Suddenly, I’m awake! I find myself standing at the rail for the Turkuaz’s “Remain In Light” Talking Heads cover set. I find myself living in a shotgun shack—my tent. I find myself in another part of the world—Live Oak, FL. I find myself at a beautiful fest, with my beautiful fam … and I ask myself … WELL? How did I get here? Letting the days go by during the pandemic has not been easy. Loss of life and livelihood has hardened the turn into the 2020s, making it tough to handle. But, as we sneak out of the shadow from these once-in-a-lifetimes, the dream of concerts and live music has reawakened. Suwannee Hulaween 2021 helps us shake loose the cobwebs of inactivity, and stir the large, bubbling, and swirling cauldron cascading with six-sets of The String Cheese Incident, bass drops of Skrillex, the wigs of the smooth Khruangbin, and so much more deliciousness… Hulaween is back and is better than ever!
Losing the Ferris wheel is tough, but standing in its place is a new stage in the meadow named, The Hallows. It’s a badass stage which rivals The Amphitheater or the old Patch Stage in size and sound. This allows for a larger and more spacious VIP camping area, as well as quick travel times between sets. All around the festival improvements help 20,000 eager music fans to get into the park quickly and help them to see more! Our host for the weekend is the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL. A place so special for the artists and fans alike. A land where friends become family and you can meet the man or woman of your dreams (shout out to Cristina and Thomas who met @ Hula ‘19 and just got married last weekend!). You can meet the band of your dreams, too! Just a few years ago I met Knower and fell in love. But I digress, let’s talk about the magnificent, the mystical, Suwannee Hulaween 2021!
I arrive on the scene on Monday—that’s right, Monday. It’s time to create our temporary residence; our Hula village. I have the responsibility of taking up as much space as possible to hold for our friends. I have advanced tents which have been given to me by my friends, so we are able to set up an organized camp. Next I help my friend to put up tapestries. We will use them as privacy walls for the weekend. His taps are handmade tie dye and they are absolutely gorgeous. We can’t go ten minutes without a compliment from passers-by. By the time our camp fills in on Wednesday evening we have overhead lighting, hot showers, and air conditioned RV’s for our camping pleasure. Hours of conversations, texts, and meetings on site, our vision for a perfect camp has come true.
Kyle Hollingsworth /// S.P.O.R.E. /// Greensky Bluegrass /// Lespecial /// Umphrey’s McGee /// Lotus
Live music! Live music! It’s really happening! Kyle Hollingsworth Band (keys player for The String Cheese Incident) kicks things off at The Amphitheater Stage with a great cover of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and a smooth “People Everywhere (Still Alive)” Khruangbin cover. The band and the crowd are already in funny costumes.
From here I check out the blossoming Hulaween scene; buzzing from The Amp to the vendors and then over to the Spirit Lake Stage for S.P.O.R.E. Bringing solid jamtronica from their hometowns of Dunedin and Jacksonville. Their high energy, fist pumping music is just what I need to get my juices flowing. Opening with “Domoto” and “The Huddleston Shuffle” the crowd is already in a frenzy when Matt Weis smashes the big red button over and over sending us into overload. He hands it over to Joe Knoebel who detonates his guitar with an explosion of sound. They play “The Origin of Bim” spotlighting their bassist, Steve “The Evening” Honig. Finishing with “Ethereal,” I know one thing after this set, I will EAT MORE SPORE.
A skip back to camp for a quick bite and some laughs before hopping from camp and jumping back into the music at The Amphitheater Stage for Greensky Bluegrass. They open with “Living Over” to set their intense mood. It’s so nice to be back in a crowd again. People are smiling and having a good time around me as they play “A Letter to Seymour.” Guitarist Dave Bruzza brings the song to life with his singing and effortless flicks of his guitar.
They move into “Last Winter in Copper Country” where Bruzza powers the song with his playing before Michael Bonte on banjo brings it home. This song has the vibes up all the way as Paul Hoffman fills The Amp with his flawless mandolin playing. Top it off with a shot of Anders Beck on the dobro and lights from Andrew Lincoln. All of a sudden, my head is back and my body is swaying; I’m officially drunk on their sound. Subtle but vibrant, Lincoln’s skills are beyond reproach. Purples and oranges bounce from side to side while Hoffman picks for what seems to be an endless amount of time. The set finishes with a beautiful drive through “Windshield.” The sun is setting as I return to camp to find that Umphrey’s McGee drummer Kris Meyers had sat in with Lespecial while I was at Greensky! I can only shake my fist at the festy gods!! Why?! Lespecial also let out a huge “Killin’ In The Name,” by Rage Against The Machine.
