DeLuna Fest Recap: Music, water, sand. And more sand.
Kristina Vallejo

Pensacola Beach isn't a city known for it's festivals, but with the advent of the annual DeLuna Fest, that may not be true for much longer. This year's festival included Bob Mould, Pearl Jam, Fishbone, Florence + The Machine, and many more. It was a great weekend, and we sent one of our listeners out to cover the sun-soaked event.

Day 1

After a long layover in Nashville and an overnight stay in Panama City, my friends and I finally made it to Pensacola Beach, Florida for the third annual DeLuna Fest.  We walked into the festival grounds as Whitman-inspired local band Pioneers! O Pioneers! kicked off the festival with a high-energy set.  We listened from afar as we spent entirely too much money at the merch table.

{Photo Credit: Cindy Corona}


We then made our way to the main stage for Fishbone.  This is one of two DeLuna stages set up on the shore, a few hundred feet from the crashing waves of the Gulf of Mexico.  Fishbone reached the height of their popularity in the late 80s and mid 90s, but they continued to write and perform together and released a new album in late 2011. 

Today, their fusion of punk, ska, and funk laced with sociopolitical commentary is still incredibly relevant.  At one point, singer/bass-saxophonist Angelo Moore dedicated “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” to Mitt Romney.  The crowd roared with approval.  The band’s sense of humor is demonstrated in both their songs and audience banter, so the sociopolitical aspects are never overbearing.  The sun-soaked audience, bare feet in the sand, were dancing and singing along to every song.

Band of Skulls

Next up was Band of Skulls, whom I saw for the first time this March during SXSW.  The trio hails from Southampton, England, and their appearance at DeLuna Fest was the first show they ever played in Florida.  For those of you who don’t know them yet, you might recognize “Light of the Morning” from a few hipster-inspired television ads. 

Their gritty blues-rock offers heavy guitar riffs and frequent interplay between guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson.  The 45-minute set included plenty of fan favorites from their latest album Sweet Sour, including the title track, the aforementioned “Light”, “Wanderluster”, “Bruises”, and “The Devil Takes Care of His Own”.  It was a solid set by a band just breaking into US market, and I look forward to watching how far they go.

{Photo Credit: Cindy Corona}

Guided by Voices

90s indie darlings, Guided by Voices, reunited for a Matador Records showcase in 2010, and they decided to stay together and make a record.  They have already released a pair of records this year and another is slated for release this November.

Their set was an alcohol-fueled haze of new songs intermingled with some of the classics.  Singer Robert Pollard walked on stage wearing a shirt reading “Hertz Rent a Drunk”, while holding a liter of Jose Cuervo tequila in one hand and a Bud Light in the other.  Yes, it was that kind of show.  Although GBV was highly entertaining, especially as Pollard continued to empty the tequila bottle, I was more entertained watching an enthralled Eddie Vedder watch the band from side stage.

{Photo Credit: Dave Vann}

Pearl Jam

Headliners Pearl Jam they exceeded even my fan-girl expectations.  Vedder mentioned his excitement at performing near the ocean several times and opened their 2.5 hour set with “Oceans”.  The set list relied heavily on the Ten album, but it was a festival performance...hits are a must.

Not surprisingly, the set included a slight political tangent from Vedder encouraging us to vote.  He didn’t tell us who to vote for, but he made his political leanings known by following up with the overtly revolutionary protest song, “Grievance.”  The band then surprised the exhilarated audience by playing the as yet unreleased epic “Of the Earth,” which I had never seen performed live.  The high-energy set concluded with “Unthought Known”, “Do the Evolution”, and “Porch” before abruptly leaving the stage to thunderous applause.

When the band returned and the lights came back on, Vedder said “We’re not done yet...we got plenty of time.  You guys aren’t ready to go home, yet, are you?”  The crowd roared in agreement and the band began the 4-song encore with “Black.”  The audience singing along at the end of this song as Vedder improvised a new, more intimate tag of “we didn’t belong together” was one of the truly magical moments of the show.

The second encore included the crowd sing-a-long “Better Man,” an epic rendition of “Alive” and The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” and “Yellow Ledbetter”.  A fan waving a huge American flag made his way to the front of the crowd as Mike McCready played the final refrain of “Yellow Ledbetter”.  As the flag passed in front of Mike, his eyes went wide and he transitioned into the “Star Spangled Banner”.  It was the McCready rendition of the immortal Hendrix version.  It was a beautiful thing.  The band rejoined McCready on stage for a final bow.  The crowd left sweaty, exhausted, and a little dazed from the 27-song marathon performance.

{Photo credit: Joel De La Garza}

Day 2

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

The Pearl Jam marathon the night before made for a slow start on Saturday morning.  We started day 2 of DeLuna with two late afternoon sets from bands fronted by badass guitar-playing women.  Joan Jett and the Blackhearts drew a large crowd and did not disappoint.  They ripped through The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” and “You Drive Me Wild,” followed by punk anthem “Bad Reputation.”  It also happened to be Joan Jett’s birthday.  Halfway through their performance, the keyboard player led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to her.  Jett and her Blackhearts further delighted the crowd with the classics “Crimson and Clover,” “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You.”

The Joy Formidable

We then rushed over to the main stage as The Joy Formidable kicked off their set with “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade” from last year’s The Big Roar.  The Welsh trio – vocalist/guitarist Ritzy Bryan, bassist Rhydian Dafydd, and drummer Matt Thomas – have gained a wider audience after opening for Foo Fighters at a handful of shows last November.  Bryan was visibly excited to be at the beach, stating “We should do beach gigs more often. This is really f***ing cool.”  The band had the crowd on their feet with other tracks from The Big Roar, including “A Heavy Abacus,” “Buoy,” and “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie.”  Their last song was their biggest, both in sound or popularity: “Whirring.”  Even on that huge stage, the three members managed to play off each other, with Bryan running back and forth while delivering huge walls of crushing guitar.  At the end of the song, she hurled her guitar toward her mic stand and proceeded to take down a couple of Thomas’s drums.  She then coolly sauntered off stage amidst the cacophony emanating from her delay pedal.  Like I mentioned before, she’s a badass.

