Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday November 20th 2018


What do DeLuna Fest and New Orleans Have In Common?

A lot more than you would think
By Kate Peterson

Exactly 451 years after Tristan De Luna and crew founded The City of Five Flags, a festival bearing his name will bring some of the best music New Orleans has to offer, all in one place, all in one weekend.

The rich convergence of musical traditions that makes New Orleans an international music magnet will turn Pensacola Beach bigger and “easier” than ever this weekend.

As Edwin Banacia, publicist for DeLuna Fest says, “DeLuna Fest wanted to always have some great bands from New Orleans. Thankfully, we were able to add the extra day on Sunday. We’re ecstatic to have room in the schedule to include such incredible talent.”

And the talent abounds, with New Orleans musicians like Cowboy Mouth, Better Than Ezra, Kermit Ruffins, The Revivalists, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Galactic and Honey Island Swamp Band.

The IN talked with five of the seven about their music and playing to fans here on our part of the Gulf Coast.

Better Than Ezra formed back in 1988. Best known for their high-spirited pop rock sound, they have both platinum and gold albums on their résumé. We spoke to Tom Drummond, bassist and founding member of the band.

Better Than Ezra
IN: How would you describe your music?
Drummond: We are a pop rock band. We are not gimmicky; we are just having fun, and that shows in our music.

IN: Reading Twitter posts, there are a lot of fans who said they were listening to your music. What does your fan base mean to you and the band?
Drummond: We have close ties to our fans. We take song requests for set lists from them. We also conduct before and after the show visits. There is even a “100-show” club for those who have attended 100 or more of our shows. We know many of our fans on a first name basis, and it is nice to see them attend so many shows.

IN: It is always a compliment when someone covers one of your songs. In 2009, Taylor Swift covered your song “Breathless” during the “Hope for Haiti Now” fundraiser. What was that like?
Drummond: It was tiptop. Not only did she choose one of our songs to cover, but there were only 13 songs performed during the whole show, and one was ours. No question, it was very nice. The other songs covered were all-time classics like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Lean On Me.”

IN: Tell me about the Better Than Ezra Foundation.
Drummond: We hold events at least once a year to raise money for Katrina victims, to help local schools and to rebuild New Orleans, working in conjunction with Brad Pitt’s organization “Make It Right.” We have raised over a million dollars for these causes. Each year, the events are bigger and better.

IN: The New Orleans music scene is pretty integrated. Have you played with any of the other artists performing at DeLuna Fest?
Drummond: We have ties to all of them. I produced Honey Island Swamp Band’s album titled “Wishing Well.” We have known the Cowboy Mouth crew forever, and we are going on an East Coast tour with Big Sam’s Funky Nation starting in November.

IN: What does Better Than Ezra mean?
Drummond: That remains the question we will not answer…

IN: What can DeLuna Fest goers expect from your show on Saturday?
Drummond: Expect to have a good time; it’s full of high energy. We like to “bring it.” Many people will show up and not realize they know so many of our songs. When they hear them, they are excited, and sing along.
The band is planning a big event for next year called “Better Than Ezra: Road to Mardi Gras 2011,” presented by Krewe of Rocckus. Details can be found at

Better Than Ezra will play from 7-8:15 p.m. on the Stage Saturday, Oct. 16.

The Honey Island Swamp Band
The Honey Island Swamp Band formed after Hurricane Katrina when the evacuated band members met at a club in San Francisco. The IN talked to Aaron Wilkinson, who plays the mandolin, guitar and also performs vocals. Aaron is a native Pensacolian and Washington High School alumnus. He and the band frequent the area while touring the Gulf Coast.

IN: Your music has been described as “Americana on the Bayou”; how did that come about?
Wilkinson: Think New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and Louisiana. We have all kinds of influences—jazz, blues, rock, funk—and when someone said that, “Americana on the Bayou,” it was a good way to describe our music; it sounded right, and made sense. We play an “Americana” type of music.

IN: The band formed in San Francisco after Katrina; there’s nothing like John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room to bring people together. Tell me about that and your time there.
Wilkinson: We were there about one and half years, and it was an amazing experience. We were already out there when the storm hit…no one intended it. The 504 area code was not working. We had to run into each other to communicate, and John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room provided the meeting spot. After that, it was off and running. The San Francisco people were super helpful and friendly. There was already an established connection to New Orleans and the Bay Area through the people there. The venue was perfect to bring us together. We made a lot of great friends there. Glad to go back from time to time. We feel it helped us out here, too. The experience made us grow as a band.

