Family Reunion for 20,000 at Suwannee Hulaween: Why Do We Have to Leave?

Almost, but we’ll give it a shot anyhow.

There are many topics to explore, including the music, Spirit Lake art installations, sound quality, organization and flow of the crowds, recycling and care for our precious park, and Wooks.

Phierce Photo | Keith Griner


Because four days of music was obviously not enough, a fine Wednesday night lineup was added for a great cause: hurricane relief for Suwannee Valley. Despite our best efforts, we missed the opening set by Albert Simpson, a great friend of the park and regular performer. We also missed Beartoe’s set, much to my chagrin.

We did make it in time for a simply stunning performance by JOOSE, the self-proclaimed cinematic fusion group from the Tampa area. This would be the third time in six weeks that I would hear them play the completed portions of their magnum opus about life. Somehow, each successive performance seemed a quantum leap beyond the one before it. Throughout the set, the music continually pointed back to Frank Zappa as a major influence. That’s the highest praise I can offer.

Four of the six members of JOOSE also play with Come Back Alice, the band up next on the bill. The group, led by Tony Tyler on guitar and vocals and Dani Jaye on violin, guitar, and vocals, has likewise been performing amazing sets everywhere they go, and this was no exception. In addition to their fine originals, chock full of gypsy swamp rock and roll, they threw out great versions of “Hot ‘Lanta” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Above all, as Tyler sings so powerfully, “Love Is the Answer.” Indeed it is.

That left it to The Heavy Pets to close out the Music Hall proceedings, and they did so in grand style. Paul Levine was pleased to introduce them, as they have played almost every festival at the park at some point or other. They crushed the entire set, vocals sounding great, Tony D’Amato helping to set the bass bar high for the weekend. And my wish was granted when they closed with a superb “Dewpoint” that had everybody on their feet.


I am doing my best to recreate my notes about the eleven sets I caught all or part of on Thursday, because some Wook decided he/she/it needed my chair and the bag with my notebook and meds during the four minutes I left it unattended during Friday’s first set at the Amphitheater. FOUR MINUTES!

We were still trying to get breakfast, or lunch, or brunch, or something finished while The Psychedelic Monks opened the pre-party proper with a tremendous set that was wide-ranging in its scope, including an excellent “Peaches En Regalia” in the middle of the set.

Phierce Photo | Keith Griner

This was the first opportunity to wander through the parallel universe called Spirit Lake. Words are inadequate, photographs a bit better, and videos better still, but, as with any such experience, you had to be there. To see all of the activity during the daytime, from people on slack lines and lazing about on the huge recycling sculptures, of which there are now three (And the original two have now been gloriously painted.). To wander through dozens of different art installations, many of which demanded your participation and involvement. To marvel at the creativity of so many contributors in such a wide range of media and styles. That’s why you had to be there.

The Corgis got engaged at Hula!!!!!

During the day, you could check out the rig where the aerial artists would perform later, and the incredible array of colored balls suspended by wires, and the octagonal color wheels, and… it took hours to explore everything, and I’m sure I missed a lot. There were lovely places to chill between the two stages that bookended Spirit Lake, which in turn were bookended by the enormous mouth gates that turned psychedelic at night.

Phierce Photo | Keith Griner

Importantly, the logjams caused by separate security entrances were solved by containing all five stages within the confines of the official festival grounds (for music purposes). Movement was free and easy, which made life much easier for festival-goers and staff alike.

Valdosta’s Custard Pie was one of the nine bands we recommended, and this set at the intimate Campground Stage did not disappoint. They were all dressed in skeleton outfits with face paint — very effective. They opened with “When the Levee Breaks,” the first time they’d ever played it in concert. Guest Isaac Corbitt’s harp upped the ante. They played a bunch of originals including “The World (Is Going Up In Flames)” before they closed with “Willie the Pimp,” Corbitt again collaborating and Mark Mayea from JOOSE and Come Back Alice sitting in on keyboards. Two Zappa tunes two sets in!

On the way back, Luthi was playing a really solid funky set on the Spirit Lake stage. And the path from the Campground Stage also boasted a new recycle project in the form of a huge wooden spider where you could sit in its… abdomen.

