Suwannee Hulaween returned to The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park for its third year. Once again, it was hosted by Colorado Jam-grass band The String Cheese Incident. Suwannee Hulaween has become one of the biggest Halloween parties in the country. With that came a stellar lineup of musicians from all genres of music. This year hosted not only the largest attendance for Hulaween but also for The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park with a record breaking 21,000 fans. This huge attendance brought a great atmosphere but also took away some of the intimacy of this legendary music venue. To accommodate this larger crowd the camping and entrance to the festival grounds were relocated which at times did create a bit of a traffic jam, but the seasoned staff at Suwannee were able to cope, to keep the positive vibes flowing. The weather this couldn’t have been better bringing a weekend full of sunshine.
Thursday was the pre-party for those who wanted to get into the venue early and loosen up before the main festivities begun. The night included sets by EOTO, Dumpstafunk, and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD). EOTO brought the energy with an amazing, always improvised show, followed by Dumpstafunk bringing their New Orleans funk to the amphitheater getting everyone warmed up for the nights headliner JRAD. JRAD came out guns a blazing with a powerful array of Grateful Dead music with no breaks in between songs. The set included “Dancing in the Streets,” “Eyes of the World,” “The Music Never Stopped’” and a “Help-Slip-Franklin’s”/ “China-Rider” medley that was an extraordinary way to kick off the festival.
The first official day of Suwannee Hulaween started off a bit slow. There were long lines of cars and people trying to set up camp, but everyone were in high spirits for the weekend. The first shows of the festival offered a wide variety of musical choices such as, the soulful sounds of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, the jam-style DJ The Polish Ambassador, new-grass rockers Railroad Earth, and the electronica band Papadosio. No matter what your musical taste, there was something great to get your weekend started. The String Cheese Incident (SCI) hit the stage with the title track of their new album, “Song In My Head,” followed by a couple of instrumentals such as the guitar driven “Indian Creek,” and the foot-stomping “Valley of the Jig.” SCI also brought out Todd Sheaffer and Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth for “Sometimes a River,” which is actually a collaboration between Todd and SCI’s bassist, Keith Moseley. Set two included many festival favorites like “Mouna Bowa,” and “Shantytown,” as well as a new song, “Stop Drop Roll.” They finished up the night with a long time played Led Zeppelin cover of “Ramble On.” The night went on with epic bass playing of Les Claypool and his legendary band Primus. With huge inflatable mushrooms on either side of the stage, Primus rocked out many classics. The night ended with the sensational DJ Pretty Lights closing out the main stage.
Halloween had finally come, and it kicked off with positive vibrations with some great reggae acts such as Stick Figure Reggae Band, and the ever popular California based Slightly Stoopid. The day continued with some impressive acoustic acts such as John Stickly Trio, and The King of Telluride, Sam Bush and his band. Sam Bush was a great crossover since he has been notorious for taking bluegrass into the realm of reggae; they did this by playing the Bob Marley cover, “One Love.” As everyone began to arrive decked out in their Halloween gear, SCI took the stage for the first of their three sets of the night. To open the Hulaween party, SCI went straight to work on an energetic “Dudley’s Kitchen.” They continued the set with a couple of new songs likes Moseley’s ballad, “Sweet Spot,” and Kang’s powerful, “Beautiful,” both played as if they have been in rotation for years. SCI also brought back a classic originally called “SKAT” but has now been renamed “Xai Xai,” based on a style of African music on which the song is based. SCI finished their first set, and the crowd moved to the amphitheater stage to get pumped up with the electric-rock trio Future Rock, before SCI came back for a very special Halloween set. This year’s theme was Ghoul Trail, a tribute to ‘70s funk, based on the television show Soul Train. The band came out in bellbottoms and afros along with a troop of dancers, a neon Ghoul Train sign lit up and then GZA, from The Wu-Tang Clan, came out and announced he would be the MC for the evening. This was a huge surprise for everyone and just goes to show how versatile SCI can be when it comes to different genres of music. The Ghoul Train set really brought the ‘70s alive with amazing covers of “Brick House,” “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “Cold Sweat,” and “Dance to the Music.” GZA even got up with the boys and rocked some freestyle, easily one of the coolest surprises of the weekend. After the Ghoul Train steamed past, SCI returned to the main stage for their final set of the night, keeping the party raging with a powerful “Bollymunster” opener. The crowd was also pleased to get some amazing SCI staples such as, “Desert Dawn,” “Search”, and the classic, “Black Clouds.” The Ghoul train made one last stop, as SCI played a two song encore that included, “Sign, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” and from The Kool and the Gang Incident show at Lockn’ Festival, “We are Family.” As the hosts of Hulaween left the stage for the night the party kept on rocking with the Seattle based duo ODEZZA, the funk band The New Mastersounds, and the hip-hop based band Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment. What a Halloween party! After all the remarkable music of the day there is only one word to describe it: WOW!
