Pensacola is a city of comebacks and possibilities. When I went to sleep a few hours after watching Stone Temples Pilots rock the massive wave of people gathered on Pensacola Beach for DeLuna Fest, I had already committed myself to writing about Scott Weiland and his comeback from addiction, his fight with sobriety and his triumphant return as the frontman of one of the most acclaimed musical acts of the last 20 years. But all of that changed a few hours after waking up and making my way to the GoPensacola.com Stage on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. It was right about that time that Scott Weiland was put on hold and Dew Pendleton stole the show at DeLuna fest.
No megaphones, multiplatinum albums, or chic’ designer wardrobes adorned Pendleton or his band mates. Scott Weiland’s leopard print belt may have cost more than Pendleton’s entire outfit that day, but none of that mattered as he brought his dream and passion for performing to the stage. During his set, he declared that “Music is my world” and even though other artists from around the world played on that very same stage over the weekend, he was more than willing to share his world with the eager audience. At one point, Pendleton moved to the very edge of the stage, sat down on the bass monitor, and leaned as close as possible to the audience. After making himself comfortable, Pendleton told the story of how he and his brother fell on “hard times” and how the construction business dried up, forcing the siblings to sell all of the belongings their parents had left them.
Pensacola has faced quite a few “hard times” since the city of Five Flags’ birth. In the 1990s, abortion clinic protests escalated into an abortion clinic bombing and the fatal shooting of Dr. David Gunn in 1993 by an anti-abortionist. Soon after, the group Pearl Jam performed at the Pensacola Civic Center as part of the "Rock For Choice" Tour that was started by the band L7. During Pearl Jam’s Civic Center performance, guitarist Mike Mccready told the crowd that he was born in Pensacola and if he could make it out of this town, so could we. Dew Pendleton has an opportunity and is taking full advantage of it as he announced that he is moving to Nashville to record and pursue his dream.
With all of the touring talent from various parts of the world and a very strong New Orleans musical presence at the festival, it is a true testament to hard work, that one man and his band out of Pensacola, Florida could symbolize a deeper meaning for the inaugural DeLuna Fest on Pensacola Beach.
Here is a rundown of the highlights from Saturday and Sunday’s festivities……
-Neon Trees. They are probably the most rocking musical act to come out of Provo, Utah in awhile. Of course, the Osmond Family and Bert McCracken of the band "The Used" are battling it out for second place on that list. In an age where a good number of frontmen are faking the flair, lead singer Tyler Glenn worked the stage and audience with his own brand of pure, energized authenticity. Dancing like a madman and singing like his life depended on his performance, Glenn put the audience through a workout. After their set, he spent nearly half an hour talking and taking photographs with festival-goers. During the impromtu meet and greet, an older gentleman next to me said that Glenn reminded him of a young Mick Jagger. I added, a young Jagger with a Mohawk, to which the man smiled and replied, “Mick would have totally worn a mohawk."
-Long Reef. If Johnny Reznik and the rest of the Goo Goo Dolls grew up in Australia you would have the men of Long Reef. "Collins Street is dark tonight!"
-Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The California trio hit the stage decked out in all black clothes and sunglasses. They were raw, gritty and dirty. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any dirtier, they would toss another heap of grimy goodness in your ears. To borrow a quote from a friend, “After that show, I needed to exfoliate….twice!” On the topic of quotes, I heard the quote of the day during BRMC’s set from a husband joking with his wife about finding something they’d lost, “That’s a good place to find (crap), where you left it.”
-The Gills. Another local talent headed to Nashville. The boys gave their all as they said farewell to a very appreciative local crowd.
-Michael Franti and Spearhead. Local musician Mark Ellis brought his family to De Luna Fest and he told me to check out Michael Franti and Spearhead. After that, Mark didn’t say anything else, he just flashed his smile and I instantly knew I had to check them out. As usual, Mark was right on the money; they put on a show! Franti jumped off the stage, walked on the sand and danced toward the barricade giving himself to the sea of fans in front of him, arms wide open, accepting every embrace and touch. Franti declared loudly, “We’re having a great weekend!” Toward the end of their set, they kicked into a few measures of an instrumental take on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” aka The Pixies “Debaser” Version 2.0. Before their last song, Franti and crew asked for any kids and anyone over the age of 60 years old to come up and dance.
-New Politics. From Denmark, these boys hit the mark with the audience. For some strange reason their music reminded me of a happier, updated version of the 1990’s band Orgy. Lead singer David Boyd was a ball of energy that grew tired of competing with the beach ball that was floating around the audience near the stage. Before the band launched into their hit “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” Boyd said, “Give it up for the ball! The ball has to end.” Mysteriously, the ball disappeared like D.B. Cooper and New Politics threw the crowd into an upbeat frenzy. And to think, I would have missed these guys if 30 Seconds from Mars hadn’t decided to ban all photographers from the photo pit.
-Better than Ezra. Surprise of the night for me. Not only did I not know that they were from New Orleans, I hadn’t anticipated that these guys would put on such an energetic show. Radio play and CD’s don’t always do justice for a band’s live performance.
-311. One of the most anticipated acts of the Festival and they delivered the goods non-stop. Part of me was gun shy and afraid that they would pull out their “remake” of The Cure’s “Love Song”, but they rocked the first part of their set hard enough to keep my mind off such distractions.