The Amphitheater was filled to overflowing with the soulful sounds of The Nth Power, especially Nick Cassarino’s gorgeous voice. And then there is the titanic force known as Nikki Glaspie. Their wonderful uptempo set filled the natural bowl with love and understanding, the perfect party kick-off.

Every one of my roots/Americana lovers assured me that I need to hear The Devil Makes Three. And they weren’t lyin’. This was one joyous time with a pretty full house at the Amphitheater. And Lucia Torino is exactly as advertised: one monster bass player!

Devil Makes Three – Suwannee Hulaween Music and Arts Festival – 10/26/17 – Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak FL – Photo © Dave Vann 2017

Let’s just say I drastically underestimated what was going to occur at Spirit Lake when Kyle Hollingsworth, keyboard master for Hulaween hosts String Cheese Incident, took the stage with his band. This was one of the very best sets of the weekend. It funked, and it rocked, and vocals were wonderful, and simply put it was a master performance. That walk to hear Spafford? Didn’t happen.

Kyle Hollingsworth Band – Suwannee Hulaween Music and Arts Festival – 10/26/17 – Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak FL – Photo © Dave Vann 2017

Lettuce blasted everyone in the vicinity of the Amphitheater into outer space with a stellar set. You could absolutely feel the energy ripple through the packed crowd. If I actually took any notes in my soon-to-vanish notebook, they would be gibberish at best. Lettuce is what The Force sounds like.

Umphrey’s McGee fans: set your phasers to IMMOLATE. We made it over to The Patch stage (a fur piece for sure) to catch set one of UM. These gentlemen are brilliant performers, and this set was superbly played. And it was… boring. It just never seemed to lift off the ground. I kept waiting for the set to kick into gear, but it never got there. For me.

Umphrey’s McGee – Suwannee Hulaween Music and Arts Festival – 10/26/17 – Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak FL – Photo © Dave Vann 2017

Wish now I’d hung around for set two.

On the way back to Spirit Lake, we paused for a bit at the Campground Stage to listen — and look at — The Getbye. This was, by far, the most unusual and eclectic set we witnessed all weekend, and it was a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, Spirit Lake had transformed from the gorgeous afternoon walk in a psychedelic park to a full-on psychedelic trip, lights and strobes and black lights and fire — a total immersion experience. Everywhere you looked, in every nook and cranny of the place, was a vibration, a beckoning, a come-hither-and-lose-yourself sense so liberating and so inviting. And it wouldn’t be Hulaween without thousands upon thousands of amazing costumes, from simple to stunningly elaborate. And your mind was asking you: why can’t we just live here, all the time?

Phierce Photo | Keith Griner

On down the Spirit Lake path was Buku, a DJ lighting up the Spirit Lake stage. It was dub-heavy and, by my standard, uninteresting. We went to catch set two from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, always a delight. The sequence from “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” through “Shakedown Street” was amazing. Sandwiched in between? oh, just “Playing in the Band” and “The Other One.” BOOM!

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Now it was time to split sets, as Greensky Bluegrass and Ecology were on at the same time. Greensky was positively amazing. You can believe their genres are “Americana/Bluegrass/Indie/Rock,” but, as we have come to expect from most of the bands on the circuit, that is a mere pencil sketch, because they go way outside those boundaries every time they play.

Greensky Bluegrass
Michael Bont of Greensky Bluegrass

Then it was on to Ecology, a band I had only read about. They blasted out with video game-style music on “Space Picnic/Cosmic Sandwiches,” and somehow that morphed into New Orleans stuff on “Just Say So.” Then they brought out guest vocalist Michelle. [Editor’s note: Hey, Ecology! You cannot add Michelle as a regular member fast enough. WOW!] After two magical songs with her singing, they invited hip hop MC Nate Wattz to the stage, and the combination of Wattz and Michelle was tremendous.

After Wattz finished his segment, Ecology went funk-stratospheric with a fabulous mashup of “Check Out Your Mind” and “Zombie” (Curtis Mayfield and Fela Kuti), allowing it finally to transition into “Shaft in Africa.” They closed with the first song the band ever wrote, “We Might Be Wrong” and the first time it was performed with vocals. Perfect. My favorite set of the day.

