Suwannee Rising 2022 delivers fresh funk, soul, and rock to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL on April 07-09. This three day music and arts festival is a direct descendant of Wanee and Bear Creek. Those beloved experiences help shape this year’s festival lineup. Rising turns up the heat with the soulful St. Paul & the Broken Bones, classic funk from George Porter Jr. & Dumpstaphunk (performing the Meters), New Orleans’ style funk from Galactic, and falsetto soul courtesy of Durand Jones & the Indications. Plus Neal Francis, North Mississippi Allstars, Polyrhythmics, the Nth Power Ball and so much more!
First up for this stacked Thursday lineup is Fusion Jonez. A funk/jazz fusion band from Charleston, SC looking to give the people of Suwannee a good time. Right away I can tell that guitarist Walker King has talent. His work is inspirational for a great weekend as he shows strength and technical treats in the upbeat blues jam, “Monk.” Next they bring up vocalist Aubrey Rodger’s for “Misbehave.” She can dance in addition to belting out the lyrics to this funk song. They finish up the upbeat set with “Vox” which has thunder coming from drummer Asher DiBernardo who leads the fast paced funk tune.
Next up at the Amp is Butcher Brown from Richmond, VA. These guys take jazz to the next level with hip-hop, rap, rock and soul influences. I am instantly in the groove with them as we battle the heat of the day. Saxophone player and MC Marcus Tenney creates a powerful vibe with his linguist lashings but the funky jazz from the band still remains the focus. They get low and snazzy in a song called “777.” Tenney flows over the beat before soloing with his trumpet. This is fantastic and jive af. I “get loose on the next joint” as they play “Lysol” from their ‘17 Live At Vagabond record. I love the feeling of the bass thumping in my chest. Feels so good to be alive and back at the Spirit of Suwannee! Just when we least expect it, DJ Harrison (Will Smith) slaps the shit out of the crowd (Chris Rock) with a show stopping organ solo. Sheesh! The band joins back in to complete the song on their way to playing “Cabbage” to finish the set. People will be talking about this set tomorrow!
I have some camp time before returning to the music venue for Heather Gillis Band. She and her band are showing off their North Florida rock, soul, and roots this evening on the Porch Stage. As I walk in they begin playing a mysterious sounding blues number, “Staying Up All Night.” I love the green visual projection that covers the top of the stage and bleeds into the lush trees above. My mind is completely stimulated when they launch into “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix. The cover allows Gillis to flex her fingers, letting out a smokin’ solo on guitar as she and the band crush the upbeat tune. The set features a ton of cool, but dark, funky blues songs and they are putting out serious vibes.
New Orleans funk squad, Galactic, assembles on the Amp Stage for another stellar set. Ten albums, two thousand gigs, and twenty five years of funk from this jazzy jam band have led to this wonderful moment at the Rising ‘22. Ben Ellman starts the show off right with a lengthy harmonica solo during the peppy “Dominio.” The trees behind the Amp are changing colors to the music! Vocalist Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph stands before the crowd in all black with her daughter by her side while drummer Stanton Moore bouncing as he paints the skins. It gets even funkier with “Cineramascope!” The lights flash and fade with purples, greens, yellows representing the Crescent City. The trumpeter sizzles as he lets loose a heater of a solo. “Higher and Higher” is next and Joseph blasts the crowd with her powerful singing! They hit “Hey Na Na” on their way to “Goin’ Down Slowly” featuring a showcase for both the sax and trumpet. The crowd is moving to the beat, hands up all over the place! No one can escape the funk radiating from the Amp Stage right now! Every booty here is shakin’ to the sounds of this royal funk band. Psychonaut Neal Francis takes his spot on the keys as they explore Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can.” After the sit-in, they play “Crazyhorse Mongoose” and finish with “Dollar Diva” for all the good looking ladies in the crowd. Ellman bookends the set with another harmonica solo and sends the smitten crowd out into the night.
I get a taste of Joe Marcinek Band on the Porch Stage. This rotating band features Joe Marcinek on guitar, Jason Hann (String Cheese Incident) playing drums, Steve Molitz (Particle) on keys, Ola Timothy slappin’ the bass, and Songbird Shella with vocals. Songbird wrote all the music for the set except for one. Molitz starts us on a solo safari with crazy animal noises coming from the stage. Marcinek shines with a bright solo as they move through “George” and “Still Got It.” Guest vocalists Melody Trucks and Jessica Jones help finish the set with a lengthy “Baby Come Back” by Player.
