October 30th – November 2nd 2014
The Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park
Live Oak, Florida
Photographer/Writer: Amber Jennings
Suwannee Hulaween Thriller Nights
The Suwannee Hulaween Festival presented by Silver Wrapper and Purple Hat Productions transformed the Suwannee Valley into an amazement of fantasy where mystic lurked throughout the cypress forest and the collective mind-boggling art installations transmogrified the Spirit Lake to a spooktacular afterlife themed arena that was nothing short of grandiose. The host of the event, The String Cheese Incident, would for a second year in a row give fans an experience to remember for a lifetime with seven sets of music that an included an explosive Suwannee Hulaween extravaganza set on Friday evening.
Festival goers would experience very little wait for wristbands and schedules before entering the campgrounds when Suwannee Hulaween opened it’s gates for a pre-party event Thursday, October 30th that included MZG, Modern Measure, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, Particle and Electron on the Amphitheater stage. As festival goer’s met up with their respected tribes to set up camp the sun slowly began to sink behind the giant cypress’ and temperatures dropped to a mild chilly level. The Amphitheater stage located between the Main Stage and Spirit Lake was nestled in the cypress forest, the kinetic art festooned from the stage into the tall trees and billowed over the crowd. The yellowy haze from the setting sun pulsed through the Spanish moss as Florida based DJ twins, MZG, formerly known as Monozygotik kicked off the event on the Amphitheater stage. The hybrid electronica project, Modern Measure would take the stage next. Kyle Holly added a layer of organic mixture to the electronica with live drums during the set.
By the time Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band hit the stage the sun had kissed the Florida sky goodbye, strands of lights draped through the cypress’ and up to the vendor booths lit up and lighting designs inundated the trees with hues of yellow, green and magenta’s indulging the spectators with the first glimpse of the twilight magic that would unfold. The funk infused ensemble emerged and Mary Frances “Mama Funk” purred out powerhouse vocals on “Wake Yo’Self” while bass player Al Al “Sweet Nasty” Ingram’s idiosyncrasy for dropping bass bombs had the crowd pumped. Derrick “Dr. Ock” Johnson’s trombone slid the band into “Quick-E” the set continued with JP “Smoke Machine” Miller on guitar and Lee “Insta Funk” Allen on drums for “North Carolina” “Sunday Afternoon” “24/7” “Nah Brah.” They covered Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “Nothing But a G Thang” into “Funk Life” before ripping out a Dirty Dozen Brass Band tune “Ain’t Nothing But a Party.” The set concluded with “Livin’ the Dream” and “Trunk Fallin’ Off.”
LA based band Particle continued to rage the pre-party show. The livetronica, electrofunk band opened with the Kill Bill theme song “A Battle Without Honor or Humanity.” The set continued with a segue of tunes Triple Threat> Organ Chords> I’m Awake> Launchpad. Aaron Magner and Jason Hann joined the band for “Knee Knocker” and they closed the set with a Beck cover “E-Pro.” Electron closed the event on the Amphitheater stage, the super-group from Philly covered rock sensation Pink Floyd tunes “Comfortably Numb” and “Brain Damage.”
As the crowd dispersed following the late night show, it would prove to be an impossible feet for the curious to preview the Spirit Lake. The Teeth Portal would beckon to the inquisitive but stern security guards held their ground to keep the Spirit Lake a surprise for the next day’s festivities. Those that wandered to the campground side of the lake watched in awe as the lights from the guarded and enigmatic psychedelic wonderland teased from across the water.
Suwannee Hulaween would kick off the first official festival day on Friday, October 31st. The Spirit Lake stage would host the first band of the day, Post Pluto. As people entered the Spirit Lake area through the Teeth Portal to catch the opening act they would be mesmerized by the play land that stretched out before them. The Spirit Lake stage would grab the festy goer’s attention off to the left, with its plush red curtains and Day of the Dead paintings adorning the top of the stage. The platforms on either side of the stage congregated with hula hoop artists, fire and belly dancers along with the aerial performers would enchant many.
