Before Andy Barbero moved to Florida, he didn’t know what to expect. A St. Louis native, the college professor grew up in a vibrant culture where every craft—including music, theater, and the visual arts—was represented.

So, when he settled in Pensacola for work, he felt right at home.

“It blew me away,” he says of the culture he encountered in Florida. “Pensacola has a very active arts community, and in all my years here since, I’ve never been disappointed.”

From November 3 through 14, beautiful beachside Pensacola will celebrate the eighth annual Foo Foo Festival, a can’t-miss cultural and creative happening. The festival derives its name from the term “foo foo,” which refers to the impromptu bands of sailors that would come together on 19th century sailing vessels to entertain their shipmates. It’s the perfect billing for an event that unites artists and art lovers for nearly two weeks of music, performance, and interactive events. Perhaps best of all, the vast majority of the festival’s programming is free and open to the public.

Béla Fleck, acclaimed bluegrass performer, will take the stage during the Foo Foo Fest.Photograph by Alan Messer

Now he invites more people to experience that same culture and joy in Pensacola—and this fall is the perfect time to do it.

Barbero will be far more than a spectator this year: As director of the Lyceum Series at Pensacola State College, he had a hand in bringing the traveling troupe of Chicago’s Second City comedy group to Pensacola for the fest.

“The festival is a way for us to share everything that makes Pensacola a beautiful, vibrant place,” says Barbero.

Nick Croghan, director of the Pensacola Museum of Art, agrees. “Many people know Pensacola as a pretty place by the beach, and that’s definitely true,” he notes. “But it’s also an epicenter for arts, history, and culture. It has a vibe and energy that reminds of New Orleans, but much more family friendly.”

That vibe and energy will be on full display during this fall’s Foo Foo Festival—twelve days that also include the 50th annual Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival and the 10th annual Stamped LGBTQIA+ Film Festival. Further, the weekend after Foo Foo Fest ends, the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels will take to the skies for their annual mesmerizing flight show. As Croghan puts it, “there’s literally something for everyone.”

Don’t miss the 10th Annual Stamped LGBTQIA+ Film Fest.

That includes lovers of the visual arts, who, thanks to Croghan and his museum, can enjoy artwork from Banksy and dozens of other widely-renowned street artists. Their pieces will line downtown Pensacola, and the city’s innate walkability makes it perfectly conducive for leisurely strolls with family and friends.

“Our mission was to bring the most diverse and talented artists to Pensacola, to reflect the talent and diversity of this city.”

—Derrick Fishback, Jazz Pensacola
The Great Gulfcoast Art Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

“The city has a come-one, come-all mentality, which makes it both welcoming and like a big celebration,” Croghan says. “Everything is centrally located, and you can see a lot of artists doing cool stuff and pushing boundaries while everyone is having a good time in the streets.”

In other words, if you want to enjoy a cocktail and walk along the beach, Pensacola is the place for you. Conversely, if you want to go dancing, or prefer a quieter evening of fine dining and entertainment, the city has everything you need. Just like Barbero once was, you’ll be blown away by the sheer number of options available to you at Foo Foo Festival and throughout the city.

Ladies night out in vibrant Pensacola.

In addition to Second City, Banksy, and the beautiful beach, visitors can also enjoy one-of-a-kind events such as the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival. The event brings together top-tier Nashville songwriters to discuss their most famous tracks, which are then played by local musicians.

“That’s what’s so special about Pensacola: it attracts some of the top musical talent in the country, and they keep coming back to perform,” says Derrick Fishback, a board member of Jazz Pensacola. This year’s festival will also bring acclaimed bluegrass performer Béla Fleck to town, and Jazz Pensacola, a community of music enthusiasts, has recruited high-energy jazz great Karl Denson (of Rolling Stones fame) and his band, Tiny Universe, for this year’s musical happenings.

Jazz Pensacola will present Karl Denson of Rolling Stones fame, who will take the stage with this band, Tiny Universe.

“Our mission was to bring the most diverse and talented artists to Pensacola, to reflect the talent and diversity of this city,” Fishback adds. “That’s why I call it the best-kept secret on the Gulf Coast: there’s so much amazing entertainment here it’s crazy.

His fellow board member, Ali Egan, echoes that sentiment: “We’ve seen families come here from across the country, and we’ve seen people come here from Minnesota to escape the winter,” she says. “The one thing they have in common is they all find an experience that is unforgettable.”

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