Date: Thursday, October 31st. – Saturday, November 2,nd 2013
Line Up: The String Cheese Incident and many more
Venue: Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, Florida
Down in north central Florida is a beautiful place, called The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. A magical venue that transforms several times a year to host some of the best music festivals in the country. This last Halloween weekend, The Pier was fortunate enough to get out to this amazing venue for Suwannee Hulaween. A festival, that included 7 sets from The String Cheese Incident, and sets from many other excellent acts.
While The Pier’s taste of music usually sticks to Reggae-Rock, we truly enjoy all types, especially well played live music. Recently, many bands in our genre have been slowly expanding the types of sounds they incorporate into their music, experimenting by adding in different elements of rock, hip-hop, blues, or jazz & electronic features. These bands have even started to tour or play shows with more and more acts from other genres. Slightly Stoopid is a great example. They jam every night, with a fusion of reggae, rock, blues, funk, etc. They have also toured with reggae acts, hip-hop acts, and even opened for Widespread Panic not too long ago.
This collusion of genres has expanded many fans love of live music into a more diverse set of genres, discovering a wider variation of bands and music to enjoy and follow. One band that many have discovered through this phenomenal exchange of sounds is The String Cheese Incident. With their perfect blend of a large number of genres, the band has attracted all types of fans, from bluegrass fans, to rock fans, to electronic die-hards. All dancing together at every incident while the band seamlessly jams out for hours on end.
Once out at Hulaween, fans were instantly immersed in the park’s infamous woodsy setting. The Perfect environment for a Halloween event, especially with camp sites decked out with combinations of traditional festival gear and spooky décor. Taking the first afternoon to set up, fans eventually journeyed from their camp site to the stages, traveling around Spirit Lake, a beautiful yet eerie land, composed of giant oaks filled will thick clumps of swaying Spanish moss, all lit up with a trippy array of colorful lights.
The Spirit Lake area was truly spectacular. Designed as a place one can just walk around, gaze, and wonder, the area was filled with unique art installations such as hanging black light mobiles, fantastically painted wooded cut out characters, a hay maze, jellyfish swings, and whole land of live painters and performance artists. The area was even complete with its own stage, and plenty of room to hang your hammock, kick back and listen to the music.
On Thursday night, Halloween night, The Sting Cheese Incident played their first three sets. The first set seemed to be the warm up. The group of six kept a mellower atmosphere playing through seven songs and ending with a fan favorite, “Texas.”
On the break, the band sat through an intense make-up session, transforming themselves into a ghoulish voodoo tribe. As the band walked out on stage, everyone knew that set two was going to be completely different. The excitement could be heard as fans yammered about the Hollywoodesque costumes. Cheese picked up their instruments and an iconic bell rang out as Cheese started off their Halloween cover set with AC/DC’s “Hells Bells.”
Some other favorites were the Neville Bothers’ “Voodoo” jam, “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police, and Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child”. Percussionist Jason Hann even came out front to rap Kanye’s “Monster”. The set was filled with the sounds of the Antibalas Horns, and onstage voodoo dancers.
In the crowd, fans were not only occupied by the excellent covers, but by giant flaming voodoo dolls, giant pumpkin beach balls, and a huge spider web that stretched through the crowd. With all the activity, it was hard to focus on the stage, but everyone honed in when Cheese started up with the familiar riffs of “Black Magic Women”, ending their second set.
Set three of the night continued on with excellent jams. Opening with “Rosie”, the band played through eight more tunes, before coming back out to encore with their own “Miss Browns Tea House,” , Hank Williams’ “I saw The Light” and “Slegehammer” by Peter Gabriel.
Friday was lining up to be the peak of the weekend before the eventual washout. Come back Alice and the Catfish Aliance opened up the day with some funky music before Van Ghost took to the amphitheater stage for their second set. The band had played the night before, but after three sets of Cheese, many were too worn out to make it back out to the music.
These guys from Chicago, IL were real surprises. They killed it for an hour, playing an alternative rock Americana pop blend. The set was amplified with full set sit-ins by Jen Hartswick on trumpet and Natalie Cressman on trombone, musicians from the Trey Anastasio Band. These women crush every set they accompany, adding a beautifully intense vocal presence. A true highlight of the set happened when Hartswick sang on “Soulshine” with Jeremy Salken of Big Gigantic sitting-in on drums.
Later in the day, after a set from Moon Taxi that had the whole amphitheater dancing, String Cheese came on for their fourth and fifth set. After a whole day of music, the crowd was pumped and Cheese got everyone moving, opening with a jig called “Daryl.” Four songs in, the band brought out Steve Kimock & Bernie Worrell and really started jamming.
