Walking into The Handlebar, I heard Travis Brown (Wake Up the Echo) announce in between songs, “Doughnuts out back, t-shirts up front” and “Thanks to Joe (Urban) for letting me use his amp.” Local show promoter, Beav stamped my hand and I immediately jumped into the magnetic sea of music, laughter, and people.
The emcee of the benefit was Pensacola socialite Dick Fisticuffs, who provided parlor-grade hosting skills rivaling the late, great Rodney Dangerfield. Kicking off the musical portion of the night, were The Spanx, featuring an acoustic set by members Erik Lollar (guitar/vocals) and Christal Gibson (keyboard/vocals), followed by Wake Up the Echo, who were making their first appearance at the Handlebar, one night after their debut performance at James Hagan’s uproarious roast and party. No “New Kids on the Block,” the members of Wake Up the Echo, Travis Brown (guitar/vocals), Nathan Price (guitar/vocals) and Ryan Steward (drums) have united their years of experience playing in numerous bands around town to form their own unique co-op of sound. Judging from crowd response, the merger was successful and quickly met with ardent admiration; declared by Joe Urban (Long Division) as his “new favorite band.”
Throughout the night, Pensacola Roller Gurlz president, Brandi O’Leary, aka Justa Hotmess, gracefully juggled the evening by announcing the raffle winners who won prizes donated by area businesses, while simultaneously introducing fellow team members to the crowd and taking time to talk about our city’s newest (and possibly coolest) sports team.
When asked about the benefit and who was responsible for the idea, O’Leary quickly complimented her teammates by saying, “The idea actually originated from a few girls on the team. We handed out “getting to know each other” forms when we first got together and a few of the girls had the same idea to throw a benefit show. We have very talented and artistic girls on the team with a lot of connections within our community that have amazing ideas on how to thrive while supporting Pensacola. Jessica Phillips, AKA Cheeks and Jesstroy, was our event coordinator for this specific benefit.”
Phillips added “the benefit concert seemed like an easy first fundraiser for us, and for me it was an obvious choice because of my husband’s (Sean Phillips) ties to the music scene. I knew it wouldn’t be very hard to get something off the ground at short notice at the Handlebar, and we had about three weeks to put it together. The bands were supportive right away, and the businesses were very generous with their donations as well.”
Winners of the night were Katy Hubbard (of the band Mr. Fahrenheit) who was the lucky winner of two prizes; the massage package, courtesy of Fourleaf Clover Body-Therapy and the Seville Quarter prize package. Roller Gurl, Pretty TaraFying won the Hot Sauce prize package, and the lucky winner of the “Date with the Derby Girls” was Mike Mitchell.
There was a definite family vibe to the entire evening as the camaraderie shared among teammates looked like a strong sisterhood. A sentiment that was echoed in Phillips’ reply when asked about the origins of the team and her chance meeting with O’Leary. “I got involved with Roller derby when I started roller skating again out of boredom. I liked it a lot, so I searched for a team in the area and found Beach Brawl Sk8er Dolls in Ft. Walton Beach. I joined that team in early March and skated with them for the rest of the season. Towards the end of the season, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep it up for another year, and I was going to quit because there wasn’t an active team in Pensacola. That’s when I met Brandi, she was Vice President of the Gulf Roller Region. She was new to the area, and new to derby, but had amazing drive to lead a team. After a while, it was a clear that a new team would have to be formed. This was the birth of PRG, in September. We now have over twenty girls on our roster and we continue growing every week. It’s a very exciting time for us right now.”
O’Leary added to the story, “I love roller derby! I just moved to Pensacola from Fort Walton Beach at the end of August. I was still so excited because I just knew Pensacola had to have a team. As I moved out here and tried to find this existing team, it was slowly diminishing and moving over to join the Santa Rosa Roller Girls. I just couldn’t see that happening with Pensacola being such a bustling city that we couldn’t possibly keep a team going and get more girls to join us. So as VP for the previous team, I contacted Dreamland Skate Center to see if they would host us. Bobby, the owner, was more than thrilled to have us there. Shortly after, the old president stepped down and I decided, along with the three girls we had left, to start up a new team. They said I had their full support with whatever decision I made and gave me the strength to start up a new league. I have never ran a roller derby league before, nor have I ever been on a roller derby team before. I do own my own business and have coached and managed before, but this was an all new game for me. We have grown into one big derby family with lots of surrounding teams as our derby sisters. My experience thus far has been one of excitement and passion for something I’ve always had a love for and the gurlz on this team do nothing but make it better every time we’re around each other.”
The final performers of the night were Long Division (Tammy Mills (vocals/keyboard), Brent Condon (bass), Joe Urban (vocals/guitar), Jason Case (drums) and Mr. Fahrenheit (Katy Hubbard (saxophone, vocals), R.J McKee (guitar), Ben Minor (drums), Robert Pennington (bass).
With prizes awarded and the stage cleared, it appeared that a very successful benefit show had reached its inevitable conclusion. That is, until O’Leary jumped on stage, grab the microphone and declared “We get down and derby all of the time!”
This sounded the introduction of the leg wrestling competition which initially started as a demonstration among Derby Gurlz, but competitive fires were sparked and it soon became an open competition. No appendage was safe as audience members, band mates, and even bartender, Chuck Taylor joined the ruckus, but the winner of the night was one of the most unsuspecting of participants. The walking-cane wielding bass player of Long Division, Brent Condon held the longest winning streak of the entire night leaving an impressive file of contenders under his reign and one audience member shouting, “Way to earn that handicap parking decal!”
When asked about the secret to his unbelievable winning streak, Condon replied, “My secret? I used to be a martial arts instructor. It’s all about technique. You’d be surprised how much transfers over, even when you have a femoral acetabular impingement.”
To wrap up the night, Phillips added “We are really excited about being Pensacola’s team, and so far, the people we have reached are very responsive. We are always looking for more skaters, refs, and volunteers for the league. You don’t have to be a skater to be involved with our growing team- we also need booster club support, as well as fans. We need business sponsors, and we welcome donations that we can raffle or spend. We are a volunteer league, and our goals include as much giving back to the community as possible.”
To find out more information on how you can be a part of the Pensacola Roller Gurlz experience as a skater, a fan, or a sponsor, check out their facebook page, add them as a friend and show your support.
– Michael L. Smith