Our SIGT Photographer, Daniel Garcia, caught the Lescpecial action, along with Break Science and GG MAGREE.
Prepped and ready I hurry down to The Amp without corralling my friends. This set is too important. Who is so good I could leave my friends for you ask? Why, its Umphrey’s McGee out of South Bend, IN. This prog-rock buzzsaw is always red hot and ready to go! Starting with a searing “Similar Skin” Umphrey’s means business. Ryan Stassik heats up the crowd with his warm and fuzzy, red bass.
All of a sudden they flip a switch and I am being attacked by aliens! Bright lights and strange sounds bombard me as I begin to have a close encounter of the Umph kind. Lead guitarist Jake Cinninger prepares for abduction above stage while the lights pulse and strobe on the fans below. They come out of warp speed playing “Bad Friday” where they spread out in order to trade psychedelic licks. Now Umphrey’s McGee wasn’t originally on the Hulaween lineup. They were a last minute replacement for Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, the nation’s premier Grateful Dead cover band, which was slated to play this spot. But Hulaween had to call an audible for the prog-rockers instead.
All that to say Umphrey’s continues their set with “Utopian Fir” and I know right away that this is where they could play Dead. They have been inserting an extended tease into the front section of this song for quite some time and today they tease “Althea,” causing my disappointed deadhead buddy to spontaneously combust! I mean he is flailing and wailing while ripping off his clothes with excitement. Wow what a moment! Intermission comes and I help my friend collect his clothes before heading for camp. I can’t seem to avoid being the center of attention, but I think it has something to do with the all white Adidas tracksuit I’ve been wearing. I complete the look with white shoes and I am a worthy adversary for tonight’s obstacle: the mud pit in The Amp caused by Thursday’s afternoon monsoon. I hurry back to the show just in time to hear a Halloween themed “Conduit” before a trippy “Booth Love” and drum solo by Kris Myers. “1348” > “Slacker” > “1348” ends the set with a volcanic eruption. Stassik uses the encore break to change into his Halloween costume, a hand giving the middle finger before they perform “The Floor.”
I jet from The Amp over to Spirit Lake Stage for the lounge-y sounds of Lotus! Entering this beautiful adult playground I open my third eye as they “Greet the Mind.” I love the look of Spirit Lake at night. Especially with the chance to check out new guitarist Tim Palmieri who comes over from Kung Fu. I notice very quickly that this man knows his way around a guitar and fits in nicely with his new squad. “Gilded Age” > “Flower Sermon” finishes the set out for the evening.
I use what’s left of my energy to explore the most beautiful part of the park, Spirit Lake. If you’ve never been, let me describe it for you. First off everything is huge, the Spirit Lake stage is bigger and has shifted just a bit to accommodate larger crowds. Lasers, lights, projection mapping, fire, holograms, gigantic sand sculptures, trolls the size of elephants and art as far as the eye can see. I could get lost in here for hours with all the little places to hang out, the ample photo opportunities to cement your vacation in style. Not to mention the two smaller stages yet to be explored: The Campground Stage and the one I’m standing at now, the Incendia Fire Stage. Featuring lit flames on the DJ booth and inside of the hangout pods on either side. I watch Nashville’s Rudashi play some tracks before retiring to bed.
Daily Bread /// The Reality /// Celisse /// Dumpstaphunk /// Floozies ///
The String Cheese Incident /// Tank & the Bangas /// Manic Focus ///
Bonobo /// Lettuce /// Skrillex
I start my second day of Hulaween 2021 with a hot shower and breakfast before heading down The Amp for Daily Bread. His electro-soul and hip hop tracks are the kind of thing I need to get going. Deep bass permeates the crowd of people around me. They are all wearing costumes, characters from movies and games as well as a good amount of comical totems. The drummer from Lettuce, Adam Deitch sits in on this blessed set. Moving on I check out a funky jamtronica band, The Reality from Tampa, FL. They begin with “Where is Lucy,” while guitarist Dan Jones wears a skeleton costume. Josh Kim belts out a huge solo on the keys while Jones leans in with the wah pedal. Dancing my ass off, they pick me up and move me into “Frankenstein,” an Edgar Winter Band cover that is so on point.
