Pensacola, Florida
Thursday June 21st 2018


Big Time Country Descends on Pensacola Beach

By Kate Peterson

Realizing that this area was ripe for a music festival, entertainment guru Joe Lewis created Bonfire Jam in Chumuckla, Fla. This original Bonfire Jam is held in December and follows the Redneck Christmas Parade. It features well known, as well as, up and coming country artists.

Following up on the success of his event in the country, this year the Bonfire Jam heads further south to Pensacola Beach, and has been renamed Bonfire Beach Jam, toes in the water, fanny in the sand. This year’s inaugural event will be held at the Gulfside Pavilion, directly on the beach, rain or shine. There will be concessions, a beer garden, premium seating, jambox seating and plenty of fun, music, natural beauty and, of course, the white sand of the Gulf of Mexico. It is being held on May 12, the Saturday before Mother’s Day.

The artists scheduled to perform are Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn, Craig Morgan, Josh Thompson, Brett Eldredge and Sunny Sweeney. Josh Thompson is also performing a free all acoustic show at 12:00 p.m. the same day, across the street at the Portofino Boardwalk. The entertainment starts at 3:30 p.m. and ends with Ronnie Dunn performing at 9:15 p.m.

IN spoke to Lewis about the new Bonfire Beach Jam’s creation and what was in store for event goers. Lewis was born in Europe, but raised in Milton, Fla. After starting his entertainment business, the Joe Lewis Company, he came back home to visit. While attending the Redneck Christmas Parade in Chumuckla, Fla., he realized there was a captive audience for music after the parade, and so began Bonfire Jam. Each year the northern Bonfire Jam has an actual 40 by 40 bonfire, this year they will have two for everyone to warm up around.

Choosing a second location for the Bonfire Jam was not a difficult task. “The beach? It was an easy decision,” said Lewis. “There are so many people who visit the beach, whether they are from here or out of town. I cannot think of a better place to have a music festival that has more beautiful beaches, hotels, and so many activities.”

The artists chosen for the Bonfire Beach Jam were selected because they resonated over a number of generations. “We are really lucky, all the artists are doing really well in their careers, and Ronnie Dunn is well established within the country music community,” said Lewis.

Lewis went on to say, “This is a long term investment, and will be one hell of a show. We are providing an experience for the audience. They will be able to come and go as they please, we are issuing wristbands.”

Sunny Sweeney and Brett Eldredge are two of the artists performing at the event.

Sunny Sweeney is a sweet-faced blonde, hailing from Houston, who pulls no punches. She has been earning her chops in country music for eight years. In 2010, she released her chart-reaching single, “From a Table Away.” To date she has released two studio albums. “Concrete,” released in 2011, made it to number seven on the country music album charts.

Her decision to enter the music business started one night when she attended a concert and decided she had enough talent to make her own music. She started playing, singing and writing music of her own, while playing the clubs in Austin, Texas, where she lived at the time – sometimes being paid in beer. “I can’t knock the bar scene, it is where I met my husband, we started off as friends, dated for six years and were recently married,” said Sweeney.

Her following grew and grew. “I had a consistent crowd. I was so determined to make it work and have been working really hard ever since. Travelling and playing is all I know,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney leaned toward country because, as she said, “That is what I sounded like and it is what I know.”

Writing songs fills up her time on the road. She wrote seven of the ten songs on her last album. She leans toward writing certain types of songs and likes opening up in music – a musical diary is what she calls it. Sweeney is currently working on a new album with the release date yet to be determined.

Brett Eldredge grew up singing in the church when he was 11 years old. Nervous in the beginning, but he grew into his own and developed a knack for performing Frank Sinatra songs. He performed in talent shows and started winning. Eldredge went off to college and discovered Nashville – he found Music Row.

“I knew when I was a kid and I got acceptance from the crowd, that performing was for me. I was bitten by a bug. I want to continue to perform for a long time,” Eldredge said.

Working with Ronnie Dunn is one of Eldredge’s biggest honors. “I have been a huge fan of his,” he said. “Brooks & Dunn was my main reason for getting into the music business.”

“Country music fans are the best,” said Eldredge. He has played the Grand Ole Opry about 12 or 13 times, and feels it is the most magical place. At this time in his life, he loves to perform and is fired up to play for Pensacola Beach.

The main attraction of the night is Ronnie Dunn. “Let the Cowboy Rock” will be the anthem as this former partner in Brooks & Dunn takes the stage late in the evening. Other performers include Craig Morgan and Josh Thompson.

WHEN: 12:00 p.m. Saturday, May 12
WHERE: Gulfside Pavilion, 2 Casino Beach Boardwalk
COST: $30 and up