By Kimberly Blair
Emerald Coast Blues Brothers kicks off one of the most popular musical events on Pensacola Beach at 7 p.m. on Tuesday — the 30-week Bands on the Beach concert series.
The weekly concerts are free and open to the public.
In an era when we mostly communicate with friends and loved ones through social media or smartphones, the concerts offer a unique opportunity to bring friends, families and couples together. They set up their lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets. Heck, some folks go all out with tables and candles and full meals while enjoying the music and sense of community for two hours.
Hands down, the venue at the Gulfside Pavilion on Casino Beach, against the backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico, is unparalleled. Band concerts typically attract 2,000 to 4,000 people who turn out to see some of the most popular local and regional bands.
Clearly, our community loves free outdoor concerts.
So, if you're a Bands on the Beach fan, you may want to make sure you get to as many of the weekly concerts as possible this year.
Santa Rosa Island Authority budgets $60,000 to sponsor the series, which pays for acts, sound, lights and other costs. In an effort to give beach residents relief from paying both Island Authority lease fees on top of county taxes, county officials are pouring over the Island Authority budget to see what services it will take over paying for with the taxes from the beach.
The idea is to whittle down the budget so lease fees can be reduced. It's possible in the future, if beach leaseholders are able to get titles to their land, lease fees will be eliminated.
When the lease fees go so too goes the budget for many things like Bands on the Beach.
Some of those sitting in on the meetings say Bands may have to get corporate sponsors to continue in the future, just like the other free concert series in the area.
For instance, Bands on the Blackwater in Milton is sponsored by Santa Rosa Medical Center and other companies. Hill-Kelly Dodge is among a number of sponsors who pay the tab on Evenings in Olde Seville Square. Blues Angel Music sponsors Blues on the Bay in the Community Maritime Park Amphitheater. Even Navarre's Summer Concert Series depends on sponsors.
None of these other series provide as extensive of a lineup, spanning 30 weeks, as Bands on the Beach, though.
The Island Authority puts it on not just for locals but to also provide a "family-friendly" activity on the beach. That's something sorely needed. After a day in the sun and surf, there's not many attractions for families with children, or visitors who don't want to hit the bar scene, to do on the beach in the evening.
W. A. "Buck" Lee, Island Authority executive director, firmly believes this is why county officials will continue to support the series on their largest tourist attraction.
I hope he's right.
Because as line items in the budget are scrutinized — including critical items such as lifeguards and beach maintenance — and the future of the Island Authority is analyzed, Bands on the Beach may end up in the column with no government funding.
We can only hope that beach hotels whose guests go to the concerts and the bars and restaurants that benefit from concertgoers' business, and even the liquor distributors, will step up and sponsor the series.
In the meantime, get out your dancing shoes and get ready for a great lineup of "Good Vibrations" on the white sands of Pensacola Beach.
Did I mention you get a sunset with the package?
For more details, visit http://www.visitpensacolabeach.com/events/bands-on-the-beach.php.