“This is bittersweet because there was a time when Pensacola had nothing. It was nothing but a ghost town. An empty street at seven o’clock, 6:30 even. And all we had was The Handlebar. All we had was Van Gogh’s, that’s it. That was our entertainment.” – Giovanni Lugo of PALOMA

Two weeks before their Local Showcase at Vinyl Music Hall, I interviewed Joey Amspacher (Transmute), Jon Deale (Dinosaur Daze) and Giovanni Lugo of (Paloma) for the weekly Music Matters column in the Pensacola News Journal. We talked about music and the state of the Pensacola music scene.



MS: I remember the first time I met you was at Dale Halstead’s house, I forgot the name of the project you guys were working on, but that leads to my first question; how did you get involved with playing music?

JD: I started when I was 16 and I’ve been playing with a lot of different musicians in the area since then. I think what actually got me into playing was my buddy handed me a tablature book for Rush’s 2112. I was like fifteen years old and I just started playing along and listening to them. That just opened up the door to music for me, I never really looked back.

MS: Is there anything else you want to add for the readers to know about you, your music your art and the show next week?

JD: I would definitely encourage people to come down next Friday. If you haven’t seen Transmute yet, those guys put on a really killer visual show along with the music. Paloma. They’re always spot on with their live performances. Really great songwriting from Gio and also with what’s going on, we’re trying to work really hard with a lot of the local artists in the community and bringing attention to the people who are really putting their heart and soul into what they’re doing.


Joey Amspacher of TRANSMUTE

MS: How did you get involved with playing music?

JA: I’ve been involved with music from a pretty young age. I’ve always loved music. I had lessons when I was really young. It’s just been something that I’ve been involved with since as long as I can remember. I got a guitar at some point when I was younger. I was in bands in middle school. Just something I’ve always done.

MS: As far as original music in this town, what advice would you give to guys who are starting out playing music in Pensacola? They’re a lot of cover bands out here.

JA: There are a lot cover bands here (laughs). It depends on what you do or what you want to do. Trust your gut. If you want to do original music, try to treat it as art and respect it as such. Don’t follow trends. I’ve always felt with any kind of art, whether it’s film or music, if you try to please yourself, first and foremost, usually everything else will take care of itself if you’re doing it with pure intentions. Everything will work itself out; it’s when you start trying to second guess things and get too technical and too scientific about a process or something or you’re too calculated in who you’re trying to reach and all that kind of thing, to me, is when it starts to get muddy. Musically, you can feel that come out in the end product. I think most successful artists in whatever mediums they chose to work in, usually stick to that and you can kind of feel it come through.


Giovanni Lugo of PALOMA

MS: You have the show next week, local showcase at Vinyl Music Hall, from the time you started playing music in Pensacola, how would you compare that scene then to today’s Pensacola music scene?

GL: I miss…I miss the old scene. I really do. There was a time, you might notice, I think it was 101 on Garden Street…

MS: Where they had house shows…

GL: House shows, they used to do house shows and art shows. There were house shows there, Van Gogh’s, it was the house on the corner by, the punk house over by Van Gogh’s. It was The Handlebar, The Handlebar was the Vinyl. You had Ten 26 and 121, you had a couple of other venues sprawled out.

What happened then was, you talked to someone, you talked to a club owner and you said, “Hey, we want to do a show.” They’d look at the calendar and say, “Cool. You’re on it.” It’s done. And that was across the board. Now, there is still some of that, I’m speaking for myself, I can’t speak for, obviously when I was, because the kids now playing, now it’s places like Vinyl, it’s awesome that they’re allowing it and I wish it would happen more, I wish…it seems like, I mean you got this overhead, you got to meet this specific number, it gets a little intimidating in the fact that we just want an opportunity to play here. It sounds great. If there were some sort of one day out of the month, just a local showcase, do that or make it a little bit easier. It does seem to be little bit more hoops and hurdles to get on to shows. It’s something that I’ve always worked with and try to work around.

This is bittersweet because there was a time when Pensacola had nothing. It was just nothing but a ghost town. An empty street at seven o’clock. 6:30 even. And all we had was The Handlebar. All we had was Van Gogh’s, that’s it. That was our entertainment.

It was that or either drive around and hang out at Wal-Mart at three o’clock in the morning. There just wasn’t really anything to do. The occasional house show. Now, at the same time, you really have to think about a schedule or a calendar. It was just, you go downtown and you find it and you’re there. You give them your five dollars or three dollars, maybe there’s an open mic night, you just knew that at one of these two or three places, somebody was making something. You’d go just to listen, hear and see what was happening. Now it’s very organized and that’s good.

Downtown has exploded into a scene all its own. It’s awesome to see. It’s amazing to know that I can bike down at one o’clock in the morning tonight and there’ll be people in the streets and that’s great. But in terms of original music, it’s kind of hard sometimes. You really have to look through the calendar to find that. You have Sluggo’s, they do their shows from time to time and The Handlebar too. It’s like a different time. Everybody’s trying to catch up and compete with the monsters that downtown has become. It’s a good thing, it’s also…you kind of harken back to those days when it was, It’s almost circular.

MS: Just you saying that, I remember, I was in this band and I asked Cookie (Marc Cook/club owner The Basement) if we could play and he said, “Yeah. Give us a demo tape, I’ll listen to it and let you know.” He listened to it and he let us play. We booked a show and maybe five people came out and some of our friends, but we played.

GL:  Yeah, you’d have to bring a CD, bring a demo maybe or just meet somebody there and they’ll try you out. I remember having to bring a CD or a demo to Sue, to Paula over at Van Gogh’s or something like that and try your luck out and see what happened. You had to work for it a little. You had to put up fliers. You’d have fliers everywhere and trying to figure out how I’m going to catch people’s attention. You’d walk into those venues because they’d be packed out with kids just randomly doing something and sweaty and rank, just full of salt. It was cool, it was a different vibe. At the same time it was also a transition period, you know how things ran in the 80’s and 90’s historic Sluggo’s. We’re definitely going into a transition period.

-Michael L. Hulin-Smith