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An Interview with DeLuna Fest Organizer Scott Mitchell PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Rusty Odom   
Sunday, 19 August 2012 11:38

DeLuna Fest Ups the Ante

DeLuna Fest is not just another festival. Not anymore.

The days when music aficionados only had a few options to choose from when it came to large gatherings of music are long gone.

In fact, in the current festival landscape there are over 250 music festivals in the United States of America each year fighting one another for fans’ money.

Since the economy took a dive several years ago, festival business has actually taken off. It’s easier for a music lover to put all their money in a pile and catch two dozen bands they want to see for one flat rate rather than pay for individual shows these days.

With all that said, it’s easy for fans and organizers alike to get lost in the shuffle when it comes to separating one festival from the next.

Sure, there is still a top rung of the ladder. Chicago’s Lollapalooza, Indio, California’s Coachella, Manchester, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo and Austin’s, well, Austin City Limits and South by Southwest all grapple for ultimate supremacy on message boards and parking lots around the country. But the vast majority of festivals don’t fall into that premier echelon and frankly, that’s not the goal. Festivals like Outside Lands, which takes place in San Francisco and boasts headliners like Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Stevie Wonder & Metallica in 2012, and the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores Alabama, which this year claimed Jack White, Red Hot Chili Peppers and a fast rising Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are selling out their allotment of tickets as well.  And if you’re in the business of producing music festivals, the goal is to sell it out, ensuring that the same event is possible the following year.

That’s not to say that there is not more room at the top. And Pensacola Beach’s Deluna Fest has put together a lineup unlike any other in 2012.  Moreso than any other major, Deluna has inked a handful of performers who aren’t playing multiple festivals this year. Add to that the fact that this festival takes place on the white sand beaches of Pensacola, where the sounds of the ocean provide a distinct backline and you’ve got a mixture that other sites simply cannot boast.

But it’s been a tough road for this third year event. In year’s past, a headliner cancelled last second in 2011 and attendance has not met expectations, but in 2012 festival organizer Scott Mitchell has pushed all his chips in the middle of the table and the poster proves it.

BLANK caught up with Mitchell to chat about being the only festival to land Pearl Jam this year, the diversity of the lineup, how the site has changed this year and much more.


BLANK: What were your goals for DeLuna Fest in 2012?

SM: We hope to bring people back to the Gulf coast. We had a pretty bad time a few summers ago with the oil spill. Now it’s pretty much in everyone’s rear view mirror, but there are still people who don’t know that Pensacola has the World’s whitest beaches and were’ hoping to bring 40,000 people down to discover this area’s beauty and hear some great music.


BLANK: How did you get your start in the music business?

SM: My family owns Seville Quarter and Rosie O’Gradys in Pensacola. I basically grew up in the restaurant business so I’ve been booking music since 1989. We had a good relationship with a local radio station so we were able to play artists before they got really big.  My interest and experience booking bands for 20 years is what brought me into this group that was talking about doing a festival on Pensacola Beach. Other people said it couldn’t be done and we asked, “Why can’t it be done?”


BLANK: How did the festival develop into reality?

SM: Two young guys in Pensacola came up with the idea... well, one guy really came up with the idea and the other guy started working on the approval process. As far as funding, my wife and I are the partners of Five Flags Tourism group, which is the company that puts on Deluna Fest.


BLANK: The Hangout Festival is not far from you in Gulf Shores, AL and kicks the festival season off in the southeast. With Deluna being late in the year, do you hope to provide a solid bookend for the area and the festival season?

SM: They’ve done a great job because people down here aren’t used to something like this being a big success. Them selling out two years ago was a huge surprise to folks here, and so the next year, people bought their tickets early. If they can do it 45 miles away, why can’t we do it here? Hangout has raised the bar so high.  We are trying to follow their example and book great talent. We’ve got just as good of a site.  They get the spring crowd and we get the end of the summer crowd. It bookends the season perfectly for us. I think they’ve done nothing but show everybody in this area that yes, music festivals are expensive but if you do it right, they are worth it.


BLANK: How helpful has the local community been in the building process?

SM: Pensacola Beach is a barrier island. It’s a freestanding entity. The Island authority people have been very helpful. We’re all in this together you know, we’re trying to bring people to their beach, they’re making sure everyone has a good time. We’ve sold tickets in all 50 states and 14 countries. They’re excited about people coming because every year, the biggest star of the weekend is Pensacola Beach. Sure Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and Zac Brown Band don’t hurt, but in the long run, the beautiful area is the real winner. The island authority and the commissioners and the people who allow us to put this on in their public beach, we couldn’t do it without them.


BLANK: Describe the festival site for those who are unfamiliar with it.

SM: Our main stage and about 50% of the festival are actually on the white sand beach and the other half is on grass and concrete. There are a couple of restaurants that are inside our festival site from which you can watch the shows. There is a 3D rendering of the sitemap if you search Deluna Fest on YouTube as well that gives you a full perspective.


BLANK: What’s new for Deluna 2012?

SM: Last year we had hotels in the middle of the site and it broke up the festival a bit so we’ve moved back to the core of the public beach. I’m most excited about the main stage. We’ve doubled our entertainment budget and got much bigger headliners this year as well.  Pearl Jam is only playing four concerts this whole year.

There’s a new observation wheel in Pensacola as well and we’ve got a really cool VIP beach club right by the main stage for the people who want a little bit of an exclusive weekend. The main thing is just that we’re trying to do everything better. We have  a bigger lineup and a better plan.


BLANK: Who was the first big piece of the puzzle this year?

SM: The first big piece this year was our new partner Gus Brandt, our booking director. Not only is he from Pensacola, he is also the tour manager for the Foo Fighters. He knows almost all the bands on our poster personally, so when Gus goes to William Morris Endeavor (Booking agency) they are familiar with him. It started with Foo Fighters and morphed into Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam. They turn down probably 20 shows for every one they accept. Before you knew it we worked things out and they were the first ones we booked. Then came Zac Brown Band.


BLANK: The lineup is so diverse. It goes from DJ Jazzy Jeff to Dwight Yoakum to The Joy Formidable and I’m equally excited to see all of these acts. Talk about the diversity a bit.

SM: Gus gets the lion’s share of the credit for that. We’ve had some ups and downs trying to get people to believe in our festival. When Gus walked into the room it added a lot of credibility to what we were trying to do.  He goes back with Pearl Jam to when they were traveling in a van.  It’s just amazing the relationships that he has built. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, that’s a 25-year-old band but (Foo Fighters Frontman) Dave Grohl loves her.  The Joy Formidable is a great act that I caught opening for the Foo Fighters last year. There are a lot of different things on that poster, everything from The Silos to some cutting edge brand new music, and then there’s the New Orleans contingent. We’ve got six bands from the HBO show Treme on the poster.


BLANK: What does the future hold for Deluna?

SM: We’ve already put in an offer to a headliner for 2013 and we have an unofficial offer in front of another one and they are every bit as big as the three we have this year. People have noticed our festival and we’re already planning on how to top this year’s incredible bill.  This is the year that Deluna Fest steps up to be challenged and we’re excited about it.


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