Charlotte Waters will never forget the sight. The young girl was viewing her first jazz concert, at Jazz for Justice, an event thrown by Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF), and she was totally engrossed. She bobbed her head to the melodic wailing of horns and the seamless scaling of saxes, following every note with rapt focus.
“It was just beautiful to see,” says Waters, the communications director for LSNF. “That’s what I love most about our events: People who don’t know a lot about jazz sometimes swing by to catch a moment of the show, then they fall in love.”
This November, many folks will have the chance to do exactly that in Pensacola, Florida. This year will mark the fifth time Jazz for Justice is appearing (with co-headliners New Orleans-based Tuba Skinny and New Breed Brass Band) as part of the Foo Foo Festival, a twelve-day celebration of culturally creative happenings and events all under one banner. From November 4 through November 15, locals and visitors from across the country will get to enjoy live music, fantastic food, original artwork, and plenty of unique events to suit everyone’s taste. It all happens during Pensacola’s serene fall weather.
While pristine beaches remain a stone’s throw away, in the fall, the hot summer sun is a thing of the past. That means visitors get the best of both worlds in Pensacola: a sunny getaway without the hassle of the heat. When you pair breathtaking coastal scenery with an event like the Foo Foo Festival, you get the perfect getaway—whether it’s just the two of you or a group of close friends.
“Every Foo Foo festival is different,” says Maria Goldberg, the festival’s chair and one of its founding board members. “But there will be something really special about this year’s events. I think it’s the light and joy everyone needs right now.”
Named after impromptu bands that would gather to serenade sailors on 19th-century vessels, Foo Foo Festival began in 2014. Each year, festival organizers provide grants to an array of arts and culture organizations like LSNF (Jazz for Justice), and in turn, those organizations stage events all around the city. The result is an eclectic lineup that combines culinary showdowns with ballet, opera, and even high art.
“It’s the best-kept secret that you feel like you’re in on,” Goldberg adds. “And since you can take advantage of all the other experiences that Pensacola has to offer in between the events, it’s basically an all-inclusive trip for the whole family.”
This year’s “Foo Foo,” as the locals call it, will also overlap with the annual homecoming air show performed by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels over Pensacola Beach. This squadron of expert U.S. Navy pilots, currently celebrating their 75th anniversary, soars across the clear-blue Florida sky, thrilling visitors each November. The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival, a three-day, juried art show nestled downtown in Pensacola’s historic Seville Square, also takes place in early November.
While the sheer variety of experiences available in and around Pensacola is impressive on its own, the sublime weather and scenery also make visiting Pensacola in November inviting. In between savory seafood meals and easy afternoons lounging by the pool or ocean, you can take in any number of events and shows that pique your interest—and many Foo Foo events are free.
“I hear people say every year, ‘I didn’t know Pensacola had this,’” says Brian Stewart, LSNF’s director of philanthropy. “That’s why I tell friends who don’t live here, ‘Now is the time to come—not in summertime, but in November.”
The festival’s organizers have gone out of their way to make this year’s event the best Foo Foo yet. Since last year’s event was cancelled, they feel a heightened responsibility to make this one even more fun. To ensure that exhibitors and guests remain healthy, leaders of Foo Foo and all event hosts are also taking every possible precaution to keep attendees safe. It helps that Pensacola visitors have plenty of outdoor space to stretch out under the gleaming blue skies.
“It’s going to be safe,” Stewart adds, “and it’s going to be a party.”
Organizations like Jazz for Justice will help make that possible. It’s not often that a fun getaway with the girls or a romantic vacation with a partner or intimate friends can be set in a blissful paradise and also sound tracked by some of the country’s most revered musicians. But this fall in Florida, that’s happening!
“We bring in huge names in the world of jazz,” Charlotte Waters says. “Two of the biggest brass bands in New Orleans will be at this year’s event, and I’ve never seen anyone leave a jazz concert like that without a big smile on their face.”
Thinking about the joy of jazz always brings Waters back to that little girl and her carefree smile. For those few songs, nothing else in the world mattered.
“Right now, I think we all deserve to feel how she felt,” Waters says. “We all deserve to feel that joy.”