IN: Tell me about your experience growing up in Pensacola.
Wilkinson: I am a Washington High School alumnus, and it was great to grow up here—beaches, water, fishing, surfing—all the things I still love about the area. I come back as much as possible.

IN: What do you think about the New Orleans artist lineup at DeLuna Fest?
Wilkinson: It is great to promote everything that is local and regional. It is important to highlight the area’s music. I am excited to see it. We all like to play all the locations along the coast, and to have one place to be showcased is terrific.

IN: What can folks coming to DeLuna Fest expect from your show?
Wilkinson: A high-energy show with a lot of music. We pack a lot in. We play only original music, no covers, which makes it very accessible. If you like all types of music, you will find it at our show. We know we have created the right environment for a hit when someone hears a song for the first time and, by the end of the song, they are singing along. We know it’s a good one.

IN: Final thoughts?
Wilkinson: Yes, I want to say “thank you” to the people at DeLuna Fest for putting this together. I know I have always wanted something like this to happen to Pensacola Beach. It has taken a while, and we are thrilled to be a part of it. I am happy for the city and for the music fans.

The Honey Island Swamp Band will play from 5:15-6:30 p.m. on the Stage Sunday, Oct. 17.
The band will also be playing at Paradise Bar and Grill on Pensacola Beach Thursday, Oct. 21.

The Revivalists
The Revivalists, who recently played a packed show at Bamboo Willie’s, are playing Sunday at DeLuna Fest. The band draws you in with a complex rock style. The entire band worked together to answer these questions.

IN: Have you played with some of the other New Orleans acts playing on Sunday?
Revivalists: Unless you count playing the same festival, we haven’t really done shows with any of those bands yet. We’ve played with plenty of well-known New Orleans acts like Dumpstaphunk, George Porter, Jr. and The Rebirth Brass Band, and one time we played a show at Tipitina’s in New Orleans where Galactic’s saxophonist, Ben Ellman, was spinning under his DJ project, Gypsyphonic Disko. But it just so happens that we have yet to do any shows with any of the above acts, though we’ve recently booked a show in New Orleans with Big Sam on the Friday before Halloween.

IN: “Revivalists”—would you say that your musical style revives a music form from another era?
Revivalists: Sort of. There are hints of older styles in what we do. We are grateful to receive the occasional comparison to The Allman Brothers and other similar acts. At the same time, we experiment with delay and guitar effects and borderline electronic sounds on some songs. We kind of try to let the song be the song. So although we’re not strictly attempting to recreate a specific sound, we certainly want some of our music to sound older and wiser than it actually is.

IN: What is next for the band?
Revivalists: We’ve got a heavy fall tour schedule. We are about to spend two weeks on the road in October, and we plan to spend a significant portion of November on the road. We’re going to use the beginning of December to focus on songwriting, and then go on a quick post-holiday tour around New Year’s Day. Longer term, we’d like to put out another studio release early next year, by the 2011 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

IN: What can folks coming to DeLuna Fest expect from your show?
Revivalists: When we’re playing at a festival, we have a pretty strict time slot (as opposed to playing a bar or a club, where the timeline is a bit more malleable). You might think this would be constricting, but it actually helps us focus and stay on task when we know that the clock is ticking. Pensacolians are probably used to seeing us at longer engagements, where we stretch out, experiment, and play the majority of our repertoire. On a festival stage, we have to condense all of that energy. We carefully plan and pace everything so that we can just walk onstage and fire away. The result is a show that’s less comprehensive but more impactful—assuming “impactful” is a word. Basically, think “rock and awe.”

The Revivalists play Sunday, Oct. 17, on the Wind Creek Stage from 1-1:45 p.m

Big Sam’s Funky Nation
Big Sam’s Funky Nation, is right. We interviewed Big Sam Williams, who is the principal member of the group, and a former member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Big Sam has also been playing a recurring role on the HBO show “Treme,” about New Orleans residents, including musicians, who are rebuilding their lives after Katrina. He has played with other touring bands such as Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic and James Brown. He also played with Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint on their Grammy-nominated album “The River In Reverse.” Big Sam’s music can best be described as “NOLAdelic.”

IN: Explain “NOLAdelic.”
Williams: NOLAdelic is our brand, reflecting the music of the Funky Nation emanating from our hometown of New Orleans. The more accurate description of NOLAdelic Powerfunk pays homage to the Most Funky George Clinton, while reflecting our roots and giving you some reflective points of the musical party that’s about to happen when we hit the stage.

