It’s Alive! It’s Aliiiiive! (insert maniacal laughter here). Now in it’s sixth year, Suwannee Hulaween is a monster of a festival. Inside, Creatures of the Galaxy run rampant at five stages, especially in Spirit Lake. Silver Wrapper & Purple Hat Productions are the guilty parties responsible creating this Beast of the Southeast and setting it loose to roam free under the Spanish moss of the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL. Hulaween features live music from incredible acts such as Odesza, Jamiroquai, Janelle Monae, Tipper, Vulfpeck, Turkuaz, and of course The String Cheese Incident.
Hulaween is much more than the music. Spirit Lake is larger than ever, and the art inside is out of this world. Escape the “real world” with me for four days of music, costumes, and adventure. Let’s go!
TUESDAY (yes, Tuesday), I arrive to camp during a mid-afternoon thunderstorm. My friends are already there, holding down a spot and even offer me a hot dog upon arrival. I love this place; it’s Utopian society. Caring and sharing with their brothers and sisters and strangers alike, people go from complete strangers to best friends in a matter of hours. I set up my tent and easy-up porch. Complete with a swanky shelving unit, my spot is ready for the weather of the weekend.
WEDNESDAY, we battle boredom by setting up our friends tents. I purposefully get my friends to bring me their tents in the week prior to the festival so that I can set them all up and essentially grab land. This helps in holding a spot, but also helps in city planning — we now have a main sitting area, as well as a parking lot, and residential section. Honestly, this is the best camp we have ever made. It’s a total group effort, with everyone contributing one way or another. The place is buzzing with excitement as Spirit Lake begins to come alive and vendors open their doors. There is a problem though — our neighbors. They have set up a surround sound system up in the trees, and are heavily drinking while playing their music, simply too loud. We ask them several times to turn it down and their response is to actually play it louder! Before I have a chance to react, my friend has his huge flashlight out and begins to strobe their camp from our fire. The war is on. Luckily, they immediately come over to concede as they can see that we mean business. I am happy to report that the two camps get along really well after that. 😎
THURSDAY, I wake up early to get a good breakfast and make sure I’m ready for the day. Today is a whole lot of good music. Some would argue it is the best all weekend. Funk You is the first band for me this Hulaween. Their dance driven grooves and sparkling vocals make them a must see set. This six piece from Augusta, GA has this costumed crowd moving and shaking at full tilt, just ten minutes in. Will Foster (keys) is especially impressive as I get down between Gumby and a bunch of pirates. They cover Prince’s “1999” and I couldn’t be any happier right now. I’m up on cloud 9 and I’m not getting off until Monday!
I’m up on cloud 9 and I’m not getting off until Monday!”
Ghost Light is up next in the amphitheater. This four piece features the guitarist from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Tom Hamilton. He is constantly in the spotlight with lengthy solos, one after another. He is so aggressive at every turn, forcing his band to adapt as he launches them through the changes. Hamilton revs up the band with shorter and shorter riffs. They rocket upwards through the clouds and just when we’re ready for the drop back to earth, we break through into outer space. The band quiets down and Holly Bowling’s twinkling piano notes dot the stars around us.
Slowly, we float back down to earth and land at the Marco Benevento set. He plays a few tracks from his newest album, Invisible Baby. The heavy tri-tones and trance like vibe has the crowd swaying back and forth. During the musical journey we touch on the jazz standard, “The Girl from Ipanema,” as well as covering the song “Pepper,” by the Butthole Surfers. After some camp time, I make my way back up to Spirit Lake for Corey Wong, the lead guitarist for Vulfpeck. He and his band are fast and funky. He spends a bunch of time on the mic explaining what they just did musically. He goes way to fast and it feels like he’s trolling the crowd to a degree. He talks over the band, presses Benny Bloom, the talented trumpeter for Lettuce to come up on stage only a moment before playing. Despite the tongue-in-cheek obnoxiousness, the music is excellent. Then, he encourages the crowd to go out this weekend and “Tang the Hump.” Suddenly a nice guy, he is empowering us to take on our problems. Wong goes from annoying to inspirational in just a few moments. He has Bloom and Vulfpeck vocalist Antwan Stanley sit-in again before ending a great set.
