It’s afternoon at school and the bell is about to ring. I am in fourth grade, complete with my dorky hair cut and Jnco jeans. I’m wearing my bright orange safety patrol belt and manning my post near the bus loop when I hear my name over the loud speaker. “Spencer Storch, please come to the front office.” What have I done this time? I expect to be in trouble, but to my delight I am greeted by Tiffany Lance, a cute fourth grader, when I arrive to the office. She gives me a clay heart with our initials on it and kisses me in front of the whole staff. I’m blushing as the crowd melts with a big “aww.” Whether it’s your first kiss or your first time in the Amphitheater, everyone remembers their first.
I’ll always remember my first Suwannee Rising.
Finally a festival of funk returns to the hallowed grounds of the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, in Live Oak, FL. Three thousand fans of the late Wanee and Bear Creek Festivals eagerly set up their camp to enjoy performances from Oteil & Friends, Lettuce, and moe.. But it doesn’t stop there! Dumpstaphunk, New Mastersounds, New Orleans Suspects, and Ghost–Note take over the moss covered campus for the birth of SOSMP’s newest party.
I’ll be covering this weekend with my trusty cameraman Carmelo Conte. Our spot at The Spirit has been held by our friends and its so close to both the restrooms and the music. We both arrive on Thursday afternoon and have our camp set up shortly after. I go all out with the amenities this festival: shelving unit, coffee table, padded floors, couch, and huge covered front porch. Add an egg-crate layer on the bed and we’re talking deluxe camping!
Shaking free from camp, I look to satisfy my craving for live music with Ben Strok & the Full Electric. Jacksonville’s jam/fusion band pumping out the great tunes when they are joined on stage by Custard Pie’s drummer, Brandon Howell, who unleashes a huge drum solo. Ben’s drummer responds in turn. It’s a battle! These guys go ambient with twinkling keys and heavy synth, but can also jam with long, adventurous guitar solos from Ben. Oh it’s so nice to be back at the park.
Melody Trucks Band in The Amphitheater is our next performance, and what a treat! Isaac Corbitt welcomes fans in with his impressive harmonica technique and versatility. The bassist, Shane Plattern, has a mohawk and Melody has her congas set up at the front of the stage. During the next song, Plattern is in spotlight as the band slowly drops from the song, leaving just his thumb thwapping bass solo. He has the crowd cruising through bonus levels of Mario Bros. when his band joins him once again on stage. Corbitt steals the show with another huge solo. The band even grabs things to fan him with when he speeds up! Lamar Williams Jr., son of Allman Brother’s Band bassist, Lamar Williams, is usually a singer for the ABB cover band, Les Bres. Today he joins in for the ABB tunes, “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'” and “Melissa.” They end the set with the song “Pattern.”
By this time I’m hungry and looking to fill up on some funk. So, I grab a pita from the Greek vendor and get a spot for The Fritz in The Amphitheater. The Asheville quintet funkify Nirvana’s “Lithium” by making it weird and fun. Also on the setlist is fan favorite: “Oppenheim.” During the jam portion of the song I am suddenly swept up into keyboardist Jamar Woods’ whirlwind solo. Circling and spinning, his playing leaves me dizzy with excitement. Percussionist Mikey “Spice” Evans also gets a chance to shine bright with a conga solo, supported by drummer Michael Tillis. Such an awesome set!
Camp time later and we are back at The Amp for the headliner of the night, The New Mastersounds. These guys are so good! The festival shifts into full tilt with the space filling up with flow-artists and colorful poi. The funk is unleashed with big solos from guitarist Eddie Roberts, and keys player Joe Tatton. Never stopping between songs, I recognize “Made for Pleasure,” and a huge “Summercamp.” Lamar Williams Jr. also joins the band on stage for a sneak peak at a collaborative album between the two artists, with “Love They Deserve.”
After the set we make it to camp and hang around with friends. We enjoy some campfire jams when the heavens open up. Rain comes pouring down for hours and hours. When the storm finally passes, I have a really dry tent. The same can’t be said for some of my friends. Carmelo’s tent had 3 inches of water in the bottom of it by daybreak. His stuff was all fine, thankfully.
Waking up Friday morning, everything is wet. We eat food and compare storm stories with our neighbors. We arrive down to The Amp for New Orleans Suspects. They are covering Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” as we approach. Saxophonist Jeff Watkins leads with confidence in his metallic pink, paisley dress shirt. The band takes time to tribute New Orleans rhythm and blues keyboardist James Carroll Booker. Just like that I am transported to Bourbon Street: I’ve got a fistful of beads in one hand and a blinking drink in the other. I believe they are covering Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina’s.” They finish with “Glad” by Traffic and I leave the set a happy camper. My first time seeing these guys, but definitely not the last.