Thursday finishes with retro-driven fusion of classic r&b, blues, and psychedelic rock! Neal Francis is a piano prodigy who has already toured with the likes of Muddy Waters’ son as well as being a prominent member of Atlanta funk band, The Heard. Tonight, they play a ton off of their ‘21 record, In Plain Sight, including “Can’t Stop the Rain,” “Alameda Apartments,” and “Problems.” These four are glued together musically while crowding together as much as possible on stage. Neal sits at his keys in his paisley collared shirt while his sweaty Samurai guitarist Kellen Boersma rocks a tan fringe jacket that makes him cooler than the other side of the pillow. Suwannee Lighting Director Griff Collins dazzles our pupils with impossible timing and creative color swatches during “Don’t Call Me No More.” He really shows what he’s made of this set, but has been more than fantastic all day long. The group climbs higher and higher, taking the song to the tallest peaks. It’s at this point Boersma fires off a jaw-clenching solo on guitar. Like, just wow. He is molesting and manhandling his guitar like it owes him money! His lean, his style, and familiarity with his instrument are all truly impressive. My hair is completely blown back as they jog over to their biggest song, “Can’t Stop the Rain.” I can’t help but strut around the Amp to this intoxicating music. More than a set, this is an experience! Pushed over by the strength of this psychedelic hurricane coming from the stage, I could limbo right now! This jam has me leaning into the wind! The drummer, Collin O’Brien, wakes me from the dream by scratching the tip of his stick down the length of his crash symbol. Impressive again, Neal Francis and friends play the super fun “BNYLV” before finishing this top shelf show with “She’s A Winner!” Whew! I was not expecting this! I stand here flabbergasted with my jaw on the floor. This is not the same band I saw at Gasparilla just a few weeks ago!
The day begins with the regal horns and funk! Ernie Johnson From Detroit is a full band with nine members on stage. This Cincinnati based Afrobeat funk band combines jazz and psychedelic funk to help you dance away your troubles. Today they are all dressed as mechanics in blue jumpsuits with name tags that say Ernie. The last song they play is an upbeat number called “Titty Bounce” and they also take a moment to promote their annual riverboat cruise known as Pelicans on the Breeze!
Playing in the beautiful sunshine today on the Porch Stage is the funk and hip-hop experimental band from St. Pete. The Headtones have Golden Era’s MC Nook Nguyen for the first song of the set. Off to a good start, it’s not long though until new guitarist Stephanie Perez takes over. She pricks our ears with a stinging solo after solo. Constantly turning in extra credit, Perez is at the top of her class on electric guitar. Even her stank face is on point as they rip through the set. Their eclectic sound has them flexing turntables before they touch on a reggae beach vibe.
Next up for Suwannee Rising’s listening pleasure is the Jacksonville southern rock jam band, Bonnie Blue. They mix Allman Bros., and Dead covers in with tasty original songs to satisfy their fans. The first cover today is Bobby Lee Rodgers’ funky Southern jam “Outer Space.” Guitarist Bradley Churchman impresses right off the bat and we have lift off! A slower song spaces me out before they launch into “Ride Me High” by JJ Cale. A song often covered by Widespread Panic and Billy Strings has the attention of the crowd. Keys player John Wilson orbits the Amphitheater with a great solo when they land in Traffic’s “The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys.” They are so good! I’m having such a great time when they shift back into Cale’s “Ride Me High.” Aiming to impress, they complete the pair of songs by returning to Traffic’s tune once more! Whew! A couple of originals later and they have invited a horn section to join them. This set has been fantastic and I have musicians in my group telling me it has been their favorite so far this weekend and it’s hard for me to disagree.
This weekend music fans are lucky to get a chance to see the pride of Bloomington Indiana. A contemporary R&B and soul outfit named Durand Jones and the Indications has arrived at the Spirit. This groovy group of musicians is led by drummer and singer Aaron Frazer as well as guitarist Black Rhein. Durand Jones is of course the lead singer of this stellar squad. These guys have produced three awesome albums, but none better than their most recent offering, Private Spaces, which contains the monster hit, “Witchoo.” Frazer shows off his falsetto skills right away before keys player Steve Okonski shines on “Love Will Work It Out.” Things get so much sexier when they slide into “Cruisin’ To the Park.” Swoon! I can’t help but get lost in the intimacy of this set. I’ve become infatuated with them as they finish with “More Than Ever.”
