The Pensacola area offers abundant opportunities to hear live music, from nationally touring acts at a number of venues and local bands playing at a multitude of bars and restaurants to no less than half a dozen free public concert series.
But there’s nothing else like Bands on the Beach.
“It’s like a big family reunion every Tuesday night,” said Cat Country 98.7 FM personality Brent Lane, who acts as one of the emcees for the free weekly concerts that take place each Tuesday from April through October at the Gulfside Pavilion on Casino Beach.
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Presented by the Santa Rosa Island Authority, the series attracts thousands to Casino Beach every Tuesday evening. And while the schedule features a formidable array of local and regional talent, it never seems to matter which band is performing: The simple allure of live music on the Gulf as the sun sets draws people of all ages and demographics.
SRIA Director of Administration Robbie Schrock, who organizes Bands on the Beach, said the weeknight is a perfect time for a little evening getaway.
“I think first of all, it’s on a Tuesday, so what else do you have going on?” she asked. “I really like that it’s on a day that’s not a weekend. It’s a place you to go and just relax and let all your worries roll away. You’re sitting alongside the Gulf of Mexico and you get to hear live music. What more could you ask for?”
Lane also cited the setting and the sounds when discussing the event’s appeal.
“It’s the music, the location and the atmosphere,” he said. “With the sun setting over the pier and a Gulf breeze, it makes a great way to forget whatever happened at work. I think each band brings their fans, but on the whole, every week, people bring their lawn chairs and relax. The music is familiar and fun.”
Audiences regularly number in the thousands, especially once the school year ends.
Brandi Bullard of Pensacola and her daughter, Ava, 3½, are among the regulars who are excited that the series returns this week.
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“She’s already talking about going,” Bullard said with a laugh. “We just both love to go and listen to the music, walking around and being among the people. I love being around crowds and I love seeing how excited she gets to be around other people and lots of children. Plus, it’s Pensacola Beach, it’s our favorite place. It’s relaxing to enjoy and dance and eat dinner and see how everyone embraces each other to have a good time.”
A lot of people bring snacks or picnic meals to the concerts, while others take advantage of Pensacola Beach’s myriad of dining and refreshment options. Bullard said she and her daughter do a little of both.
“Most of the time, I’ll bring snacks like crackers, apples and bananas; water, definitely,” she said. “But we usually eat at the old Tiffany’s (now known as The Stand). Every once in awhile, we will go to Sidelines or another restaurant.”
Schrock said this year would offer some additional dining options, thanks to a new partnership with the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce, inspired by that organization’s popular fall culinary event, Taste of the Beach.
“We worked out a deal where Taste of the Beach restaurants have the opportunity to sign up to be vendors at Bands on the Beach,” Schrock said. “For example, the first week is Flounders Chowder House, the second is Dog House Deli, and they’ll sell specialty items for $5 or less.”
Taking your own food and drink is always welcome, too, but Schrock did warn of a few minor restrictions.
“We ask that there’s no glass on the beach,” she said. “And there is an alcohol ordinance in effect on Pensacola Beach, but for Bands on the Beach, there is permission to stay in the cordoned-off area and enjoy your adult beverages. Be cautious of where you are and aren’t able to do that, and just make sure you’re partaking in the proper areas.”
The 2017 series starts Tuesday with a Beatles tribute band that Lane said is an annual favorite.
“Not Quite Fab always packs the house,” he said. “(But) there are consistently thousands of people per week who come out and relax. People tend to look forward to each band for what they bring to the party.”
And there are no strangers at Bands on the Beach, to hear Bullard tell it, even if people aren’t necessarily exchanging names and numbers.
“Anyone will dance with Ava, and everyone does,” she said. “We’ve sat next to people and they will want to share their drinks and food with us and anyone around their group, and vice versa. Kids will share their toys and go play games together, and we parents enjoy it. A lot of our friends go out there, or I’ll run into people I haven’t seen in a long time. Even the cops have embraced Ava and other children when dancing, and they’ll ask questions and they enjoy speaking to anyone out there. Everyone introduces themselves to everyone else and has conversations.”
Schrock agreed that the social element is a huge part of the fun of Bands on the Beach.
“The vibe is just there,” she said. “It’s a really cool atmosphere and environment, and it’s really, really cool, because you’ll see people start to set up in the same areas every week that become ‘their spots.’ It’s really cool to be a part of.”
From May 26 to Sept. 4 — the busiest time of the year on Pensacola Beach — beach trolleys will run from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily, which alleviates parking concerns. If the Casino Beach lot fills up, you can park almost anywhere and catch a ride in and out. Before and after that, though, arriving as early as possible just makes sense. Besides, nobody’s complaining about extra beach time, right?
Lane certainly isn’t. While emceeing the concerts is part of his job, he said he considers himself a Bands on the Beach fan, first and foremost.
“I get to meet lots of people and listen to music performed by outstanding musicians on the world’s most beautiful beach, and I love to take sunset photos,” he said.
For more information, call 932-2257, or visit www.visitpensacolabeach.com.
Bands on the Beach 2017 schedule
- Tuesday: Not Quite Fab
- April 11: Bay Bridge Band
- April 18: 13th Hourglass
- April 25: Dr. Breeze
- May 2: Crosstown.
- May 9: True Blue Band
- May 16: Continuum
- May 23: Moderate Chop
- May 30: Deception
- June 6: Buck Nasty & the Cadillac
- June 13: The Astronauts
- June 20: The Rowdies
- June 27: Déjà Vu
- July 4: Johnny Earthquake & the Moondogs
- July 11: The Reunion Band
- July 18: Hot Sauce Band
- July 25: Modern Eldorados
- Aug. 1: Southern Breeze
- Aug. 8: Rain date
- Aug. 15: ClassX
- Aug. 22: The Scenic Heights
- Aug. 29: The Blenders
- Sept. 5: Mr. Big and the Rhythm Sisters
- Sept. 12: Mass Kunfuzion
- Sept. 19: Chloe Channell
- Sept. 26: Westside Players
- Oct. 3: Holly Shelton
- Oct. 10: Bring on the Benjamins
- Oct. 17: Category 4
- Oct. 24: Touch of Gray
- Oct. 31: Emerald Coast Blues Brothers