I haven't been through the Deluna Fest gates 30 minutes and am headed to the designated media room inside a Hampton Inn flanking the Pensacola Beach festival grounds when I come upon a spectacle that stops me in my tracks. Not 20 feet from valet parking and the motion-sensor glass doors into this pamphlet-worthy hotel is some plaid-painted dude no older than 30, hunched over and emptying his chunky stomach contents onto the decorative lava rock surrounding the entrance.
No one seems to notice as he sprawls on the elevated concrete, either falling faster and faster down the blackout hole or examining his own belt buckle with monk-like intensity. It’s ok, though. It’s the beach! It’s a music festival! The beers are cold, the women are fine, and the music’s loud, man. He’ll be alright. It’ll all be alright. How could it not be?
Eh, well, it just ain’t sometimes. As much of an MTV fantasy that a massive music festival on a pristine beach might sound like, it only takes enough bikini-choked cellulite, sweltering heat, $50 parking spaces, and bright YOLO tank tops to realize this can be more tolerance exercise than vacation.
So, you cope with a setting sun, maybe a few healthy gulps at happy hour and, soon enough, you’re face to face with a band like Pearl Jam playing a rare show of hits and deeper cuts (one of only four this year, apparently) as your toes shift and sink in the cool beach sand.
They jam out as best as any veteran rock band really can on a massive stage of Shaq-ian heights. Snapping away photos, I get the best view up Eddie Vedder’s nostrils in the house. They’re a little hairy, maybe slightly grey, but clean as he leads his troupe through a veritable cornucopia of songs so era-defining, so 1990’s, the nostalgia wave is almost palpable.
His voice is an omnipresent force over the crowd. It fills the atmosphere with a soulful gruffness that’s aged damn well over the past 20 or so years. And, he keeps it up for two-and-a-half hours.
If it was chill-inducing vocals like these you were coming for, there was no shortage of them all throughout the weekend. After 15 minutes of piano-tuning delays, City and Colour took the main parking lot stage early Friday afternoon for a heavenly set only matched by the hellish heat radiating off the asphalt. The Bon Iver-ish vibes are heavy as the former Alexisonfire frontman Dallas Green leads his band through lush, folk-y tracks that carry his crystalline voice, but rarely overpower it.
Trampled by Turtles overpower, well, pretty much everything as they stomp, howl, and fiddle through a set that hits like a country-fied mac truck over and over again. They yield to prototypically anthematic and traditionally folky territory, somewhere between Mumford and Sons and Dawes, but do it drummer-less with enough intricate string work (guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin, bass) to give you thick finger callouses by sheer osmosis. It’s powerful, magnetizing, even uplifting, and that’s a lot to be said for an act eyeballs deep in the wave of schmaltzy folk rock coursing over pop music today.
Britain’s Band of Skulls could easily be carrying the radio pop-rock torch within the next few months. They pack a ballsy bravado much like their British neighbors Muse, but lather it in a sludgy layer of mean but delightfully catchy stoner metal tendencies today’s FM waves could use a little more of. They’re not the most exciting act of the fest, their music is hardly anything noble or groundbreaking, but they hit that inner guilty-pleasure button like a bad action movie.
With no must-sees until later that night, Saturday at Deluna yields some good and bad surprises before the sun goes down. The Canvas Waiting plays an afternoon parking lot set just about as uninspiring and purposeless as their name. If you took the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack, threw it in a blender, and topped it with a dollop of cloyingly sweet U2-ian bullshit, I’d enthusiastically pass, but The Canvas Waiting can’t seem to get enough. It’s hard to tell with their well-dressed, utterly vapid stage presence, though, and 20 minutes of their set is more than enough to make me cry all over my guitar in an overpriced sepia-toned music video.
Austin’s The Saints of Valory are cut from the same cloth, but make the best of the musical clichés they’re confined to. Most of their tunes feel cheaply derivative, but nicely varied, wavering between easy-breezy love songs and enjoyable cock-rock-y dance stomps. Plus, they all just look like they’re having a good time, like they’re actually mildly enthused to be here. I forget how far this can go in a concert setting, but throw enough fists in the air, jump around, ask me to do enough hand claps and I’m like a baby playing peek-a-boo, just a sucker for it every time.