Crowd Image Credit Toni Horan
Frank Brown Park in Panama City Beach, Florida was the host of Gulf Coast Jam 2023 in conjunction with Jim Beam. The skies were overcast which kept it a little cool to the delight of the 30,000 “Jammers” attending the country music festival. The lineup was quite the eclectic mix of rock, metal, hip hop, and country music genres. While the sun was shining through the cloud canopy, the mass of humanity was happy and docile. But, at 8:15pm when the sunset and the headliner Hardy hit the stage, it was every person for themselves and all real estate that was held all day by a blanket or chair was fair game as the crowd pushed forward towards the stage. I guess Panama City Beach’s major, Mark Sheldon’s remarks of telling the crowd to move forward before his prayer in front of the crowd, might have been the motivation. No worries, it was only day one and with three days to go, the concert preparation and planning could be adjusted for safety and concert viewing pleasure.
The grounds had plenty of food vendors and bars surrounding the grounds. A Ferris wheel, sand for children to play, and even a US Marine Corps recruiting station? That was a first for me at an outdoor music festival. In all, the festival was well organized with ample restrooms, places to get hydrated, a great sound system, three large projection screens, and overall friendly security.
Just look at the happy faces!
JonBoy Storey started Gulf Coast Jam at 2:30pm to a slowly filling fairgrounds. The Alabama native was the perfect warm up to get the Jam underway.
As I was getting set around the stage for the next band, there was a man touting the next band is going to rock my socks off. At 3:30pm Them Dirty Roses did just that as they were pure rock-n-roll from beginning to end. The brothers, singer James Ford and drummer Frank Ford started the band back in 2012. They are Alabama natives that relocated to Nashville. They are touring and entertaining the crowds with songs like “Cocaine and Whiskey”, “Molly”, and “Grew Up In The Country”. The crowd was getting settled in and gave the quartet a loud and a boisterous send off as they left the stage.
James Ford – Vocals/Guitar
Frank Ford – Drums
Andrew Davis– Guitar
Ben Crain – Bass
Georgia native Dylan Marlowe was next on stage and the crowd had grown by thousands when he started at 4:45pm. Dylan is a rising start in the Nashville music scene. His set was about an hour and just as he was getting warmed up, it was over. This young artist is going to be someone to keep an eye on as his career is heading upwards!
Daniel Gerard Breland, or just Breland injected immense energy into the crowd as he hit the stage like he was shot out of a cannon! Hip hop, soul, rock-n-roll, and a little country was totally unexpected. His smile was contagious, and it was clear to everyone in attendance that Breland was born to perform in front of thousands. He was at home and his pure joy couldn’t be stifled or denied. The Jammers responded in kind. It wasn’t country music, but it was pure entertainment and welcome under the overcast skies as temperatures were in the mid eighties. Last time I was transcended with this feel good vibe was when I saw Niko Moon last year.
Panama City Beach major, Mark Sheldon was introduced, then a prayer to the All Mighty before the stage was yielded to Michael Wilson Hardy; known professionally as Hardy. He came on at 8:15pm as the sun had almost set. Hardy just released his second album The Mockingbird & The Crow this past January. His genre isn’t totally country. It’s closer to heavy metal. His true accolades is his incredible song writing as he has written country songs for Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Chris Lane, Dallas Smith, and Morgan Wallen. In 2021 he even won the Academy of Country Music Awards, “Songwriter of the Year.” There were grumbles in the Gulf Coast Jam crowd that they didn’t feel he was country at all and his use of profanity offended some. After all, country music has been breaking genre barriers for years and the majority welcomed his performance and rocked out the night as day one came to a close.
Morgan Wallen was forced to cancel for health reasons and was replaced by Kenny Chesney as the headliner for Saturday night.
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Photographer and Editor/Founder of AllMusicMagazine.com. My love of live music has taken me to incredible experiences with the top bands of all time in stadium shows to the smallest venues with equally inspiring musicians. Using the medium of photography and my publication, these memories will last forever.