Phierce Photo | Keith Griner


Phierce Photo | Keith Griner

Let me tell you about the Silent Dis…


There were three sets at 11:45. What’s a guy to do? Fortunately, we had four writers at Hulaween, and I hope you’ve seen the great photo gallery by Yvonne Gougelet titled “Trip the Light Fantastic, a Peek into America’s Most Psychedelic Fest: Suwannee Hulaween.” And the wonderful “The Spirits That Moved Us On Hulaween’s Spirit Lake” by Dalia Jakubauskas. And Kelli Kocak’s superb recap called “Sights and Sounds of 2017 Suwannee Hulaween: Relive the Magic of the Year’s Best Festival.” Our ladies knocked it out of the park. Got to try to keep up here!

I opted for the Galbraith Group, a Clearwater family affair who had the privilege of opening the festival proper on the Amphitheater Stage. [Also when my chair, notes, and bag were “borrowed” by some needy Wook.] Josh Galbraith is a powerhouse guitarist and good vocalist, but it’s impossible not to notice the rhythm section — not because they are ladies but because they are straight-up badass. Ashley is one mean bass player, and Taylor gets a world of sound from snare, bass drum, and two cymbals.

Discombobulated after the chair incident, I made it out to The Meadow Stage for the opening set there from Dumpstaphunk several songs into the set; they were covering Argent’s “Liar” (made famous by one of Three Dog Night’s best-ever performances). The masterful sunlit set also included their ever-so-relevant theme song “Justice.” This was slammin’ — New Orleans style.

The Nth Power were back for round two, this time celebrating the music of Bob Marley. And celebrate they did. Favorites included “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry),” “Exodus” and “Get Up, Stand Up.” This band can do anything they want (thinking back to Earth, Wind and Power). Thank heavens they do!

Nick Cassarino
Nikki Glaspie
The Nth Power

I arrived at the Spirit Lake Stage in time to hear Dirty Dozen Brass Band play a tremendous “I’m Walkin’” tribute to Fats Domino. but that was just the soundcheck! They disappeared. When 3 PM rolled around, out they came in true marching style, parading to the stage with well-wishers in the throng. The set was pure New Orleans magic, with “Cissy Strut” in the mix and a truly bad “I Wish” intro into “Superstition.” There was a dirge for Fats and then “I’m Walkin’” (he passed three days prior) with a dancer on stage.

Greensky Bluegrass sounded great before and after DDBB out in the Meadow; yes, you could hear it fairly well from Spirit Lake. We’ll discuss VOLUME shortly.

Every time I’ve had the privilege of seeing Mike Gordon, he and his band have blown me away. But even those paled in comparison to this one, simply brilliant, start to finish. Gordon mentioned prior to the show on Facebook that he was excited to bring Madi Diaz (keyboards) and Emily Elbert (guitar) for this set; he was excited — we were ecstatic. They took an A+ set and added about a dozen more pluses to it.

Madi Diaz
Emily Elbert

Gordon’s regular touring band is just killer to begin with: Robert Walter, John Kimock, Scot Murawski, and Craig Myers. This was riveting. The vocals harmonies including the ladies were heavenly, and song two featured a great ostinato section. Harmonies again accompanied the reggae feel with Murawski on guitar talk box for “Hang with the Bees.”

Mike Gordon

There was an incredible rocking jam built on the structure of “Willie the Pimp” (so said my ears), then an almost-country song with a fine piano solo and great visuals. The ska-ish riff that defined “She’s Got a Way of Thinking” made for a great tune, and “Delightful” offered perfect pop harmonies. Set closer? How about “Sweet Emotion?” What an amazing performance!

Next at the Meadow were Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Certainly I’d heard the band’s big hit “S.O.B.” and certainly enjoyed it, but I confess I wasn’t expecting a lot. On the other hand, this was Donna’s number one Hula must-see band. Turns out she was absolutely right. I started out noting “more than I expected,” but that eventually melted into “S.O.B. These guys are great!” This band could have recorded in the ’50s, or ’60s, or any damn time. Truly timeless.

