This year’s Innings Festival is also known as “The one where strangers gave me lots of food.” More on that later…
Normally, my work/life schedule requires that I hit a festival and then skip town pretty quickly. In this case, I have had the opportunity to hang around Arizona for a few days – enjoying the perfect weather and reflecting on my experience at Innings Fest.
LTFL had the opportunity to come out to Innings in 2019 as well so if you are still looking for more Innings info – feel free to check out last year’s recap.
Innings Festival takes place in Tempe Beach Park in Arizona during spring training and as the name implies has a baseball theme. The festival attracts baseball fans in town for games, locals, and music lovers – overall I would say it tends to have an older, calmer crowd than a lot of festivals. This is a positive thing and makes it a good festival for people who aren’t looking for a crazy scene, but still want to experience great music and a festival vibe.
As in years past, the 2020 lineup featured both a music and a baseball lineup.
Let’s start with baseball. Innings features an entire baseball themed zone – where fans can enjoy a host of baseball activities, from hitting to pitching to leaping through the air. The centerpiece of this area is the “Left Field” Stage, which features a twice daily live talk show “Off The Mound” hosted by Ryan Dempster.
I started off day one with a quick trip around the festival grounds checking out any changes and getting a general lay of the land. The check in and entry process was smooth.
I spent some time in the crowd at both Boy Named Banjo and Strand of Oaks – a great way to start off the 2020 festival season. Then I headed over to the baseball area to try my hand at the batting cages. Kenny Lofton was there providing tips and photo ops during my session – this was super cool, but made me nervous to bat. After a few low pitches from the machine that had been set for the child batting before me, I got launched one right back at the machine operator. It was a pretty cool feeling to have that chance to get tips from a player and be able to say to yourself you hit in front of Kenny Lofton. I know am a baseball nerd. Don’t worry I got better at photos over the course of the weekend.
After that, I headed over to the stage to check out the first edition of “Off The Mound” for the weekend. Ryan Dempster hosts the show throughout the weekend and in real non-festival life too. Dempster retired from MLB at the end of the 2013 season after pitching for 15+ seasons. He is a two time All – Star and a big part of the 2013 Cubs team that brought the World Series title back to Chicago. Fans and players alike know Dempster for his fun off field personality as well. What you may not know about Dempster is that he has been working on the comedy side of things for quite some time. We got the opportunity to chat with Ryan about “Off The Mound” and his post-baseball comedy career before the festival started and put together a cool feature piece you can check out here.
Here are some highlights:
Let’s start with “Off The Mound” – I got to experience the show at last year’s Innings Festival, but can you tell us a little about the concept for those who aren’t familiar?
Ryan explains that “Off the Mound” is “kind of our idea of a late night talk show format with the band, music, guests – coming out for a few minutes talking and sharing stories about who they are as people not just as baseball players” sharing their “hidden talents” and connecting with the crowd.
And “Off The Mound” was something that existed before Innings Festival right? How did that start and how did you become involved with Innings Festival?
Off The Mound’s connection to Innings started a few years ago when Dempster came to the festival as part of a crew meeting with sweepstakes winners. He got to see Innings unique baseball/music concept and approached festival management. He explains that he was like “hey I have this show I do and I approached the festival with that” and with the idea of “break[ing] up the day with a couple of shows.” It worked out well with the festival setting up a “stage for us out there in left field with all the baseball stuff.” Dempster goes on to describe how last year was really a “ton of fun . . . capping it all off with Eddie Vedder.”
As with last year – every single one of the “Off The Mound” shows was an absolute blast. Dempster brought out legend after legend and we got to hear some fun (or hilarious) stories from big-time players. Thome once again launch baseballs into the crowd. Check out our instagram for some cool video. This once again was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Oh wait and Jake Peavy sang – and he was amazing.
After my first round of baseball activities, I headed over to grab some food. I snagged deep friend veggies from one stand and steak quesadillas from another. Both were delicious, especially the garlic aioli sauce that went along with the fried veggies. I also got to meet several groups of really nice people while I was hanging out in the shade for dinner. The first group that joined me ended up giving me the rest of the bag of cotton candy they couldn’t finish (yes I ate it). I admitted to the next group that joined my table that it wasn’t the first food I had accepted from a stranger that day – and oddly wouldn’t be my last of the weekend. Shoutout to the lovely people who kept me company at dinner you guys were so fun to talk to.
After some merch shopping, another round of “Off The Mound” and the first part of Dave Matthews Band – I headed out for the evening. I forgot to mention this earlier, but I parked in the same garage as the previous year the Hayden Ferry Parking Garage, now set at $20. It is safe and couldn’t be closer to the festival. There was absolutely no traffic in or out and I had a smooth 15-20 minute trip back to downtown Phoenix.
I got off to a slow start on the second day of the festival, but even making it to the Tempe area later than planned had no issue parking and getting inside. My first goal for the day was to visit some of the activations on site. Stop number one was a trailer displaying cool (and inexpensive) sunglasses all of which can be made prescription. I also attempted to play Skeeball Golf at the Tito’s area and snagged a delicious baseball themed drink made with single barrel Jack Daniels.
After a drink and snack break, I headed back to the baseball area for the day’s first edition of “Off The Mound.” I batted in the cage again – this time getting batting advice (to breathe and relax) from Wally Joyner. “How can I relax when I am getting batting tips from a literal legend?” I asked myself and anyone else who would listen. I made friends with my waiting in line buddy and we went to go meet Shawn Dunston next.
After that I tried my hand at the flying catch. After tiring myself out, it was time for The Struts. One of my most anticipated sets of the weekend. They were fantastic and the crowd was equally good. Photo Credit to Kail from dRiFFtMagazine.com for the below.
While I was waiting to meet up with a photographer friend – I made friends with the girl sharing my table at the Corona Beach House. She bought us Jack Daniels apple flavored shots and we hung out chatting. The Corona Beach House had a DJ playing between sets, and a really fun vibe – that also provided seating and much needed shade. It was one of my favorite spots of the weekend.
After bidding my new friend goodbye, I headed back for the last “Off The Mound” of the weekend and then over to Weezer. Who by all accounts absolutely smashed it – bringing a great weekend to a fantastic end.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous and once again the baseball aspects were a huge favorite for me. But there was a ton of great music all weekend too.
We aren’t done with our Arizona coverage. Since we got to hang around for awhile longer than usual, we will be back soon with our first take on a travel guide of sorts. We are working on putting together a list of our recommendations on places to stay and eat and fun things to do – before and after Innings Festival. Photo credit to Kail from dRiFFtMagazine.com for this great shot!
In the meantime, if you want more info on Innings Festival we have a few recommendations:
Check out the festival’s official website and stay tuned for news for the 2021 season.
Check out our 2019 Recap Here.
Check out dRiFFT Magazine’s Recap Here. The author of that recap is also the fantastic photographer behind the marked images used in this article and a great partner to LTFL.
For more on “Off The Mound” visit: www.OffTheMound.com or @OffTheMound on bothTwitter and Instagram.