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The Legendary Hulaween! | Suwannee Hulaween Review | Suwannee Music Park Live Oak | October 31 – November 2, 2014

by • November 13, 2014

It’s Halloween morning and I have intense feelings of giddiness fluttering in my stomach as I’m getting ever-closer to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park for Hulaween.

For me, it always starts at the first sight of the interstate exit sign. Just after I hit my blinker to turn off and start to slow down, I roll down the windows and let the breezy, crisp autumn air rush to my face. My hair is already dancing.

Suwannee Hulaween is the mission this time. My old, junker spaceship is even shaking with excitement. I’ve heard many amazing stories from friends about last year. Apparently it was a great success, especially for a first year run, and for many, it had instantly become their new favorite Suwannee festival. I’m already sensing that this is going to be something really profound.

I can feel the liveliness of the land as I pull past a rolling field of swaying cotton, and meander down a winding road through majestic woods. But, nothing compares to entering the park; to finally stand upon that cozy, sandy, grassy terrain and approach the ticketing booth. Finally receiving that gorgeous cloth wristband that transforms me into an official “Suwanneean” for the weekend is a pure dopamine dump to the brain. It feels so much like home, I begin to question the true meaning of “home.”

suwannee hulaween review - sean

[Editors Note: I had to put this picture of Sean here. It’s so good. -Mitch]

I figure I am arriving at the park early enough to snag a good spot around Spirit Lake (close to all the music and themed art installations), but I quickly realize that’s not going to be possible. This place is already PACKED! I guess it’s not surprising because many Hulaweenies opted to arrive early for the Thursday pre-party, and some even came in before that.

After setting up camp near the Bat House (yeah, that’s a long walk) and taking a brief nap (since I pulled almost a total all-nighter in Orlando to see the Polish Ambassador), I am finally ready to check out some music!

Well, that’s the plan anyway. But there’s something magical about meeting neighbors and walking around aimlessly to scope out the festival environment on its first day. Of course I am missing the first band, Post Pluto, but, I’m really enjoying their gnarly jam sounds pumping out from a distance. It sets a great soundtrack to my preliminary space explorations. I am mostly focused on finding more friends, understanding the layout of the festival, and seeing what kind of beautiful art and vendor goods there may be to ogle over along the way.

And oh my glob… As a first impression, Hulaween has some of the most amazing themed decorations I’ve ever seen at a festival! Most remarkable is the way Spirit Lake is thoroughly filled with massive sculptures and paintings of all kinds. There are enchanting, vibrant murals of otherworldly beings, sacred nature altars, various interactive installations, giant kaleidoscopes, and so much more! But that’s just scratching the surface of what Spirit Lake has to offer. The real magic doesn’t happen until the moon comes out (I will get to that in due time).

Judah and the Lion is the first band I actually stop to watch during my Hulaween experience. This is already such a great start to my weekend! They have this folky, feel-good bluegrass sound that seems to effortlessly burst into powerful moments of merriment. Here, give them a listen for yourself (there’s tons-more great stuff of theirs on YouTube if you like this).

That’s only the first of many musical gems I discovered at Suwannee Hulaween. At this point, I had a little beer buzz going, so by the end of their set I’m totally ready to amp up even more with Greensky Bluegrass at the main stage.

Honestly, I haven’t always been a huge fan of bluegrass, but little by little it has grown on me through seeing some amazing artists of the genre like these guys. They provide that hootenanny-hoedown vibe that I can really appreciate in the early afternoon with a cold beer. I certainly don’t mind having a good ol’ dosey doe to get my day stepping on a good foot either!

I couldn’t stay too long because Rob Garza (of Thievery Corporation) was playing a solo DJ set at the Spirit Lake stage during the same time slot, and the thought of exotic sounds from all over the world mixed into some good dance beats really perks my festy antennas up. Plus, I was itching for some extra bass.

