There are so many musical acts at a giant festival like Suwannee Hulaween. Here are a few of our favorites!
Umphrey’s McGee (Thursday)
Chicago’s Umphrey’s McGee is the main course for me this evening and I am salivating on my way to The Patch. After acquiring a great spot, the band comes on stage. They hop right to it with “40’s Theme” and have the fans jumping and shouting immediately. They play my new favorite songs, “Night Nurse,” and “Slacker” for the packed house. A huge solo during “Wife Soup” for lead singer and guitarist, Brendan Bayliss who has grown back his mustache for the event. They are trying out a new light guy and I have to say that Ben Factor is knocking it out of the park. I can hear people around me gasping and pointing at the lights on stage as he moves from pulsing lights to beautiful scenes in great balance. They finish the set with a fiery “Jajunk” > “Ringo” > “Jajunk.”
We progress to The Amphitheater where Greensky Bluegrass is set up for a heater. Another great intro song as I arrive to them covering Prince’s “1999.” They make it their own — think Prince in overalls drinking moonshine. Next, their slower song “In Control” is twangy and full of feels. Anders Beck is so good on the dobro he has me floating. His sweet playing in combination with Paul Hoffman’s (mandolin/vocals) voice is simply divine. It’s no wonder why these guys are on top and I’m am so stoked to get my first experience with them. They pass the baton so well it’s inspiring and their flawless play builds mountains of momentum as they climb tonight’s setlist. “Kerosene” and Springsteen’s “Wings for Wheels” help my already floating body to take flight! It’s about this time I realize Beck is wearing an Afro wig on the dobro. His bandmate David Bruzza (guitar) shines bright on the dark stage with a long skillful solo during “Leap Year.” He shakes the beat and goes off to do his own thing before slowly joining back with the band on their way out of the jam. You can tell these guys know and trust each other. The set ends and I refuse to leave, hoping for an encore I never receive.
With no time for a camp run we head straight to The Meadow for one of this weekend’s headliners, Bassnectar! The biggest producer on the planet starts his rager with “Chicken Dippaz” and also plays “It’s About To Get Hectic,” “Upside Down,” and “Duck Trumpet.” There are glowing signs and poi everywhere. Not a free step to walk around so I have to bounce off of people to get where I’m going. Fans “ohh” and scream as he unveils the next section of music in the set. The lasers and bass are more than the folk in my group can handle and split for camp. I take this time to dance my way through the mob and people watch. The hype is real and I feel like this was a set that could convince someone on the fence to enjoy the B- B- B- BASSSSSS.
The String Cheese Incident
I head to The Meadow for The String Cheese Incident’s first set of the day. They begin with “Dudley’s Kitchen” before moving into the popular “Get Tight” which transitions to Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” in the jam portion. I love this! The weather is breezy and the music is on point! “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” and “Colliding” round out this delicious set. I hit camp again to recharge (I’m struggling today) before heading back to SCI’s second set. Entering The Meadow I have hoopers and jugglers all around me. Music fans are with their friends, laughing and enjoying each other at the set. This is what it’s all about. I’m having a blast as they play the afternoon away. The set ends with a whirlwind of songs, “The Wheel” > “Drums” > “Birdland” > “Wheel Hoss” > “Birdland” > “Howard.” You should know that Nershi (guitar) got his exercise during “Drums” by wildly running around in circles on the stage. LOL!
The red hot Billy Strings at the main stage. He’s a young up and coming bluegrass guitarist who has created quite a stir in the strings scene. His version of jamgrass or “acidgrass” is everything you could want from a flat-picker. His songs are warm and meaningful as well as great for a sing-along. But, that’s not why he’s so popular. He’s rising to the top because of the exploratory approach and his wicked chops on that six-string. I arrive to the set to hear him covering Widespread Panic’s “All Time Low.” He’s got his long hair braided into cornrows and I have to admit: this is my first ever bluegrass-in-cornrows set I have ever been to.
I was tired before I got here and now I can’t stop dancing. I have a big smile on my face as this kid leads the full Meadow to the promised land. The breeze blows and the cool air gets a big reaction from the crowd. Arms up and heads back as the band moves into “Old Folks at Home (Way Down Upon Swanee River)” by Stephen Foster. After filling my heart to the brim they play “Dust in a Baggie.” Here Billy Strings solos with impressive awareness. Like a fan moving to the front of the crowd, he knows right where he wants to go. Not only that, but he has the ability to skip, jump, and dance along the way to his destination without mistakes or hesitation! “Turmoil & Tinfoil” closes this amazing afternoon set. Don’t miss this guy. He and his band are on their way to the top. I recommend seeing him before the crowds get too large!
Those are my top five! Read the full Suwannee Hulaween Review + Photos at showsigoto.com /// Check out our interview with Michael Berg, Talent Buyer and Partner at Hulaween in Issue #02
Hulaween Top 5 2019 by Spencer.
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