was how cheap the beer ($5) and the food ranging from $2 to $12 was compared to many concerts I have attended.  Now that I have covered some of the general details of the festival, on to the music!
Day 1 – Friday, September 21, 2012
Doors opened at 2 pm.
City and Colour – Wind Creek Stage
Honestly, I have never seen or heard of City and Colour prior to seeing them at DeLuna. From the moment Dallas Green began singing I was immediately intrigued. Green is blessed with one of the clearest toned voices I've been fortunate to hear live.  In a higher range, Green’s honesty just projected through his songs. Amazing lyrics left me wanting to find and download his latest album asap. His crowd was tiny, a bit like explorers in the open stages of the festival. Green’s work has a bluegrass, folk appeal and most of the audience seemed to be younger college-aged types.  At one point, Green, wearing a hat and jeans, urged the crowd to stop taking pictures, stop filming, to just be hear and  “feel the music.” Great advice.   Upon further research, I should note that City and Colour is Dallas Green’s recording alias, “City” a reference to his first name Dallas and “Colour,” his last name Green.  He is based in Ontario, Canada.

Band of Skulls – Go Pensacola Stage
So many of my friends are fans of Band of Skulls I was determined to see them at DeLuna Festival because I was dying to see what all the fuss was about. As I walked to the area, the first thing I noticed was the heavy scent of patchouli permeating the air. I recognized the vendors from the “hippie booth” where I purchased a tied-dye dress earlier. Okay, I liked everything so far. As I was part of the Dead scene in the eighties, I was prepared for magic. And then the band played. I can’t say it was bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. The band, hailing from England, began with an earthy drum beat provided by drummer Matt Hayward and heavy bass lines by Emma Richardson. Russell Marsden on guitar and vocals opened the show. I found their music confusing. I felt like perhaps I should have listened to some songs first because live, it sounded mashed up and impossible to follow. Fans were very intensely focused on the band but I just kept thinking maybe the next song will be the one I can follow…after a few songs, I jetted over to the DeLuna Stage to get a glimpse of another band, playing simultaneously, damn this schedule!

Gaslight Anthem – DeLuna Stage
I’ve never seen them live but I do have tickets for their show at the Electric Factory in Philly in November.  I walked up just in time to see Eddie Vedder join Brian Fallon and the band in their cover of State of Love and Trust, a Pearl Jam song.  Now I know that they have been covering this song for years so having Eddie Vedder join them was really wonderful to see.  For most of the song, Fallon seemed intensely focused and joined Eddie in an excellent duet.  They had captured a large crowd and the show was rocking! Other notables included “Handwritten” off of the band’s fourth studio release of the same name and a cover of “House of the Rising Son.” I’m looking forward to catching these guys in Philly.  And now off to the next stage…this pace is pretty intense.

Trampled By Turtles – Go Pensacola Stage
Oh, Trampled by Turtles, how do I love thee? What can I say about them other than that they were amazing! Another band that I've barely heard of and definitely not seen live, I was so impressed by their presentation and performance at DeLuna! I did a little research before hitting this show so I was aware that they hailed from Duluth, Minnesota and that their fifth album, Palomino (2010), remained in the top ten on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart for 52 weeks and their latest album, Stars and Satellites, debuted at number 32 on the Billboard 200.  A fairly small crowd had assembled for their performance when I arrived. Mostly fans in their thirties and older tended to dominate the crowd. And then they played. Using vocals, guitar, bass, banjo, harmonica, mandolin and fiddle, the beauty of the melodies and harmonies was mesmerizing. As they continued to play, more people began to emerge from other stages and the food area and walked to listen more closely. To indicate just how intensely drawn into their experience, checking back on my notes are little one and two word clues. It seems I didn't want to look away for a moment!  Their songs were heart thumping, foot stomping good time jams. Their three part harmonies were absolutely pitch perfect and so sweet. I've seen some pretty bad 3 part harmonies and these were probably some of the best I've seen live ever….(other than CSN).

Guided by Voices – DeLuna Stage
Um. I actually looked them up after the festival to see what reason, if any, festival organizers had to place them before Pearl Jam on the main stage.  During the entire performance, I was waiting for a) a gong, b) one of those long vaudevillian hooks c) a power outage. My research finds that these guys have been around since 1983. Next year that makes them together thirty years.  However, just because you have managed to stay together thirty years, does not necessarily give you the right to be on the main stage at a festival directly before one of the greatest rock bands of our time. They.were.awful. From the onset I was not guided by any voices, least of all, lead singer Robert Pollard’s off key, tired voice.  The band may have been punk at one point, but they are just lethargic now. Lyrically, I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. It is my thought that if you are a rousing, energetic, punk machine then perhaps, your band lyrics aren't the first thing I would focus on, although, I can still recite the lyrics of The Sex Pistol’s “God Save the Queen.” But these lyrics were repetitive and just crappy. The delivery was lackluster and it seems these guys probably should have hung up their tour shoes about 10 years ago.  Most of the audience seemed to have been forced to listen while maintaining their position for Pearl Jam.   While conducting a very unscientific survey during and after the performance, I was not surprised that it resulted in the most ridiculing comments that I've ever heard at a show.