Nathaniel Rateliff

Solid band, great horns, excellent variety to the songs, and Rateliff was a great singer with tremendous onstage appeal. I heard elements of Van Morrison, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and more. Most of the songs were pretty tightly woven, but when they jammed out they jammed out. Original “Shake” allowed Rateliff to do exactly that, and “Out on the Weekend” was a highlight. Will I see them again? Try to stop me.

Nathaniel Rateliff

We passed by some wonderfully trippy music from the Benevento-Russo Duo, joined by their pal Mike Gordon, including “Scratchitti.” These guys know each other inside and out. I’d seen them as a trio a dozen years earlier.

Our weekend hosts were up with their first of seven sets for the weekend. It was a lovely beginning, from the opening notes of “Colorado Bluebird Sky” through “Nothing But Flowers.” The “Djibouti Bump” was particularly appreciated. We took a break when they did, returning for a smokin’ set two. Most memorable was a wonderful jam out of a bass intro that led to jazz acoustic guitar and great Bill Nershi vocals on. Few bands are as adept at leaping gleefully from jazz into a country romp as SCI.

String Cheese Incident
Bill Nershi

“Sweet Spot” blew up into a huge jam, then deep stuff on “Wake Up” and a fine Latin groove to “Way Back Home,” very spacey, with Michael Kang replicating that great Jerry tone. Kyle Hollingsworth abused all of his keyboards equally! And thank heavens for the big screens on either side of the stage and the huge circular screen behind the stage so that we could see the band members, especially the boys in back: Jason Hann and Michael Travis (drums and percussion). The collaborative jam encore “Egyptic” featured members of Beats Antique.

Michael Kang and Jason Hann

I caught the end of Claude VonStroke’s Spirit Lake set, and it was an eyeful and earful of magic once again. Then it was Lettuce Round Two at the Amphitheater. Kelli Kocak mentioned in her article that Lettuce manages to top themselves every time out. I would second that notion, certainly true here beginning with opener “Mt. Crushmore.” This was even stronger than Thursday’s set, loaded with incredible jams, great Afrobeat, and Benny Bloom “On Broadway.”

Finally, it was time. Time to see what all the buzz was about. You know, the Bassnectar buzz. First, let’s be clear: we’d heard LOTS about the Bassheads, little of it positive. And NONE of that evidenced itself that we could tell. Big ups to everybody all the way around.

So I stood at the back of the Meadow Stage area (because, during the morning soundcheck, he was deafening AT THE CAMPSITE!). And it was interesting. Briefly. Look, this is just me. Silent disco is one thing, but standing in a field watching a guy (or two people, or whatever) with computers simply does not hold my interest. I was clearly, once again, in the minority. Ultimately, it was a DJ with a great light show (apparently, I had not taken the proper drugs).

It didn’t take me long to sprint back to Spirit Lake for my beloved New Mastersounds. If you were too young to remember the ’70s, bands such as NMS and Monophonics will give you a pretty good idea of what was shaking in the funk/soul/jazz genre (of course the Meters were there and still are!). Drummer Simon Allen and Joe Tatton on keyboards were bedecked in capes, for a while, anyway.

Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds
Photo Credit: Jess Phillips

Tatton moved back and forth from Hammond B3 to electric piano and occasional clavinet, and it was pure magic seeing Pete Stand in fine form after recent physical difficulties. There is a beat, a rhythm, a groove that Shand and Allen employ often that is so deep, so sublime, so powerful that it drives me crazy (OK, more crazy). And Allen is still one of the funniest men in show business in addition to his acumen on the drum kit, while Eddie Roberts remains the most dapper musician anywhere. Not to mention that he crushed every solo he took. It was a stunning set.

The Spirit Lake area filled right back up after a quick set change as the Jon Stickley Trio merited another late-night set after last year’s monster. And this was a match. Seriously, you just don’t expect a band whose alleged genre is/are “Electro-Harmonic Jazz Grass, Post-Grass” to do what they do. Guitar, fiddle, drums. How they can sound like a Scottish cèilidh one moment and the Mahavishnu Orchestra the next I just don’t know. They apparently do it — with ease.

Did I make it to Silent Disco this night? I did not. Fade to black…


This is as good a spot as any to discuss VOLUME and the potential for ear damage. I’ll tell you what. You tell the joke, ROFLYAO, and then come back.