In 2018, The Infamous Stringdusters have already won a Grammy for their album, Laws of Gravity. This band is super impressive, even after my bluegrass standards were raised by the killer performances from last weekend’s Suwannee Roots Revival (REVIEW HERE). They work their way through a magical setlist with “Dancing in the Streets” into “Waste” by Phish. Jeremy Garrett (fiddle) takes things up a notch and the crowd can’t help but to be clicking their heels and swinging about from each other’s elbows. They stick to the theme of the weekend with a cover of “2001” but it’s so twangy you can hardly make it out. Andy Hall is super impressive on the dobro as the clouds from the oncoming storm draw closer and closer.
From here I am convinced to go and see Sound Tribe Sector Nine. It’s their second set of the day and they open with “Click Lang Echo.” Party people and rage sticks are everywhere. It’s sensory overload with hoops and lights in every direction. They land in “Rent” where they feature their amazing bassist, Alana Rocklin. She shines bright, plucking and slapping, in what is easy the most colorful set of the day so far. The rain from the storm starts to slowly fall and we go from Creatures of the Galaxy to monsters of the mist. “World Go ‘Round” is the closer for the set and we head to the amphitheater for tonight’s headliner: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.
My friends show their excitement as we get an “Estimated Prophet” right off the bat. In addition, they cover the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” “Tennessee Jed” is just too long and I have to escape as they head back into the chorus for a third go around. I break free from the crowd and walk in the rain to the Patch Stage to get my glitch funk on with The Floozies. They have a huge crowd and it’s difficult to even get a spot with a view. I get my fill of this funk quickly as it is very difficult to find a spot worth standing in.
Back at JRAD, Hamilton (guitar) and Benevento (keys) are out of control. Trying their best to be more outlandish than the other, they stretch the Grateful Dead tunes to their breaking points. Later that evening, we enjoy a crunchy set of Lettuce at the Amp. Their funk is enough to keep me from my bed which has been calling my all the way from camp. I’m definitely not too tired to “Move On Up” with Nigel Hall on vocals. My friends and I snack on the sweet tunes and starbursts I brought to the set. Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff is impressive with his guitar work and the band creeps into the Halloween movie theme song, but with way more bass. Long gone are the days that I miss Krasno when I see this band, Smirnoff is a beast. What a set! I want to go and rest, but Ajeva, who I missed earlier in the day is playing at my friends campsite and I steal over there for a few great songs. We stand around and swap stories, then it’s off to bed!
Sets seen: 11
Miles walked: 7.1 miles
FRIDAY we begin with group meals and a bunch of great music! First up are The Wood Brothers in the Meadow. Their sound lands somewhere between folk and Americana. They play for a crowd brave enough to stand in the sun in this post-monsoon Hula. The humidity is high and that makes things especially hot and heavy for Too Many Zoos. This brass house trio from NYC has the crowd all the way up! Man, this party poppin’! Leo Pellegrino (baritone saxophone) holds down the baselines and Matt “Doe” Muirhead (trumpet, sax) dances like a crazy person. I can still feel the bass in my chest as we hoof it back to eat.
I’m so tired, but with a huge smile on my face. This is what its all about! After a short break at camp, we are on our way back out to the Meadow for Medeski, Martin, and Wood. This normally weird three piece is today, distinctly dancy. John Medeski (keys) is the leader of the pack, takes the crowd for a spin on the dance floors with his uptempo, funky songs. These guys are the perfect vibe for this breezy afternoon.
We transition from jazz funk in the meadow to Break Science Live Band in the Amp. Essentially, this is Lettuce but instead of Nigel Hall on keys, we have producer and keyboardist Borahm Lee. He provides “a funky, funky style and a funky swag” for the band to groove on. They take it down to a slow, reggae sound while the rain drizzles upon us. Scott Flynn (trumpet) from Odesza joins the mix on stage. He and Adam Deitch (drums) go back and forth, having what seems like a musical conversation. These guys know how to get down. I can’t wait for tomorrow afternoon’s Lettuce set.