The most anticipated set of the weekend might be Dumpstaphunk with George Porter Jr. They are performing the music of GPJ’s band, The Meters. I walk into the Amp while they are playing the Dumpstaphunk song, “Justice!” No Porter Jr. as of yet, but Tony Hall is on guitar today and he is ripping! They play “Do You” which is another Dumpstaphunk original. Dumpsta and The Meters are both New Orleans funk bands and they are here to do this right. GPJ and company began their funk outfit in ‘65 whereas Dumpstaphunk began in ‘02. The Meters have been awarded with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in addition to their classic song, “Cissy Strut” being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in ‘11. Tonight, Alex Wasily pops off a big trombone solo before they glide into “Soul Island!” Porter Jr. has joined the band and says hello to the crowd with a steady solo. Floating like a butterfly during “Cabbage Alley,” we see Hall and Porter Jr.’s impressive aerial displays as they swirl in the center of the stage. It’s at this point I sneak away from my friends and head to the top of the Amp. The Florida School of Massage is a lovely place for a rub down while they wrap up the set with “Just Kissed My Baby.” It’s feel-good music while I’m feelin’ good. They get on a run with “The World Is a Little Bit Under the Weather” into “Another Point of View” by Bootsy Collins. You could try to fight the funk but as they glide into the last song, “It Ain’t No Use.” What a good time!
The music I am most familiar with this weekend is next. Seattle’s progressive funk and afrobeat group has been a staple of my weekly music schedule. Since 2010, Polyrhythmics have been tearing up the NorthWest. They start their first of two sets this weekend with “Lord of the Fries,” drawing in fans with the enticing smell of crunchy grooves. It doesn’t take long for the sultry spy music to hypnotize the growing crowd. They hit me with “Bowling Green” from the 2017 album Caldera before showing off their ‘21 single, ”Papusa Strut.” These guys satisfy me over and over again with creative and funky riffs from all angles. They are simply fantastic at adding and subtracting rhythms at precisely the right time. It feels so good to watch my friends fall in love with this band the way I have. I tried to explain that the Polyrhythmics are HOT LAVA! Their sound is smooth like butter as it creeps down a tall stack of pancakes. The molten funk flows from the Porch Stage as they finish with “Stinky Fingers.”
Finishing up my Friday night is Franc Moody from London, England. At its core, the band is Ned Franc and Jon Moody. They first became popular with the release of their 2018 album, Dance Moves. The British gentlemen are tall and have blonde Mohawks. The bassist also catches my attention immediately with her playing as well as her outfit. Rosetta Carr came dressed in a blue suit and wow does she mean business. They zoom into the funky disco pop song “Super Star Struck” before turning up the party for “Skin On Skin.” We cut up the Amp dance floor while they play the ironic “Raining in LA.” These fine folks from London throw quite a beautiful rave. The level of musicianship is more than I expected as they crush “She’s Too Good For Me.” The set breezes by while I follow Carr’s every move. Her tone and her presence have so much punch! The crowd is in a full lather as they hit me with “Dance Moves.” The set and the day ends with major success. It was so cool to see Franc Moody after they have travel troubles for Hulaween. Thank y’all for the great tunes!
I have a blast at camp to start the day on Saturday. Hanging with new friends and my old favorites makes Rising ‘22 a festival to remember. Watching the way people grow together and how they are so eager to share with one another. Snacks pour into the center of camp while another couple shares bloody Mary’s around the circle. Something magical at the Spirit creates this utopian society where people can be their best selves. It’s a place where what you do for a living doesn’t define you. Where people are courteous and loving to all they meet. Under the Spanish moss and in front of these stages we hug and squeeze our friends who over time become our family.
Musically speaking, the Polyrhythmics lead the way for Saturday sets. The afrobeat band is the only one to have two performances this weekend. I for one am thirsty for another when I arrive at the Amp Stage. This band has such power in their riffs. Their composition is laced with class and intrigue as they weave an intricate net to ensnare my attention. They pour me all a tall glass of “The Cutdown” before cooling off with “Labrador.” Go see this band live!
