Innings Festival 2022: Baseball, Billy Strings, The Foo Fighters, And A Beer-Chugging Bear

by Brendan M. Allen

I got the idea a while back to try to integrate some of the other fandoms I nerd out to into my writing. If you’ve watched any of the videos on Comicon’s YouTube channel, you may have seen me, Cullen Bunn, and Anton Kromoff talking about a shared love of horror, comics, and fancy drinks. That’s going really well, so I wanted to see what else I could pull in.

Innings Festival 2022 Aerial by Roger Ho

Enter Innings Festival 2022. Innings Festival started a few seasons ago, coinciding with Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. Three stages, dozens of bands, baseball themed activities, MLB legends signing autographs… Good times. The last time I went, I got to see Cake, Blues Traveler, and Incubus all on one stage. It was a nineties mix tape, and it was rad. There was even a memorable incident when John Popper’s harmonica amplifier exploded mid-set.

This year, I made the choice to travel all the way to Scottsdale to check out the festival, even though the billionaire owners of Major League Baseball decided to lock out players and postpone Cactus League until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Not going to get into that too much here. Don’t get me started. 

I chose Saturday’s lineup, because Billy Strings and Foo Fighters were the main acts for the day, and I think I’m twenty years too old to know who Sunday’s headliner,  Tame Impala, is. I did ask one of the guys working at my kids’ school about the band last week because he was wearing a Tame Impala shirt. He seemed stoked about them, and he’s about the age of my eldest son, so… confirmed. 

As soon as I made it through the gate, I bee-lined it to the merch tent and picked up a couple tees and a festival poster. The regular posters were still available, but the foil editions were all snapped up in the first fifteen minutes, on day one. Two shirts and a poster ran me about $120. That poster is going to look sick in my pub. You may be able to catch it in the background of the next Happy Hour episode.

After securing a locker for $20 on the day, I started poking around Tempe Beach Park to get an idea of where the stages were located, what food and drink services were available, and what the baseball legends’ side of things would look like. The park is pretty easy to get around, and the placement of services (toilets, water stations, food, drink…) was reasonable for the size of the venue. 

I took about a thousand pictures, then I bailed for a while to head over to Illegal Pete’s for a few rounds and some lunch. My buddy Dunbar and I had already paid for a couple rounds inside the park, and it was the economical thing to do, especially since the festival allows re-entry, and there are about a thousand restaurants within a couple blocks. A round for the two of us inside the grounds was about $30. At Pete’s, $18. The math is easy. 

When we re-entered the park, the crowd had about doubled in size. For a little background, Dunbar and I both have medically sensitive children. We are admins in a group that he started a few years back on Facebook for fathers of children with cystic fibrosis. COVID is some scary shit for both our families. We are both vaccinated and boosted, our wives are vaxxed and boosted, our kids are vaccinated, and we mask and distance in public spaces. 

Dunbar hitting the cages

This crowd was all right, though. There was a TON of space to maneuver around the grounds. Not a lot of folks were wearing masks, but the distancing was definitely happening, and it was outdoors. I chose to wear a KN95 all day, and it seemed like the other festival goers were, at the very least, respectful that I was masked for whatever personal reason, and gave me my space.

I even met some folks hanging around the back who were in a very similar situation as my family. Sadie and Tommy Derton have a child with complex medical issues, and haven’t been out of the house to a big social event like this in years, due to COVID. I feel that. One hundred percent. We laughed. We shared stories. We bonded. 

Sadie (middle) and Tommy Derton (right)

That’s all great, but what does Innings Festival have to do with comics, conventions, and pop culture? That’s a fair question, but it’s not that big of a stretch. We’re all nerds. Every single one of us. You may nerd out to comics, or cars, or baseball, or music, but there is something that gets your engine running. Something you could talk about for hours on end. In this case, we have baseball and music. But all the hallmarks of a typical convention are here. 

Collectibles and merch, celebrity meet and greets, entertainment, games… this is a convention. There are even cosplayers. Loads of folks in jerseys, representing their favorite teams and players. I even ran into a dude wearing a bear costume, double fisting his beer and bellowing at passersby. These are my people, every bit as much as the attendees of NYCC, Denver Pop Culture Con, or SDCC.

Most of the day went swimmingly. I didn’t start feeling uncomfortable until right at the end, about an hour before the Foo Fighters were set to hit the main stage. Billy Strings was killing his set with his four piece bluegrass ensemble, and the nice little hill we were standing on was getting increasingly crowded. We kept moving back to let people pile in in front of us, but it got to a point where I, personally, was no longer okay with how tight it was getting, so I left.

Billy Strings at Innings Festival 2022 by Miranda McDonald

I have some very specific lines I won’t cross, to keep my family safe at home, and that threshold was reached. I would have LOVED to see Billy Strings’ whole set, and then to have moved on to watch the Foos do their thing. Foo Fighters has been on my bucket list for a long time, but the level of intimacy it would have required for me to stay was just not something I was comfortable with this time around.

Foo Fighters at Innings Festival 2022 by Roger Ho

Overall, I had a fantastic day. I heard some great music, interacted with some amazing people, bought some awesome merch, and got to nerd out to baseball. I kept an open mind about my ability to stay an entire day in a festival/convention atmosphere, and while I gave it my best shot, at the end of the day, I’m just not ready to cram into a pit with a couple thousand other music nerds.

The fact that I’m not quite ready doesn’t mean this wasn’t a worthwhile endeavor by any means. Even with the early exit, it was a long, busy day. There was loads of space to cop a squat on a hill, or to find an angle from back by the medical tent, or just further back on the grass where there was more space between attendees. Whatever your comfort level, the Innings Festival folks did an AMAZING job making spaces available for every attendee.

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