Grab your sweet tea fixin’s, and your rhinestone jacket! Come meet me at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park for the 3rd Annual Suwannee Spring Reunion! Here we will bask in the glory that is four days of bluegrass and rockabilly at the best venue this side of the Mississippi. Music lovers and families come from all over to enjoy a relaxing weekend under the magic of the Spanish moss. The photographer joining me for this adventure is Carmelo Conte III.
Our campsite is beautiful and full of happy people. We are camped under the trees at Spirit Lake just outside of the music venue. It’s a great set up and I love my saved spot on this Friday afternoon. I set up my tent with the help of my friends and I’m off! Ready to soak up some sweet sounds, I head down to the amphitheater for my first music of the weekend.
Asheville’s Town Mountain has been crafting roots and bluegrass music since 2007 with their debut album, Original Bluegrass and Roots Country. Bobby Britt is impressing me on the fiddle as we approach the chair-filled Amp. This laid back country music has me catching all kinds of feelings as I walk the grounds of my favorite place in the universe. Armed with goosebumps and a huge smile, I walk the park tasting a veggie quesadilla from the Solar Cafe. In the field there is a tent for more music. Here I find Nora Jane Struthers, a singer songwriter from Nashville, Tennessee. She has a full band, and their upbeat sound is music to my ears. I join my friends back at camp and finally say hello to everyone. It’s really cool to see a large joined camp where it seems everyone is bringing something to the table. I am so happy to be around my festival friends.
The next music we catch is Steep Canyon Rangers. They are best known for their 2007 rendezvous with comedian and banjo player Steve Martin. He joined the sextet in LA for a one night show that translated into a world tour. Performing on late night shows, big festivals, and the musical showcase, Later with Jools Holland. The Rangers play the song “Take the Wheel,” where fiddle player Nicky Sanders excels. Soon after, they welcome Larry Keel to sit in on guitar. They take a tune for a spin and finish up by harmonizing around a single microphone.
The Grass is Dead is a staple at these events. Fastening the songs of the Grateful Dead with the sounds of bluegrass. Led by banjo player Billy Gilmore, this group takes on huge and familiar songs. The crowd sings loudly during “I Know You Rider.” “Easy Wind” is abstract and I marvel at the band stretches the song to its limit. Mandolin juggernaut Steve Pruett carries the band on his back during “Sampson and Delilah.” His crazy solos even tickle the rest of the band, as they smile and laugh at his playing. It’s always an treat to see The Grass is Dead as every show, every song is different.
A much needed camp break gets us ready for the main event tonight: Billy Strings. This young Nashville guitarist is boiling hot. Only a few people remain seated for this set. Instantly, I run into friends I haven’t seen all weekend. “Slow Train” is where the party starts to come off the rails. Whistles and cheers fly over my head at the stage. They chill out for “Waiting” where everyone is working hard to add their part to this ambient number. Banjo player Billy Failing stuns the crowd with his fast fingers during “Meet Me at the Creek.” The lights match the music well and have been solid beams of color, slowing moving across the stage, criss-crossing like light sabers. Finishing with the cover, “Runnin’ on Empty” by Jackson Browne, this set easy takes the cake for best music of the weekend. Do Not Miss Billy Strings!
It’s cold in the amphitheater when we return for John Stickley Trio. There is only a small crowd but the lights are poppin’ and the band is in full swing. These guys take turns soloing while the other two support. Stickley on guitar effortlessly transitions between foreground as the guitar and background playing bass strings. I can’t pick out much from these guys, but they tease “Ants Go Marching” and also “Smells like Teen Spirit.” “Let’s go party in the woods … after this song,” Stickley says, “Flight of the Durban” finishes the set.
Let’s go party in the woods … after this song,”
Let’s go party in the woods … after this song,”
We disperse into the chilly night air to find pickin’ parties. I stumble around with my friends and find groups pickin’ like popcorn, here and there, keeping things fresh and crunchy. Clapton cover, “Can’t Find My Way Home” is the last song I hear tonight. Appropriately, I search for my tent and my bed.