Done? Which joke? Give you a hint: too loud, too old. BWA HA HA

I complain — a lot — about music volume, because ear damage is a thing, a real thing, and often music at a venue is unnecessarily loud. The Meadow Stage in particular was often cranked beyond Nigel Tufnel levels (that’s 11 on a scale of 10). My contention remains it doesn’t make the music sound better, just louder, and it greatly increases the potential for ear damage. Often I am a chorus of one about this, but I spoke to many who felt the same; clearly, others did not.

Rant over. It’s not going to change. I would encourage people to invest in real earplugs that will extend your enjoyable concert-going years.

The Patch Stage by day

There was a request for a meeting of media personnel at noon. Suggestion for future: do not schedule a meeting at the same time as three powerful sets of music — unfair to the musicians, unfair to the journalists. I would have gone at 11, or just after the family picture. C’est la vie.

There was just no way to get to all three, and I sacrificed Jonathan Scales Fourchestra at The Patch. Big Something was at the Amphitheater, the stage they’d graced at Wanee 2016. Their killer set matched their insane outfits. How are you going to better than kicking out the jams with “Truth Serum > Insane in the Brain > Truth Serum” and then “Psycho Killer?” Answer: you’re not. Period.

Meanwhile, Heather Gillis has been on a rampage of late, so we checked out the second half of her set. We arrived during her tune “Storm” with Gillis on lap steel and Isaac Corbitt on harp and her band. She was joined by a horn section (two tenors and a trombone) for “Promised Land” and a magnificent “Soul’s On Fire” that stretched way out with tons of solo space. Gillis has really turned into a fine guitar slinger and band leader.

You want to talk about loud? We had to sit way in the back when the Roosevelt Collier Trio had first shot on the Meadow. I actually ventured forward with earplugs wedged in my earholes to get a closer look for a bit, but it was painful. Again, loud, old, hahaha. This band is so over-the-top superb that they blow my mind every time I hear them, which isn’t often enough. Matt Lapham continues to be my favorite bassist anywhere, and Anthony AC Cole, like Taylor Galbraith, makes a snare, bass drum and two cymbals sound like an orchestra. Add in his masterful sense of humor and great vocals, and the result is amazing.

For this show, they were joined by Keegan Matthews on keyboards, a fine player with Leisure Chief. After opening “On My Way” (that’s my story), they whipped out a truly soulful “Power of Soul;” Collier has done many Hendrix tributes, and we hope he never stops. The next song feature a great solo from Matthews, who sat out the next one, “Spanish Castle Magic,” AC again on vocals and Lapham soloing. The closing tune, “Thank You,” saw Collier switch to lap steel from pedal steel, and they were joined by Roland Simmons, guitarist for The Legendary JCs and channeler of Eddie Hazel.

The Amphitheater was alive with the stirring soulful sounds and outrageous dance rhythms of Tank and the Bangas. Believe the hype. This was as exciting visually as it was aurally, so colorful and flowing. The early afternoon crowd was totally lit.

Tank and the Bangas
Tank and the Bangas
Tank and the Bangas

Speaking of believing the hype, Kamasi Washington made his first Live Oak appearance, and you can bet it won’t be his last. This is the man whose debut recording was a triple album titled The Epic, and he backs that up every time on stage. They got immediately to business with the appropriately named first song from The Epic titled “Change of the Guard.” Kamasi is a powerhouse tenor player who simultaneously recalls the giants of jazz history while pointing to its future. It was a delight once again to see his father, Ricky, again prominently featured on soprano sax. And then there is Patricia Quinn, whose dancing is as exciting as her vocals. Believe the hype.

Kamasi Washington
Patricia Quinn

We hustled to get to the Campground Stage for the Parker Urban Band, recently returned from collective maternity leave. As we arrive, they were in the midst of “Got to Get It Together.” On their monster instrumental “Wizzard,” we got great solos from Chris Poland on alto sax and John Parkerurban on guitar. One of the best sequences of the weekend occurred when they next let “Jupiter’s Fire” lead into “Fire in My Soul.” This song unleashes the band’s two amazing vocalists, Juanita Parkerurban and Myrna Stallworth. The song’s coda with Juanita and Myrna together was beyond electrifying, going straight to the soul.

