The East Hill area of Pensacola is a neighborhood in the truest sense of the word. Local businesses do things their way. Artists of all types call the place home. The community is a modern throwback, but what holds its charm is the simple fact that its people know and get to know each other here.
“We wanted to put together a family-friendly event for people all over Pensacola to hang out with one another and see how East Hill supports itself,” Kelly Gibson, organizer of the 2013 East Hill Music Festival said. “East Hill is the very definition of Pensacola to me.”
Singer/songwriter and Pensacola regular Grant Peeples will be headlining the festival. Books lined his walls growing up. You can see that influence in his vivid storytelling—both musically and in interviews. IN recently spoke with Peeples about his roots and writing.
IN: Do you remember the moment you decided you to become a musician?
PEEPLES: I picked up the guitar in college because I had songs I wanted to write. Plain and simple. I remember deciding to do that. It was through that decision that I became a musician. By default, I guess. It was many years later that I decided to leave my plow in the field and become a performer. I was driving home from a studio where I had recorded some songs that day, and when I was listening to the playback I thought: I owe it to these songs to try to find them some light where they can be seen. And boy, my whole life changed.
IN: What about the first time you ever performed in front of a crowd?
PEEPLES: The Gamble Rogers Folk Festival in St. Augustine, Fla. on my 50th birthday. It’s never too late to change your major—as I like to say. I remember there being about 10,000 people listening to me, but it was probably more like a hundred.
IN: As a singer/songwriter, you depend on your lyrics more than the typical rock and roll band might. How do you handle crowds when they’re less attentive than you would like?
PEEPLES: Well, if the whole crowd is inattentive, that’s my problem. Either I’m not doing my job, or I booked myself in the wrong place. But if there are two people talking in an otherwise quiet room that is paying attention, then those two people and I have a problem. Out of respect to the room itself, I have no qualms about stopping right in the middle a song and asking—through the microphone—to let me know when they are finished so that I can do what everybody else is wanting me to do.
IN: What’s your songwriting process like?
PEEPLES: I’ve learned not to pick up the guitar until I have a good written draft of the song. Otherwise I can’t keep things authentic. For me, the guitar has to obey the command of the story. The story tells me if I’m in a minor key, if it’s 3/4 time, if it’s up tempo. I don’t write to a beat. The beat goes to the story. I write from the inside out, not from the top down. The thing that gets me going might be a single couplet that ends up in the second verse. If it’s real, if it’s authentic, if I like the way it feels coming out of my mouth, and I know it has connective tissue running out into my universe, I’ll start nailing things to it.
A slew of Pensacola locals will also be performing at the festival, including Betsy Badwater, Chainsaw Kelly, Said Simple, and Chloe Channell. Mondo Mike, a blues-rock outfit from Jacksonville, Fla. completes the bill.
UWF’s Bistro Blue and the latest addition to the East Hill culinary family, The Yard, will cover the festival’s food needs. A number of arts and crafts vendors will also be on hand.
Our beaches and thriving downtown get a lot of the publicity these days, but the East Hill Music Festival will provide a glimpse into yet another part of what makes Pensacola what it truly is.
Photo: Grant Peebles Official