I make the choice to move on and catch Celisse on my way out of Spirit Lake. She sings in Trey Anastasio’s Band and also has her own project. I walk by as she covers “Use Me” by Bill Withers. The band sounds very well practiced and its a shame I have to migrate to The Meadow for a few songs of Dumpstaphunk. This New Orleans funk band has the main stage poppin’ with their tune, “I Get High on You.” At this point I notice that my friends are all dressed as wrestlers and I am standing next to Ric Flair. He’s going all out with the white boots, speedo, robe and white wig. The others are just as good with a Machowoman and Jake the Snake right there it’s hard to focus on the music.
A wicked trombone solo helps them end their set with “Justice.” I head back to camp and pass by The Floozies as they get started. “Sex, Drugs, and Fancy Things” is greeted with shouts and applause as they waste no time gettin’ down in a Burger King bathroom. After sitting down for the first time in hours, I put back on my dancing shoes and head to The Meadow for the first installment of The String Cheese Incident.
This funky womp-grass jam band is an excellent way to enjoy yourself at a festival. This is what I’m talking about! People all around me are cutting up the rug as SCI works Hulaween into a lather. “Dudley’s Kitchen” gives way to “Wait Another Day” before Cheese turns on the charm and stretches out! A little womp to end the set and I am off to camp for dinner. I hang back for Tank & the Bangas at the brand new Hallows Stage in the meadow where the Ferris wheel has been for years. It’s a huge stage and they warm it right the f*ck up with Biz Markee’s “Just a Friend.” Just then another group of people dressed as wrestlers happens upon us. As you can probably guess, there is a royal rumble! Hulk vs. Jake the Snake, Sting faces off against Kane. What a day! Heading back to camp I stall for a couple minutes to catch Manic Focus in The Amp. He is flanked by drums and a keys player as his bass creates waves in this beautiful natural bowl. My time there is cut short, however. I am standing right behind the water by the road when it breaks. A river begins to form on its way to the bottom floor. I take this as my cue to catch some camp time.
The second Cheese set of the day is thumping with “Rollover” when I get there. Big bass radiates from The Meadow Stage as it fills with SCI fans! “Shantytown” and “Moonlight Midnight” slow things down before Hollingsworth ramps things back up on the way into “Let’s Go Outside!” The crowd cheers and the breeze flows through me taking the temperature way down. They continue their fun bluegrass sound as they play back half of the setlist with “Sirens” and “Restless Wind.”
From here I set my sights on Bonobo. Playing songs like “Cirrus,” “Kerala,” and “Migration” exemplify his downtempo trip hop and jazz infused electronica. Bringing his magic all the way over from England, this set is a real treat and I am breaking a major sweat dancing my ass off. Next is the always funky Lettuce. Tonight’s performance features former guitarist Eric Krasno and former sax player Sam Kininger. Lettuce lays down a very different set than I am used to due to the absence of stellar sax player, Ryan Zoidis. They play older hits “The Flu,” “Breakout,” and “Relax” before Nigel Hall leads the crowd in singing “Move On Up.” I break out all my dance moves as we fall into “Mr. Yancey.”
I slide back to camp to collect my EDM friends before we jet out to The Meadow for electronic juggernaut Skrillex. The party is poppin as I enter the scene. He flexes on each genre of bass showing he isn’t just what you heard on the radio ten years ago. Future bass, dubstep, trap, house, hard house/tech, moombah, bounce as well as drum n bass are all featured in this two hour long headlining set. Lasers and natural lights fill the Spirit of Suwannee as I catch my first electronic set at the park without an LED board! He samples popular songs like “Cinema” by Benny Benassi, and “Wilde for the Night” by A$AP Rocky. Skrillex continues his impressive set with impromptu scratching before he mixes in “Where Are Ü Now” his song with Jack Ü. I am headbanging my ass off as he proves over and over again that he is a beast producer. I am totally speechless as I head back to camp. My cup overflows with live music!
Late night in Spirit Lake Skrillex, Bonobo, and producer Chris Lake played their first-ever, surprise b2b2b at the after-hours Incendia Stage at Spirit Lake. It was the biggest conglomeration of names ever to appear late night at the ’fire’ stage and this set was cookin’.