During 311’s set, I ran into show promoter, Jonathan Parish of Glory Days Gulf Coast, and asked him what he thought of DeLuna Fest so far. He replied that “It was an awesome idea to have it on the beach and security has been very good.”
-The Revivalists. One of a number of New Orleans based bands playing De Luna Fest. They mixed their laid back style of New Orleans infused music with a touch of playfulness and hope for the local crowd.
-Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Led by Sammie “Big Sam” Williams, a prominent New Orleans musician who has played with the legendary James Brown, Elvis Costello and Dave Matthews. Big Sam’s Funky Nation has a sound reminiscent of one of my father’s favorite bands, the Ohio Players with a taste of New Orleans flavor for good measure. They melded covers of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” into their set of original music.
-Bad Fathers. Say what you will about this Los Angeles based band, they had everyone in the audience rocking to their blend of pop punk, rap and rock. I saw little kids and grandmothers bobbing their heads during their set. Bad Fathers are top contenders for musical challengers looking to take Sugar Ray’s heavyweight title that was vacated when lead singer Mark McGrath went on hiatus to become a T.V. personality. After their set, all of the band members graciously took pictures and spent time with their fans. They were definitely the hit of the V.I.P section as they hung out and joked with beach-goers and other band members.
-Cowboy Mouth. Fred LeBlanc (lead singer/drummer) knows how to throw himself a birthday party. After announcing to the crowd that today was his birthday, the frontman from New Orleans and former member of Dash Rip Rock reved up his drum kit and drove the crowd on a wild ride of music and fun. LeBlanc is the official synonym for the word “energy.” A few years ago, I saw LeBlanc climb the adjacent stage scaffolding mid song during their Bushwacker Festival headlining set. He may be a few years older, but age has not slowed down LeBlanc or his band.
Speaking of birthdays. I ran into several people celebrating birthdays during DeLuna Fest. Matt Daley, his daughter Cameron and his girlfriend, Blue Lambert traveled to the festival as winners of radio station WJRR’s promotion in their hometown of Daytona, Florida. As contest winners, Daley won VIP weekend tickets, airfare, a free weekend stay in a luxury suite at the Hampton Hotel on the beach, assorted prizes and a VIP laminate autographed by the members of Stone Temple Pilots. Unfortunately, the laminate was stolen from Cameron on the first day of the festival. It hadn’t been returned when I spoke to the family, but that didn’t dampen Cameron’s spirits as she celebrated her birthday in the VIP section with her dad. Saturday happened to be Cameron’s birthday and when asked what she thought of DeLuna Fest, she said it was “good.” Daley added that the festival was “Awesome. I’d come back next year.”
Danielle Dickey was celebrating her birthday with her boyfriend. Dancing and enjoying the music of DeLuna Fest was his surprise gift to her. When asked what she thought of the festival, Dickey smiled and said one word, “Awesome.”
-Galactic. The name says it all! Their sound is large and out of this world. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this New Orleans group play and they were true to every letter of praise given to them. Heavy Funk N’ Horns! I’ll actively look out for their next show at any nearby venue.
When asked what he thought of DeLuna Fest, local businessman Marcus Rimmer replied, “DeLuna Fest was pure pleasure and also very hilarious.”
-Stone Temple Pilots. Any questions about Scott Weiland’s ability to rock an audience were put firmly to rest at DeLuna Fest on Saturday night. Leading up to their performance, I would hear jokes about the lead singer and the probability of a mid-show meltdown. Anyone who has had someone close to them fighting addiction or has fought addiction themselves, knows how powerfully damaging their world can be. Having his struggle unfold in the public eye of media attention made Weiland an easy target for jokes and doubters. I’m glad to say that after the members of STP joined hands and took a bow after their blazing performance, all jokers, doubters and knuckleheads were very silent. I wish they would have played “Sour Girl”, but the highlight for me was definitely “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart,” my favorite STP song.
-Willie Nelson. The first time I saw the red headed stranger perform was at Springfest several years ago. He was just as moving this year as he was the year he performed in downtown Pensacola. The beach and a breezy moonlit night added another layer of beauty to closing act of an amazing festival.
If the organizers continue to gather support, I truly believe that DeLuna Fest will grow into something amazing for the area. This has been a great year for the Pensacola music scene. Not long ago, people were raving about Orange Beach and the artists they were drawing, and now we have an opportunity to build on something special here. Willie Nelson and Neil Young playing in the same area only a few weeks removed is very noteworthy.
Local musician and bass player of Dew Pendleton’s band, Sean Phillips expressed enthusiasm and positivity when asked about his DeLuna Fest experience. “I was very impressed with the organization of the festival, and I feel it’s another step to put Pensacola back on the musical map. With Vinyl (Music Hall) opening and Seville Quarter working to pull more midsized musical acts back to Pensacola, DeLuna fest showed what we can do here.”
Sometimes we have to be brave with the opportunities were are given. Just like Dew Pendleton has to take advantage of the opportunity he has created by working hard and sacrificing to fulfill his dream. Like the young girl that wants to play guitar and start her own band to the retired senior citizen who wants to rock out to a pop-punk band playing at a beach festival. It doesn’t matter where they take you, possibilities are only created after you look inside yourself and find the courage and determination to follow them.
-Michael L. Smith