Next to the music, the park is the star of the show, spending 5 nights at a typical festival could be extremely uncomfortable, but Spirit of Suwannee is like a castle in the Florida palms. Suwannee used to be a state park and has been transformed into a musical utopia. There are all sorts of interesting structures including, tree houses, adobe and geodecent domes,. You can wander the grounds and discover different things every time, like the the canoe outpost the clay deposits along the river, the bat house, horse stables and the wooden tree houses tucked in the woods, far from the festival noise. The place has a disc golf course with holes named after Grateful Dead songs and there is a building called the Pickin' Shed, set up for Bluegrass Jams. The main amphitheater is a big bowl carved out of the ground with hammocks hanging from the trees.
The Wednesday pre-party was held in the Music Hall, and evoked a feeling of the early, Wednesday night club shows of Jazzfest. Many came for the Heavy Pets and stayed for a new Southeastern band called Zoogma. This band does live electronica extremely well and has a loyal, enthusiastic fanbase. They played into the night without missing a beat and just about everyone at the festival was there dancing.
Thursday was still getting into the swing of things and much of the people were yet to arrive, still, there was an incredible lineup, including Toubab Krewe, Rebirth Brassband, JBB and The London Souls. The London Souls were an anomaly at the festival, classic rock purists hailing from Brooklyn, the band appeals to indie rock fans and jamband fans alike. They will be opening for State Radio at Terminal 5 Nov 26. Though Umphrey's McGee headlined the night a lot of the musicians ended up at Garaj Mahal to watch the accomplished jazz performers.
Friday the the campground began to fill up nicely. The stages where packed with huge crowds but the place was not overly crowded and the park handled the numbers perfectly. Morning yoga was offered by Nicole Virgin of the Hula Monsters and she taught Rocket Yoga, a term coined by Bob Weir.
Umphrey's McGee headlined again and were joined by Roosevelt "The Doctor" Collier on pedal steel with Bernie Worrell and Ivan Neville on keys. Bear Creek veterans The Everyone Orchestra had one of the best lineups yet with Justin Perkins, Luke Quaranta and Teal Brown from Toubab Krewe as the anchor of the ship. Also joining conductor Matt Butler was Kai Eckhardt and Fareed Haque from Garaj Mahal, Joel Cummins from Umphrey's McGee, Jeff Mosier of Blueground Undergrass, Jen Hartswick from T.A.B. And Jan's Ingber of the Motet . Soulive and Umphrey's both covered Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World'' within 24 hours and both killed it in different ways. Friday also saw Zach Deputy's disc golf tournament for the The American Red Cross International Response Fund for Haitian Relief.
One of the great things about this festival is that you can end up at one of the six stages and find a new band that completely rocks you. Diocious did that for many this weekend at the Campground stage; a stage set up in the camping area for the hardcore party peeps (or those who didn't know better). With their unique power trio sound, Diocious has the potential to expand and find love well outside the Florida scene.
Rubblebucket's set was something to remember as the band brought they're eclectic Brooklyn sound to sunny Florida, members of the band sat in with Perpetual Groove later that day. This group truly has potential for crossover appeal as their their musicianship shines and can be appreciated by a wide audience. Cope, is another Florida band with incredible potential and put on an epic late night set in the music hall, they were joined by Brock Butler of Perpetual Groove, who played a cathartic, hard rocking set earlier that afternoon..
Its was only Saturday and the weather has been perfect, moe. headlined and played a killer set. Chali Tuna stood out as a unique element to the festival and added a touch everyone appreciated. The Jurassic 5 baritone won over some new fans, the festival will likely be including more hip hop in the years to come.
Zach Deputy played an unscheduled show in the campground and set up his gear on top of a U-Haul, slowly the crowd grew to create one of the greatest dance partys of the festival. Deputy has incredible soul and talent and never fails to create one of the best times at a festival.
Roosevelt Collier of the Lee Boys sat in with the Macpodz on Saturday evening, playing his unique portable steel guitar. The Macpodz also did a mash up of cover tunes that were a lot of fun, they were "School Days" by Stanley Clarke > "Runaway Child" by Buddy Miles, back into > "School Days". Both tunes are in A and make a slick segue. The Macpodz are a funk band out of Ann Arbor who are making funky waves in the pool, so funky the bubbles come up. The trumpet player has a beautiful one piece trumpet and the band is incredibly tight and energetic.
Sunday saw the theme of the festival tied together, as jazz and funk greats played with the next generation of Musicians. LETTUCE played a set with Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis, exceeding all expectations. It was historic to see two different generations of funk together on stage. The festival closed out with an inspiring, healing set by Dumpstaphunk with everyone dancing together one last time.