In the early stages of 2022, Brainquility Music Festival has some of the smartest people in the country packing up their things and heading over to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park for a weekend of discovery. Going to a festival is always an education. It’s a place where passionate music fans yearn to learn a new festival space, discover new music and meet new like-minded people. Brainquility is a growing beast that shakes the live oaks with performances by The Motet, deep-house producer Justin Martin, and alt-rockers, Big Something. It also features some of Florida’s best artists, coolest installations, and great food.
This smarty party (not sorry) is being held at the prestigious, hallowed grounds at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL. It is 800-acres of Spanish moss-draped oak and cypress ng the black Suwannee River. Complete with beach access, golf cart rentals, kayak rentals, and the largest bat house in the southeast U.S, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is one of the most beautiful live music venues in the country.
I arrive at the park on Thursday evening only to find out The Motet’s drummer, Dave Watts, has already sat in on “Get Up” with progressive-funk six-piece Ajeva from St. Pete., FL. He will be featured on their upcoming album as well as visual artist Stephen Barry, who is creating the album art for this heavily anticipated project due out in a month or two. I simply couldn’t get to the festival fast enough to catch the first highlight of the weekend, but I vow to catch them all from here on out! So I go directly to music instead of setting up camp in order to catch the best of each act.
Joslyn & The Sweet Compression’s lovely sound greets me at the top of the Amp Stage and slowly lowers me down into the bowl with their funky soul and R&B. After grooving to a few originals they sweeten the deal with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” Joslyn is slaying in her red dress while showing off her amazing voice. She’s impressive again when they cover Aretha’s “Dr. Feelgood” but so is trombone player Chase Fleming, who lets the crowd have it squealing his way to an enthusiastic applause. “Gimme Shelter” gives me goosebumps while they cover the iconic Rolling Stones song. This is a band on the rise and impressive all around.
Over at the Uncle Charles Porch Stage Derek VanScoten, known as Cloudchord, radiates chill-beats into the 72 degree air while the crowd grows in front of him. His technical skills and guitar work make his psychedelic and atmospheric dance music mesmerizing. I have to break the spell after only a few minutes of the Emmy winner from Austin, TX in order to set up camp.
I can still hear the music as I put up my tent and chairs lakeside for yet another wonderful weekend in my favorite places on the planet! The next set I catch is SIDE TRAKD featuring the saxophone player from Displace, Chris Sgamatto. They are in the place of Russ Liquid who couldn’t make it due to travel restrictions in the face of rising Covid numbers. Using house, funk, drum & bass, these two dazzle the now poppin party happening in the Amphitheater bowl. Revving up the crowd with samples of “Play That Funky Music” and Led Zepplin’s “Whole Lotta Love” mixed with distorted bass over top of driving beats. Sgamatto makes the music into a beautiful dance, finding places to fit his huge library of riffs into all the right spots.
From there I get a chance to hear Canada’s Moontricks who combine folk, blues and electronic music is a way that has them blazing a new trail in the EDM community. I can only stay for a little while before heading back to camp to eat dinner. I have to make sure to stay fueled up for this awesome festival! When I return to camp my festival friends feed me a great dinner of chicken and beef tacos with all the fixin’s. I feel like royalty, I feel like I’m loved, but most of all I feel full. Oh man, the walk up the hill at the Amp is so much steeper now.
I still have room for more music as I arrive back at the Amp Stage for The Motet! Drummer Dave Watts leads a group of stellar musicians which includes guitarist Ryan Jalbert, bassist Garrett Sayers, keyboardist Joey Porter, and saxophonist Drew Sayers. The lights are blue and purple, keeping the band mostly in shadow. Garrett Sayers sounds so good on bass! His notes are moving the air in and out of my lungs as I grip the railing up at the front of the crowd. I fall into a musical trance during the set, a type of bliss I only get when I am enveloped by so much good music that I forget about everything else around me. Dancing and lights are my only thoughts as I ride wave after wave of solos from saxophonist Drew Sayers. I can feel every note they are playing in my chest as they move into their biggest song, “Nemesis.” They stretch out the heavy synth enough to fit a tease of David Bowie’s “Fame” in the jam portion of their staple song. The Motet employ a fantastic light show that is very evident during the playing of their next song, “Speed of Light.” They finish with a new tune they’ve been working on called, “Backseat” then “Rynodub” which sounds like the underground world below Bowsers castle. They conclude this bad ass set with “Fountain.” Drew Sayers and Joey Porter both turn up the weird for this last tune as the song drives forward with strong bass and sustain from the saxophone. Weird, cool, funky, jazzy, you-name-it, these guys bring it to Brainquility 2022!
