In Innings Festival’s third year, the annual spring baseball-themed music festival was two days of mostly home runs. From veteran big-leaguers like Dave Matthews Band and Weezer, to surprise international free agents The Struts, with a balk from Death Cab and an All-Star lineup in Left Field, here’s the inside baseball look at Innings Fest 2020.
Innings Festival 2020 post-series analysis
While Innings Fest 2019 was anchored by lifelong fan Eddie Vedder, 2020’s lineup didn’t connect as much (or at least as obviously) to the theme. But it still seemed stacked with All-Stars and rookies alike. Getting baseball fans together in Arizona in the spring is a can of corn, and it lived up to the hype.
Look, it’s a baseball-themed event, so it has to be a jargon-filled review, right? Sorry, but it’s the law. Learn more about Innings Festival and plan to attend in this post.Innings Fest delivered on something that, IMO, has escaped the MLB and the #CactusLeague in recent years: a baseball-themed event that felt like it really put fans first.Click To Tweet
Innings Festival 2020 season stats
Where: Tempe Beach Park, Tempe, Arizona
When: February 29 – March 1, 2020 (will be February 27-28, 2021_
Lineup: Rock (variants); see the full lineup here
Parking: Nearby, paid – better to use public transport
Overall a single-tool lineup
I’ll start by saying that there was A LOT of the lineup that I enjoyed. But in general, the lineup lacked diversity, both in styles and gender. With only two female artists in the lineup and all rock artists (each with their variations, of course), it seemed very geared towards 30-40-year-old white guys (which showed in the attendees).
While I’m not captain of Innings Festival, I’d have loved to have seen more variety. Hey, Nelly played ball and Chance the Rapper is rarely seen without a Sox hat (and is as much a Chicago fan as I would estimate more than half the crowd to have been). Emmylou Harris would add some folk and we know J. Lo is a baseball fan…
Weezer with a walk-off on Sunday night
I wasn’t sure which was more telling of my age – that Weezer was the top of my list from the lineup or that I was grimacing at them playing at 9:00 on Sunday night, unsure if the weekend would take its toll by then. But from the first note, there was no chance that I was leaving without dancing and singing through the entire set.
Hat tip to having an ASL interpreter for the set.
The Struts, international free agents, wow the crowd
The Struts turned out to be an absolute highlight of the lineup for me. I expected to just enjoy some songs in the beautiful afternoon weather (p.s. I don’t know if their set was designed to have a setting sun light it up, but it was glistening).
But that crowd was fully engaged, dancing and singing along and even getting down on the ground to become “fireworks.” When Luke Spiller asked the crowd to get as low to the ground as possible before bursting up dancing, I thought there would be mild participation. But I looked around to see the entire crowd down, then soon back up and dancing.
Dave Matthews Band were the wily veterans batting cleanup
Something I would have never admitted in the middle of the MASSIVE crowd for Dave Matthews Band – I’ve never been a huge fan. We’re not talking an active dislike, but more of an indifference and a thought that they were overrated. There had always been rumors of DMB not liking playing in Arizona, and having attitude about it and playing to the minute of contracted time.
So for Innings Fest, I wondered if they were considered a niche following or what kind/size crowd they would pull at a mostly rock festival. How it would compare to last year’s headliner being a known baseball fan.
It was PACKED. And only it seemed like the only people leaving early were the families who’d been there the whole day, in the sun, and had kids getting tired as the band moved through hours of music.
Arizona-native Buddy Strong’s “Tell Me Something Good” was the official moment that swayed me.
I’ll say it. I like Dave Matthews Band now. And it was a really fun set.
Death Cab for Cutie with a rarely seen balk
Death Cab was high on my list to hear live, but their performance was cut short after a few songs because Ben Gibbard was apparently too sick to get through it. Kudos to Gibbard for trying. There’s been some criticism of fans upset by the set being a balk, but I think it’s more the lack of communication that was the problem.
From where my friend and I were standing, all we saw was an abrupt walk off stage and the set was over. The tweet that would come later was also pretty brief. I think fans understand, but it’s hard to understand in the moment when it’s not clear what’s going on.
