As Don Tristan de Luna settled and made Pensacola his home 450 years ago, the same goes for an October namesake music festival that locals have been buzzing about for the past year. Two years in the making, both of which included a recession and a Gulf oil spill, organizers of DeLuna Fest made the cliché statement “The show must go on”—and have stuck to it.
“We could have packed it in and gone away and waited for next year, but the community was ready for us,” said Nick Bodkins, 25, partner with Five Flags Tourism Group (FFTG), the company organizing the three-day music festival to be held at Casino Beach this weekend.
SUPPORT OF EVENT BRAINCHILD
Bodkins and his business partner and local bar owner Scott Wheatley, 29, said they were attending the popular Tuesday night event Bands on the Beach, which showcases local music in an outdoor setting at the Gulfside Pavilion, when something clicked.
“We were watching Bands on the Beach and saw how successful that concept was,” said Wheatley. He further explained the location of the event was something that also caught his eye.
“We thought, ‘There is a lot of beach here,’” he said. He presented the idea to the Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA), citing that the group was planning to organize a premier music festival that would include a number of headlining acts and was looking to draw crowds of 30,000 people. Early on, investors of the project were skeptical that SRIA would grant the permission.
“That was the hardest thing. We knew this was a beautiful piece of real estate. People had tried and were denied,” said Wheatley. He said they got lucky.
“We presented our ideas at the right time.”
Bodkins and Wheatley spoke about outdoor music concerts in the 1970s on the ramp of the old wooden fishing pier. According to Robbie Lofty, SRIA human resources and events coordinator, those concerts grew more and more popular.
“The 80s is when the event started getting really big and (bands) would perform in the Casino Beach area,” she said. The logistical and security challenges of those early festivals left much room for improvement.
“They were all successful but very loosely put together,” said Bodkins. The events were successful enough to inspire key decision makers who attended those events to approve DeLuna Fest.
“Everyone around here has such a good opinion of those festivals,” said Wheatley. “Everybody remembered (that they were) awesome.” So awesome, in fact, SRIA has offered its support every step of the way.
“SRIA is supporting DeLuna Fest 100 percent as we do any event on the beach. Our staff has been working very closely with the Wheatley brothers, Nick Bodkins and the rest of the FFTG staff to ensure that this is a successful, safe, and fun festival,” explained SRIA executive director W.A. “Buck” Lee. “It is a huge undertaking, but if anyone can pull it off, we believe these young people definitely can. We are very excited about DeLuna Fest.”
The festival will be featuring over 40 musical acts, including a host of local, regional and national groups. Some noteworthy performances will include those of Stone Temple Pilots, 311, Bush, Daughtry and 30 Seconds to Mars, who recently received MTV’s 2010 Video Music Award for “Best Rock Video.” Daily and weekend passes are still available to the festival, but with a little help from the Tourism Development Council to the tune of $300,000, organizers last month announced that the festival would feature free Sunday tickets with headlining act Willie Nelson.
“With Willie Nelson, we’re planning to break 30,000 in attendance,” said Wheatley.
The partnership with local businesses, on and off Pensacola Beach, flourished as excitement for the festival grew. Area hotels, such as Hampton Inn and Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front, are offering accommodation packages including a two-night hotel stay with tickets. Hotels as far away as the Ramada Inn on Scenic Highway are advertising tickets that accompany weekend hotel stays.
Bodkins and Wheatley both explain that the appeal of the festival is definitely its location, and the two have every intention of observing the adage “leaving it in better shape than you found it.” They plan to donate 50 percent of all net profits to local environmental and ecological organizations that directly benefit the preservation of Santa Rosa Island.
“We are asking to use one of our best gems,” said Wheatley. “We want to make sure that these beaches look just as nice for our grandkids.” As appreciative as environmental experts are for the donated funds, they still offer ways to mitigate the ecological impact of such events as outdoor festivals.
“The impact that large events have on the environment vary greatly. By minimizing waste, avoiding sensitive areas and leaving only footprints behind, that impact can be significantly reduced, and the benefits to the community can be fully realized,” said Chasidy Hobbs, University of West Florida professor of environmental studies and local chapter Emerald Coastkeeper.
WHAT YOU PAY IS WHAT YOU GET
With over 40 musical acts, and a number of those being national recording artists, the partners stand by what they consider to be competitive ticket pricing.
“A minimum wage worker could trade one day of work for a weekend of great entertainment,” said Wheatley, referring to the now-priced weekend pass of $90. According to Bodkins, the early bird-priced tickets of $60 sold out in 21 days, but even at the current pass price, that entertainment is still a bargain.
“There’s a reason why there is no more SpringFest. People in this community, and understandably so, have this understanding that a festival should be $40,” said Bodkins. “You couldn’t see any of the headliners for the price of a one-day ticket,” said Bodkins.
He added that the cost of the festival will be around $2.2 million, with half of that going to talent. However, festival goers are still getting a deal, considering the rise in fame some acts have experienced since they were scheduled early on.
“They were bands no one had heard of when we booked them,” said Wheatley. A recent hit by Michael Franti and Spearhead catapulted the lesser-known artist into stardom. That act will be performing at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16.
Members of FFTG are hoping DeLuna Fest experiences substantial and sustaining success. They’re interested in providing year-round events for the Pensacola area that recognize and celebrate a sense of community.
“We want more than just success for ourselves. We want to make something people want to be involved in,” said Bodkins. “We’re not out-of-towners trying to take money from the community. I love this place; I want to make it a home. I want to raise my kids here. We have something here that a lot of other communities would love to have.”
WHEN: Friday-Sunday, Oct. 15-17
WHERE: Casino Beach, Pensacola Beach
COST: Friday and Saturday, $47.50 in advance, $55 at gate; Sunday, free ($5 service charge at gate); weekend pass, $90 in advance, $99 at gate; V.I.P. packages also available