From there I hang in the shadows near the Porch Stage for Cowford Town Band from Jacksonville, FL. Cowford is a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll band but it’s also what the Jax area was originally called. Lead guitarist Nat Spaulding Jr. sizzles in the hot sun with a solo during their hit song, “Snake Bite.” The sun is too hot however and I split for camp.
I return to the venue for exquisite blues and southern rock created by North Mississippi Allstars. They are anchored by the ridiculously talented Dickinson brothers. Luther (guitar) and Cody (drums) founded the band in Hernando, MS in 1996. Together they create such synergy it’s hard to deny! They start with a Doc Watson cover, “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” Cody sounds so good painting the skins and his kick drum is driving me to have a great time. Luther gets his chance to be the star with a sick solo that is highlighted by a quick recovery from a missed note. He adjusts his amp before administering a huge dose of electric guitar to the ailing crowd. “I’d Love to Be Hippy” leads into the next tune where Cody lets loose a massive solo. He shows off his stick control before impressing with his limb independence. They zing the crowd with “Up & Running” which is always an adventure! The song intensifies with an Allman Brothers Band “Blue Sky” jam portion before landing back in the NMA original. This band is fantastic and should not be missed!
I hit camp to eat dinner with my friends before returning for St. Paul & the Broken Bones. Singer Paul Janeway leads this Southern soul outfit with passion. He and his team have released four studio albums, none more popular than their ‘18 record, Young Sick Camellia. St. Paul had solidified themselves as leaders in the soul community with hit songs like “Apollo” and “Gotitbad.” Tonight, Janeway shows off his vocal prowess right away. This guy can hit notes that I’ve only seen on TV. The talent in this headlining band is immense. The horn section gets their chance to show off with a rising tide solo from trumpeter Allen Branstetter. He recedes into the waves of the chorus provided by the rest of the band. Next, Drummer Kevin Leon crashes into the spotlight with a splashing solo. This guy really knows how to hang ten. Suwannee LD Griff Collins takes things up a notch when the band surfs into their hit song, “Mighty River.” They cruise through an extended jam portion telling me they recognize they have to ride the swell of Rising ‘22! It’s at this point that Janeway lays down on the ground and wraps himself in the rug that he has been standing on. Browan Lollar throws him a life preserver with a lengthy solo on electric guitar. His furious tapping is supported by Al Gamble’s expert slalom on the keys. Janeway isn’t done with his antics yet as he tosses one of his own shoes behind himself as he sings “Call Me Baby!” These guys brought it! Can’t wait to see these fine musicians in the future!
I fuel up at camp before heading back in for the last time this weekend. The final set belongs to the Nth Power Ball. The Nth Power is a relentlessly funky soul band who believes that great music has the power to heal! Tonight they will bring on special guests in order to send Suwannee Rising ‘22 out with a bang! On stage this evening is Nick Cassarino (guitar, Nth Power), Nikki Glaspie (drums, Nth Power), Nate Edgar (bass, Nth Power), Pete Levin (keys & vocals), Jennifer Hartswick (trumpet & vocals, Trey Anastasio Band), Scotty Flynn (trumpet, John Brown’s Body & Odesza), Jonathan Mones (flute, Ghost Note), Maggie Noelle (vocals, Magnolia Boulevard), Greg Erwin (guitar, Magnolia Boulevard), and Vand & Melody Trucks (guitar & vocals, percussion, Melody Trucks Band)! Set includes big time covers like “Ain’t Wastin’ No More Time” by Allman Brothers Band, “What Love Will Make You Do” by Jerry Garcia Band, a cool reworked version of the Beatles “Hey Jude,” and a crushing rendition of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” Erwin pushes on the throttle and has our yacht doing forty knots on the intercoastal! Pour me another glass of champagne as the bioluminescent waves crash upon the bow of the S.S. Suwannee Rising! The lights are fading colors behind the Amp as they launch into “Spanish Moon.” The set ends with big covers like “Terrapin Station” by the Dead and “Whipping Post” by ABB.
And just like that, Rising ‘22 is over. I head back to camp where we eat prime rib and laugh about the weekend. I’ve made so many more friends and the music has been way better than anyone in my network expected. Bravo to the bands this weekend, you made Suwannee Rising ‘22 the best it could be!
Suwannee Rising 2022 Live Review by Spencer Storch.
Suwannee Rising 2022 Live Review by Jay Strausser, courtesy of Rising.
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