So this is my first time seeing him and I’m already impressed by the unique energy pulsing from the stage. I can feel my inner jellyfish starting to undulate its tentacles like a plasma ball. It’s a real sacrifice to miss the rest of Greensky Bluegrass, but I’d already started wiggling out some fresh noodle grooves so I knew I needed to stay where I was at.

I feel that I made a fairly good choice for myself since Emancipator was next and will likely keep me in jellyfish mode. Emancipator is one of my favorite artists, and luckily there were no hard choices to make here because his set had no overlap with anyone else. What I really love about his sound is that it has a graceful, angelic vibe that feels like a poetic story. But what’s really interesting is that, even with all its softness, the rhythm is so moving that I always find myself dancing to it, if even just a swaying motion. Here’s a short little teaser for you, straight from Suwannee Hulaween:

It was a little odd to see Emancipator perform during the day because his light show (the ones I’ve seen before) and his ability to move a large crowd, are truly exceptional. The set was really great, but I suppose I’m jaded after seeing the Emancipator Ensemble (full live band) at Purple Hatters Ball this year. Their performance was still absolutely beautiful nonetheless, as always. And I’m glad he keeps performing with his awesome partner on violin.

Admittedly, I decide I have to leave Emancipator early (which is unheard of for me by the way), but only because the first Cheese set is next and there’s no break in between this and that. I need to get back to my BFE campsite for more beer and a change of clothes since the temperature is supposed to eventually get down into the 30’s after the sun goes down. I’ve never seen the String Cheese Incident before either, and friends keep telling me they are totally worthy of being Hulaween’s main attraction.

suwannee hulaween review - string cheese incident

Sure, they are playing three sets of about three hours each over the weekend (what?!), so there’s plenty of opportunity to see them, but Suwannee Hulaween is their festival. I have lots of respect for that and I must catch as much as possible, especially the first set. This fest is already shaping up to be my new favorite at the Suwannee and that’s saying a lot for me. Must partake in as much Cheese as humanly possible!

In case you’re already deciding to go to Hulaween next year (which you totally should!), here’s a word of advice: Prepare to be colddd when the sun goes down! Shivering can easily put a damper on the good times if you’re not dancing or huddled in a crowd. You will definitely want to figure out a fairly warm costume to wear. Lesson learned! Brrr..

Anyway, as it turns out, the String Cheese Incident is explosively brilliant! Wowowow! I am a newly converted Cheesehead! Holy bologna, I honestly feel that this is a band that everyone should know about and experience live. They are the supreme jam masters of the whole festival! Hearing a recording or watching a video simply does not do the Cheese experience justice. You definitely have to be there. (These videos are the best I can offer right now though. Please enjoy!)

Sphongle’s set is uniquely placed as an intermission between the first two Cheese sets and is quite a complementary pairing for the otherworldly feels of the night. I was more than ready to transcend this earthy dimension by tuning into the spiraling alien frequencies of Simon Postford. I think his set may have just about the most totems (long poles topped with strange, eye-catching art to help locate your fest crew) I’ve ever seen in one place. There’s a sea of glowing weirdos all around me in the amphitheater crater. We’re all becoming part of some kind of some strange, tribal collective sea anemone, wiggling as the tendrils of a much larger being. I am noticing some massively dilated pupils in the eyes of most of my fellow festyheads as we flail our Shpongles in all directions, hehe.. 😉

That was much needed. And after getting another big bite of my first Cheese (tasted very goud-a, I must admit!), I migrate over to Beats Antique. I’ve seen them a few times now, but I sense that their Hulaween performance is going to be more epic than usual. My Jedi senses usually serve me well of course.

I’m so glad this performance was scheduled for nighttime. I’ve seen Beats Antique during the day and they’re still awesome, but, they really come to life at night with that extra mystique that the darkness provides. I’ve noticed that ever since I first saw them in 2011, their sets have been getting increasingly heavy and visually explosive. Suwannee Hulaween is easily my favorite set of theirs that I’ve seen yet. I’ve gotta have some of that gypsy circus dubstep in my life whenever possible.

