Every once in a while you get a day when the temperature is a perfect 80 degrees and the blue skies are barely grazed with clouds; it was on one of these perfect days that Deluna Fest began. Pulling into Pensacola, a massive Farris wheel spun in front of the bay and the Pensacola Beach water tower stood like a beacon for the masses coming to town for three days of music, sand and sun.
The gates opened at 2:05 and the crowd stampeded in like a parking lot Pamplona. Hungry patrons dined on delicacies, like the “Damn it to Hell Sandwich” from Shotgun & Rhon De Vu BBQ, or slurped down a Strawberry Fields smoothie from the Free Loving Foodery.
The first act to take stage was local band Pioneers! O Pioneers! They opened to a sparse, but enthusiastic crowd. By the end of the first song people started to drift toward the stage and though it was unclear whether they came for curiosity or compassion – they stayed regardless.
“It is my first time coming here. I was too broke for the past couple years to come,” confessed lead singer Michael Bishop. “I feel like this is a great spot, Pensacola, to do something and this year they are really balancing out all of the different genres, a little bit of everything. I’m looking forward to seeing Ben Folds. When I saw that he was on the lineup I was really stoked.”
Meanwhile on the beach, an almost exclusively shirtless Fishbone brought energy and excitement. Lead singer Angelo Moore jumped around and exchanged instruments with his band mates, from the saxophone to the trombone to the keyboard.
When the crowd sifted through the sand to the DeLuna stage, they danced and adopted a different demeanor than the one they maintained on the concrete and they screamed when Fishbone began its ode to the sun.
“We all love the sun,” Moore reminded them. “Where would we be without it? We would be in some dark-ass, mean, negative bullshit.”
Back on the pavement, a huge crowd gathered in front of the Windcreek Stage awaiting City & Colour. A team of Jagermeister girls assembled with trays of shots and an ice cream-toting tricycle circled the parking lot ringing its bell. City & Colour sauntered onto the stage, apologizing for the delay, but once Dallas Green’s crystal-clear voice began “We Found Each Other in the Dark” all grievances were cast aside. The crowd roared with applause as Green’s pristine voice mixed with the gritty guitar chords to create a gut-wrenching juxtaposition
Ben Folds occupied the stage next: lights flickered across the piano as he brought it to life, standing, seeking the crowd’s approval. A girl began blowing bubbles from the crowd, transforming the set into a grown up Sesame Street. Folds trashed his piano stool across the keys, making you think he just might be half Beethoven and half badass.
The sun began to set behind the water tower, setting the beach on fire while Gaslight Anthem croaked out “The House of the Rising Sun” before Guided by Voices took the DeLuna main stage. 54-year-old Robert Pollard high kicked and chain smoked, and before singing “God Love Us” he told the crowd, “God loves you. God loves Pearl Jam. God loves tequila.”
The name that had been whispered in the wind all day: Pearl Jam. Long before Pearl Jam’s set began, festival goers rushed to the stage like baby sea turtles to the ocean. They snaked through the crowd holding hands, trying to get as close to the stage as possible. When they finally took the stage there was absolutely no doubt that it has occurred.
“I don’t know when Pensacola got so fucking beautiful,” Eddie Vedder remarked. This is the bands’ first time back in the city since 1994. In acknowledgment to the beach, they play “Amongst the Waves.” The crowd’s enthusiasm never wavered as they sang along to songs they have been singing for 20 years. Vedder handed classics like “Evenflow” and “Alive” over to the crowd. Between songs he told stories from the band’s time together and spoke about political matters close to his heart. He touched on harsh voter registration laws being implemented across the country and the bands involvement with Wounded Warriors.
As Vedder played it seems like each lyric was a realization, as if he was as pained and perplexed by them as he was the day he wrote them. It is quite possible that Vedder may still be wearing his clothes from the 90s and one fan remarked, “I can’t believe how old they are now.” One thing remains, though: Pearl Jam leaves every ounce of spit, sweat and tears that they have on stage. After three encores, the show closed with guitarist Mike McCready playing a chill-inducing rendition of Jimmy Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner,” and the blood-colored half moon sank into the Gulf of Mexico to end day one of DeLuna Fest 2012.