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Nth Power /// Masego /// The String Cheese Incident ///
Durand Jones & The Indications /// Hulaween 2021 ‘Dance’ Theme Set ///
Funk You ///
I wake up and have camp time with new friends. My group has about forty people, some old and some new. I enjoy some coconut Thai soup with my old friends and shoot cupid’s arrow around with my angelic new friends. Breaking from camp I head down to The Amp for the soulful Nth Power. Today they are featuring their former fourth member, Nigel Hall and fifth member on percussion, Weedie Braimah. Last night during Skrillex, Brahman’s band Toubab Krewe had an unscheduled trio set at the Fire Circle. You just never know at Hulaween. Fast paced soul music is shining a light on my heart and filling me with warm vibes for the day. The weather at the park is simply divine as they play “Only Love.” Guitarist Nick Cassarino cruises through his solos and lifts The Amp up on angel’s wings! Their blissful talents usher me towards the pearly gates of Hulaween heaven. The escalator down from that set is a long one that stops at camp before returning me to The Amp for Masego. His new age R&B/Soul is very popular and he showcases it with the track “Bliss Abroad.” He’s appropriately wearing a white jacket as he moves to a more Spanish flavor. He plays “Veg Out” before I check out for some different music. I enjoy what I hear from Cautious Clay and really should have planned for more time with them but alas, that’s what I love about awesome music festivals: you’re going to miss some fantastic sets.
I transport myself to camp and then out to The Meadow for another helping of SCI. They make me feel like I’m riding down a country road when a sudden bump and turn sends me down a dark and crooked path. Faster and faster, the bumpy mystery ride continues as we womp out in “Way Back Home.” It’s a lengthy jam with electric guitarist Michael Kang soloing while a dude dressed like a bird head to toe squawks and bobs right next to me. He’s just as insane as the music! Percussionist Jason Haan leads the crowd in a chant, ramping things up before they land in “This Must Be the Place,” a Talking Heads cover. A song later and Cheese lets out into Durand Jones & The Indications. Their big smooth soulful sound is extremely attractive and I love their song “Circles.” The whole team is dressed as baseball players and Jones intends on hitting a home run with that baseball bat he is carrying. His vocals are so powerful and I wish I didn’t have to split to hit camp before the biggest set of the weekend: The String Incident’s “Dance” Theme Set.
The Meadow stage now has a 50 foot inflatable barinade adorning each side of the main stage. What is a barinade you might ask? It’s the jellyfish lookin’ big boss you fight in Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Leading off, they play David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” I stroll down the main path and take in all the costumes. The festival is all here, all at full tilt, gassed up and ready to go! A pair of dancers appear on stage as they move to “You Should Be Dancin’” by Bee Gees. Sparks fly from above on the stage as well as between band and fans. A literal connection is made and the ethos is visible above the crowd. ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” is next on the queue when a few feet to my right a guy gets down on one knee and pops the question to his girl. Sparklers and dancing flashlights precede a big group hug that permeates love to the onlookers around them.
The vibe spreads amongst us as we climb to the summit of our adventure in the park. SCI is wearing big funny hats and dressed in leisure suits when they play “Dancing Fool” by Frank Zappa. Aerial Dragons appear on stage with fire poi and perform to the music. Roller skaters with wolf heads take their turn as the band plays “I’m Your Boogieman” by KC & the Sunshine Band. Then they play the Isley Brother’s “Shout” but turn it into ‘Dance!’ Genius! I have only a minute to digest this before I have to move out of the way of staff workers holding a giant parade sized dragon followed by a T-Rex! Raaaawwwrrr this set has spared no expense! We listen to Gaga’s “Just Dance” while dinosaurs and dragons roam free in Jurassic Park! This is the best theme set they’ve had in years. This has big festival energy written all over it and The Meadow is going bananas before they play my personal favorite, “Lose Yourself To Dance” by Daft Punk. The peak of the show comes when the finishing medley of songs lands on the chorus of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” The whole festival shouting to be held closer while The String Cheese Incident adds womp and dubstep to the back side of the song.
Whew what a set! Great job Suwannee Hulaween, you blew my hair back! “Let’s Dance” (Bowie), “You Should Be Dancing” (Bee Gees), “Dancing In The Streets” (Martha & Vandellas), “Dancing Queen” (Abba), “Dancing Fool” (Frank Zappa), “Boogie Oogie Oogie” (A Taste Of Honey), “Dancing Machine” (Jackson 5), “I’m Your Boogie Man” (KC And The Sunshine Band), “Dance To The Music” (Sly & The Family Stone), “Boogie Nights” (Heatwave) > “Just Dance” (Lady Gaga) > “Dance Monkey” (Tones and I) > “Lose Yourself To Dance” (Daft Punk) > “Tiny Dancer” (Elton John – Dubstep)
I stop at camp before venturing out one last time for Funk You. Promoting their upcoming album, Moving Forward, Georgia’s 9-piece bucket of funk starts off with “Our House.” The lights are dancing as much as I am to these crunchy, funky tunes. These guys deserve to be on a bigger stage, not just because they have a bunch of members, but because their sound is so huge! The whole band is dressed as mechanics and they rev this party up. I split from the set to check out the never ending Spirit Lake art and activities before heading back to camp.