And I couldn’t ask for a better segway into the Thievery Corporation set with the stylistic similarities they share. They are both unique in their own respective rights, but both have an obvious love for the mystical-sounding eccentricities of the music world. They both charm my mind into smooth, serpentine loops with double helixes while my body is incited to create strange, oscillating expressions of the rhythm.

This is an incredible first time experience for me seeing Thievery Corporation. For some reason I always thought they were just a couple of DJ dudes, but apparently the show they put on is much, much more than that. My mind is blown.

By the end of their set, my body has endured as much as I can take for the first day. My bones feel like they might just crack from the intense cold, too. It’s time to call it a night. That all-nighter before the festival is finally taking its toll despite all the Red Bull in my blood. As much as I want to check out the Silent Disco, it’s just not happening without a bunch of blankets and a magic flying carpet to carry me (oh, if only!).

After a long journey back to camp, I find myself immediately curling into my only blanket, covered in multiple layers of clothing, shivering and breathing into my hands as I try to catch some Z’s. That’s always fun.

It’s a very difficult night for sleeping when I can see my breath in the tent. I’m not sure sleep is even possible, but eventually it’s morning again. Thank the universe for that warm, yellow sphere that continues to come back every day. Saturday morning is absolutely beautiful! Beautiful for finally getting some sleep that is! 🙂

I get up just in time to catch a good dose of Beartoe. It’s kind of a soulful mix of folk and blues, maybe with a little bit of bluegrass sprinkled in there for good measure. All I know is that it makes me want to frolic around like a jitterbug. These guys are from Florida, too. Gotta represent! Day two of Suwannee Hulaween is off to a great start!

I really want to see what this Strung Like a Horse business is all about but they are in the exact same time slot as Beartoe, on the main stage. I have a feeling it’s totally going to be worth it to catch half of both even though it’s hard to pick a good moment to leave Beartoe. I am left to wonder about all the strange possibilities of these names as I make my way over to main stage. What if they collaborated into a super band? Then there would be no hard choices to make here. Hung Like a Beartoe has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Good news, Strung Like a Horse is excellent! I’ve made an excellent choice to catch some of their set. They have bluesy, bluegrassy, rockabilly, gypsy folk kind of sound, but totally distinct from the kind of sound Beartoe is serving up. These guys almost seem like punk pirates when they tear into some of the heavier parts of their songs. I love seeing such a diverse selection of acoustic stringed instruments all in one band. My attention is also consistently drawn to the belly dancer at front stage and the expressive, alluring movement she adds to the overall performance. Again, there’s a gypsy feel to this band that I am very fond of and it stands apart from other types that I’ve seen.

My favorite part of their set is when they play a cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind.” It’s easily the most unique cover I’ve ever heard of that song. Score another gem for the festyheads!

The next set is a no-brainer must-see. Cope is playing at the Amphitheater (my favorite place to be at the Suwannee) and most of us Floridians know that they always bring some of the most killer jams we have to offer from our home state. It’s clear this band has been around for awhile because they flow so perfectly together and they all have mad blazing chops on their instruments. I had some really good times dancing with my buddies during this set; so much, in fact, that I am forced to take a breather back at the campsite and get a good meal in me.

Unfortunately, I have to miss both the Heavy Pets and the Shane Pruitt Band, but that’s always bound to happen at some point. It’s nearly impossible to see all the music and experience all the other great things a music fest has to offer and still be a human. No regrets though. What’s coming up is surely going to be one of the biggest highlights of my entire Hulaween experience.

“I believe in the good things coming coming coming..” 🙂

Nahko and Medicine for the People! I refuse to miss a single second of their set because it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to go to this festival in the first place. These guys don’t come to the Southeast much so this performance is a real blessing in my world. This is an artist that I resonate with very strongly.

