During the summer, weekends don’t begin on Friday – they arrive casually escorted on the arm of Thursday evening, as thousands gather in downtown Pensacola’s Seville Square to eat, visit, and enjoy open-air concerts. “Evenings in Olde Seville,” a free concert series that began in 1987, features local talent ranging from bagpipes and bluegrass to big band and beyond. The setting is unmatched – towering heritage oaks spread their broad, Spanish moss-laced branches over the park, once a parade ground for British and Spanish military troops. Historic structures like Old Christ Church and the exquisitely preserved Dorr House and charming eateries with names like Hub Stacey’s, Dharma Blue and Moreno Café surround the square. Each week there’s a drawing for a dinner prepared and served in the square by a local restaurant.
The real magic happens as the sun sets. Street lights and stars begin to twinkle through the massive tree canopy. A patient horse pulls a carriage filled with beaming riders around the park’s perimeter, the sound of its hooves echoing on the pavement. The music entices dancers of all ages to take to the brick pavilion near the park’s gazebo. An occasional breeze off the bay carries the scent of magnolia blossoms, citronella candles and the delicious fragrance of the nicest picnic dinners anywhere. Beer and wine flow freely, and as the evening progresses, everyone loosens up.
Some people make quite an occasion of the evenings. They arrive early to secure favored spots, circling lawn chairs around folding tables, sinking citronella torches into the ground, and clustering bright balloons or maybe a colorful pennant as a landmark for their location. I’ve seen snowy white linen tablecloths and napkins, crystal wine goblets, fat candles in glass hurricane globes, and tableware that’s “the real thing” – no paper or plastic in sight. Someone has spent hours planning and preparing a meal that’s able to be transported and served outside, and eaten almost exclusively with one’s fingers while standing and mingling with others – typically it’s a mouth-watering selection of “little bites,” tortilla wraps filled and sliced thin, crackers and minty cucumber dip, fruit and vegetable platters, two-bite sugar cookies, and impressive mounds of freshly boiled Royal Red shrimp on ice.
And I’ve seen people just show up, nothing at all in their hands, drawn to the music and the atmosphere like moths to a flame. They’re the ones whose faces are alight with the discovery of this event tucked into a pocket of downtown Pensacola. “And you do this every Thursday night?” they ask. Just one of the perks of life in Pensacola during the long, hot summers.