As they played on, the sky began to get darker, as storm clouds began to roll in. The stage lights, and music intensified, but the weather held off. The set was completely unique from the night before. In fact each set played by Cheese seemed as if a completely different band was playing; part of the magic of the group. Though in this set, it seemed as if the band got a bit more lost inside the music, much more of a psychedelic sound.
Cheese took a break, as the rain started to trickle in, they eventually came back out to open the next set with a favorite, “Sirens.” This had to be the most surreal set. It was the perfect mix of music, lighting and weather. It seemed as if the band was controlling the weather, or at least playing very well with the random wind gust and lines of showers. It was almost as if the musicians had weather effect pedals to help complete this illusion. Towards the end of the set, Cheese brought out Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic to play sax on “Bumpin’ Reel.” Another festival highlight.
Encoring with “BollyMunster,” the set ended not a minute too soon. As the crowd dispersed for the break before Big Gigantic was suppose to perform, the storms arrived, packing everyone back into their camp sites. As the rains belted the park for the next hour, it was apparent that the rest of the night was a wash out. Being so close to the Suwannee River, the lower areas that lay in front of the stages were now lakes. A night that was building up to be epic, instantly came to a holt.
Saturday morning everything was damp, but the park quickly dried out, allowing a solid final day of music. Cheese Played their last two sets. Once again giving off a completely unique vibe from any of the sets before. They jammed through the first set, ending with a solid drum session with Eoto and Jeffrey Lerner from STS9 and Luke Quaranta from Toubab Krewe.
In drum circle fashion, the four went back and forth with impressive solos for several minutes. The second set ended with a bang as well. Cheese brought out Jen Hartswick on trumpet and Natalie Cressman on trombone for a fantastic version of Led Zeppelin “Kashmir.”
Closing out the festivals main stage was STS9. These guys were truly phenomenal, worth a mention. The instrumental electronic rock band melted faces for two hours with heavy bass and a solid onslaught of colorful lights. Easily one of the best sets performed that weekend!
It seems that with every festival at the Spirit of Suwannee Music park, festival organizers really pack in the talent. Though there were no over lapping sets, there was just so much happening to see and discuss. So many great acts, and great musical moments. We could go on for pages, but an event at this venue is just something a fan must experience. With over 7500 attendees out to Hulaween this year, many were able to have the Suwannee experience of a life time. Luckily for those who missed out, 2014 plans are already in the works!
Suwannee Hulaween Night 1:
Set 1: Desert Dawn, Rhythm of The Road > Let’s Go Outside, Doin’ My Time, Betray The Dark, Valley Of The Jig > Texas
Set 2: Hells Bells (AC/DC), Voodoo (Neville Bros), Zombie (Fela Kuti), Spirits in the Material World (The Police) , Monster (Kanye Rap by Jason), Voodoo Child (Jimi Hendrix) > Black Magic Woman (Santana)
Set 3: Rosie*, Black Clouds > Big Mon > Black Clouds, It Is What It Is, Spirit of Suwannee Jam > Joyful Sound > On The Road
Encore: Miss Brown’s Teahouse*, I Saw The Light (Hank Williams), Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel)
Notes: * with Antibalas horns
Suwannee Hulaween Night 2:
Set 1: Daryl, Black And White > So Far From Home, Freedom Jazz Dance*, Can’t Wait Another Day, Big Shoes, Just One Story
Set 2: Sirens > Way Back Home, Song In My Head, Give Me The Love > Piece Of Mine, Bumpin’ Reel#, Restless Wind
Notes: * with Steve Kimock & Bernie Worrell, # with Dominic Lalli
Suwannee Hulaween Night 3:
Set 1: Sometimes A River, Mouna Bowa, Cedar Laurels, One After 909, Zombie Jamboree, Windy Mountain > Shine > Colliding > Drums*
Set 2: Best Feeling > Howard, Pack It Up > Shake Your Body Down To The Ground#, Rivertrance > This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody), Outside and Inside
Notes: *with Jeffrey Lerner from STS9 and Luke Quaranta from Toubab Krewe, # with Jen Hartswick & Natalie Cressman
The String Cheese Incident Links:
The String Cheese Incident Website
The String Cheese Incident Facebook
The String Cheese Incident Twitter
Article By: Aaron Solomon
Photos By: Brian Spady, Dylan Langille, Rex Thompson