Setting Cheese aside from this statement, Nahko and Medicine for the People is my favorite set of the whole weekend. Oddly, this is the time many of my closest friends and I finally come in contact! There is nothing I could want more than this moment. I feel euphoric as Nahko’s words glide through me like righteous waves of blissful truth.

When they play “Warrior People,” I completely lose myself. The Force takes over me as I perform some kind of improvised magical dragon dance with one of my closest brothers. The ebb and flow of the universe is perfectly balanced with each beat and my spirit is overwhelmed with the rush of pure gratitude for this existence.

“Hollar if you’re feelin’ me, feelin’ me, feelin’ me, feelin’ me, feelin’ me, yeah!”

And how better to end this set than with a cover of “No Diggity” by Blackstreet. Whattt? You’ve got to be kidding me! The awesomeness of this moment has broken my scale. It’s off the charts. (Apparently, this was a favorite combination from other festivals too.) 🙂

The set ends eventually, but I am satisfied. Keller Williams is next with his bluegrass project and that’s at the top of my must-see list too since I’ve only ever seen him play a solo looping-set. As always, it’s a spectacular display of his virtuosity. I am impressed that he’s found some other musicians that can keep up with those blazing fast fingers of his.

Once again, I am experiencing some bass withdrawal symptom. I’ve got a groovy little bluegrass-flow going, but I could use some more ooommmphs, if you know what I mean. I have to run over to Spirit Lake see what Greenhouse Lounge has cooking up.

Boom! I find myself walking through a solid wall of sound as I enter the domain of Greenhouse Lounge. I come in right as they are blasting off with their rendition of “Crazy Train,” Lil’ Jon’s remix of that Ozzy song we all know so well. The bass is pumping so much I think some of my nose hairs might be wiggling loose. I know this is where I need to unleash my fiercest Godzilla rampage moves that I usually reserve only for filthy, stinkin’ dubstep womps.

I think I’ve once again done this in the right order. Conspirator is next and I’m already pumped to the right level after catching the end of Greenhouse Lounge. Conspirator is an electrifying powerhouse of dubsteppin’ progressive jam rock. I’ve seen them a few times now and they never cease to amaze with those insane crescendo build-ups and bazooka bass bombs.

Better yet, the famed duo, Big Gigantic, decide to show up and crash the party into the ground even more. Ahhh, does it get any better than this??

The answer is Yes (even though it’s hard to imagine at this point), because there is still more Cheese! And Big Gigantic’s set is still to come! And this is the night where a couple of my buddies (a penguin and a green bear mind you) and I decide to ride the crazy, rainbow-illuminated ferris wheel and it’s during Cheese’s second set. This is so intense I feel like I might be having a Fear and Loathing moment.

O glorious Universe, what beauty hast thou left to show me in this blessed existence?

Oh so much, but I have to admit that I am going to miss The New Deal. Ugh, yes, that’s right.

Fast forward. I’ve going back to camp and I’m on my way there, after one of the best sets of my life, and then I see some friends huddled around a fire just before the checkpoint to get back into the music area. Talking becomes laughing, laughing becomes hanging out, then sitting.. and before I know it I’m part of a collective circle that’s beatboxing, singing and making ridiculous, random sounds with some friends and total strangers. Haaa, excellent! Hilarity to the max!

My buddies (Penguin and Green Bear), are totally absorbed in the moment. I feel like we’ve reverted back to caveman times. It’s beautiful. Especially with the New Deal providing some rockin’ futuristic background music. This place is a gigantic weirdo magnet. I love it!