I wake up in the early morning and I can see the steam/fog rising off of the lake. It’s so beautiful here. The lake and the sunrise with the Spanish moss hanging down casting shadows. Ugh … I love it here! My friends wake up and we start to cook! Basically everyone brought sausage, lol, so today we will have a good ol’ fashioned sausage party. The campsite is the place to be. Friends and food, we pass the time play games and share stories. It’s a gorgeous day in the park and although we aren’t at every set, everyone feels like they are getting their money’s worth.
Finally taking in some music we enjoy a huge solo from Billy Strings as we enter the amphitheater. My brain gets scrubbed as the jam has everyone working hard to bring the song into a lather. They move through the sections of the song so easily, I hardly see a nod or anything from the band to tell each other they are ready for the next part. Like a gang of skateboarders coming down the street, each of them take turns with small tricks and jumps as they take the neighborhood.
The party is picking up speed as we all coast downhill. Covering Bill and James Monroe’s “I Haven’t Seen Mary in Years,” they band slows it down to a ballroom dancing kind of vibe. “Dust in a Baggie” speeds things back up with a huge finish by William Apostol (Billy Strings). They are so good they even touch the stoic viewers cemented in their chairs. Performing Pearl Jam’s “In Hiding” next, they pick up speed and take the song far away from its alternative-rock roots. The group performs “Dealing Despair” before a small tribute for fallen bluegrass superstar Mac Wiseman.
The show ends and my adventure continues. I say yes to going and visiting a campsite of an acquaintance and they welcome me in with open arms. Smiles, hugs, and chicken wings make a great hello in the Spirit. I break from their camp to make my way to the music hall where I catch some of the basketball tournament with a bunch of other fans. Hot food and a full liquor bar make the musical hall the place to be! I arrive back in camp to get rest and maybe eat some boiled peanuts, when I am invited to go see the kids tent talent show. So I stand in the back and watch parents gush over their performing child and the whole show ends with a loud rendition of “Baby Shark.” Doo doo do do.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives were a hoot! This is where that rhinestone jacket comes into the picture. These guys have style and start off strong with “Graveyard” and then play “Tear The Woodpile Down.” They stop and play “Bonanza” and also perform surfer anthem “Wipe Out.” The cool part is that instead of playing the snare hanging from the drummers neck, he sets down his sticks and plays the drum section with his mouth. I can’t believe it! What a cool way to bring in a crowd that is unfamiliar with your library. I can’t wait to see what happens next. “Swanee River” by Bing Crosby is their next cover and I’m covered in goosebumps. This song has meaning in this place. They cover again, this time with Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska.” It brings a smile to my face to see them laughing and joking on stage.
Passing Cicada Rhythm I notice that the bassist Andrea DeMarcus is using a bow to play her upright bass guitar for the song “Roses by my Side.”
Pigeon Kings rock! They were super entertaining. Even a few of my friends wanted to leave the set to go to camp, and the boys coo’ed their way into the hearts of the audience. We bobbed our heads and milled around while they played “Mexican Radio.” Victor Gagnon soared high on the fiddle. He had the people next to me breaking out in an Irish jig dance. They handed out stickers to the crowd and I grabbed two! Don’t miss these guys, they are a party!
I hit the hay early tonight, but it doesn’t mean I miss out on the late night jams. We have a prime camping spot in-between the lake and “Slopperyland,” the late night jam and hang out zone. The next morning I enjoy eggs and bacon cooked by a buddy, while other friends quietly jam out on guitar around the smoldering remains from last nights fire. Today is for fellowship as we reminisce about the good ole’ days of Wanee and Bear Creek. Telling stories and cooking food, this might be the best part of my weekend.
SUWANNEE SPRING REUNION 2019 PHOTOS
Suwannee Spring Reunion Live Review 2019 by Spencer.
Suwannee Spring Reunion Live Photos 2019 by Carmelo.
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