Suwannee’s Hulaween fuses the collective aspects of a festival that a potential goer seeks when making the commitment to buy the ticket and take the ride, ties them all together into one perfectly spooky bundle and caters much more than just a music festival to its guests. Rather, Hulaween administers a life changing experience, unlike any even seasoned festers have encountered. The festival is much more than its immaculate and extremely well produced lineup, production and logistics. Suwannee Hulaween is a complete dive into one’s self, creativity, connection, exploration and coming together for the common love of music to forge unforgettable experiences and connections.
Silver Wrapper, Purple Hat Productions and the legendary musicians of the String Cheese Incident have created the prime Halloween incident, as well as a sacred place for its attendees to call home every Halloween. From the enchanting location of the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, to the beyond lovable humans in attendance, to the innovative production, to the groundbreaking musical performances, here goes my (almost impossible) shot at assembling the top captivating happenings experienced at the 4th annual Suwannee Hulaween in Live Oak, Florida October 27th-30th, 2016.
The Spirit of the Suwannee: A festival’s location is equally as important as its lineup, its producers and its crowd. It is 100% safe to say that The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is a prime spot to throw a festival, especially a Halloween themed one. With bewitching Spanish Moss trees sprawled throughout the ground’s entirety, the scenery is one out of a cryptic horror film from the 80’s…genuinely fitting for the Stringier Things theme this year at Hulaween. Throw in unlimited shady camping areas, the breathtaking Spirit Lake, the superbly illuminated and decorated atmosphere and it is safe to say that magic oozes from every square inch of this entrancing space.
More Cheese Please: For me, Hulaween provided the opportunity to be graced in the presence of Cheesus for my first time. Not only for one night, but for SEVEN sets of Cheesy goodness. Now, I am not your typical jam band girl. My parents did not raise me on the Dead or Phish, I have never fully deemed myself a Sound Tribe lady or a WSMFP follower. Although I have always had mad respect and love for all of the aforementioned artists, I longed for the jam band to call my own; one I could truly understand the reasoning of spending years following across the country just to see one more beloved set. Well, I now am well aware of why people do this and I can officially call myself a Cheese head. Thank you Hula and more importantly, thank you String Cheese Incident for allowing me to find “my” jam band.
Endless Captivation: The installations curated by Hulaween’s Art Director Andy Carroll and his team provided endless sights, sounds and masterpieces for Hulaweener’s to become lost in. Never has a festival’s interactive art captivated me so quickly and fully. From the iconic wooded Hula-goon, to the life size Lite-Brite, to the Incendia flame geo dome, to the groups of performance troupes bedazzling us with their talents all weekend, Hulaween’s forest and grounds beheld childlike wonder at every turn.
Conscious Curation: A huge component to me when choosing to attend a festival, is the music schedule. Scheduling conflicts are a serious bummer and with one of the most stacked lineups this season, I wondered how the scheduling would either make or break the Hulaween flow. However, whenever I saw the schedule, I praised loud and proud to the festi gods and to the graciously thoughtful humans who created such a minimally conflicting schedule for the entire weekend of music. Big UPS!
The Most Mystifying Musical Medley & Ceaseless Grooves: With a new festival announced everyday it seems, Hulaween conquers the difficult feat of providing a mouthwatering lineup for music lovers of all kinds to embrace. For real though, there was so much goodness, I can only leave you with a light skim of each day’s luscious sets. Also, for the record, out of the twelve fests I have attended this year and the dozens in previous years, I have never danced harder, longer, groovier or with more zest than the dancing Hulaween stirred up in my ramblin’ soul.
Friday: My Friday kicked off with beatsmith and drummer extraordinaire, Cofresi, killin’ it on the tucked away Patch stage. Too Many Zooz unfortunately cancelled but Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe brought some motown funk to our souls, followed by a ‘lil hop on the Squabtrain as Sunsquabi blasted us off into their future funk paradise. SCI kicked off the Cheesy weekend with two gratifying sets sandwiched in between Gramatik’s usual dosage of dope, before Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals delivered a show of a lifetime with their delectable fusion of conscious hip hop and progressive rock and roll. My Morning Jacket came next, serving up a set so good I became a devoted MMJ fan on the spot. Although, I had to sneak away before the end to get my Claude Vonstroke on…a ‘lil Dirtybird goes a long way in the forest.