Following a break at camp we make it back for the fearsome foursome, The New Mastersounds! They once again have an outstanding set. They are fast paced and funky the whole time. The set is highlighted once again by a visit from Lamar Williams Jr. “Trouble” by The Allman Brother’s Band is the choice. I dance my butt off as the sun begins to set.
A camp pit stop reveals the arrival of five new friends to the squad and the fun grows big time. We share food and hugs while waiting for the next big set. It’s so difficult to split from my friends “actin’ a fool,” but we have music to go see!
Oteil Burbridge and Friends are next up and they are the big dogs tonight. But first let’s sit, and shake out these talented musicians. Oteil is currently the bassist for the latest evolution of the Grateful Dead, Dead & Company. He also had the pleasure of playing with the second version of the Allman Brother’s Band. He is joined by an all-star cast: Jeff Chimenti (keys, Dead & Co), Scott Metzger (guitar, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead), Neal Casal (guitar, Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood/Circle Around the Sun), and John Kimock (drums, Mike Gordon Band). They start off strong with a cover of ABB’s “Blue Sky” into the Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower.” Holy Cow! I can go home after that, but there is still so much more! They play the Dead’s whimsical “Cats Under Stars.” The Amphitheater fills up with more and more people ready to party. I see a few costumes and a ton of color as friends join up for these premium jams.
Casal is serving up a huge helping of slide guitar and blues while Oteil takes the bass for a walk around the park during “Tore Up.” Taking it slow for The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” Casal has us jumping from cloud to cloud as we float along together. Alan Jackson’s “Mercury Blues” is the next cover. It’s fun to see them take on a country song that is out of the box. I can’t wait to play this later tonight at camp! After nailing an “Ophelia” cover, they tackle ABB’s “Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Jerry Garcia Band’s “Run for the Roses” is the closer for what is now, the best set of the weekend.
Ghost-Note is a percussion-based funk, hip-hop, and jazz group from Dallas, Texas, with a rotating membership based around founding drummer Robert “Sput” Searight and founding percussionist Nate Werth, two members of the jazz band Snarky Puppy. Lettuce keyboardist, Nigel Hall, sits in for the first tune I catch. The next song, “Balls,” Jonathan Mones absolutely sizzles on the saxophone as they lay down their inaugural set at the park. Six-time Grammy Award winning Sput skats in the mic and controls the band, turning our focus from player to player. Peter Knudsen shines bright before MonoNeon (bassist for the late Prince) takes over with his knit cap and light red hoodie sporting his name. Slowly the band joins back in with the bass and a dance party erupts! No need for a jacket on this cool evening, Ghost-Note is bringing the heat! Things get sentimental when they take a moment to honor the late Kofi Burbridge, brother of Oteil, who played keys and flute for Tedeschi Trucks Band. “Fists in the air for Kofi,” they say as the set comes to a close.
Lettuce in The Amp is next and everyone is pumped! Oteil sits in on the song “Relax,” and does his bass and vocal jazz combo thing. They play a song called “Dilla” that has some serious hip-hop flavor. No need to tell me, my hands are already in the air for this trap/jazz/funk. “Trap” continues that same vibe but with huge regal sounding horns. Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet) and Ryan Zoidis (sax) roll out the red carpet for us to enter their kingdom of funk.
Ghost-Note’s MonoNeon joins Lettuce on stage for a “Blast Off” encore. Bloom’s solo has a ton of effects on his trumpet, giving it an electronic feel while Nigel Hall supports him on keys. Oh wow, what a set! Start to finish these guys are gooooooood.
I get back to camp where I hold a 2 hour DJ set on my front porch with my friends. We pass things around while enjoying each other’s company. Finally we break and head over to our friend’s campsite. There we find Wilted Chili’s plus a few others strumming acoustic guitars while only the bass is plugged in to an amp. At that exact moment, MonoNeon (bass, Ghost-Note/Prince) and Dominique Xavier Taplin (keys, Ghost-Note/Toto) walk into camp and without hesitation Nate Greicius takes his bass off and hands it smoothly over to the hooded master. The rest of Ghost-Note stands witness while their friends and my friends take Phish’s “Chalkdust Torture” out for a spin. After they play the guys just hang around camp and make our party, their party.