The Malah are up next and they are awesome. We make our way to the coolest stage, The Campground Stage. Its a smaller trailer stage, but they have positioned it just on the waters edge inside of Spirit Lake. It’s decorated with art that both moves and lights up. On stage, the guys dress up like Coneheads for their special set. Celebrating 15 years with this band on these hallowed grounds is a dream come true as they play their only appearance of the year. They have a saxophonist join them on stage for sultry sounds on top of their jazzy groove. Next, we catch a few songs of Trampled by Turtles before heading over to the band of the weekend: The String Cheese Incident. They are such a delight and you can feel the love in the air. The sun is setting and the people are out to play.
Dancing barefoot in the grass music fans of all ages gather for the first of seven SCI sets this weekend. The open with “Texas” and follow it with Jason Hann’s (percussion) new tune “Manga.” They are joined next on stage by alternative country music artist Rayland Baxter for “Gone Crooked,” and “Hey Larocco.” We finish the set with “Let’s go Outside” and dance our way to the Patch Stage for Bustle In Your Hedgerow: Joe Russo’s (drums) take on Led Zeppelin. They are great, and I love how close I can get to the stage for such a big sound. Scott Metzger is a beast on guitar and does Page justice.
On our way back to camp for a pit stop, we pass a giant light up lotus flower in Spirit Lake. It’s gorgeous and huge, but most of all its a musical instrument. They are playing a giant light up Tesla flower. I don’t even know how to think anymore.
I don’t even know how to think anymore.
The String Cheese Incident reconvene to play a few of their huge songs: “Joyful Sound,” and “Rivertrance” in the next set. Bill Nershi (guitar, vocals) gets the crowd to holler at the rising moon and in the next song he sits down with his legs crossed. The music is slow and trance-like allowing us to all center our Cheese. We pass by STS9 and can see their gorgeous lights from afar. Heavy and fast baselines combined with fluffy keys make for an uplifting but driving sound. We end up at Rezz where an LED goggle-wearing woman rages the Amphitheater. Her rude bass and distorted glitch noises are pretty damn cool. She wins me over later in the set with a “Killing in the Name” cover by Rage Against the Machine. From there I try my best to stay upright at Odesza but I just can’t do it. Luckily I can hear most of the show from my air mattress where I am happy spend the rest of the night.
Sets seen: 12
Miles walked: 11 miles.
SATURDAY. Rise and shine! Saturday is here! I know its going to be a good day because I wake up to breakfast in bed. Yum! French toast, eggs, and bacon is the perfect start to this gorgeous day! I’m ready and get out of camp as quick as possible to catch Orlando’s Leisure Chief. Theses guys dominate funk/jazz scene and are where its at for all you high class ragers. They play Derek Engstrom’s (drums) “Seven O’clock” as I walk towards The Patch Stage and KNOWER.
HOLY SHIT! KNOWER knows how to rage! Indie-punk jazz with killer vocals on top. This band is fast paced, intricate and ruuuude. Normally a duo, today they have 2 sets of keys, a seated bassist (Sam Wilts), and OG’s Louis Cole (drums), and Genevieve Artadi (vocals). Cole stops in the middle of one of their songs to stand and chuck his drum stick at a crash symbol set up 20 feet behind him on stage (see above in the back right corner). He misses with the first attempt, but hits home with the second try. These guys are great! My friends were all in my ear yesterday about the Lizzo set that “changed their lives.” And now I know how they feel, standing here covered in goosebumps as I discover a new artist at this endless adventure of a festival.
Lettuce in the Meadow is great! I’m surrounded by dozens of my smiling friends. The boys of Boston are cooking up some great daytime funk and Adam Smirnoff is again slicing and dicing on guitar. It’s his birthday too! (HBD!) Now, the band slows down for some dirty funk trap that builds and builds until finally we are throwing our towels up to the beginnings of “Madison Square.” I don’t know everything they played after that, but it was a hell of a set. Better than last night if you ask me. How can you not love this band?!
