For many people, when they envision the state of Florida thoughts of Disney World, sandy beaches, palm trees or beautiful oceanfront views may be conjured up, but I am writing to share this Pensacola secret, Foo Foo Fest. Pensacola has beaches and oceanfront, but during early November, the city offers a whole lot more!
You are probably thinking, what’s up with the funny name? There is actually a specific cultural meaning behind the term “Foo Foo.” During the late 19th Century, sailing vessel crew members gathered to create impromptu musical bands, thus creating a “Foo-Foo” and now this festival reflects the modern version of this definition.
Foo Foo Fest is a 12-day celebration, starting the first weekend in November each year and consists of arts, culture, and entertainment, all underneath one banner. Foo Foo Fest encompasses other local festivals such as the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival, Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival and the Pensacola Marathon. The brainchild of Arts, Culture and Entertainment, Inc., the firm had a vision about creating ways to highlight the area’s rich cultural history through a grant funded effort with the city and local arts and cultural organizations. This time of year is off-season and the idea is to bring tourists to the area to offer a multitude of events sandwiched between the larger well-known events.
One of the best things about Foo Foo Fest is that the event is held in November so festival goers can experience cooler temperatures, off-season rates on lodging and less crowding at the beaches. The festival offers a variety of cultural experiences, including free events for the entire family.Back on the Blocks Festival is a fun-filled 2-day festival the first weekend of Foo Foo Fest. Known as the “Harlem of the South” in the 1800’s, this area of Pensacola was recognized as the cultural and entertainment district for black businesses. There was a period of time in history when African American performers were not allowed to perform inside, so they would meet at the corner of Belmont and Devilliers to perform live for the neighborhood, hence the beginning of the block party.
Today, the neighborhood of Belmont and Devilliers take center stage, bringing together the community and restoring the historical area with music, food and culture, cumulating with Beats on the Blocks. Beats on the Blocks, the first Saturday of the festival, highlights local student musicians and street performers for some toe-tapping entertainment.
Local award-winning artist Chaz Ogden produces a custom freehand airbrush mural each year for Back on the Blocks by repurposing 96-year-old windows from the closed neighborhood factory to commemorate the festival.
Find time to stop in and visit The Gathering Bookstore, a specialty bookstore featuring African American books, music, jewelry and paraphernalia that has been part of the community for over 70 years. Sweet Southern couple, Georgia and Johnny have owned and operated the store for the last 56 years. You could sit and talk to them for hours, so make sure you allow enough time to relish the conversation.
The Pensacola Little Theater, established in 1936, is a non-profit old-fashion playhouse dedicated to theatrical experiences. Each year, a performance is dedicated to the festival and the production casts local musicians and actors including students and community members. Last year, it was Rocky Horror Picture Show and honored special guests Patricia Quinn and Neil Campbell, two of the original cast members from the 1975 production. During the course of the evening, Neil decided to jump up on stage joining the cast as they performed the Time Warp dance.
Another great event during Foo Foo Fest is Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival which been an integral part of the Pensacola culture scene and celebrating its 44th year. As one of the most regarded and well-liked arts festivals in the United States, attendees will find painters, sculptors, jewelers, graphic artists, and craft artists. The 3-day free event is always the first weekend in November and located in Seville Square featuring art, music, performances, and food.
Victoria Village represents the first European settlement established in 1559 in Pensacola Bay. The historic structures include sites, museums and restored buildings depicting the lifestyle of the early settlers. Victorian-era home décor was determined by the man’s occupation, such as a nautical theme throughout the home.
The Heritage Arts area highlights craft artists demonstrating traditional crafts, trades, and art such as spinning, blacksmithing, and weaving. A Children’s Arts Festival is part of the event on Saturday and Sunday, providing several hands-on art activities for children from toddler to older kids.
Visitors can watch larger-than-life art come to life by witnessing the Jefferson Street Garage Art Live event. Local artists Evan Levin and Ashton Howard work from bare walls of an old parking garage to create the permanent outdoor mural developed from the artist’s vision for the project.
For the last two years, Jazz for Justice benefiting Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. has been part of the festival. Jazz for Justice proceeds benefit the free civil legal representation provided for domestic violence victims, children, the elderly, oil spill victims and families facing economic strife in over 16 North Florida counties.
Of course, as with visiting any coastal city, a trip would not be complete without a stop at the beach. Just a 15-minute drive from downtown Pensacola, Pensacola Beach is a great destination to dip your toes in the water and take a sunset walk along the sandy beach.
Check out their website to learn about all the great activities for the 2017 event. Get started planning your fall getaway for the family, a girls weekend or a couple’s weekend!