Sprawled out in front of the Spirit Lake the Natural Mandala Art, Sonic Forest, JellyDome along with several other art instillations would captivate those not lost in ecstasy by the Spirit Lake stage. If this wasn’t enough eye candy that comes under the direction of Art Director and longtime String Cheese Incident Lighting designer, Andrew Carroll, the Infinite Infant and all of his toys would be sure to blow your mind. The history of the Infinite Infant is something of note, the motorized metal sculpture 16-20’ tall x 8-10’ wide x 10-12’ long was designed by Charlie Smith. Its massive cauldron and the cauldron’s of all its toys would provide fiery comfort to all over the weekend as temperatures dropped below freezing. The three fire cauldrons celebrate the history, intention and symbolic meanings of our past, present and future existence. The Infinite Infant brings 10 ft. tall “Hot Mama” – the earth mother, 12 ft. tall “Mr. Nice Guy” the corporate suit, along with these fiery cauldrons two more could be found between the Spirit Lake stage and the Spirit Lake. Alongside the fiery installations was another hypnotizing installation, Dillon Endico’s,“Because of the Lotus.” The projection mapping on paintings would transfix onlookers at night through the combination of traditional painting and projection mapping making the paintings seem to come to life and morph into different phases as light cast upon them in varying ways. In total nearly 100 artists and performers filled the Spirit Lake area with color, creativity and gave a community vibe that made it an all day and night spectacle not to be missed.
Judah & the Lion’s set on the Amphitheater stage would start shortly after Post Pluto. The migration from one stage to the next flowed nicely, as one band would wrap up the next stage over would begin their set. The first act on the Main stage would be Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass. Dressed as angels they had the crowd stirring up dust as they danced to the hellishly fierce pickin’ the band was throwing down. Emancipator took stage on the Amphitheater stage while the dust was still filtering through the air from the Greensky’s performance. The electronica, trip-hop artists opened with “Old Devil” and preluding to the dropping temperatures to come included “Soon it will be Cold Enough to Build” and “Fires.”
To the excitement and anticipation of all 8,000 attendees the hosts, The String Cheese Incident took the main stage for the first of their six performances. The attendees decked out in magnificent customs ranging from the afterlife, zombies, day of the dead to fairytale characters gave the band a warm welcome the band teased a Friday the 13th jam before Kyle Hollingsworth keys zipped through the night to unfurl, “Restless Winds.” The set continued to the delight of everyone with Keith Mosely on vocals for “Joyful Sound” his fast bass run exploding through the night. A slinky salsa “Pygmy Pony” was a nice ride with Jason Hann and Michael Travis softly keeping rhythm as Billy Nershi and Michael Kang swayed the crowd with their strings, they segued into Piece of Mine > Give Me the Love. They ripped into “Valley of the Jig” the electric jam with its ferocity melting the crowd in euphoria and smiles spread as everyone lost themselves in the moment. They closed the set with “Can’t Wait Another Day.” As the Main stage cleared to prep for the thrilling second Cheese set the crowd dispersed for ferris wheel rides, partake in some grub and beverages and catch DJ Shpongle on the Amphitheater stage.
When the String Cheese Incident sauntered back on stage they were dressed in white suits with white top hats, their faces had been painted white with black paint across their eyes. Nershi and Mosely wore long white wigs. Joining them on stage was Rhonda Thomas and Tony White on vocals, Antibalas Horns included Martin Perna (Baritone Sax, Flute), Jas Walton (Tenor), Jordan McLean (Trumpet), Jeff Pierce (Trumpet, Trombone). They opened the set with a Rolling Stones cover “Sympathy for the Devil” Mosely on vocals while Nershi shredded out the riffs. They segued into “Ghostbusters” Tony White on vocals with the Antibalas brass blasting away while giant air filled ghosts shot up from the front of the stage and waved and swayed to the song. Kang took lead vocals for Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell” before passing vocals to Rhonda Thomas for a Paul McCartney cover “Live and Let Die.” Enormous sized skull balloons were released into the crowd, confetti was shot out from the stage and pyrotechnics burst from the stage in massive explosions. Nershi took Acapulco on “Just Passing Through” and they continued the set with a Blue Oyster Cult cover “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and segued into a Doors cover “Break on Through” and Led Zeppelin cover “Stairway to Heaven.” Kyle sang lead for “Heaven” a slow Talking Heads cover before reprising back into “Live and Let Die.” The monster finale was a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Behind the stage a monstrous sized rendition of Michael Jackson emerged with hands that reached out over the stage, dancers dressed as zombies danced on the sides of the stage, it was a killer, thriller night!
The third set for the night had monster jams, the Cheese opened with “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” and went into a Kool and the Gang cover “Hollywood Swingin.” They continued the set with You’ve Got The World, Hotel Window > Rosie > Zombie > Rosie, Way Back Home > Just One Story and they encored with “Superstition.”