Pearl Jam – DeLuna Stage
I have to confess. Pearl Jam is a ringer for me. I am a die-hard fan and have been known to travel far and wide to catch them.  I also must note that in addition to being part of the VIP ticket debacle, I also had a serious medical issue midway through the show that resulted in an intense ER visit Saturday morning. That being noted, I will commence to recall anything prior to my untimely exit from the venue. The crowd, as always, was intense. Some people had been standing outside in their spot for at least six hours. In the front, the Pearl Jam faithful, lined the VIP and GA rail like soldiers guarding their sacred spots. As the band had its beginnings in the nineties, age range for this crowd is usually late twenties to early fifties. Others that had purchased very expensive VIP passes waited at the VIP entrance to be taken to their “private viewing area. “ Little did this 150 people (roughly) know, including myself, that this “private viewing area” was already filled with regular VIP ticket purchasers who did not purchase the Pearl Jam package.  As we were lead closer to the entrance to our special area, I realized that something had gone terribly wrong. It was already full, with people, lots of them, and they didn't look particularly pleased that we were trying to squeeze in. Needless to say, it was a poorly planned, poorly executed ticket nightmare that has been addressed on other sites on the web. But being in the middle of it, was pretty crappy and honestly, cast a damper on the evening’s festivities. They open with Oceans. That, in itself, is epic. I know people that have seen over one hundred shows and they have never seen Oceans played live.  In case you don’t know, Pearl Jam is a true jam band! Yes. They change their set-lists for every show. You can see a few in a row and see completely different songs. This is why a lot of people I talk to that are huge Pearl Jam fans are former Deadheads. The allure of travel and the elusive song that you haven’t seen live is key.The band sounded energized. All have an affinity for the ocean, especially Eddie Vedder. They remarked about the excellent choice of venue. They played “Amongst the Waves” again a nod to the prime stage location. They pushed through playing pulsing, pounding songs like “Corduroy” and “World Wide Suicide.”   The audience roared their approval.  
*I must note that things get a bit fuzzy for me just after Pearl Jam played “The Fixer” (I ended up in the emergency room the next day).
Suffice it to say after the set-list review, those in DeLuna did receive the best set list of Pearl Jam’s festival gigs!
Fan Photo: Angie Benigno
Day 2 – Saturday, September 22, 2012
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – Wind Creek Stage
Joan Jett is a Philly girl (well, Wynnwood). I love Philly gals. We have attitude. The famous rocker’s band drew a decent crowd at the Wind Creek Stage Saturday night. Rousing renditions of favorites like “I love Rock n Roll” and “Bad Reputation” were tight, if a bit slower and less punchy. Another favorite played well was “I Hate Myself.” It just happened to be Joan’s Birthday as well.

The Joy Formidable – DeLuna Stage 
Ritzy Bryan is a porcelain rock doll. The gorgeous creature, dressed in lace and polka dot dress with signature Dutch collar is a mix of innocence and bad girl. The properly dressed sweetheart displayed on top with rough cut combat boots on her feet. I only had a passing knowledge of the Joy Formidable before seeing them at DeLuna. They receive some play on my local alternative station in Philly and I knew they opened for the Foo Fighters on their last tour.  That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at the intensity and presence of the trio.  Comprised of the aforementioned Ritzy Bryan (lead vocals/guitar), Rhydian Daffyd (bass guitar) and Matt Thomas on drums, the three paint a much larger sound portrait then their size would indicate. Songs like “The Ever Changing Spectrum of Light” and “Austere,” revealed the serious, ethereal side of the band. The final song, “Abacus” was fun, with Ritzy playing to the crowd, dancing and moving across the stage like a rock and roll pixie. 
My only issue with this performance at DeLuna was with the sound. I wish they were louder. Their music is full and complete, but the sound was getting lost. I wanted them to climax, I kept waiting for the loud, booming climaxes, yet, none came. I was left cold.

