July 24, 2011
Of the four free concert series in Pensacola, the second to kick off is "Bands on the Beach" (click for schedule). Of the concerts, it is my absolute favorite due to its location..........right on our beautiful white sand beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. (Bands on the Beach -------- truth in advertising.) There isn't a concert hall in the world to match its beauty. Bands on the Beach is put on by the Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA). The concerts start the first Tuesday in May and generally run every Tuesday through the end of September from 7 to 9PM. (In 2012 the season's been extended to seven months from April through October.) The bands perform in the Gulfside Pavilion.
Bands on the Beach is at the section of beach called Casino Beach. For visitors, it's impossible to miss as you just look for the giant beachball water tower and park in that lot.
I don't know who came up with the idea of painting a beach water tower like a giant beachball, but whoever it was was a marketing genius. It is an unmistakable landmark and has become one of the two symbols of Pensacola Beach and the only symbol that's actually on the beach. (The other symbol is the wonderfully tacky sign across the bridge pointing the way to beach.)
Once used to hold water, the tower now stands empty. There were two of these beachball water towers with second one being further east on the beach. But years ago new water tanks were built. Back in 2005 there was a vote about removing the Casino Beach water tower; all but one person voted to keep it. (The one vote against the water tower was cast by McGuire Martin --- doesn't take a genius to figure out why: he has two restaurants (Flounder's and Crabs) whose customers use the Casino Beach parking lot and, to him, 12 more parking spaces in an already huge lot that only reaches capacity a handful of times a year was more important than saving this landmark piece of Pensacola history.) However, the second beachball water tower, in a less popular spot, was dismantled in 2007. In 2007 the Casino Beach water tower was sold to the SRIA for a dollar. Keeping the water tower maintained costs $13,000 - $14,000 annually. (See "Beach Ball Water Tower Will Remain") I believe most of the locals feel it's well worth it.
If you're a visitor, don't go to Casino Beach expecting that you're going to be able to gamble. There is no casino on Casino Beach. It's named for the Pensacola Beach Casino (torn down in 1972) which used to stand there. But you couldn't gamble in it either. This meaning of "casino" hearkens back to an older Italian usage of a building for the public to gather in.
Bands on the Beach was started years ago as "Blues on the Beach" by Charlie Stough, the founder of the local group First City Blues, who played it for seven years straight. However, it wasn't until the format was broadened into Bands on the Beach that it really took off. At the height of the season, there are thousands of people at the concerts. I've heard numbers as high as 8,000 to 10,000, but it never seems like that many to me.
Casino Beach Marker
Many of the groups that play at Bands on the Beach are what I affectionately nickname "Grandpa Bands" because they're made up of people who are old enough to be grandparents. There's a lot of gray hair up on the stage. But, I'd rather hear a good, old band than a mediocre, young band. It's interesting to hear the stories of the old bands. Some of them have had brushes with fame: opening for A-list groups, songs that got radio play and even cracked the charts, there's one Bands on the Beach regular, Lektric Mullet, that has a member with a Grammy which he won as a part of The Kentucky Headhunters. But, these bands no longer have any expectation of fame and fortune. They're playing now because they love to play.
However, not every band is an grandpa band. The eponymous Kyle Parker Band's lead singer has been playing Bands on the Beach since he was 19 or 20. (He's now all of 22.) The country Sawmill Band's roster of singers is young, in one case very young with an eight year old girl singing last year.
The music at Bands on the Beach varies. It's cover music, but what the music covers is a wide range. One time I was surprised to see an 18 piece big band, Eastside Westside Big Band, setting up. That night was music from the 40's. It can be country, rock from any decade, pop, honky-tonk, etc. (Oddly, the one group you never see playing Bands on the Beach anymore is the founding group, First City Blues.)
As I said, Bands on the Beach is my absolute favorite of the concert series. From when the season starts, it's the highlight of my week. I love the community of Pensacola and hate with a passion the climate (for most of the year). Never mind I've spent almost my entire life in the heat and humidity............just because I'm used to it, doesn't mean I don't still hate it. (I dream of high mountains and cool, dry air.) So the chance to go down to the beach every week, maybe get in the water, sit in a good stiff breeze and not be stinking hot & sticky while simultaneously being entertained by music (some of it excellent, most of it okay, and a little bit of it terrible) and enjoying the incredible view is something I look forward to and try not to miss. Unfortunately, I missed the first four concerts this year due to illness. I made plans to go to the first two, but I was so sick I couldn't even sit up and had to cancel. After that, I didn't even try to think about going to the beach concerts until I got well enough to at least sit up for a few hours at a stretch. (See "The Devotion of a Cat.") As a consequence, this starts with the May 31st concert.
Casino Beach looking west toward the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier.
The Coast Guard cutter is there as a part of "Red, White and Blues Week."
The Blue Angels, the Navy's flight demonstration team, would be flying "Circle and Arrival" maneuvers the next morning.
