Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are not the type of band that typically shows up in Pensacola, or anywhere for that matter. The rag-tag 11-piece folk rock collective is likely to turn heads at DeLuna Fest, if not by the sheer size of the band then by the pure joy they tend to exude onstage.
The band took an unconventional route from the get-go. A few members had been friends for years, but had no idea the band would take off like it has. “We booked a show without even having a band. Then we reached out to friends and they just stuck around,” guitarist Christian Letts says of the open-door formation of the group and the band’s first concert at the fabled Troubadour in Los Angeles.
Classifying the Magnetic Zeros’ sound is a task in and of itself. When Letts is asked to describe it, even he is stumped. “I get that question a lot, but I still haven’t come up with a good answer. I have absolutely no idea.”
Instruments from trumpet to accordion to banjo play a role on the band’s debut record “Up From Below,” but what may seem like an overcrowded recipe is instead a fully coherent, danceable and uplifting throwback to the late 1960’s southern California folk rock movement. That said, it’s impossible to place these guys and gals in any definitive box.
Music is not the only art form that the band members take part in. Letts is a self-described artist who paints, draws, sings and writes. The band has also reinvented the music video in an ongoing 12-part series currently posted on YouTube. Using the band’s naturally dramatic sound, the cinema-quality short films capture the Magnetic Zeros’ spirit—one of struggle, camaraderie, and in the end, triumph. In a world where the art form has nearly become extinct, the group’s commitment to such a far-reaching effort is both ambitious and inspiring.
The music stands on its own, but what makes Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros truly shine is the live experience. It all starts with vocalists Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, whose palpable chemistry is worth the price of admission. All the members stay on the same page despite their numbers. Their smiles make it obvious that they are doing what they love.
A sense of community has always been important to the band. They don’t view concerts as an opportunity to put on a show. Instead, they see it as a chance for the audience to join in.
“We want it to be 50 percent us and 50 percent the audience,” Letts says of the band’s concerts. This blurring of traditional lines gives everyone the ability to momentarily escape from the perils of everyday life.
“This is a band that is important for people to see,” Five Flags Tourism Group partner and DeLuna Fest technical producer Nick Bodkins says of the band. “We knew there would be no other way they’d be able to play Pensacola because they are too big for our smaller venues and too small for places like the Civic Center.”
There is no doubt that Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Pensacola make strange bedfellows. Their unconventional spirit and Bohemian ideals are in stark contrast to the typically conservative attitudes of the Florida Panhandle. But in a way, they are a microcosm of what DeLuna Fest has evolved into: the opportunity to show that people can come together to overcome anything thrown their way.
Photo: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros Official