After a festival night’s sleep I wake up in my tent to the cold rain. It rains all morning and afternoon, threatening the day’s activities. Brainquility cancelled an entire day of music in the past, so the weather has me concerned about what the evening holds. Scheduling the music to start at 5pm helps allow the weather to pass and gives the badass production crew a chance to dry things out. In the meantime I enjoy a chicken salad croissant sandwich and enjoy the sound of the rain on my tent.
I make a break for music and check out Honey Hounds in the Amphitheater. This blues trio from Jacksonville, FL is talented and has my booty shakin’ almost instantly. I know what’s “Going Down Tonight” as I walk up to the set. They get funky playing “Next Life,” an upbeat sound which borders on disco; so fast and good. The rain begins to ease up as they slide into “Jungle Boogie.” They make it their own and everyone in the Amp can’t help but shake it! Guitarist, Nick Izzard’s skills shine during “Thousand Ships” before they launch into a medley. Suddenly, Disco balls are swinging and lit from the ceiling of the stage and huge bubbles fill the air above me. It’s a party in here! The music doesn’t stop and neither does the dancing as they move to “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” by Rod Stewart with Big Something’s Casey Cranford providing the sax solos! What a set! Don’t miss these guys!
Next up is Future Joy from Denver, Co. They’re hosting a dance party with their original mix of dance, sax, and soul! The hootenanny kicks up a notch when they play Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” I bounce around the room to the catchy, bass heavy tracks checking out the vendors and enjoying being at the park with a sweet soundtrack backing me.
Here is where things get tricky… The Spirit of Suwannee is the target of another wave of this rainy cold front that sends nearly everyone seeking shelter. It lets up for a few minutes as Big Something and the production crew race to eliminate unwanted buzzing from the feed. Big Something has the most difficult set times so far and the crew is working hard to put on a great show. They get a late start and patrons have to stand in a torrential downpour, but other than that… the set is fantastic! The long, winding intro blossoms with cool solos and moments from lead guitarist Jesse Hensley and bassist Doug Marshall as the band continues to push us up the stormy hill like a locomotive. I’m wearing a great rain jacket and can change later, so I think I can stay for a few more minutes. The rain intensifies. Unphased, Cranford leads the guys in the reggae centered tune “Bob & Weave” on the electronic wind instrument and now, I think I can stay a little longer. It’s a great tune with beautiful solos but I am one of the last brave souls out here to witness the lengthy song’s great false ending. Next, they launch into David Bowie’s “Fame.” I can’t stand in the rain any longer. My jacket is failing and my shorts are soaked through forcing me to head for my tent. I need to make sure my belongings are surviving without my supervision.
The storm lets up long enough for me to catch some of Niles Shepard spinning their house music on the Porch Stage. Cameron Windsor and Jim Brenk make up the house duo repping Minneapolis, MN. It is fun and fast paced so it has my immediate approval! Next I checked out some of Maddy O’neal, who brings the bass from Denver, CO. Her versatility and creativity have been essential in connecting with her audiences. For our set we get the heaviest bass of the day. Rippling and deep, the vibrations from the subwoofers would be moving my hair if I wasn’t headbanging so hard. Just when it’s getting too swampy for me, she introduces guitar and horn samples to lighten up the experience. I can see why she is moving up in the electronic world.
I applaud the Brainquility production team for keeping the show going through this inclimate weather. They move headliner Justin Martin to the porch stage because of the sound troubles in the Amphitheater. Martin is the co-founder of Dirtybird Records and has been serving up his brand of deep house since his debut in 2003. His hit song then, “Sad Piano” is still one of his biggest now. He has just released a three song EP on Valentine’s Day named Tears, driving home his melancholy point of view.
After the scheduled music ends I run around the park with my friends to find more live music for a few hours. I walk up on Future Joy entertaining a large crowd from the back of a school bus conversion. These guys crushed set after set at No Resolutions earlier in the year and I’m glad I get to see a bit more of the magic here at the Spirit tonight! Next, I find myself at another camp to check out some of Ajeva with Sgamatto on sax. This is my kind of music and I stay until they stop playing, hanging with old friends and meeting a bunch of new ones until the sun threatens to show its face.