Saturday: Seriously, Saturday at Hula might have been my favorite day at a festival I have ever experienced. Starting off with some electronic hip-hop from Artifakts, some legendary bluegrass pickin’ by Larry Keel and Drew Emmit, followed by a booty shaking good time by Gravitas Recording’s Marvel Years, capped off with some Snarky Puppy and Manic Focus (accompanied by the dopest vocalist, JuBee) to end the afternoon proper, I’d say Saturday was off to a dope beginning. With but five minutes to spare, I changed into my finest Hula garb and ran back out to the Meadow to catch Cheese’s first set of the day before turning back around for some Lettuce, who delivered the most psychedelic funk set I have seen them play. Cheese then came back for their mind-boggling Stringier Things set, filled with 80’s covers to make every 90’s baby wish they would have been born a decade earlier. There ain’t no stopping Saturday, because directly after STS9 wow’d the crowd at The Patch before Cheese rocked the Hula one more time for the night! Next up was London duo Disclosure, who had the entire Meadow dancing every last second until they ended with a dope AF remix of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson,” nostalgia on top of the intoxicating Hulaween cake. Saturday closed out with about three hours of some of the best damn bluegrass my ears have ever had the pleasure of listening to and my feet ever had the pleasure of stompin’ to. If you ever have a chance to catch a Grass is Dead set, DO IT.
Sunday: After a solid three days of non stop musicing, Sunday began with a slower start than the rest. After filling up on a chicken fried biscuit from the Ozark Biscuit Company, I felt like I could survive the final day. I started my day off with that reggae delight Passafire provides, followed by those amazing Travelin’ McCoury’s bluegrass vibes before taking in a heavy dose of the whomping goodness that is Thriftworks and finally heading over to The Meadow for the first slice of Cheese for the day. Next up came one of my favorite bands of all time, Rebelution, who seriously brought one of the most moving and tear-jerking sets of the weekend for me–those boys sure know how to get those good vibes a-soarin’! String Cheese brought their last set of the weekend with a kaleidoscope of musical colors including sit ins by Big G before the weird truly took over in the form of The Claypool Lennon Delirium. To end the night in a way only dreams are made of, Big Gigantic featuring The Motet blasted every single one of us off into never never land…and I ain’t ever come back down since.
The “Pre-Party” a.k.a Thursday: Hulaween likes to throw a pre-party for its guests on the Thursday before the festival officially starts, but Lettuce make something clear for y’all. Thursday is really an extra festival day and if you do not go, you are not giving yourself the full Hulaween Experience. The second I saw the pre-party lineup, my jaw dropped: TWO Umphrey McGee’s sets, Unlimited Aspect, Broccoli Samurai, Late Night Radio, Imagined Herbal Flows, Marco Benevento, Grant Farm, Flamingosis, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, The Werks, EOTO & Friends (Break Science’s Borahm Lee & Umphrey’s Jake Cinninger), Fruition, Greensky Bluegrass and GanjaWhiteNight?!?!?! Plus, Thursday’s festivities allowed an extra day to settle in, get some bearings of the grounds and begin the celebration a day early!
A Back Assward Layer to Love: As with everything in the universe, there is a mirror of duality, a reflection to all good and not so good that sways the fine pendulum that is this sacred life. Suwannee’s Hulaween was truly a spooktacular ride from beginning to end. From the weirdness of not having any cars checked on the way in, to some water bottles being allowed inside the gates and others not (all water bottles matter, right?) and to the most backwards roads that I swear just went in circles, to mysterious missing keys that show up the second you stop looking, the Spirit is surely alive at Suwannee’s Hulaween. The back assward layer is what really sealed the deal on this festival for me, because without the air of mystery and spookiness, it would not be Hallo or Hula…ween.
A Weekend of Firsts: The end of my festival run brought me more firsts than my entire run put together: first Hulaween, first trip to Spirit of the Suwannee, first Cheese shows, first Halloween camping festival, first time meeting so many first time festival goers, first time not ever seeing the silent disco at a fest and first time being so damn dead after all was said and done that I couldn’t even make it to the Baton Rouge Lettuce show on the way home. Never has a festival tested me, challenged me, made me cry so many times and had me lost more than Hulaween. To every single human who made Hulaween possible, Compose Yourself THANKS YOU and we hope to be a part of the funkery every year to come.