The night would continue on with Beats Antique on the Amphitheater stage and Thievery Corporation back on the Main stage. By the time Thievery took the stage the temps had dropped to below freezing and the winds had started to pick up. After Thievery everyone rushed to Spirit Lake for Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, Billy Gilmore’s Jam and the amazing art instillation’s that morphed into a cosmic pulse of colors and textures. The cauldrons warmed chilled bodies while fire performers danced through Spirit Lake.
Saturday would prove to be just as fun as the day before with everyone surviving the 60 mph winds and the sun popping out behind the clouds. The three stages would bounce to and fro with a few conflicting schedules, Strung Like a Horse, Beartoe, Cope, The Heavy Pets, Shane Pruitt Band and Nahko and Medicine for the People would all take turns in competing for the masses. Keller Williams and Friends which included Reed Matthis from Marco Benevento and Nicky Sanders of Steep Canyon Rangers on the Main stage had everyone in smiles. They opened with “Kidney” and continued with favorites like “Doobie in My Pocket” “Samson and Delilah” “Scarlet Begonias” “Wish You Were Here” and “Born to be Wild.”
The second night of the String Cheese Incident would ratify even larger jams then the night before and they would outdo themselves in the magnitude of music. The first set opened with Search > Lost > Mouna Bowa. Nicky Sanders from Steep Canyon Rangers sat in for “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance.” Keller Williams joined Nicky and the String Cheese for “Resume Man” and “Pack it Up.” Keller took lead vocals for one of his songs “Alligator Alley” and a Grateful Dead cover “Franklins Tower.” The second set was a space-meld of psychedelic dank jams with “Let’s Go Outside” opening into “Black Clouds” they found the “Sweet Spot” and had Dominic Lalli from Big Gigantic set in for “Birdland.” They rolled into Sirens > Rivertrance > Drums > Swamp > Rivertrance and encored with a super heady “Bollymunster.”
Sunday was magic as the temperatures climbed and people started to warm up as the sun rose above the campground. Most festival goers still sported their costumes from the first night of the festival whether from the weather being too cold to change or just the sheer enjoyment of wearing a costume for three days it didn’t matter it just made it easier to spot newly made friends in a crowd. The day would kick off with Ghost Owl on the Main stage and Suenalo on the Spirit Stage. The Soul Rebels would offer a chance to see a set on the Amphitheater stage with little conflict in scheduling. North Carolina’s Asheville goddess, Rising Appalachia, would perform on the Main stage. The beautiful sisters seemed to call out the sun as their rich powerful message resounded through the campgrounds. Their set included, Mississippi, Scaledown, Filthy Dirty, Fly Around, Downtown, Pretty Lil Foot, Cuarto de Tula, Stromboli, Tiny Fish Lungs, Medicine, Honey Baby. The Dean Ween Group was sandwiched between Rising Appalachia and the String Cheese would include favorites “Dickie Betts” “Transdermal Celebration” “Ghost of the Frontier” and “Sweet Jan.”
The String Cheese would wrap up hosting the Suwannee Hulaween with as much bravado as one could imagine. The first set opened with “Sometimes A River” into Close Your Eyes > How Mountain Girls Can Love, a “MLT” and Love Is Like A Train > So Far From Home > ‘Round The Wheel. The second set pushed the jams to even greater levels of joy. They opened with Colliding > Late In The Evening, Look At Where We Are, Song In My Head > This Must Be The Place > On The Road, Bumpin’ Reel. They ended their Incident with a big bold “Texas.”
Future Rock would hold fans over on the Amphitheater stage between major schedule conflict EOTO on the Main stage and Van Ghost on Spirit Lake. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead would close out the festival with Truckin> Uncle John’s Band> No Quarter Jam> Uncle John’s Band> Let It Grow> Crazy Fingers> Help On The Way> Slipknot!> Franklin’s Tower.
As the stages cleared most found their way back to their campsites or wandered one last time through the mystical play land of the Spirit Lake. The last of the firewood was dumped into the Infinite Infant and his cauldron toys as temperatures once again plummeted below freezing. Those left huddled around the cauldrons for warmth buzzed of chatter focused on what a great event Suwannee Hulaween and how much they were looking forward to next year’s Suwannee Hulaween these words would echo through the morning as campers packed up to head home.