A camp sandwich later and I’m back at the Amphitheater to catch the end of a chill Stephen Marley set. He and his band stay seated the whole time as they navigate old Bob tunes and sprinkle in some of Stephen’s bigger hits. I need something laid back before we bounce for the third SCI set of the weekend. On my way across the field, I walk past a giant multicolored parachute with 50 people inside. Who knows what kind of shenanigans are going on inside of that exclusive Hulaween club. Just then, a member of Trump’s Space Force dances by me, I’m dead. This band is always a great time. They are just so light and fluffy: rainbows, bubbles and butterflies seem to be present at all of their sets. They hand off the solo better than any band I know, and they just always seem to have just enough edge to keep everyone interested.
We sneak off to Roosevelt Collier Band where he’s holding the note hard on the slide guitar. Driving bass and his constantly wiggling note has a throng of trick-or-treaters dancing with delight. An hour goes quickly and we are right back in the Meadow for SCI’s big theme set of the weekend: Women of the Galaxy. Each song will feature a guest female vocalist. They start simmering with The Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter,” featuring Lisa Fischer. Dancers wearing fire emerge on the stage as well as ribbon dancers who are soon taken high above the stage only to come tumbling down. Next Jennifer Hartswick tributes Aretha Franklin with both her voice and trumpet for “Rock Steady” as inflatable Ouija board picks bubble over the crowd. Later, Fischer slays again with her rendition of “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”
With hearts for pupils I gaze lovingly towards the stage. This band and this set are ah MAZE ing. Just when I think it can’t get any better, Ann Wilson of Heart comes on stage to help the band out with a Cream tune, “Politician.” They rev things up with “Barracuda” and finish strong with “Get Up, Stand Up” with all the vocalists on stage. The Women of the Galaxy exit and the band takes things up to warp speed in the Space Jam encore. They start with “Rollover” but are soon in a Close Encounters jam. They weave their way through an epic space medley of Star Wars and Star Trek a while 6 foot tall aliens probe the crowd. A giant space ship is now hovering to the left of the stage and all hell has broken lose. Go ahead and watch it again, and again, and again…
Gimme Shelter2, Rock Steady3, Proud Mary4, Killing Me Softly With His Song5, Respect6, Valerie7, Heartbreaker8, Politician9, Baracuda10, Get Up Stand Up11
Rollover> Close Encounters Jam > Star Wars Title Jam > Cantina Jam > Imperial March > Star Trek Next Generation Jam > Original Star Trek Jam > 2001 > Rollover
1 w/ Rhonda & Tony on vocals, 2 Rolling Stones cover, Lisa Fischer on vocals, 3 Aretha Franklin cover, Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet, 4 Tina Turner cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals, 5 Roberta Flack cover, Lisa Fischer on vocals, 6 Aretha Franklin cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals, 7 Amy Winehouse cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals, 8 Pat Benatar cover, Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet, 9 Cream cover, Ann Wilson on vocals, 10 Heart cover, Ann Wilson on vocals, 11 Bob Marley, cover featuring everyone
We aren’t finished yet! The crowd splits with half going with me to Vulfpeck at the Patch and the majority to the Amphitheater for Dave Tipper. Vulfpeck is great, playing fan favorites, “Funky Duck” and “1612” with singer Antwan Stanley. I steal away from the funk to go and try to check out Tipper, but I can’t even get close. The place is packed to the gills with folks looking to get their freak on. This guy has a different approach to music that really defies explanation. It’s weird and its good. Go see it.
We are forced to wait a bit for the biggest act of the weekend. They are more that worth the wait as Jamiroquai dominates the stage. His vibrant coat and wicked cool light up headdress keep him warm on this more than brisk evening. His set has huge hits including “Little L,” “Cosmic Girl,” and “Space Cowboy.” The guys will play just 5 US dates this year and we’re here!
Words cannot explain the happiness I feel as all the Napoleon Dynamites in the crowd have their time to shine when “Canned Heat” comes on. Pure. Bliss. This is why we are here!! Nothing can touch this party. Two hours blaze by and the show comes to an end with Jay Kay (vocals) thanking the crowd for a wonderful night. “Thank you psychedelic Statue of Liberty” someone calls out from behind me.
My life is complete.