To our fans at Innings Fest,
We made every effort to step on stage and play music for you tonight. Unfortunately, Ben came down with a severe illness during the week that required cancelling his solo show on Friday…
— Death Cab for Cutie (@dcfc) March 2, 2020
The ballpark and gameday settings
A great day for baseball
The weather was pretty near perfect for an outdoor festival in the spring, not something that could be pulled off just anywhere. Saturday was a bit hot, sending many fans, myself included, in search of some shelter from the sun. Savvy fans, myself included, brought layers knowing that it would get Arizona “cold” when the sun was down, but with bag restrictions, not everyone was so lucky. Sunday was milder in the day and a bit warmer at night – you couldn’t have asked for a better day out for music and baseball.
Add to that that it was a tobacco-free event and you couldn’t ask for a better day out in the sun! What an actual treat to be able to be out and about and not have to avoid puffs of smoke attacking the fresh air you’re enjoying.
Tempe Beach Park is a beautiful venue and I love that the two stages are pretty close to each other, making it seemingly easy to get back and forth. HOWEVER. What should be a power-alley between the stages has a few spots that get pretty narrow and are “hilly” (as hilly as a small park can be) and with large rocks in a rock bed. At first glance, this isn’t a problem, but when huge crowds are moving back and forth, it becomes a problem.
There’s a huge paved path along the water, but the festival uses this warning track for carts to get back and forth, leaving fans to fend for themselves. First I was just concerned for ADA reasons, but it’s actually dangerous.
Last year, I was in a walking boot, making one leg longer than the other, so I was ahead of the count going one way on the hills, but the other way I nearly toppled over. This year, I fell walking across the larger rocks and slammed head-first to the rock. Sure I might have concussed myself and still have bruises on my temple, but I wasn’t going to miss Weezer for a simple head wound.
Long lines and high prices at concessions
The concessions were slow-moving (despite having a cool cashless wristband option) and high-priced. It seemed like there weren’t enough people working the stands and maybe they’d have to worry less checking people at the front for sneaking in drinks if they were just more reasonably priced.
Maybe next year they can take a cue from ballparks and get vendors who are walking around? Or at least a few more people at the counters.
Is this PNC or Tempe Beach Park?
No, those aren’t fans in Pittsburgh or San Francisco hoping for a home run ball. Because Tempe Beach Park is on the man-made lake, it was nice to see some enterprising fans earn their view of the festival (and they got some beautiful sunsets).
A baseball event that’s actually for the fans
Innings Fest delivered on something that, IMO, has escaped the MLB and the Cactus League in recent years: a baseball-themed event that felt like it really put fans first.
For as long as I can remember, spring in Arizona has been really special. Not just because it’s the calm before the heat, but because there’s nothing quite like Cactus League spring training, where you can see 15 teams on any given day and spend the afternoon watching baseball with a beer.
However, every year I’m becoming less enchanted with spring training as ticket prices get higher and higher, along with concessions, parking and everything else. It took me 30 minutes to get into a game the other day (missing first pitch) because I had a refillable water bottle (empty).
Spring training used to feel like a fun month of getting ready for the season and like something that was for the fans. Now it feels like the new way for the league and teams to get every extra penny they can.
Off the Mound with Ryan Dempster was a look inside the clubhouse
A highlight of the festival for me was Off the Mound with Ryan Dempster. While friends argued that something like this that takes people away from the music shouldn’t be at a festival, they also said only baseball nerds like me would want to go to it.
Fair. And I’m pretty sure all the baseball nerds like me delighted in Dempster talking with players past and present about the game and their experiences.
A personal highlight was, like Dempster a forever-Cub who earned his ring with another team, Mark Grace. Dempster talked with Ian Happ about how the Cubs are coming along for the spring, along with his project, Through My Eyes. He laughed with (and at, while embarrassing) former roommate and teammate Kevin Millar.
Working out in the conditioning facilities
In Left Field, there were different baseball activity stations, including batting cages, a pitching cage where you could clock your speed and accuracy, a virtual home run derby and a place to get a photo making a diving catch.
Of course, you need gloves and merch
The first thought I had when I saw this glove was that I wanted to jump on it. And then saw the sign next to it that said “don’t jump on the glove.” If only the Astros stole that sign too…
You could even photograph yourself into your own baseball card.
Full 2020 Innings Festival gallery
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