Saturday morning is cold. The rain has let up but people still emerge from their cocoons cautiously. It’s gotten to be very chilly, so I put on all my winter clothes and get ready for more music down at the Amp. today’s first group is Shevonne & The Force. Shevonne is from Tampa, FL. She sings, produces, raps, and has paired with the force to bring her eclectic style to the smarty pants at Brainquility 2022. The Force’s guitarist is wearing an LED sunglasses/hat combo and is crushing on with his look as well as his skills. She has great vocals and asks the crowd if they are feeling sexy before playing Aliyah’s “Are You That Somebody.” Everyone here knows the words and we help them out with the 90’s R&B sing-along. She takes us farther down the rabbit hole with a Lil’ Jon cover of “Get Low” where the band drops out during the chorus so she can sing with greater emphasis. She does share a bit of her lighter side with the crowd by playing her acoustic single, “Something Better,” about getting out of a bad relationship.
I enjoy some great food my friends have prepared at camp before making my way back to the Amphitheater for the digital duo MZG. The cold crowd shows up for Jacksonville’s Monozygotic (MZG) that has played the park numerous times. The twins put on a great show with in-step dance moves and even getting on the monitors up front for a few moments! I’m having a blast with all these fun covers made into their own songs with the right mix of womp and pace. Bass driven hip-hop and electronica? Check!
Now it’s time to get funky with some of the best house music of the weekend, Megan Hamilton. Her house music is so much fun! My entire squad shows up for this one and they stay the whole set! Representing Westwood Recordings, Hamilton is on the same label as the Funk Hunters. I’m interested in watching her play because she is actively working up there, spinnin’ records and mixing sounds. The only music I recognize is a Sofi Tukker track and she talks about the new funk track she just created with K+Lab. She’s used to creating funky riots at house parties by playing tracks like “What’s Good For Ya,” but to cause people to lose themselves out here at the Spirit of Suwannee is a whole nother animal. She finishes off with a fantastic house version of Twista’s “Overnight Celebrity.”
Daily Bread is one of the hottest producers on the planet right now, making a big name for himself playing growing crowds festival after festival. Armed with his jazz guitar skills, Rhett Whatley set out to dominate the electro-soul and hip-hop sound. The lights are awesome for this set and they’re enhanced by the numerous LED hula-hoops blazing through the darkness all around me. “Moon Slips Away” is a new track he debuts for arguably the biggest crowd of the weekend. My friends are dressed as Waffle House employees handing out freshly cooked waffles and syrup because they were so excited that Daily Bread and Lazy Syrup Orchestra were playing one after another at Brainquility. And just like the Daily Bread drops the “Waffle House” song with his name in in their letters. Happiness ensues. For some of my friends; bliss.
I pop over to the Porch Stage for a few moments of Defunk! He is impressive with his mix of funk, blues, soul and bass. I get to dance for a minute at his set before returning to my friends who are finishing Daily Bread in the Amp. With both awesome sets coming to a conclusion, it is time for Sugar Bush, Canada’s Lazy Syrup Orchestra! These guys produce, spin, play trumpet and keys! It’s so good the beer guy is busting out all his greatest moves right here in front of me. What a show! The Lazy Syrup Orchestra consists of Dunks (The Funk Hunters), Thomas Workshop (The Soul Hop Committee) & various members of live bands Love You Miss You and Wooden Horsemen. Mark Woodyard comes up to the lip of the stage and catches a totem thrown above the crowd to him. Here he raps the lyrics of OutKast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad” over their unique mix of party sounds. From here they drop into a Santana “Black Magic Woman” sample accompanied by a fantastic trumpet solo. Live instruments for the win!
I sneak away from the group for a taste of Late Night Radio w/ DEF3. His hybrid electro-mix of soul, hip-hop, and funk make him a must see. Even if the rest of your crew wants to go back to camp. DEF3 brings the heavy hitting lyrics and we have ourselves a celebration! In addition to DEF3, he has a little help from Borham Lee from BTTRFLY QUINTET and Break Science. People are really feeling it for this downtempo soulful set.
Last but not least for the weekend is the all star cast of BTTRFLY QUINTET! The newly formed project consists of; Eric “Benny” Bloom (Lettuce), Dominc Lalli (Big Gigantic), Adam Deitch (Lettuce), Borahm Lee (Break Science/PL Live Band) and Hunter Roberts (Break Science Live). They bring an improvisational future jazz to the finale of Brainquility 2022. The music they are producing is great. I think they have a nice performance considering it’s their second show ever!
After the music ends the park is once again relatively quiet and I am tired. So I fall asleep early after a very satisfying weekend of music. I feel like the smartest kid in class coming to Brainquility this year. I learned about so many producers and musicians. Constantly increasing and evolving my musical taste has led me to the soul, funk and bass at Brainquility 2022 headlined by The Motet, Justin Martin, and Big Something.
Special thanks to Mandi Nulph (@mandisaysdance) for Brainquility Live Photos 2022!
Brainquility Music Festival Live Review by Spencer Storch.
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