Phierce Photo | Keith Griner

Not sure when I realized that the astounding light and water show over Spirit Lake (the actual small body of water) was occurring. There was a wall of water with light projections on it, including the Suwannee Hulaween logo, but then there was the dude on the flyboard propelled by water jets as he did loops and swirls and dips and HOW DOES HE DO THAT?

SCI sounded good before we got to Spirit Lake to check out a bit of Frameworks before heading for food. Frameworks featured a DJ/programmer and bass drums, guitar, a female violinist, and a trumpet? It was a fascinating blend.

I had every intention of getting back to hear Displace at the Campground. The spirit was willing, but…

Rats. Meanwhile, and perhaps somebody could confirm this, I swore I hear SCI sound-checking “Harvest Moon” at some point. Unless it was somebody else.

String Cheese, set two: face-melting. Because they galloped through reggae, ethereal stuff, Latin, orchestral, trance, metal, funk, jazz, bluegrass, rock, what else is there? And Roosevelt Collier, who often collaborates, joined in on “Outside and Inside.”

Next up was a fascinating new chapter for my beloved Shak Nasti, the Orlando trio I’ve seen more than any other band. This set expanded to a quintet and then a sextet. Joining them from the beginning were Keegan Matthews (keyboards) and Chris Charles on saxophone. Later, Roland Simmons would jump in. Matthews in particular made the most of his solo space, sounding great. “Bottom of a Deep Blue Sea” was the heavy opener, followed by a powerful tune titled “Sense of Clarity” with Matthews on organ.

On old favorite “Mind Bomb,” Charles tore it up on soprano and then Simmons on guitar. “Lisa” and “Mule Kick” were old friends come to greet me, and “A Way Inside” was great. Matt Lapham and Rion Smith both showed their prowess on bass and drum, respectively. I need to see this band in a longer program, because there wasn’t enough Tim Turner guitar for my personal needs.

SCI | Phierce Photo | Keith Griner
Phierce Photo | Keith Griner
Bill Nershi | Phierce Photo | Keith Griner

It was time for Cheese to blow it out with their love-themed set: Night of the Loving Dead. It went this way: Love Rollercoaster, Did I Hear You Say You Love Me, Love and Happiness, Higher and Higher, I Think I’m In Love, The Power Of Love, If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, Is This Love, Turn On Your Love Light, Let Love Rule, What I Got, Crazy In Love, Whole Lotta Love (yep, they should all be in quotes — not happening). And “All You Need is Love” for the encore. My favorite? “Love and Happiness,” of course!

SCI | Phierce Photo | Keith Griner

Then it was time for the only set I had declared I would have to hear: The Disco Biscuits at The Patch. They came out harder than I’ve ever heard them launch before with “Digital Buddha > Tubular Bells > Digital Buddha.” Incredible. C’mon. “Above the Waves,” The Very Moon” (22 minutes’ worth), “Orch Theme” (a Conspirator tune) and “Basis for a Day.” OH DAMN.

The Disco Biscuits


Mind melted, face blown, I trekked back toward Spirit Lake, where I finally got to catch up with Spafford. Once again, believe the hype. I really want to see them again when I am actually awake, but their energy and sound were great.

I was so determined to go hear Vlad the Inhaler and then MZG at Silent Disco. Swing and a miss, strike three.

Now I might or might not have rolled out if I’d known where Guavatron and The Happy Campers were holding their own silent disco. Alas, that information was top secret.


We could hear Son Little with the opening set at the Amphitheater as some of our crew trekked off to see Here Come the Mummies (more on that later). During the next time slot, the Jerry Douglas Band, whom we’d seen a year or two back, sounded really good from the Meadow as we went up to Spirit Lake for TAUK. It had been too long since I’ve hear this incredibly powerful fusion quartet from New York.


I’d also mention that it was about 30 degrees warmer than when they played at AURA in 2015. Alric AC Carter wasn’t blowing frozen exhaust as he abused his keyboards this time. As always, Isaac Teal’s drums propelled this set in tandem with Charlie Dolan’s bass. And Matt Jalbert’s guitar? Romping hither and yon along with Carter’s clavinet antics.

