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Sunday August 19th 2018

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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 kreweofrocckus.com.

Better Than Ezra will play from 7-8:15 p.m. on the GoPensacola.com 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 GoPensacola.com 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.

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