Foo Fighters

As we waited for Foo Fighters to take the stage, it seemed like the entire audience was giddy with anticipation.  The band hit the stage with “White Limo” and sustained their wild energy throughout the set.  Although the crowd was singing along every song, Dave Grohl introduced “My Hero” by saying, “You guys sing this one.... let’s see how loud you are.”  We did... and continued singing to “Learn to Fly,” “Arlandria, ” and “These Days.”

Grohl then took a break to introduce the band.  Although with this crowd, guitarist Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel, keyboardist Rami Jaffe, guitarist Pat Smear, and drummer Taylor Hawkins needed no introduction.  Hawkins, in turn, introduced Grohl, who sincerely thanked the audience and said, “I don’t want it...I don’t need it.”

The power went out several times during “Hey, Johnny Park!”, but the band played through it.  The crew fixed the problem before the song was over and Foo Fighters launched into Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh?” with Hawkins on vocals and lasers to make Pink himself proud.  Grohl then stopped and said, “Sometimes I don’t care if the PA is working because you guys sing so f***ing loud anyway!”  He sang the first few words of “Best of You” and let the audience finish the verse.  The band ended their first set with this emotionally charged, hard-rocking song and left the audience wanting more.  They waved thank you and walked off stage as the thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd grew even louder. 

The lights came back on revealing Grohl standing alone at a mic with an acoustic guitar, and the crowd roared as he strummed the intro to “Times Like These”.  After the first verse, the stage lights grew brighter and the whole band joined in for an explosive finish.

Bob Mould, who added vocals and guitar to this track on Wasted Light, joined the band for “Dear Rosemary” and a cover of “Breakdown” by Tom Petty.  When Mould departed the stage, Grohl said, “Tonight, I’d like to do something I can honestly say we’ve never done before...sing Happy Birthday to Joan Jett!”  He led the audience in a sing-along of “Happy Birthday” as she blew out the candles on her cake.  She then grabbed the mic and the band accompanied her on “Bad Reputation.”

Foo Fighters wrapped up with “Everlong,” which had the entire crowd jumping up and down and singing louder than before.  After the band departed the stage, the sweaty, exhausted crowd lingered by the stage.  There was a feeling the set ended too soon, but Foo Fighters delivered everything you would expect, and it was one of the best shows of the festival.

{Photo Credit: Clayton Roberts}

{Photo Credit: Dave Vann}

Day 3

Bob Mould plays Copper Blue

Bob Mould is currently on tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his band Sugar’s highly influential debut album Copper Blue.  The bespectacled Mould looks like that Chuck-Taylor-and-blue-jean-wearing professor who teaches all of the cool media classes.  Don’t let that fool you.  He and his impressive band – Jon Wurster (Superchunk) on drums and Jason Narducy (Telekinesis) on bass – tore through the album’s ten songs like it was 1992. 

The audience was almost entirely made up of people who remember hearing the album the first time around.  Their energy level matched the band’s, despite the heat and plethora of dragonflies that decided to invade the festival.  After playing Copper Blue in its entirety, Mould and the band launched into a few tracks from his new solo album Silver Age, including “Star Machine” and “The Descent.” 

{Photo Credit: Cindy Corona}

The Wallflowers

The Wallflowers’ set overlapped with Mould’s, so they were a few songs in when I reached the stage.  The new album, Glad All Over, is slated for release next month, and they played quite a few of the new songs.  At one point, Dylan said he wasn’t “going to play a lot of the old stuff.”  We were too far away to tell whether the audience members in front were shouting out requests.  I wondered whether he intended to completely disregard the past and focus only on the new release. The next song was “One Headlight.”  It’s a festival...I guess you really do need to play the hits.  Then Dylan and company played Nick Lowe’s “(What's So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.”  It seemed like the perfect song to accompany bare feet in the sand and a cool Gulf breeze.  From the sound of the elated crowd, I think they agreed.

{Photo Credit: Dave Vann}

The sun began to set as we waited for Florence + the Machine to take the stage.  I previously saw her perform in an intimate venue, so I didn’t know how her songs would play out in a festival setting.  She walked onstage to the opening bars of “Only If For a Night”, and I could clearly see this was her wheelhouse.  She was extremely charismatic, giving the diverse crowd as much love as they gave her.  For “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” she called for “human sacrifices”.... asking as many people as possible to get on the shoulders of their companions.  The blocked views might have perturbed other audiences, but this one seemed just fine.  After all, Flo asked them to do it.

Later in the set, she asked us to turn to our neighbor and embrace, kiss, shake hands, or whatever...and said, ”Ok, now you know each other. ”  The band began the opening bars of “Spectrum,” and she asked us all to dance our hearts out.  This vibe continued throughout the set, and the energy elevated even higher for the last song, “Dog Days Are Over.” 

{Photo Credit: Dave Vann}

We decided to skip the headliner (Zac Brown Band) in favor of a cold draft beer and football under a tent outfitted with flat screen TVs and misters.  The amenities at this tent exemplify the small details that made the DeLuna experience a great one.  Another was the availability of cool water at several water stations courtesy of Vapur.  In addition, several beverage tents were donating 100% of their tips, from all three days, to organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project.

While travel to DeLuna Fest required a plane trip and then a road trip, I would definitely do it all over again.  I expect great things from this festival and look forward to next year’s line up.

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