Matt Jalbert of TAUK

In search of more jazz-funk-fusion, next it was back to the Campground for one of favorites, Cadillac Jones from Atlanta. They always excite in concert, and they truly lit it up this time. The energy around the stage was powerful. They were smokin’ from the second they hit with “Narq.” There were excellent trombone (Jonathan Lloyd) and tenor sax (Phil Floyd) solos on “Sweatshop,” and Bill Graham had a really nice long electric piano intro into “East Coast Jenny,” Floyd with another great turn.

“Inverted Jenny” (for all of us geek philatelists) was hot, and “B’nai Brown” was hotter. Hutch Renaud is one of the baddest bass badasses you’ll ever see. Finally, leader and guitarist Gary Kurz announced that they had one more song (and almost 15 minutes) left. Would I get my fanboy wish? Oh, hell, yes, I would! Yet another killer version of “Friend or Foe,” my single favorite song of the weekend (OK, tied with Parker Urban). Kurz shoved this one into overdrive!

I passed by Spirit Lake on the way to more Cheese. In the process, I caught a bit of an entertaining set by Phantoms, namely Vinnie and Kyle both on production and percussion.

String Cheese Incident bounced and hula-ed their way through set number six with some dandy pickin’, some fine bluegrass and their best jazz of the weekend. Set closer “Birdland > Wheel Hoss > Birdland” was great; “Freedom Jazz Dance” in the middle of the set was sublime.

I had, up to this point in my life, managed to ignore Portugal. The Man completely, other than a handful of songs I didn’t listen to carefully on the radio. This was a fascinating set. Total exhaustion was setting in, and I need to see them again.

Portugal. The Man
Portugal. The Man

There were those who felt that SCI showed less energy, or enthusiasm, or something, than in previous years. I’m not a Cheese gourmet, but they sounded damn fine to me. Their final set once again rolled through Americana roots, jazz, jam, bluegrass, rock and roll, and blues. Of note was Nershi’s dedication of “Restless Wind” to his late brother-in-law. Kang lit this one up on guitar before switching to fiddle for the power great of “Hi Ho No Show,” with a Scottish lilt.

After a brief lull during “Hotel Window,” they blasted an incredibly jammed-out, spacey “Colliding.” A great “’Round the Wheel” yielded finally to a jazz piano intro to the rocking “Just One Story,” and we offered a collective THANK YOU!

I hoofed it one more time to The Patch for Lotus, who never fail to deliver. They got right to business with “Spiritualize” and kept heads bobbing all set. The vocal piece in the middle of the set plodded a bit, but otherwise they made the trek worth it with a sparkling show.


Somewhere along the line, the Hometeam boys in charge of the Campground Stage operations, Andy Lytle and Russ Bowers of Receptor Sound and Lighting, told us that The Mummies had been unable to make their noontime slot at The Patch and would play the Campground at 9 PM.

Promptly at 9, out from backstage came eight Mummies, most on percussion and a couple on horns, parading out into the crowd, behind the sound booth and back to the stage, where they instantly electrified the growing audience with “(Free to Be) A Freak Among Freaks.” Their costumes/make-up are so impressive. “Funk Shui” followed “There’s Nothing New Under the Sun,” then “Let Your Freak Flag Fly.” And of course we got their big ‘hit,’ “Pants.”

I got to hear the tail end of a good set by Moon Alice on Spirit Lake, nice pop rock, really solid vocals, and they threw in a cool cover of The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night.” That left it to David Shaw, the dynamic frontman for The Revivalists, to put Hulaween (official) to bed with a fine acoustic set, ending with “Wish I Knew You.”

David Shaw

So Suwannee Hulaween number five is in the books. Silver Wrapper and Purple Hat Productions (and the park’s best ambassador, Paul Levine) outdid themselves, managing the attendance, solving the foot traffic difficulties from 2016, and providing once again an amazing array of artists both musical and visual. The performances across all genres were truly mind-blowing, and there were plenty of melted faces to boot.

There are always areas for improvement, but it would seem that only minor tinkering is required now; no need to reinvent a wheel that is spinning as reliably as, well, the Hula Ferris wheel!

Patricia Quinn (photo by Yvonne Gougelet)