Sierra Hull /// Turkuaz /// The String Cheese Incident /// Khruangbin ///
It’s the last day of Hulaween 2021 and it is gorgeous outside. So nice in fact that everyone in camp sleeps in. I barely get out of bed before one in the afternoon. But, after a shower and some breakfast I’m ready to take on the day. I am ready to leave camp and just don’t want to wait on anyone, so I escape with my best bud to check out bluegrass mandolinist Sierra Hull. She plays “People Get Ready” while wearing an oversized silver wig on stage. Her fiddle player impresses both with his playing and his big cowboy hat and blue blazer. After a few tunes, they come together around one mic to finish the set with “Out of My Blues” in the traditional fashion. Her bassist starts the song by playing banjo, but finishes it with the upright bass after slinging the banjo n on his back.
They are the opener for my most anticipated set of the weekend: Turkuaz performing the music of Talking Head with original members! And you may ask yourself, how did I get so lucky? This once in a lifetime set begins with “Psycho Killer” before giving way to a full intro “Cross-eyed & Painless.” Belew rips on his guitar making me feel so alive! There is so much movement and dancing going on at this set you might as well have kicked off the top of an anthill. The frenzy is real as they play “Houses in Motion.” “Once in a Lifetime” is next and I’m practically in tears. I’m standing on the rail, watching one of my favorite bands cover one of my favorite bands and I can hardly stand it.
They start into “Take Me to the River” and I feel like I’m being carried to Suwannee river to be baptized into waters of power funk and nu wave music. I’ll admit, at this point I’ve lost my composure, tears stream down my face as I soak in every minute of this set. I didn’t know it at the time, but it is to be the last Turkuaz set ever because the band is breaking up. Pure joy is the only way I can describe my feelings as I stand here floored after the music ends. I don’t want to talk to anyone, just hugs and happiness carry me away to see my last set of Cheese. Honestly, this part is a blur as my friends come and go, I barely keep up right, I just stand here, suspended in bliss. This is me, trying not to come down too fast from the emotional pinnacle I have just reached. At this point I have no choice but to retreat to camp for more fuel. Food and water indicators are flashing red as I push my body to the limit to see as much music as possible.
After loading up on food, water, sugar and caffeine I battle my way back to The Meadow for one last set of music: Khruangbin. An exotic three piece from Houston, TX, Khruangbin offers up a taste of something different. Their influences come from all over the world and they mix them with dub, rock, psychedelia and classic soul. Mark Speer on guitar is phenomenal. I can’t say enough about his constant, infallible playing. His playing wafts through the air like the best smells you’ve ever experienced outside a BBQ joint. Lifting me up like a crowd surfer I’m carried on a steady stream of guitar licks towards the stage. The crowd is ready to go, still a full meadow, erupts in confetti and glow sticks every time he peaks. They come out dressed as ghostbusters playing the Halloween theme song on his guitar. Starting with “Evan Finds the Third Room,” they have the crowd shouting “YES!” Then after Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” they proceed to drop into “Thriller” by Michael Jackson where Speer sings all the words with his guitar! Fantastic! Tonight, they dazzle the crowds with a medley of covers including, “Back in Black” by AC/DC, “Just Dropped In” by Kenny Rogers, Elton John’s “Benny & the Jets,” The X-files theme song and even Luniz’s “I Got Five On It!” Just then, my friend walks up with Taylor Shell, the bassist for Turkuaz! Holy shit! I get to shake this man’s hand and we speak for a few moments before they disappear into the crowd. I’m never washing this hand again! Holy Shit! Yes! Hulaween 2021! Yowwwww! Khruangbin finishes with “People Everywhere (Still Alive)” and “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)”and before exiting the stage declares, “We are Khruangbin from Houston, Texas, and ‘we ain’t afraid of no ghosts!’”
I’m so tired I go straight to bed and sleep for 14 hours before packing up and leaving the next day. What a festival! Hulaween at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park is a wonderful place to see big time music and meet new friends at this once-in-a-lifetime experience. A place to unwind and to let loose. You might find yourself living in a shotgun shack. And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you might find yourself behind the rail of a large festival stage?! Well, Hulaween 2021, that is how I got here! See you next year.
Suwannee Hulaween 2021 Live Review by Spencer Storch.
Suwannee Hulaween 2021 Photo Gallery by Daniel Garcia.
HULAWEEN 2021 PHOTO GALLERY
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