Sets caught: 12
Miles walked: 11.4
SUNDAY is for the strong. We pass almost no one on our way to the first music of the day. It’s plain to see that the whole festival stayed up late last night. The place is a ghost town (pardon my pun). We pass Rebirth Brass Band just in time for them to cover “Waterfalls” by TLC. It’s so fitting because three of my best friends were “Crazy, Sexy, & Cool” last night for Halloween! I’d like to stay for another song but I’m really on my way out to see Yonder Mountain String Band in the Meadow. I have been invited to sit under the trees with a couple of cute girls and we take this time to enjoy the shade and professional pickin’. YMSB weaves through a bunch of old songs including “No Rain,” by Blind Melon and Pure Prairie League’s “Amie.” Their biggest cover of the set was a sick version of Edgar Winter Band’s “Frankenstein.” These guys can really cause you fall in love with bluegrass.
“You guys are still here?” Nershi (guitar, vocals) calls from the main stage as SCI assembles for the 6th time this weekend. Hats, sunglasses, and parasols are the fashion of the afternoon as the band battles the beautiful sunshiny day. It’s the softer side of Cheese with Kyle Hollingsworth (keys) serenading us with an accordion. I have a great time rubbing elbows with friends and eating great vendor food. It’s so surreal to be in this place with all these awesome people. I love having fun myself, but to see others ring their own bell is the true definition of joy. I know some people need this little bit of freedom more than others and it just fills my heart to see so many happy people, all in one place.
During Cheese set break I have a little fun with Galactic and their big hit “Heart of Steel.” I can’t stay long because the seventh Cheese set is on soon. Last year, it was easily my favorite of the weekend. This year they don’t disappoint with covers of “Superstition,” with Nick Cassarino of Nth Power as well as a predictable “Naive Melody” by the Talking Heads. I am so satisfied with the Cheese sets this year. The Revivalists are next and I need something slow. These guys have the feelings turned all the way up and the crowd sways and sings along. They are looking sharp: all in matching 80’s track suits all in different colors. David Shaw (vocals) is super smooth as he leads the crowd in a call back or two. They send the crowd out happy with a cover of Beastie Boys, “Sabotage.”
Turkuaz is up next. The power-funk nine piece from Brooklyn, NY that takes no prisoners. Balancing male-female harmonies, strutting guitars, wild horn arrangements, and interminable grooves, this spirit takes shape in the color donned by each respective member on stage nightly via larger-than-life performances. THESE GUYS BRING THE FUNK! They do their best to keep things spooky with their song selection, mostly coming from their newest album: Life in the City. They normally each dress up in one solid color for the evening, but something is off here tonight. They are all just a single color still, but have all switched and it’s amazing. With the color switch comes new attitude from the way their are dressed. Sammi, who is usually pink, is now all black with short straight black hair. You can tell they’re having fun on stage and it radiates outward to us!
I’m surrounded by friends and smiling faces as we tear up the rug for the last set of the weekend. The guy next to me insists that I have my hands above my head at all times, and he’s right. Kuaz finishes out strong with a cover of Hot Chocolates‘ “Everyone’s a Winner.” This song will be stuck in my head for a week as I pull out all the stops and use up every last one of my dance moves. The music ends and I’m exhausted. Luckily for me I have cool friends who cook me spaghetti back at camp. This gives me the fuel I need to go out into the darkness one last time looking for live music. I succeed in finding Guavatron hiding in the mist. This is one of my favorite local Jamtronica bands and I’m glad I stumbled upon them, even if its late night and at a small campsite. I highly recommend checking them out when you get the chance. Finally I go to bed, just as the sun begins to rise.
Sets caught: 9
Miles walked: 11.6
We did it! We made it through
4 days 6 days of camping and live music! I’m tired, and my feet hurt. I’m sunburnt, and trending towards the wook flu. BUT I wouldn’t trade this feeling for anything in the world!
THE 2018 HULA MONSTER HAS BEEN CAUGHT!
Total Sets: 44
Total Miles Walked: 41
Suwannee Hulaween 2018 Live Review by Spencer Storch.
Suwannee Hulaween 2018 Photos by Chad Pearce, Carmelo Conte, and Spencer Storch.
HULAWEEN 2018 PHOTOS
REGGAE RISE UP MUSIC FESTIVAL
MARCH 14-17, 2024
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