Legendary! Epic! Beyond words amazing! Those are things I’ve been telling friends about this year’s Suwannee Hulaween, but there’s much more I could say about this festival now that I’ve had some time to reflect.
One of the first things that blew me away about this year was the size of the crowd. Holy shit! I’ve never seen the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park so packed in my experience of attending multiple festivals over the past few years. From what I’ve heard, this was a record turnout for the park and it was certainly evident from the aerial shot I saw of the main stage field.
I arrived early on Wednesday, before anything started, to stake out a good spot near Spirit Lake so I could do a little less hiking this year. It was apparently a good call because the Thursday pre-party was already getting as packed as most other Suwannee festivals are for the whole weekend. Wow!
The pre-party was a blast! I didn’t catch last year’s, but having all the artists play at the Amphitheater Stage was an excellent way to go. It was surprising how full the amphitheater was for just a pre-party though!
I didn’t catch as many of the pre-party sets as I had intended because I had to direct incoming friends to my “secret spot” that I saved, but my number one highlight of the night was EOTO’s explosively wompadelic set. In case you didn’t know, EOTO is a side project of Michael Travis and Jason Hann of the String Cheese Incident. This is definitely a project worth keeping an eye out for. They will also be headlining and closing out Zen Awakening festival near Orlando on its final day, Sunday, November 22nd.
I have to mention Joe Russo’s Almost Dead as near tie for me. They closed out last year’s Hulaween with the final set and absolutely dumbfounded me with the most profound renditions of the Grateful Dead that I’ve ever seen. Had my brain not been rattled loose from EOTO’s elephant-stomping bass, this would have been the ultimate highlight of my night.
My Friday began with Post Pluto’s funktastic space voyage. The guys were dressed as astronauts with sweet 70’s afros. I was especially pleased to hear some songs from their new album, New Horizons, as well as some of my old favorites. Post Pluto is definitely rocketing to new heights in the festival scene with their contagiously danceable funky jams. Here’s a video my buddy took:
Another major highlight of my day was The Polish Ambassador at the main stage. I had seen this artist a couple times before, but never with the massive crowd that he attracted for this set. I introduced a friend to his music and saw the process of a mind getting blown; I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m sure there were plenty of blown minds actually. Everyone around me was getting DOWN! This was my favorite daytime set. The video below captures more of a mellow moment, but I assure you, the set overall was a cannon shooting out phat balls of bass-heavy fun.
Undoubtedly, Earphunk and the Floozies were out of this world, but I experienced an unbelievable amount of sensory overload with the first day of Spirit Lake being open. The art installations this year blew last year out of the water big time. The art was MASSIVE and there was way more of it. It was nice to see some of last year’s pieces added back in also. I hear next year’s Spirit Lake is going to expand even further around the lake and keep incorporating the works of previous years. I can’t wait!
Friday was the first Cheese set, so that was absolutely not to be missed. I watched the stage being built since I got to the park early and I thought I had an idea of how epic their performance would be. Nope. No words are worthy enough to describe this. I see now that Cheeseheads are diehard with good reason. To me, this is the most ultimate jam band of our time, at least that I’ve experienced.
Aside from the Cheese sets, my top highlight of the whole night was Papadosio’s set. I could not have asked for a more perfect setlist! They played almost all the songs I wanted to hear from their new album and took the extended jams to deep space and back. My buddy and I were all smiles the whole time as we sang along and danced. Particularly amusing was the fact that all the members were dressed as Muppets. I was overflowing with all kinds of good feels. So so so good!!! I’m glad someone captured the whole thing.
Primus was off-the-scale wild beyond imagination at the amphitheater as well! It’s so gratifying to see them make their recent comeback. They have proved to me time and time again over the past year that they are still every bit as relevant and energetic (if not more so) than they were at their height in the 90’s. They played some killer renditions of some of my favorites including “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” “Mr. Krinkle,” “My Name Is Mud,” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” Even though the amphitheater was packed solid, I still fully enjoyed my experience all the way in the back. This was a worthy top-of-the-bill headliner. Check it out, the Sober Goat caught the whole set on video for your viewing pleasure too.
I wish I could say I saw Pretty Lights, but the Spirit Lake vortex sucked me back in. I was perfectly fine with that direction though. Dopapod is one of my favorite bands and their set was on fire! This was excellent background music for touring more of the art installations too. There were giant monsters, aliens from a landed saucer, fiery metal sculptures, trippy paintings, and everything in between. As if that wasn’t enough, everyone was just getting warmed up for Halloween with all kinds of extravagant costumes. Again, my only complaint (is it though?) is that there was too damn much to look at and play with! Anyway, here’s most of Dopapod’s set, in case you love them as much as I do.
That was pretty much the end of my night for music. The silent disco was totally packed. I hope that gets expanded next year somehow to allow more people. In any case, I was ready to hang out with friends around a campfire and unload all of the “holy shits” from my mind. Hot damn.