So yeah, I didn’t get to see the New Deal, but I am so ready for Big Gigantic and Kung Fu! This is going to be extremely hard for me because I love them both equally. The wind takes me straight to Big G first though. I’ve seen them before, in both festival and indoor venue environments, and they are a force to be reckoned with. And their name is fitting. From a production standpoint, this may be the most powerful show of the whole festival. Here’s a glimpse into the moment:

I can’t help melting into a jiggly spaghetti monster. My jellyfish mode has finally evolved to a new form of absurdity. I am a rare new breed of Pokémon and my strange animal compadres are totally grooving on my level. We are dominating this alien landscape like cosmic wizards vanquishing multi-headed space dragons. My mojo is feeling rather big and gigantic about now.

Recap of the Big Gigantic experience (repeat sequence three times):
what is this craziness? Hold on, I’m out of breath. Gotta chill for a minute. Too much big gigantic stuff happening right now.. Whew, okay.. Damn, it’s cold as #$%@! Yeah, I think I’m good actually. I am a festy ninja! Gotta keep this going! Yeah! GET SOME!!!

That set was amazing! But… Sigh, I wanted to catch Kung Fu because they’re one of my favorite bands ever. My face melted off at some point during Big G’s set and landed on the ground somewhere. I couldn’t find the damn thing until Big G finished their set. Stupid faces.. ugh.

In all seriousness, I really wish there hadn’t been an overlap of the two sets. My original intention was to split it up, but it’s so easy to lose track of time during an intense set. This is my only bit of regret. I still love you, Kung Fu!

It’s time to wind down. After Big G, my animals and I are in need of some serious reflection and relaxation. Luckily, Dustin Thomas (the bassist of Nahko and Medicine for the People, in case you’re not familiar at all), is playing at the Spirit Lake stage. And there are fire dancers spinning with a large circle of people gathered around. This is the perfect place to sit and watch entrancing fire performances with contact staff, poi, hoop, fans, devil stick, and rope dart. Set to Dustin’s soothing, inspirational, acoustic songs, this is everything I could hope for and more.

It’s hard to have any more of a come-up in energy after Big Gigantic, but the final hurrah of my night is seeing Applebutter Express close out the night. Finely dressed as Mexican Day of the Dead skeletons, these guys provide one of my personal favorite performances of the whole festival.

The best part? Pretty much everyone knows all the lyrics and belts them out at the top of their ever-loving lungs. Applebutter Express has a very strong following in Florida, since they are from the Tampa area. Their lovable southern jingles are almost instantly relatable to any free spirited soul that comes in contact. I’ve just discovered them for myself this year and I’ve slowly been integrating into their loyal following, the admirable Hometeam.

Life is so wonderful.

After that set my bones ache and I can barely keep my eyes open, but I have a stupid smile on my face as I wobble my way back to my tent for the night (check out Lindsay’s post of 61 Smiles).

Sunday morning. I think I slept a little better this time. After a delightful breakfast of string cheese (yes, you see what I did there), tortilla chips, bean dip, a banana, and a Red Bull, I am confronted with my first choice of the day: Ghost Owl at the main stage, or Suenalo at Spirit Lake. I am feeling like a lazy hippie today, but let’s just call it “the path of least resistance.” 😉

I’ve seen Ghost Owl before and they are great, but that main stage is a long walk and I’m curious to see what Suenalo is all about. And apparently there’s not a bad choice to be made for this whole weekend. Suenalo rules! They have a sweet style of funk that I’m not entirely sure how to describe. It has a tasty jammin’ hispanic flavor that sets them apart from so many other funky jam acts I’ve heard. Here, have a listen:

With all sorts of meandering and side missions, I am unable to catch the Soul Rebels, but I hear them from a distance and I can tell they’re pretty awesome. My next major artist to see is Rising Appalachia.

I’ve seen Rising Appalachia a few times now, but every time is a powerful experience. I have to hand it once again to Hulaween and the magical force it has been channeling from the Universe through the all the artists. This is quite possibly my favorite Rising Appalachia set that I’ve ever seen. The perfection of the sound on this set is so good that I am getting chills. Please enjoy this:

I am convinced that the Smith sisters are goddesses, or some kind of mystical muses. Their supporting members are legendary warriors in their own right. Well, that’s my opinion. I don’t know of any other band right now that’s creating music like this.

