I haven't been through the Deluna Fest gates 30 minutes and am headed to the designated media room inside a Hampton Inn flanking the Pensacola Beach festival grounds when I come upon a spectacle that stops me in my tracks. Not 20 feet from valet parking and the motion-sensor glass doors into this pamphlet-worthy hotel is some plaid-painted dude no older than 30, hunched over and emptying his chunky stomach contents onto the decorative lava rock surrounding the entrance.
No one seems to notice as he sprawls on the elevated concrete, either falling faster and faster down the blackout hole or examining his own belt buckle with monk-like intensity. It’s ok, though. It’s the beach! It’s a music festival! The beers are cold, the women are fine, and the music’s loud, man. He’ll be alright. It’ll all be alright. How could it not be?
Eh, well, it just ain’t sometimes. As much of an MTV fantasy that a massive music festival on a pristine beach might sound like, it only takes enough bikini-choked cellulite, sweltering heat, $50 parking spaces, and bright YOLO tank tops to realize this can be more tolerance exercise than vacation.
So, you cope with a setting sun, maybe a few healthy gulps at happy hour and, soon enough, you’re face to face with a band like Pearl Jam playing a rare show of hits and deeper cuts (one of only four this year, apparently) as your toes shift and sink in the cool beach sand.
They jam out as best as any veteran rock band really can on a massive stage of Shaq-ian heights. Snapping away photos, I get the best view up Eddie Vedder’s nostrils in the house. They’re a little hairy, maybe slightly grey, but clean as he leads his troupe through a veritable cornucopia of songs so era-defining, so 1990’s, the nostalgia wave is almost palpable.
His voice is an omnipresent force over the crowd. It fills the atmosphere with a soulful gruffness that’s aged damn well over the past 20 or so years. And, he keeps it up for two-and-a-half hours.
If it was chill-inducing vocals like these you were coming for, there was no shortage of them all throughout the weekend. After 15 minutes of piano-tuning delays, City and Colour took the main parking lot stage early Friday afternoon for a heavenly set only matched by the hellish heat radiating off the asphalt. The Bon Iver-ish vibes are heavy as the former Alexisonfire frontman Dallas Green leads his band through lush, folk-y tracks that carry his crystalline voice, but rarely overpower it.
Trampled by Turtles overpower, well, pretty much everything as they stomp, howl, and fiddle through a set that hits like a country-fied mac truck over and over again. They yield to prototypically anthematic and traditionally folky territory, somewhere between Mumford and Sons and Dawes, but do it drummer-less with enough intricate string work (guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, bass) to give you thick finger callouses by sheer osmosis. It’s powerful, magnetizing, even uplifting, and that’s a lot to be said for an act eyeballs deep in the wave of schmaltzy folk rock coursing over pop music today.
Britain’s Band of Skulls could easily be carrying the radio pop-rock torch within the next few months. They pack a ballsy bravado much like their British neighbors Muse, but lather it in a sludgy layer of mean but delightfully catchy stoner metal tendencies today’s FM waves could use a little more of. They’re not the most exciting act of the fest, their music is hardly anything noble or groundbreaking, but they hit that inner guilty-pleasure button like a bad action movie.
With no must-sees until later that night, Saturday at Deluna yields some good and bad surprises before the sun goes down. The Canvas Waiting plays an afternoon parking lot set just about as uninspiring and purposeless as their name. If you took the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack, threw it in a blender, and topped it with a dollop of cloyingly sweet U2-ian bullshit, I’d enthusiastically pass, but The Canvas Waiting can’t seem to get enough. It’s hard to tell with their well-dressed, utterly vapid stage presence, though, and 20 minutes of their set is more than enough to make me cry all over my guitar in an overpriced sepia-toned music video.
Austin’s The Saints of Valory are cut from the same cloth, but make the best of the musical clichés they’re confined to. Most of their tunes feel cheaply derivative, but nicely varied, wavering between easy-breezy love songs and enjoyable cock-rock-y dance stomps. Plus, they all just look like they’re having a good time, like they’re actually mildly enthused to be here. I forget how far this can go in a concert setting, but throw enough fists in the air, jump around, ask me to do enough hand claps and I’m like a baby playing peek-a-boo, just a sucker for it every time.
The Joy Formidable take the main beach stage as the sun bleeds to orange and sinks behind the massive structure. Much like Band of Skulls, they pack an arena-rock bombast that’s actually managed to hit alt-rock radio and chart stardom over the past year. Their sound is huge, but muddled, like the three-piece is trying to compensate for their own low head count. Either way, the energy of songs like “Austere” and “Whirring” are proper warm ups for the Foo Fighters set to take the stage next.
Between these sets, Band of Horses dole out a solid hour of ethereal folk rock from the parking lot main stage. Bathed in warm orange light, Ben Bridwell and company launch into “Knock Knock” off their latest LP Mirage Rock. The opening, harmonized “ooohhs” and “aaahs” soar above crunchy guitar tones with a brisk speed made all the more powerful in a live setting. Mirage already has a decidedly “live” sound as the band recorded straight to analogue with legendary producer Glyn Johns, so this works in their favor, not that they really need it. BOH staples like “Great Salt Lake,” “The General Specific” and initial single “The Funeral” are played with elated presence and clarity well suited for this early-evening headlining set.