I get a full four hours of sleep before we wake up and start to cook. Eggs, bacon, sausage, and grits are all on the menu as the teamwork in camp starts to pile up. We fill up on food and get out to our first performance of the day: Ella Jet & Future Soul. They start my day out right with a cover of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone.” Her beautiful voice matches well with this beautiful day. It’s hot outside, but these cool cats slow it down to play “Time and Space” off of their newest album. Ella kneels down beckons everyone to come closer to the stage and tells everyone she has a secret. She whispers to the crowd during their last song in her loud, colorful outfit.
Ghost-Note is a little behind and soundchecks during the first portion of their scheduled time. Not too long though, and they are blasting us with hot jazz lava! They take us through a funky funhouse that has a ton of false endings. I count four trap doors before we make it out of the song. “Sput” on drums leads a call and response with the band, vocalizing the beats before they happen. The spotlights shifts to percussionist Nate Werth, who is a beast and a half! MonoNeon’s “Milkshake” continuously switches back and forth between the full band playing and small solo spotlights for him on the bass. I will never miss a Ghost-Note show.
Good Ol’ Dumpstaphunk is up next and has a great show! They cover big hits like, “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield and Parliament Funkadelic’s “Everybody’s Got A Lil’ Light Under the Sun.” They set the stage for an evening of great music in The Amphitheater.
moe. is a jamband from Buffalo, NY. These guys are killer! They open with the popular “Rebubula” and move into a Spanish sounding song, “Mar De Ma.” Soon we are in “Bearsong” where the crowd knows to “woo” during the rests. Squeezing in a 10 second tease of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” helps to make this may my favorite jam of theirs. This just in: Al Schnier shreds. He is quick and technical and seems to always choose the right path when soloing.
“Bones of Lazarus” and “Brittle End” are both exciting to watch. We celebrate 50 years of bassist Rob Derhak “eating like shit, and beating cancer.” “Silver Sun” causes me to lift off from the ground and soar above the park. It sounds like I am traveling through turbulent storm chords, dodging lightning strikes left and right I finally break through the clouds as we progress to the tail end of the song. A huge pink sky and sunset are waiting for me on the other side of the black clouds. I glide back down to the park on Schnier’s guitar solo as we re-enter “Rebubula” to close the set. Encoring with “Recreational Chemistry,” moe. closes out the best set I have ever seen from them.
I am excited to see Holey Miss Moley from Clermont, FL. They sound a lot like Turkuaz: classy, power funk! Arriving to The Porch Stage, I find them covering Rick James’ “Maryjane.” They sound perfect. They also perform “Shake It with Me,” on their way to a huge set. I can’t wait to see them at Orange Blossom Jamboree.
Closing out the festival is the greasiest funk band around: Lettuce. Heads of iceberg lettuce fly through the air above the pit as fans get down with their bad selves. “The Force” kicks things off before they jam things out in “Pocket Change.” They drop a huge “Madison Square” with a Ryan Zoidis feature solo that dances around before meeting back up with the chorus. The lights on stage are solid beams of bright complimentary colors. Paired with projector lights, the stage has depth and flare. Werth suddenly appears on stage and uses Bloom’s bag of percussion tricks to add his own seasoning to the mix. Festival curator, Paul Levine, gets on stage after the set to thank everyone for coming out to the first Suwannee Rising Music Festival. Lettuce finishes out the festival strong with the ever-potent “Phyllis.”
Walking back to camp, my heart is full with awesome music and moments. I don’t think things can get much better, but, they do! I’m back at the campsite where Ghost-Note made an appearance last night and to my delight they return with most of Lettuce in tow. A full show breaks out with a full power set up. Melody Trucks Band and Kaleigh Baker open for a mashup of Ghost-Note and Lettuce members. Tampa’s rapper Nook takes turns trading bars with Nigel Hall in this late night jam session. They cover Herbie Hancock’s “Actual Proof” and the party vibes are turned all the way up. This is as close to a JamCruise Jamroom as I have ever seen at this park. The set breaks up as the sun begins to rise and people try their best to sear this moment into their brains. “Did that just happen?!”
The first ever Suwannee Rising is a complete success! Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of Wanee and Bear Creek, Suwannee Rising soars high above my expectations. Stay tuned for next year’s lineup as this festival is sure to grow!
Suwannee Rising 2019 Photos
Suwannee Rising 2019 Photos by Carmelo Conte III
Suwannee Rising 2019 Live Review by Spencer Storch.
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