Grateful Dead plays from the speaker, warm white lights are strung all around the open tent we are sitting under, and the stars are out in full force. The tiki torch from next door lit up the tapestries hanging around us, making it feel as though we were floating in some psychedelic realm, where the clouds embodied mushrooms and mandalas.
“Just write, ‘Had to be there,’ as your review” someone says. We all laugh, and nod in agreement. Ah yes, it’s true, it felt like a had-to-be-there kind of weekend, but the art of taking magic moments and transforming them into written word is too powerful to pass up, so, here I share with you my Purple Hatter’s Ball experience…
…sit your ass down and reflect on the beauty…”
I rode up to the Spirit of the Suwannee with friends on Friday morning. We got there early afternoon and set up camp on Spirit Lake, right next to the infamous art installation, Snorra of Suwannee. She was our protector of the weekend.
The music wasn’t starting until later, so we walked around for a bit, got a quesadilla from Solar Café, and went back to camp to do a meditation and Tarot card reading.
It’s important to ground yourself and take a moment to really give thanks when you find yourself at a festival. (For me, this holds especially true when it comes to the Suwannee because I feel so much power and divine spirit all over its land).
We can get so caught up in our day to day lives worrying about money, relationships, work, family, or whatever it may be. The list goes on and is different for everyone. But the fact that despite all of that, you find yourself surrounded by beautiful people in a place as amazing as the Suwannee is reason enough to sit your ass down and reflect on the beauty of that alone.
We lit some sage, placed crystals in the middle of our circle, closed our eyes, and I led the meditation/tarot reading. I asked for our guides to be present, I asked for us to just breathe in, be still, and listen to the Suwannee, feel the Suwannee under us, and thank ourselves for taking time to travel there for the weekend. We sat in silence for a good ten minutes.
During that time, there was a magical breeze that kept passing through, and the cicadas and frogs around the lake sung a symphony which felt like a sacral sound bath presented by nature. So cleansing. And, it felt so good to truly just be present with the land and ourselves before diving into the weekend.
It was like metaphorically tipping our big purple hats at the Suwannee before getting into party mode.“
I made it to Southern Avenue to kick off the evening, and I was totally blown away. I hadn’t heard of them before (or so I thought, but when I heard Tiernii Jackson’s voice I instantly recognized it from a song Sirius XM’s JamOn has played). Her voice is SO soulful and powerful, it gave me chills. There were points during the set I actually had to ask myself if I was about to cry, and she wasn’t even singing a sad song. That’s how soul shaking her voice was. Also, their drummer Tikyra Jackson was holding it down. I love seeing a woman behind a drum set. The whole band was just phenomenal and I highly encourage you to check them out. Total southern bluesy-soul vibes. Fingers crossed they show up on next year’s Wanee lineup.
On the way out of their set, I heard a woman ask her friend, “did you see me crying?” as she laughed about it. Confirmation I was so not the only one feeling that way.
Toubab Krewe took over the stage after Southern Avenue and played some jams while the sun went down.
I made it back to my campsite to reset before The Heavy Pets.
I poured a cup full of wine and walked a couple laps around Spirit Lake to admire the stars and the last quarter moon that was still bright in the sky.”
I also love just exploring the campsites at night because they’re all lit up by string lights and fires, and it takes on this totally different feeling than daytime campsite exploring.
The night time feel of Suwannee always gives me a boost of energy for what’s ahead. It’s weird and spooky, yet witchy and enchanting. Also, major shout out to the campsites who project the laser shows onto the trees at night, that is one of my favorite things to see and has become such a staple of the Suwannee nightlife.
I made it to Heavy Pets and, though this was not my first time seeing them, it was one of the best sets I’ve ever seen them play. They manage to bring this combination of jam and funk, yet chill music that puts you in such a funky feel-good mood. They were the perfect set to catch before the headliner of the night, Spafford.
Something great about this festival was that no music overlapped, so you never had to worry about picking between who to see and who to miss. All the bands who played on the Amphitheater Stage had 45 minute gaps between sets as well, so the festival goers had a solid amount of time to go back to their campsite and recharge (or drink more, or, whatever…) before heading to the next set of music.
So, I had a 45-minute wine down session at my campsite and then headed to Spafford.
I was really excited to see Spafford because I had never seen them before and I’ve heard such great things about them these last few months. There has been lots of talk about how they’re a very up and coming band who are going to keep getting bigger. To see them on the Amphitheater Stage at a festival as intimate as Purple Hatter’s Ball was a gift.