IN: Have you ever played with any of the other New Orleans artists playing on Sunday?
Williams: New Orleans is an exceptionally collaborative city, and “sit-ins” happen all the time. I have played with members of all of the bands at one time or another. Even though there are differences in our expressions of the music, we are all from NOLA and find that common groove that makes it work in a beautiful way.

IN: What do you think about the New Orleans artist lineup at DeLuna Fest?
Williams: Killa—some of the best of NOLA are making their way to the beach in Pensacola. I love it.

IN: What is next for the band?
Williams: We keep on touring and spreading the music and love of New Orleans. We have a series of shows coming up with Better Than Ezra on their “Road to Mardi Gras” tour, as well as Voodoo Experience, Bear Creek Festival this fall and then kicking off 2011 with JamCruise.

IN: What can people expect from your performance at DeLuna Fest?
Williams: You can expect a funky good time, as we get people out to dance and shake it, baby, all on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation plays on the Bud Light Stage from 2-3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17.

Kermit Ruffins
Kermit Ruffins, a co-founder of the Rebirth Brass Band, is the quintessential New Orleans ambassador. Kermit’s work has been featured on shows like HBO’s “Treme,” Discovery Channel’s “After the Catch,” and MTV’s “Real World.” He plays festivals all over the United States.

IN: By looking at your pictures and reading your quotes, it seems obvious that being an ambassador for New Orleans’ music and culture means a lot to you. Tell me what that has been like.
Ruffins: It has been the best ride ever in my life. I am so excited to be in the position I am in, and I am blessed to be a main character in the rebuilding of New Orleans. The company I keep, all the musicians now and those before me, being on the same page as them, it is great.

IN: Tell me about your new album, “Happy Talk,” coming out on Oct. 26.
Ruffins: It is a big band album. I have been listening to those tunes for forever, so I decided to dedicate an album to them. It is a really happy CD. “High Hopes” is a single off of it, one everyone will like.

IN: You and your music have been featured quite a bit, in shows like “After the Catch,”  “Real World” and “Treme.” How did that come about?
Ruffins: I am so happy about it. Someone sees me and they want me to be part of their show. You can’t beat that. It has been really good for the city and the culture of New Orleans.

IN: What does performing at benefit shows, such as the Junior League’s fundraiser for Kingsley House or the Gentilly Fest (to benefit the Gentilly community), mean to you?
Ruffins: I love taking my 15-foot-long, custom made barbecue grill to cook some food and make music. I love being back in New Orleans helping people. I was gone for four months after Katrina and could not wait to get back to the city—helping ever since.

IN: Have you performed at any other oil spill benefit shows?
Ruffins: Yes, three of them: Mardi Gras World, Sweet Lorraine’s and Tipitina’s. It is really nice to be able to help out.

IN: How has the oil spill affected New Orleans?
Ruffins: Those families—I can’t imagine. It’s like not being able to play music for months. We are all so equal when it comes down to it. We all need each other.

IN: Tell me about Sydney’s Saloon?
Ruffins: I have always wanted to own a bar—a family bar. It came up, and I leased it. My oldest daughter took it over about a year ago. We play there for special occasions, and we have some great New Orleans food, and all-you-can-eat seafood on Wednesdays.

IN: Have you ever played with some of the other artists playing at DeLuna?
Ruffins: Some—I love Galactic. Even though I have not played with all of them, I do like to catch early shows before my gigs, to see what everyone is up to. Good to hear other people play, and pick up on something new.

IN: Have you ever spent time on Pensacola Beach?
Ruffins: Not yet. I am really looking forward to it. I will be looking online today to see what the area looks like.

IN: What can people expect from your performance at DeLuna Fest?
Ruffins: Expect to dance their butts off. We have it all: swing, dance, funk and rap all wrapped up into one show. I can look at a crowd and tune in to what vibe will make them the happiest. I play to that. Each show is different.

IN: What is next for you?
Ruffins: Going to New York and playing there with Trombone Shorty and Dr. John, and then I have a couple days off. While I am off, I will be on Jimmy Fallon’s show. Who would have thought?
The rich musical diversity of the New Orleans music scene will be landing at Pensacola’s DeLuna Fest. Make your own new music discoveries or listen to your favorite bands. Either way, the Big Easy style will be planting another flag on Pensacola Beach.

Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers perform on the Wind Creek Stage, from 3:15-4:15 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17.