I know I am sacrificing a lot of a different kind of awesomeness to stick it out with Rising Appalachia, unfortunately. I am a huge fan of Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, but I am unable to peel myself away from where I’m at. I feel that I am right where I need to be.

It’s an interesting transition to go from Rising Appalachia to the Dean Ween Group. That’s totally different worlds, but it’s ok. I need to shake out of my dream state for the rest of what’s to come.

The Dean Ween Group is some good, old rock-and-roll at its finest. There are lots of delicious layers of jam spreading thick over the festy toast. My toasty brain is very happy. Sunday is turning out to be much more of a chill, breezy, swaying kind of day so far. I’m perfectly happy with that. My body needs some recovery time.

I can’t stay for all of Dean Ween because there is more Cheese coming up next and I very much need to consume all the Cheese I can get.

Cheese’s final night is out-of-this-world phenomenal!!! Gah, I got nothing. Hands down, Cheese takes the whole show. I am already sold on that fact after they’ve played Stairway to Heaven and Thriller. There are too many good jams to begin trying to list. Either you already know what I’m saying or you should hopefully feel more compelled to see for yourself now.

Next up is Future Rock, and this is new stuff for me. Future Rock is a bustling jolt upward! The name is actually very fitting for these guys. As crazy as it may sound, I imagine this as the future of cool elevator music. Music that elevates your state of mind as you’re being physically elevated.. at the speed of sound through outer space. Hopefully you can imagine the roller coaster ride I am trying to describe here. For me, this elevator ride involves a lot of dancing and heavy dubstep breakdowns. No smooth jazz elevator tunes here, but it’s certainly got a smoothness to it. This is from last year’s Hulaween, but it’s the best footage I can find right now. (If you have an hour to spare, enjoy this whole set.)

EOTO is next on my must-see list. I would like to say that I am able to ration my time well and check out Van Ghost also, but I’m kind of a dancing deer in headlights at this point. I mean, come on, it’s the last night and I just got zooped up and down a crazy interdimensional Future Rock vortex. I’m almost completely exhausted. But this is worth my last bit of energy.

EOTO is one of the coolest psychedelic jam-voyages you will ever sail upon. In case you didn’t know, EOTO consists of two members from the String Cheese Incident. As if they weren’t already legendary enough. I’m still not sure what an “EOTO” is by the way. Elephants Only Talk Occasionally? Perhaps a rare type of funky Cheese that comes from a test tube? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. 🙂

The final band of the night is Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. This is another band I’ve never heard of before (not sure if that’s shameful somehow), but I can tell you that the decision to let them close out Hulaween was perfect. I am floored by the Grateful Dead spirit they reincarnate. It’s not just a cover band though. They take that spirit to a whole new level in my opinion. I was animated with a rejuvenated sense of youth despite my tired bones. It’s been a long weekend and I feel kind of dead, but I am very grateful for this moment. To me, this moment feels like a magnificent flower blooming in slow motion. It’s so wonderful, I have everything I need. This is the cherry on top of one of the most beautiful weekends of my life. 🙂 I am unable to find a recording of the Hulaween set, but I hope you can enjoy this just as much as I do:

So yeah, Suwannee Hulaween is my new favorite Suwannee festival. For now anyway (I’m going to Bear Creek this weekend).

I am still wanting to relive this one. Here is my top five performances of the weekend:

5. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead
4. Rising Appalachia
3. Big Gigantic
2. Nahko and Medicine for the People
1. The String Cheese Incident (duh) 😉

Please check out my Bear Creek Music Festival Preview if you enjoyed this. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you out there!

Suwannee Hulaween Review by Sean Dorsett.
Suwannee Hulaween Live Festival Photos by Lindsay Tompkins.

Also, check out Lindsay’s post:

61 Smiles | Suwannee Hulaween Photos

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