I loved them and can see where all the hype comes from. They have a bit of a Phish-vibe mixed with some Disco Biscuit attributes and a reggae spin as well. I think anyone who is into the jamtronica scene would get down to Spafford.
I was hoping they would play “Beautiful Day,” mainly because it was the only song I knew by them going into the set, but not getting that song just makes me want to go see them the next time they come around.
Their sound mixed with the lights behind them dancing off the crowd, and Suwannee trees reminded me of the true magic I experience that always leads me back there. It was a beautiful end to the night.
I walked out of the music and went towards the field with the bat house to moon/stargaze. It was a gorgeous view, and since Purple Hatter’s Ball is a smaller festival, there was so much open space for camping. I went back to camp and grabbed my air mattress and a blanket, and carried it back to the field. I plopped my air mattress down in the middle of the open field and lay there looking up at the stars until I fell asleep.
I slept so well and woke up in the morning to the sound of someone playing a crystal sound bowl nearby. Talk about waking up on the right side of the bed. I definitely had a “is this real life?” moment.
I eventually got up and made it back over to my campsite spot to link up with friends and see what we wanted to do with the day. Little did we know what was in store.
Originally, the music in the day was going to be held at the Beach Stage, but due to rain the Suwannee had gotten the week before, the river was overflown and the beach current was too strong for people to hang out there safely.
Naturally that was a bummer to find out about, but the day completely made up for it.
We decided to walk down towards the river just to see it. We went towards a secret spot we know of that drops you off on this mini beach, about a mile down the river from the main beach.
The Suwanee was not kidding when they said it was overflown; the mini beach that we’ve gone to plenty of times in the past was completely underwater, you couldn’t even try to climb down to it. It was nice to just see the river though, and we decided to adventure down to the famous Suwannee treehouse to check it out.
The treehouse is SO beautiful and insane, talk about house goals. All I really need is a treehouse at the Suwannee to be fulfilled in life.
Anyways, we’re standing under the treehouse talking, and a man who works there comes down as these three women approach, who had a tour of the treehouse scheduled. We didn’t realize you had to schedule a tour of the treehouse and pay a small fee to go inside.
It was no big deal, we really had only wanted to walk up and look at the treehouse anyway. But then we start talking to the three women who had shown up moments after us, and it turned out that one of the women was the mother of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman.
If you’re not familiar with the name, Rachel Hoffman was very much so involved in the live music scene in Florida, and was tragically killed in 2008 during a drug sting.
Purple Hatter’s Ball is the annual beautiful (and emotional) festival that was created to celebrate her life.
After her death, her mother who we call Mama Margie, dedicated her life to the Rachel Morningstar Foundation, a non-profit organization that educates people on confidential informant risks and rights in the state of Florida.
And, there we were with Mama Margie, under the treehouse, giving hugs and introducing ourselves….”
And, there we were with Mama Margie, under the treehouse, giving hugs and introducing ourselves….”
Mama Margie had love pouring out of her. She’s a spiritual, beautiful woman who lights up the place with her presence.
As we were all talking and getting to know each other she paused to say,
Rachel’s here, she really likes you guys. Let’s go up into the treehouse.”
Ugh. Chills. You felt the seriousness in her words. You felt the love and the magic that was happening. How do you describe the feeling you get when you and your friends are aimlessly wandering around the Suwannee and mosey on down to the treehouse, and next thing you know you’re in the presence of this magnificent beautiful being and you genuinely feel the love pouring out of her, into you, and now you’re walking up the steps of the treehouse? (Which, by the way, is a dedicated memorial to Jean Cornett, one of the founders of Suwannee Music Park who passed away weeks before the treehouse project ended.) SO MUCH SPIRIT.
We ascend into the treehouse. It looks down over the Suwannee river and is built around a 90-something year old tree whose highest branches are piercing through the living room floor.
You can feel the sacred energy of the treehouse. It really is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
We’re all bonding with each other, and the entire situation was just cosmically divine.
I’m sitting on this bench which overlooks the river from the treehouse, and I’m thinking about life and the magnitude of it all, and how I’ve been stressed about certain things lately and working hard to create the life I want to live, and its all been really awesome but with the highs come the lows, and with growth comes loss and as I’m just reflecting on everything, Mama Margie says to us,
Everything you’re seeing right now is a reflection of who you are and what you give to the world.”