Say what you will about the Foo Fighters music, but damn, it’s hard to hate on Dave Grohl’s ever-intense and equally nice guy spirit when it comes to his profession. You can’t help but feel his earnestness and energy is absolutely genuine even if he’s done this exact same thing the night before, and the night before that, and the night before that... This wasn’t as much of the Foo Fighters’ show at it was our show as Dave regaled us with enough dry-witted anecdotes and boyish humor to make for a decent stand-up set.
For nearly two-and-a-half hours, Grohl and company rifled through every imaginable Foo Fighters hit with a few surprise flourishes thrown in. How this guy can bring it 100 percent, jump around like a banshee, and shred his vocals cords to a seemingly bloody pulp every night is just beyond me. But, he does, and does it well judging by this set. Throw in a Joan Jet appearance for a blustering rendition of “Bad Reputation” and legendary Husker Du frontman Bob Mould on guitar for a cover of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” and the Foos easily make for one of the most memorable experiences in my personal show-going history.
Still reeling off the Foo Fighter’s energetic vibes, you’d think a late night set from one of the best producer/DJ combos today could easily keep it going, but Diplo didn’t bring much more than a slew of innocuous re-hashes and re-mixes to the stage. Diplo can bring it, and bring it hard, in a live setting. Just last year, Diplo turned Deluna into one of the most absurd, sweaty shitshows I’ve ever witnessed with a wildly-paced never-boring set heavy on booty-bouncing rap bangers and Jamaican dancehall. Saturday’s set relied more on repetition than the musical diversity and surprise that makes him so good live. Even so, it reinforces that “Original Don” and “Pon de Floor” are just ridiculous artifacts of dance culture. But really, they’re both so infectious they’d probably still get you going even blasted through terrible iPhone speakers.
Sunday brought more or less of the same. A daytime lineup chocked full of smaller names and local acts, with the big guns coming out as night falls.
You’d think Pensacola’s own Twothirtyeight might’ve been the exception to this sentiment. The news that the defunct Tooth & Nail indie outfit would reunite for Deluna surely made some waves amongst attentive music circles, especially here in Florida, but you couldn’t tell as they took the smallest stage at the festival for another skin-roasting set in the midday heat.
For a crowd of, like, 50 (half of whom looking like they just wanted some background music to drink obnoxiously long daiquri drinks to), Twothirtyeight rifled through a solid assortment of late '90s to early '00s indie fare straight from the book of greats like the Pixies and maybe even a tad of Pavement thrown in there. “Was that a cover?” some old voice yell-asks after they hit the last note of “Coin Laundry Loser.” “A cover?” frontman Chris staples asks. “Yeah, it’s, uh, my 33-year-old self covering my 21-year-old self.” We all chuckled.
If any semblance of humor lingered around the festival, Jakob Dylan made no qualms about sucking it right out of the air. Honestly, this guy and The Wallflowers might’ve been the most boring thing in a 500 mile radius for the 40 or so minutes they played the main stage on Sunday afternoon. But, it’s hard to blame them. If my last hit was nearly four election seasons ago and my dad’s fame will always and eternally hover my own, I’d feel a little malaise, too. There’s nothing really off with the music, just a very, very dull performance on all fronts.
It’s funny how Superchunk almost works as the live antithesis to a band like the Wallflowers. How this 23-year-old band of 40-plus veteran rockers can rock it with more physical energy than 90 percent of the other acts here is really inspiring or incredibly depressing however you decide to look at it. Either way, their discography-spanning set was rife with still-youthful bouts of angst and cheer, each seeming more passionate than the next.
Fitz and the Tantrums take the main beach stage for a church tent revival-like performance that still would’ve felt right at home, maybe even more so, like four decades ago. Their blend of vintage instrumentation — complete with baritone sax and occasional flute — and Sly and the Family Stone-ish panache make Fitz and the Tantrums easily one of the most excitable acts of the festival.
Florence and the Machine might as well have been the headlining act on Sunday night. Their massive stage set up complete with a dark, art-deco theme, backup singers, and a monstrous harp was wildly appropriate for Florence’s larger-than-life anthems, culled from the band’s first two LPs. It’s wildly entertaining; Florence Welch saunters around in a flowing black dress like an Athenian goddess, but you can’t help but get the vibe this lady heartily loves the smell of her own farts. Slurry banter from Florence fills the gaps between these otherwise beautifully-performed songs. Then, her nauseatingly poetic encouragement for everyone to make out and “express themselves” with the person next to them just made for some real awkward vibes, especially when you’re shoulder to shoulder with another straight man.
And, finally, Zac Brown Band hit the stage to close out Sunday night at Deluna. I’ll admit I blindly and happily wrote off this band as simpleton, pop-country bullshitters hellbent on filling stadiums and lining their pockets with sweet, sweet country radio cash. And hell, maybe they are. But, my god, these guys are good. Pitch perfect harmonies, blazing tempos, finger-breaking solos on everything from violins to guitars, and some massively complex compositions that are, I guess, par for the course for these guys. Some of the songs, including a 13-minute jammed-out rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” could rival those of some of the top jam bands today in terms of complexity. It’s nothing quite original per se, but it’s hard to deny the overflow of talent pouring from the group. A country-fied Dave Matthews Band, perhaps? Who knows? What I do know is that a cheeky grin spread across my face more times than I can count watching these fat hairy dudes play for the 40 or so minutes I got to see them before having to make my exit.
So, some great ups, some “meh” downs, but overall, Deluna Fest was about as solid of a music festival experience as money can buy. See you next year?
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.