Fascinating music

What happens at a baseball and music festival when there’s no baseball?

In 2020, the Innings Festival – a festival combining music and baseball that takes place during spring training in Arizona and Florida and allows fans to meet their favorite players between sets of their most beloved bands – entered just under thread. The relatively young festival, then just in its third year, was held just two weeks before the worldwide shutdown due to COVID-19.

Naturally, the 2021 edition of the festival was scrapped as the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on baseball. and live music (and just about anything that involved large crowds of people gathered together). For a time, this year’s event also looked risky, thanks to the dual threat of the Omicron variant and the MLB lockdown. And while they managed to dodge one of those bullets, it dominated the Innings Festival in Tempe, Arizona this weekend.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of fun to be had anyway. Thousands of people have flocked to Tempe Beach Park to catch headliners like Tame Impala and the Foo Fighters, and despite spring training still being a pipe dream at this point and opening day in danger (at the time of this writing, the MLB Players Union is said to have rejected the owners’ final offer, meaning the league will start cancel games), fans of the sport had plenty to hang on to, whether it was doing hacks in the batting cages on the spot or testing their speed at the speed stand, meeting and posing for photos with legendary players like Roger Clemens, Tim Raines, Rick Sutcliffe and Kenny. Lofton. Between the sets of the comedians on the bill, former pitcher Ryan Dempster even hosted several live recordings of off the moundhis late-night talk show featuring interviews with current and former baseball stars.

Dempster has been a staple of the festival, assisting and welcoming off the mound every year since its inception in 2018, and it has no plans to stop anytime soon.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” Dempster told InsideHook at the festival on Sunday before taping an episode of off the mound with Raines and Sutcliffe. “There is this cohesion between baseball and music. And I love music and I love baseball. And so just being a part of it all, and a chance for us to get out during spring training and watch these amazing bands do what they do. Yeah, it’s just an easy adjustment.

Ryan Dempster interviews Roger Clemens for his show “Off the Mound” at Innings Fest 2022.

Charles Reagan

Truth be told, it’s the off the mound recordings that really set Innings Festival apart. Activations such as the “take-play” photo shoot, in which participants can jump onto a mat while holding a glove with a ball in front of a backdrop that looks like they’ve just robbed someone from someone home run, are fun, and we can all agree that all The music festival is also expected to have batting cages, but Dempster’s show is what really gives fans a chance to see their favorite players in a new light. Because he’s a former player — and in some cases, like when he was chatting with Jonny Gomes, a former teammate — his interviews seem much looser than what we typically see from MLB pros when addressing to the media.

Except for one guy shouting something about steroids during Roger Clemens’ appearance (which Dempster and Clemens both pretended not to hear), the off the mound the segments were largely devoid of controversy. Dempster sang karaoke with David Ross, hosted a “home run derby” with Gomes hitting autographed baseballs into the crowd from a tee, and listened to Sean Casey tell a story about meeting St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein in backstage at a Pearl Jam concert. The lockout was brought up every time, but most players asked about it confined themselves to diplomatic platitudes like “hopefully the two sides can come to an agreement soon”.

Sutcliffe, however, didn’t hold his tongue. “I know you’re going to have to cut this,” he told Dempster, before recalling meeting a Cubs fan at the festival who had been saving money for a year so he could buy a trip to his first spring training, only for it to be canceled due to the lockdown. He also compared the current situation to the work stoppage that ended his career in 1994.

“I didn’t retire in 1994, I quit,” Sutcliffe told the crowd, saying he felt he could have physically continued playing had he not been frustrated with the labor dispute. “I’m pissed. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, I have a rock on my shoulder about this.

Dave Stewart poses for photos with fans at Innings Festival 2022.

Charles Reagan

But despite the obvious frustrations with the lockdown, Innings Festival felt like a good stopgap to help us out until baseball returned. It was spring training in itself, in a way, bringing us back to the festival experience after two long years in which we forgot how to brave the endless lines of Port-a-Potty, navigate the bottlenecks as we try to move from scene to scene or give $14 for a beer.

There were a few logistical issues that could be resolved as the festival continues to grow. Relegating all food vendors to one area was a mistake that led to particularly long queues during the evening dinner rush. The two musical stages were located extremely away from each other, and while that means sound bleed isn’t an issue, it also means attendees have a huge hike ahead of them if they’re looking to catch a band playing at the other end of the festival. Of course, that’s assuming they even know where to find the scene; there were no paper maps of the festival grounds available on the site, so fans had to save a photo of them on their phones and hope their batteries didn’t die or just fly away. But Innings is still a relatively new festival, and walking around the grounds this weekend, it’s easy to imagine those issues working themselves out as it naturally develops.

“I think it might be an easy thing, just to sit back and keep trying to develop it,” Dempster says. “And that’s the easiest temptation. But I think keeping it small and intimate and personal is also great. And I felt like it was the busiest we had last night. It was the largest number of people we had at our show. And I just think continuing to develop this opportunity to keep it the same, but better, fill it up, pack it up, and everybody have fun. Bigger isn’t always better, you know? Better is better.

He’s right, and especially in a year when it’s the closest thing to actual baseball, Innings is worth the price of admission for anyone who considers themselves a lover of music and the American pastime. Neither step on the other’s toes, and instead they complement each other, working in tandem to deliver a truly unique festival experience.

As Dempster says, “I love Innings Fest and everyone that comes out. For anyone in the future looking for a good music and baseball time and just people – sometimes I walk around there and I feel like I’m at Disneyland, just all the staff, everyone, everyone there, just smiling and having a good time And that’s what the music does, what the baseball. And seeing those two worlds collide, it’s really cool to be a part of it.