Pensacola, Florida 2012

She was 5 foot, 4 inches of beautiful. With wavy black hair and tan skin that glowed in the light of Sir Richards lounge, she walked through the door and sat at the table.

Our mutual friend introduced us, “He writes a music column in the local paper.” She replied with an acknowledging smile, “Oh, yes. I didn’t think black people listened to that kind of music.”

With one sentence, all of that beauty turned ugly, real quick.

I was shocked. Not just because of what she said, but more because someone so young was saying something so wrong. I thought the youth of today didn’t have that mindset. I thought everything was open, especially music.

Music has no color. I learned that as a kid flipping through my parents’ record collection. I learned that from my friends. I also learned that from little record stores around town.

Pensacola, Florida 1989-90:

The most memorable record store was the one in University Mall. I remember the guy who worked there. In a rectangular shop of records, cassettes and a circular rack of band shirts, was the guy who helped open my door to music.

Always friendly and always helpful, he would tell me about bands and cool shows in town. He also told me about a world of music outside the record store; live local music, with kids my age, in my town, making music that I liked.

He also told me about a show that turned out to be the greatest Pensacola show I never saw:

Bad Brains at the Nite Owl in 1990.

DELUNA FEST 2012 Day 2 BAD BRAINS

I barely understood a word H.R. said, I don’t even think they played a single song from “Quickness”, but seeing Bad Brains on Pensacola Beach fulfilled a dream that was over 20 years old.

I was watching the guys who made it ok to be myself. Royalty was rocking on my hometown beach and it didn’t matter what they played. It may have not compared to the Bad Brains show in Pensacola that I didn’t see, but that was alright with me. H.R., Dr. Know, Darryl, and Earl completed the circle they began in my world over two decades ago.

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BAD BRAINS at the NITE OWL 1990

It was the show I had to see. Bad Brains were going to play Pensacola the day before my sophomore year of high school and that was the problem.

I had to see Bad Brains.

My life changed on a Saturday afternoon during my freshman year of high school. Local skaters Pete Kelly and Rob Dill came to skate my friend Mike Rowe’s halfpipe aka the “Sketch Ramp”. Rob handed Mike a cassette and told him to play it before he dropped in.

Enter the vocal introduction of Bad Brains’ “Soul Craft”. We skated to the entire album. It beat the hell out of me. Aggressive in a way that I’d never heard before. I loved the band immediately.

It wasn’t until I looked at the cassette cover that my mind was really blown. The four guys on the cover were black like me. Their color didn’t matter to my friends, but it meant the world to me.

In the early 90’s, it wasn’t cool to be a “black kid” at Booker T. Washington High School who loved metal, punk and skateboarding. That’s mainstream now, but in a sea of adolescent outcasts, my ass stuck out like a sore thumb and Bad Brains made it better.

I could easily get a ride from friends, but my parents weren’t going for ANY show the night before school. Begging and pleading wouldn’t help; My mother’s discipline and caring was unwavering. One year, I even begged her to buy the Madonna issues of Playboy and Penthouse under the condition that I wouldn’t open them until I was 21. She said “NO”. That Bad Brains show is now a legendary piece of Pensacola music history. It would take nearly 25 years before I would see them in Pensacola.

Pensacola Civic Center. May 5th 2000,

Standing in a line, waiting to buy tickets on a Friday or Saturday morning was a tradition. On the first day tickets were available for a show I wanted to see, I was standing in a line.

I stood in a looping line at the Civic Center for Metallica. I stood in line at the Navy Base for Pearl Jam and L7’s Rock for Choice concert. Just as I’d done for any major concert, anywhere, I stood in line and waited. I stood outside Turtles record store for this one.

But now I was standing and waiting for the show. The opening act was a band I was familiar with, but it didn’t matter who they were. I came to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The support act took the stage and I was surprised. I didn’t own any of their albums, but I knew a few of the songs by Dave Grohl’s post-Nirvana band. What I heard on the TV and radio was pretty good, but these guys were really rocking out.

“He’s funny.” I thought as I started to actually enjoy the wait before the Chili Peppers. The band continued rocking while we were having a blast on the floor. “Damn, they sound good.” I told my friends.

It was all too good apparently. The Chili Peppers just couldn’t compare. I knew all of the songs that Anthony Kiedis and the band were playing, but it didn’t compare to the show by the Foo Fighters. My little RHCP fandom couldn’t understand it. Something just wasn’t right in Rockville. How could the Foo Fighters do this?

DeLuna Fest 2012 Foo Fighters

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Over a decade had passed since I saw the Foo Fighters. Their rock status had grown exponentially. Over those years, the group released a few albums, struggled with lineup changes, won Grammy Awards and played Wembley Stadium…twice.

Almost everything they accomplished on their way to becoming one of the top rock bands in the world was documented in the film “Foo Fighters: Back & Forth”. The documentary, which won a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video in 2012, also showed the making of the “Wasting Light” album. From the reunion with producer Butch Vig, collaborations with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Husker Du/Sugar frontman Bob Mould, the film showed the humanity behind the rock machine. It also sparked my interest in seeing the band again.

The wait was over when the band launched into “White Limo”. Twelve years after my Civic Center experience, the Foo Fighters rocked longer and even harder. They played almost every song I could have wished for.

Just as I thought the night was about to end, the band unveiled even more surprises.

As Grohl introduced Bob Mould, I immediately realized we were about to see something special. One of the most poignant segments of “Back and Forth” featured the recording of “Dear Rosemary”; Grohl expressed his appreciation for Mould’s history in music and the mutual admiration was visible throughout the recording session.

It was pretty magical to see Mould and the Foo Fighters playing “Dear Rosemary”, but the magic didn’t end there.

Joan Jett joined the band onstage for a birthday celebration.

Earlier in the day, Jett rocked her own concert at DeLuna. She returned that night and received a Dave Grohl led crowd sing-a-long of Happy Birthday as tour manager and Pensacola native, Gus Brandt presented a birthday cake to the rock legend.

If that wasn’t enough rock, Jett and the Foo Fighters performed “Bad Reputation” to finish us off.

Will Pensacola ever see anything as amazing as the Foo Fighter’s concert at DeLuna Fest? I cannot imagine seeing another concert like that in my hometown.

Not in my lifetime.

– Michael L. Smith

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