The final day of Suwannee Hulaween started out with some mellow acoustic sets with The Shook Twins and longtime friends of SCI, Elephant Revival. Towards the end of Elephant Revival’s set they invited the Shook Twins up on stage and they played four songs with them including, “Drop,” and “Rouge River” featuring the iconic vocals of Bonnie Paine. SCI took the stage a bit earlier than the other nights for what they dubbed as, “The Hangover Cure Set.” This was an all bluegrass, acoustic set featuring the legendary Sam Bush on fiddle and mandolin, and Charlie Rose (Elephant Revival) on banjo; Keith Moseley even brought out his stand-up bass for a super special “Blue” Cheese afternoon Incident. Songs included bluegrass standards familiar to Cheese fans such as “Deep Elem Blues,” and “Catfish John,” and also some rarities sung by Sam Bush like “Sunny Side of the Mountain,” and “Nine Pound Hammer.” The set did include one original song, the uplifting Caribbean jam “Lester had a Cocoanut,” and ended with all of Elephant Revival and Sam Bush playing the Gospel inspired “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” In between SCI sets, was one of the biggest parties of the weekend with DJ GRIZ, in a packed amphitheater. The final set of SCI started with a song from their new album, the Kyle tune “Let’s Go Outside,” followed by some classics such as “Little Hands,” “Windy Mountain,” and “Outside and Inside,” which featured Florida native, slide guitarist Roosevelt Collier. The final set of SCI finished with “Colorado Bluebird Sky,” and encored with a Bob Marley cover “Could You Be Loved.” Cheese thanked all of the performers, production, and the fans for making another Suwannee Hulaween a success, with a huge response from the crowd. Although this was the last set from SCI, Hulaween was not over, Boston based funk ensemble Lettuce took the amphitheater stage keeping the groove going. To close out the Halloween festivities, STS9 took the main stage with their unique style of electronic jam-rock sound. STS9 closed out Suwannee Hulaween with an energetic performance with many classic jams such as “Oil N Water,” “Kamuy,” and finished up with the crowd pleasing “Instantly.” As the festival came to a close, there were smiles all around and many high-fives on the way back to camp.
This year’s Suwannee Hulaween was a huge success not only due to the music but also the beautiful surroundings. On top of the natural beauty of The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, this year’s Spirit Lake area was over the top. Not only did they make this magical space larger, but they added another stage and a silent disco. After the festivities on the main stages ended, many would wonder into Spirit Lake for late night music and to be immersed in the incredible art installations, take swing in the Jelly Dome, or just chill out to the amazing light show over the lake. Much like The Sherwood Forest at Electric Forest Festival, Spirit Lake takes the music festival to a whole new level. Though the festival is based around music, Spirit Lake allows artists of all kinds to be seen and heard. Many of the installations were interactive so people not only were able to see art but experience it too. Suwannee Hulaween is the biggest most elaborate Halloween party in the country and should not be missed next year.