“My kids grew up at Suwannee. One day after returning from a festival there my son started crying and said, ‘I want everyone to be like (the people at Suwannee),’” Jeff Mosier tells us from his home in Atlanta. The feeling Jeff’s son described resonates in a huge way with those of us devoted to the land of Live Oak canopies.
Blueground Undergrass, the rock n’ roll-banjo outfit Mosier fronted beginning in 1998, began visiting Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park at the earliest stage of their career. And while he gives the festival credit for providing a platform for their musical success, it is the people that keep him coming back all of these years later.
The park has such a unique audience. You feel honored to play here- not like you were hired. You were picked to play Suwannee,” says Mosier. The connection to the people is paramount. “Music is the demonstration of unity through sound, devoid of melanin,” he goes on to say. Today’s political climate makes no sense to a man who plays an “African instrument industrialized by whites.”
The folks at Suwannee seem to understand and live by a similarly inclusive ethos, if even for just a couple of weekends a year. “Why does the value system of Suwannee have to be vacation?” he asks.
Mosier makes a great point. Why can’t we interact like that on a daily basis- be liberal with our hugs and dancing, and generous with our resources?
There is a woman who camps by my father and me at every Suwannee roots festival. She plays the harpsichord in the bird sanctuary every festival morning. She volunteers to help people in need around her home. Last year she headed to Suwannee for some rest and relaxation after providing care for people displaced by hurricane Matthew. She loves Jeff Mosier. I begin to describe this woman, whose name is Kay.
“Kay Taylor!” Mosier exclaims. “Kay Taylor does not have the chip for evil. I feel like I need to go to church after talking with her because she is so awesome. Kay represents all that is right with the world.”
The conversation had begun to turn a little dark. Not in a way that either of us recognized, but politics and our current political discourse inevitably reared their heads. The mention of Kay snapped us both back to the good in the world and why Suwannee matters outside the festival grounds.
It can feel like an island, an anomaly in an otherwise hyper-negative world. The efforts of people like Jeff Mosier can feel like they fall on deaf ears. But Kay Taylor is listening and taking positive energy back into the greater society to be used for good.
She is as important as anyone on that stage,” Mosier tells me. Tupac Shakur once said, “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world. But I guarantee I will spark the brain that will change the world.”
The world seems to change a blistering pace when we are on our couches, affixed to our phones. “A couch is a coffin without a lid,” Mosier tells us. Suwannee provides a respite from our some time drone-like existence. Still, Mosier himself admits to being on social media “all the time.”
“We’ve kept up with the times, but the times haven’t kept up with us,” he says. When he was on tour playing banjo with Phish in 1990 they told him the internet revolution was coming. “We have more music today, but there is less involvement in live music. I think it is going to come back to a focus of moving slowly. You see the farm to table movement and a focus on quality beginning to make a comeback.”
Such is the reality of Suwannee. Even the organizers and shakers move slowly way down by the river. Mosier will be taking the Suwannee Spring Reunion stage with Pickled Holler, a family band with which Mosier will be making fun, accessible music. As he puts it, the band is a “therapeutic ensemble that will make people happy.” Such is why Jeff Mosier and his ilk matter to people like Kay, my father, and me.
Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, Verlon Thompson, Donna the Buffalo, Grandpa’s Cough Medicine and many more roots musicians will join Jeff Mosier and Pickled Holler at Suwannee for a much-needed reunion. When asked for his favorite moments from Suwannee, Jeff Mosier was at a loss for picking just one. Meeting and playing with legends like the aforementioned Rowan, and the late, great Vassar Clements were the pinnacle. Suwannee Spring Reunion will showcase these legends and more, playing one of the most interesting venues on the planet.
Why Can’t the World be a Music Festival? | An Interview with Jeff Mosier by Jason Earle
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