My Saturday (Halloween day) kicked off with Flat Land’s set at the Campground Stage. Though they are friends of mine, I honestly don’t think it’s biased to say that this is one of Florida’s most talented and unique bands. After their powerful performance at Hulaween, I predict that their fan base is about to explode in numbers. In case you haven’t seen them yet, Flat Land is an energetic poppy, funky, rockin’ group out of Gainesville with a tendency to throw all-out, fun-loving celebrations at their shows. Hulaween was no exception, but they definitely outdid themselves with a whole cast of dazzling, colorful characters in morph suits that showed up on stage towards the end of their set and jumped into the crowd with all kinds of hilarious antics and wild dances. This was one of my top five most fun moments of the whole festival. Hopefully a video surfaces soon!
I mostly walked around the park taking small samplings of everything on Saturday. It was fun to see all the crazy costumes people were rocking. I have to say, compared to last year, this year was more spirited in every aspect, including the creativity and spirit of the attendees. Me? I dressed as a Jedi again. I really love Star Wars. Who doesn’t? :p
Anyway, Cheese stole the show altogether for me. Their “Ghoul Train” set, hosted by GZA of Wu-Tang fame, was the top highlight of my whole festival experience. Hands down, fucking phenomenal! I couldn’t find a single person who was sitting still when they laid all that classic poppy funk down. If you only watch one video from this whole review, this should be the one. I will never forget the excitement I felt as I jammed this out with some of my best friends. The bar has been set insanely high for next year. I can’t wait to see what’s to come! Full set here!
Odesza was an awe-inspiring followup to the two sets of String Cheese. Maybe I picked up some fumes from someone 😉 but this was one of the most otherworldly, dream-like experiences of my weekend. I actually put so much energy into it that I had to take a break for awhile. I didn’t even catch Chance the Rapper or the New Mastersounds, but from what I’ve heard, they served up some of their best performances ever. I guess that’s just how festival life is. No regrets though. Anyway, check out the beginning of this Odesza set! Hell yeah!
I think it’s important at festivals to set time aside to visit friends’ campsites and chill at times. I have to note here that I saw some of the most astounding setups at Hulaween that I’ve ever seen. Some people brought full independent sound systems and we had unofficial live music happening throughout the campgrounds into the wee hours of the morning. I got sucked into watching some of those bands instead of checking out scheduled music a lot more than I could have expected and I love that! In that regard, I have to mention Energy in Motion, whom I was fortunate to be camped near, and the collaborative set I saw between Leisure Chief and Shak Nasti, which are two of Orlando’s most awesome bands.
Unlike most festivals, Hulaween still packs some serious punch on its final day. I made sure not to overdo my Saturday night so I could catch as much goodness as possible for Sunday fun day.
I mostly wandered around catching bits and pieces of bands in the morning while snacking and such, but my day really started with Holey Miss Moley. This is another Florida band that is up-and-coming in the bigger picture and one of my personal favorites. If you’re not familiar, they’re a funky, jazzy, rocking band out of St. Pete and their sound is unlike anything else we have going on at the moment. I haven’t found a video from Hulaween yet, but they are definitely worth looking up!
And what else can I say about the String Cheese Incident? They never disappoint. They definitely saved us all kinds of goodness for the last day. I don’t know how they manage to play seven sets with no repeats and keep the party going with every single song. Again, in my experience, there is no jam band that can touch the greatness of Cheese. Don’t tell them, but I think they’re kind of a big deal. :p
GRiZ was probably the heaviest set of the weekend; I’m not sure since it was impossible to see everything, but from what I did see, this was the most intense party of them all (setting Cheese aside, of course). That bass was just NASTY, I tell you! Check it out!
With that said, the honorable mentions of my day include a funked up, balls-to-the-wall Lettuce set (which I saw only a little of honestly) and one of the best TAUK sets (possibly the best) I’ve ever seen. Good heavens, what talent. I spent every last ounce of the energy I saved from Saturday night on TAUK’s spacey, rocked out set. There’s a reason they’re invited to pretty much every festival ever lately; their sound explores the outermost frontiers of jazz and rock like no other. If you haven’t gotten into them yet, there’s no time like the present. This was one of my top five performances and a fantastic way to finish out my Hulaween experience. Here’s part of TAUK’s set.
Let me not discount the last bit of Sound Tribe Sector 9 that I ran over to see afterward. I’m sure their whole set was every bit as good as TAUK’s, but I was not able to pull myself away sooner. STS9 delivered an excellent closing number with their song “Instantly.” Alien magic I tell you. Check out Richie’s (The Sober Goat) view of it from the ferris wheel!
On that note, it was hard to believe how instantly the weekend flew by. It was all such a blur — a gigantic whirlwind of so many unbelievably amazing sights and sounds and feels that I couldn’t possibly bottle it up and deliver to someone else with mere words. This is all the more reason for a newcomer to check out next year’s Suwannee Hulaween. Trust me when I say this, it is totally worth it!!! 🙂
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