(See "Red, White and Blues: The Pensacola Beach Airshow Featuring the Blue Angels.")
Looking back from the water's edge.
The Gulfside Pavilion at Casino Beach.
People bring elaborate set-ups to the beach. It's common to see people celebrating birthdays or holding reunions.
You can bring alcohol though you're not supposed to bring glass of any kind. (But plenty of people do anyway.)
You can drink on the beach though you can't have an open container of alcohol in the parking lot. (But some people do anyway.)
You also cannot have pets on the beach. (But a few people do anyway.)
There is always a police presence at Bands on the Beach. (But the police rarely bother to enforce the laws.)
The crowd always spreads beyond the paved area out onto the beach.
Sun sets beyond the crowd.
The same people tend to come to the concerts week after week. This group we call "the light people."
(We're not very imaginative when it comes to names. There's also "bubble guy" and "flag couple.")
Kites and the beach go together like ham and eggs. You see kites at every concert. But one Tuesday I saw kites like I've never seen before. These things were huge. I went over to speak with the people who were flying them. Turns out they used to own a kite store in Destin, FL. When I got home, I had to find out more about the kites. Appropriately they're called "show kites."
At first it was this pair of legs. Talk about an attention grabber!
These are called Lester Legs, named for their U.K. designer. The Lester Legs come in a variety of designs.
Next this octopus flew. It's from Peter Lynn Kites in New Zealand.
Finally, there were three show kites in the air with the addition of the teddy bear, also a Peter Lynn design.
Take a gander at other Peter Lynn show kites.
You can get an idea of the size of the kites in this shot.
Cat Country & Tiffany's
Brent Lane, Zack Brown and Reese Andrews of WYCT Cat Country 98.7 (left to right)
Cat Country advertisements Bands on the Beach every week.
Some weeks they're joined by other sponsors. But Cat Country is there every week.
An on-air personality, usually Brent Lane, opens the concert. At intermission, The Cat mascot goes on stage while they throw out t-shirts.
After he gets off stage, The Cat greets people and poses for photos.
At intermission you can spin the prize wheel. Everyone wins a prize.
A couple of years ago MediaCom was a co-sponsor and they had some nice prizes that the kids really enjoyed.
They were so good I know a kid who waited in line three times in one night to be able to spin the wheel.
Since MediaCom stopped, the prizes have gone downhill: pens, pencils, plastic keychains (even those prizes aren't supplied by Cat Country).
I've felt sorry for the kids. Imagine how disappointing it is for a child to wait in line for half an hour,
all excited to spin the big prize wheel only for their "prize" to be a pencil.
But, occasionally, a company will sponsor one concert or donate some quality goodies.
Last year, the week of the Blue Angels show some nice prizes were donated, and I won a pink Blue Angels ballcap.
We make a joke out of watching the tent. We say we don't have to look at our watches......
As soon as it's nine o'clock the light's turned off and the tent comes down even if the band is still playing.
The Cat. What else would the Cat Country mascot be but a cat?
After a long delay, local landmark Tiffany's finally opened for the season Fourth of July week.
Located right next to the Gulfside Pavilion, the tiny kitchen stays open late and is a favorite for fast food.
May 31: Southern Breeze
Featuring old rock and modern country, Southern Breeze is one of our favorite bands, especially when joined by Crystal Miller.
The daughter of the band founder, Crystal is a former American Idol contestant who made it to Hollywood, but not into the semi-final group.
Southern Breeze likes to say they're the oldest band in Pensacola -- they've been together since 1980.
They always close their show by singing the Elvis version of Dixie-Battle Hymn of the Republic.
June 7: Touch of Gray
One look at this band and you think that it's more than just a touch of gray.
They played a charming assortment of 60's and 70's rock.
June 21: Kee Creek Band
Mostly music from the 70's. The Kee Creek Band is refreshing because they choose different songs from the 70's than most of the other groups,
songs like America's "A Horse with No Name" and CCR's "Born on the Bayou."
July 5: The Song Byrds
The Bryds of the Song Bryds are husband, lead guitarist, and wife, lead vocalist.
This group really dipped back into the past playing a lot of songs from the 50's and pre-Beatles 60's.
Because of that, it seemed to be a favorite of the old people in the crowd.
July 19 and October 4: CrossTown Band
Another one of our favorites, unusually this band has two female lead vocalists, both of whom have serious chops.
Although they played some modern country, its preponderance of 80's music made me have flashbacks to MTV's heyday.
I could picture the music videos whether it's Robert Palmer backed by his models vapidly faking playing instruments or ZZ Top with their hats and beards.
August 9 and October 18: Sawmill Band
The Sawmill Band is actually the house band for the Farmer's Opry in Chumuckla.
It features a rotation of 6 lead singers and is our favorite local country band.
Unfortunately, this show (August 9) was rained out by a massive thunderhead (see Storm Over Pensacola Beach).
But when Bands on the Beach was extended through October, they were rescheduled on Oct 18.