Foo Fighters – DeLuna Stage
Dave Grohl is hilarious. I just need to put that out there.  He and the rest of the Foos really put on a great show. The Foo Fighters opened Saturday night’s performance with the punching beats of “White Limo.”  Grohl was a smiling, glorious rock and roll warrior just thoroughly enjoying every ounce of the song.  Like the other artists at DeLuna, he just oozed excitement about the venue commenting, “It’s a beautiful place to have a long ass fucking rock show!”
The Foos moved deftly through their playlist. A highlight came when Taylor Hawkins, the band’s drummer, sang “Cold Day in the Sun” after noting that his babysitter was nearby on stage as he spent time nearby as a child. 
Sound problems emerged four times during the show with sound cutting out to the audience. Grohl’s hilarious “Can you hear me now” taunts helped lighten what must have been a tense situation with the band. Finally a bit exasperated, he exploded with a smile “I’m not done, dude! I wanna keep playin’! What the fuck?” 
The highlight for me was when the broke into “In the Flesh” a Pink Floyd cover with Hawkins singing again. I can’t help but love when one kickass band pays tribute to another with a cover. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, out comes Bob Mould to sing and play guitar with Dave on the song he contributed to their album Wasting Light. “Dear Rosemary” the melodious song co-written by Mould was phenomenal live with Grohl and Mould playing off one another as I imagine they did in Grohl’s garage during the making of the album.  Finally, a birthday cake was brought out and Ms. Joan Jett was beckoned to the stage. The band saluted her with a cover of “Bad Reputation.”
The Foo Fighters are really a must see live band. Dave Grohl and the guys just love what they are doing, and you can tell. The energy is amazing. 

Day 3 – Sunday, September 23, 2012
The Wallflowers
I managed to catch the Wallflowers on Sunday on the DeLuna Stage. They were just okay for me. I know you can’t expect the energy of the Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam and that certain bands are more mellow but I found the Wallflowers lulling me into a bit of a sleep during their performance. They played their hits like “One Headlight” and a cover of “Peace, Love and Understanding” but it just seemed perfunctory. Jakob Dylan was wearing his usual hat and sunglasses and long sleeve shirt and it just looked hot and awkward to me. The fans that had gathered seemed to be enjoying the performance, but when it ended it was just a walk off type of ending. There were no demands for more songs; the fans just seemed okay with them leaving. 

Florence and the Machine
The biggest disappointment of the festival came by way of Florence and the Machine. I am not sure what is going on with Florence Welch’s voice but if she needed to stop touring and recuperate to bring it back to its former glory, she needs to fire her management and get someone that will let that happen for her. I have been a fan from the onset of Florence’s explosion here in the U.S. I caught her concert at Festival Pier in Philadelphia (pre-voice issues) and she was flat out amazing!  But the last two times I have seen her have not been good. First at Jazz Fest in New Orleans in May and then at DeLuna, Florence is lowering the register of her songs, allowing her backup singers to carry the higher notes on some occasions, and in some instances, just not even bothering to sing at all. 
Florence and the Machine played on the Wind Creek Stage to what was the largest crowd at the stage during the festival.  I know every song by heart. I sing along. “Cosmic Love” was the absolute worst rendition of the song that I have ever heard live. With every cop out, failed note and change to the songs, I began to wonder if Florence Welch is done. You can wear all the flowing clothes and do all the ballerina moves and make photo ops for your fans, and yes, that is artistic. But, if you are known for your powerful voice, your lungs, can you continue to be successful if you can no longer hit the notes?

Zac Brown Band
Clearly the largest draw of the festival, the beach was packed for Zac Brown’s performance Sunday night. Opening with “Keep Me in Mind,” the band got the fans up and moving quickly. Fans swarmed in like bees to honey when he began to play and pretty soon the beach was filled with all kinds of folks. As the last act of the festival, it was as though everyone had come for the last “Hurrah!” 
If you've never seen the Zack Brown Band live, they have a bunch of people on stage. It’s fun. It’s light. It’s a mix of country with a dash of pop. I’m not a huge fan of country or country pop but the Zac Brown Band kind of reminds me of a group of friends that just get together and just play their favorite songs. Of course you’ll hear “Chicken Fried” and “Knee Deep” Occasionally, you’ll get a weird cover, like their “Killing in the Name of” from Rage against the Machine, “All Apologies” by Nirvana or “Black” (Holy Mackerel!) by Pearl Jam.  But it’s cool that they don’t discriminate and they seem to just play what they like. The band sounded tight. They obviously had the high dollar stage set up. It worked for me. I enjoyed it. If you get a chance to catch them, do it with an open mind. You just might like it.

Words: Gina Loverdi

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