Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park has become one of the most sought out locations to promote a festival. Over the course of any given year, the setting essentially boasts a festival for any and every musical genre. Everything from Civil War reenactments to line dancing camps can be found between the area that is encompassed by Spanish moss and Live Oak trees.
Spirit of the Suwannee has been home to jam festival-family household names like Bear Creek, Wanee, and Magnolia Music Festivals, but there’s a new kid on the block that’s about to make its virgin appearance within the hallowed grounds – Blackwater Music Festival.
Perpetual Groove’s Brock Butler, no stranger to the site as a ticket holding fan and as a performer, had much to articulate in regards to how he views the experience at the park.
The strength of any large music gala lies in the lineup. No matter whom the promoter is or which locale it calls home, a festival bill must contain some sort of eclecticism and clout in order to be victorious. The array of artists is the figurative meat to the proverbial sandwich. With a bill that boasts artists such as STS9, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Disco Biscuits, and Perpetual Groove, Blackwater seems to have this well under wraps. When these meaty treats are packed between the environment and activities (swimming, canoeing, and hiking) that this Floridian campground offers, Blackwater is sure to deliver on its promise to be the latest wonderful addition to the beloved festival season.
At the ripe old age of 21, Brock Butler made his first pilgrimage to the site on the eve of his birthday. After taking a draw off of his Parliament Light, Butler became so immersed in his recollection of his initial encounter with the scene at Suwannee that even remembering to ash became an afterthought.
"(Perpetual Groove) had just played a show in our hometown of Savannah, at a place called Cagney’s," he recalls with a glimmer in his eye tracing the footsteps they took to make it to the festival. "It was called Furthur Festival and we really wanted to see the incarnation of the Dead, The Other Ones. It was Bill Kreutzman, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Kimock, and Alphonso Johnson who had recently taken over the role of bass after Phil Lesh’s departure from the project. It was the closest thing to an actual Dead show that I had ever seen," he recollects with a degree of sadness, taking a final draw before extinguishing his cigarette.
It is moments like these that anyone can recall in their own musical journeys and happenings like this that Spirit of Suwannee has played host to time and again. Without breaking stride, Brock then delves into something that he rarely does and discusses the origin of a tune.
"Three Weeks" is perhaps the most known gem in Perpetual Groove’s extensive catalogue. It is this number that has turned many an eventual Perp (Perpetual Groove fan) on as they witnessed their live show across the map on any one of their cross-country tour or festival stops. Brock recalls seeing Ziggy Marley on that same day and finding "one of the many beauteous Live Oak Trees to beat the heat."
The Perpetual Groove frontman continues, "I remember lying down on the ground and a friend asking me why I was laying down on my 21st birthday?"
In one of the most Breakfast Club-like ways, in its simplest terms and most convenient definitions, Butler replied "It beats standing up." From that one line, a song with tremendous melodious composition and expressive lyrical definition was born "making it quite the more literal song than many suppose" he quirkily admits.
As the conversation progresses, it becomes story time with the Reverend, as Brock rambles through various festival experiences. Having played at every major jam festival on the circuit, the memories that he recalls are those of an aficionado, but what is most interesting is how he relishes in the days of being a fan and "being an onlooker."
"I remember going [to Florida Harvest Music Festival] the following year….There was Galactic, Parliament, and Medeski Martin & Wood. I remember looking at those guys and feeling some sense of direction. I vividly recall thinking to myself that musically we were on a path that could provide equal representation to that sound just as those that I was seeing on stage were doing, and a couple of years later, we were on the same stage" Brock says with an inflection of inspiration.
"[Spirit of Suwannee] is just a special place and has meant a lot to us. We love our Florida fans and many of those have come as a result of, not only our origin of being a Florida-bordering born band, but from the exposure given to us at events like Bear Creek – and in such a grand spot, the shade, comfort, and infrastructure that the site offers, has only helped. People do not feel like they have to work as they seem to feel at some events."
With the endorsement of Brock, it is clear that the inaugural Blackwater Music Festival will be a force with which to be reckoned if he has anything to do with it. Fortunately, he does. Perpetual Groove takes the Spirit of Suwannee stage on August 28th and it is sure to be quite the ceremonious inauguration.
Photos: Brad Kuntz