For the Oct 18 performance they were joined by guest lead singer Tanya Madison of Grand Bay, Alabama.
Tanya is a former Sawmill Band singer, who's now a solo act.
The roster for the Sawmill Band tends to change a lot as people come and go, but the band itself remains.
The Sawmill Band's nine year old Chloe Channell is the little girl with the big voice.
August 16: The Laymen
We put this band in the "okay" category. They play exclusively 60's rock.
(Every time I see this band, I think that one guy would make a great Santa.)
September 6: Dr. Breeze
With a name like that and a surfboard is anyone surprised that Dr. Breeze plays a lot of beach music?
Their set is mostly said beach music and 60's rock (when beach music had its heyday).
Dr. Breeze is actually one singer, Wilk McKean. He just adds other musicians as required.
I think for Bands on the Beach we get the biggest group he has as we get the bongos and steel drums.
September 13: Big Muddy
A Blues band, it makes for a change from the usual classic rock and country music.
Makes you think how far this event has come from its early days as Blues on the Beach.
It's changed from having Blues every week, to one lone Blues band in the entire season.
(And I still have to wonder why the founding group, First City Blues never performs anymore.)
Big Muddy closed their show with a gospel song, a rousing version of Elizabeth Cotten's "Praying Time Will Soon Be Over."
September 27: Petty Cash
I describe Petty Cash as one of the best, maybe even the best cover band, in Pensacola.
Partly that's because they play the widest variety of music from the classic country of Johnny Cash to classic rock of the Beatles
to the pop of Billy Joel or Latin music by Santana and Ritchie Valens and even the head banging music of the Beastie Boys.
Their name, Petty Cash, actually refers to their repertoire which they describe as "From Tom Petty to Johnny Cash."
With their multiple lead singers, they've got the voices to perform that range of music.
I always know when I see the name "Petty Cash" that I'm going to get a first class performance.
October 25: The Modern Eldorados
If you held a gun to my head and forced me to pick my favorite group from Bands on the Beach, it would be Mobile, Alabama's The Modern Eldorados.
Which explains why I was so ticked off when their June 28th concert was canceled due to rain.
(A rainstorm that threatened, but, as far as I know never actually hit the beach.)
So I was very happy to see when BotB got extended into October that The Modern Eldorados would be closing out the season.
There are two words to describe The Modern Eldorados: HONKY and TONK.
There's Elvis (a lot of Elvis), Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and I even spotted some Eddie Rabbitt.
So they play classic country and classic rock and even a little gospel, but they give it all a honky tonk feel.
The Modern Eldorados' lead singer is Tyron Lyles.
Picture a cross between Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis........that's Tyron Lyles.
Easily the best entertainer of any of the performers at Bands on the Beach,
Tyron loves to showboat with his guitar -- a guitar I describe as looking like a birthday cake. The guitar is almost as decorated as he is.
His dance moves are straight out of Elvis' playbook, and he has a high kick that could qualify him as a Rockette.
But more than that, he loves getting out into the audience. And drops humor in between his songs to get the audience laughing.
He's a talented performer who brings a wealth of passion to his performance.
He closed out the show by taking off his jacket and swinging the mike around like a lasso. Not your usual BotB move.
I can't help but wonder when I look at Tyron Lyles:
Does he leave his house dressed like that?
Is that custom made or can you actually buy that off the rack somewhere?
(It was suggested he might order his costumes from a store in Las Vegas, as it's sure not on the racks around here.)
Was he wearing blue, suede shoes with it?
(From where we sit on the beach --- I like to have my toes in the sand --- we couldn't see his shoes.)
Even after the sun goes down, the music continues on..........
And so does the dancing.
If you'd like to read about one of the best performers in Pensacola, check out "The Sounds of Pensacola: The Seductive Stylings of Songstress Holly Shelton." For beach entertainment, there's "Red, White and Blues: The Pensacola Beach Airshow Featuring the Blue Angels." Whatever you do, please take a moment to look around the Archive.
Pensacola Highlights --- Sunsets at Plaza de Luna
Thursday, June 14, 2011
Castaways, a subset of the Laymen band, performed.
They're a hard band to categorize playing a mix of jazz, funk, rock and blues.
Songs included "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" and "My Girl."
Unfortunately, they had major feedback problems with the sound system which detracted from the performance.
Cinderella was the character for the evening. The man standing behind her is her Prince.
After all, every Cinderella has to have a handsome prince; it's in the fairy tale.
He's actually the guy who also plays the characters at Sunsets at Plaza de Luna. I last saw him as Captain Jack Sparrow.
But since he was escorting Cinderella, I joked with them that he was playing the part of the prince.
(By a long coincidence, later this night I was going to the Summer Country Jam concert featuring Chuck Wicks
where he'd be singing his hit single, "Stealing Cinderella.")
To find out more about Sunsets at Plaza de Luna, read the original "The Sounds of Pensacola: Sunsets at Plaza de Luna."