Like….holy fucking shit.
I’m sitting in this beautiful treehouse with beautiful people looking out at the trees and the river and the sun is shining and I get hit with that sentence. You best believe I had to wipe a tear from my eye.
We eventually made our way back down and Mama Margie had to leave for an interview, but we stuck around a little longer and kept talking to Eric, the man who works at Suwannee giving treehouse tours on the weekends. Eric was such an incredible soul and he’s also the first person I’ve ever really met who works at the park. Putting a face and spirit to someone who contributes to Suwannee was really cool, and it made so much sense that he was such a loving and amazing person. I’m forever grateful for that whole experience.
We made our way back into the festival and a big storm was moving in. The sky was getting dark and people were making their way back to camp for cover.
I made a run to the field to save my air mattress and we put it under the easy up tent to brave the storm. And storm, it did.
It was a complete downpour, and the thunder and lightning was SO. INTENSE. It was some soul shaking thunder that you felt in your core. After every thunder strike, you could hear all the people from their tents screaming and cheering. It was like tribal war cries happening all around Spirit Lake. It was such an experience.
After about two hours, the storm cleared up and the Releasing of the Butterflies ceremony led by Mama Margie occurred at the Amphitheater Stage, followed by the Roosevelt Collier Band.
The evening was back in full swing and everyone was feeling full of love from the ceremony and excitement for the night.
Video by our own Richie “The Sober Goat Williams.
Roosevelt Collier Band threw it down, per usual. Roosevelt is a master of funk and has such a way of leading his band into jams that are so one-of-a-kind every time they play.
Nigel Hall from Lettuce was on the keys which was fun to see. It also served as a reminder like, “oh yeah, Lettuce plays tonight. Holy shit it has been such a day…..”
The ground was super muddy from the rain but that didn’t hold people back. Children and adults were getting down in the mud as the sun went down.
Breaking Biscuits took the stage at 9:15 and they were fantastic.
Breaking Biscuits is made up of Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner from Disco Biscuits, Borham Lee from Break Science, and Adam Deitch from Lettuce/Break Science.
They got down on some electronic, funky jams and even did some hip-hop covers. Two of the greatest songs they did were covers of Daft Punk and Prince. Roosevelt Collier sat in with them during the Prince cover of “1999.”
Then, there was Lettuce. Lettuce closed out the festival with a bang.
Lettuce’s set makes this review come full circle with the whole “had to be there” concept.
I mean, it’s Lettuce. Have you really not seen Lettuce yet?
Video by our own Richie “The Sober Goat Williams.
Lettuce is one of my ultimate favorite funk bands and they are a must see.
They will be playing both the pre-party and the festival itself for Hulaween 2018.
If Lettuce isn’t a must-see, Hulaween is a must-go, so catch them there!
Purple Hatter’s Ball was an amazing experience with amazing people and I’ll end it with this story:
After Lettuce ended, I realized I lost my credit card during the set. There was no way I was finding it in the dark, so I tried not to worry about it and went about my night.
The next morning, I woke up to the sun rising around 6:45am, got up, and headed towards the Amphitheater Stage. It was early morning and hardly anyone was around.
As I walked into the stage area, a purple tent (the one that Mama Margie had been giving massages in all weekend), had a butterfly perched on the side of it. It was such a beautiful sight and a true sign from Rachel Hoffman that she was grateful for the weekend in her honor.
I was walking around the Amphitheater area looking for my card, and instead came across someone’s wallet that had cash and their ID in it amongst other things. I held onto it, trying to find the owner through Facebook but when I couldn’t find him I took the wallet to lost and found.
I asked if there was any chance someone had turned in a credit card and described the card, and the girl behind the desk smiled, pulled my missing credit card out from the drawer, and thanked me for turning in the wallet.
It was such a feel-good moment that reminded me of the magic which Suwannee carries and the magical people who travel to connect there, and look out for each other.
If you’re reading this and were at Purple Hatter’s Ball, I encourage you to take a moment to really thank yourself for doing what you had to do to make this weekend possible for you.
Taking time to go to Suwannee is the ultimate act of self-care, and I applaud and honor everyone who has and will continue to do so in the future.”
Thank you, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.
Until next time…
Purple Hatter’s Ball 2018 Live Review by Rachel Welsh.
Purple Hatter’s Ball 2018 PHOTOS contributed by Various Photographers.
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