Suwannee Springfest 2013 was a rainy, thundery affair, but it still exceeded expectations for a supreme gathering of musical talent and a raucous good time. And hey, though it was rainy, as in torrential downpours with heart pounding thunder and lightning, the show went on (a damn good show) without much of a hitch.
While storms raged outside Saturday and the main Meadow stage was permanently shut down and the porch and amphitheater stages faced intermittent closure due to lightning, the enclosed Music Hall became a safe haven. The Music Hall boasted a range of artists from what was scheduled to added acts from the closed stages. Grandpa’s cough medicine, Cornmeal and Tornado Rider played back to back sets in the hall Saturday night. Artists and fans handled the changes gracefully.
Cornmeal seemed more at home on the Music Hall stage than they would have on the large Meadow stage. The intimate hall helped reverberate the high-octane energy of both Cornmeal and the crowd. Though the Meadow is an awesome, larger set up, this contained setting worked out wonderfully. Cornmeal playing in the Music Hall felt like an authentic hoe down in a barn while the spring rain fell outside. Their Dear Prudence cover, only their third song, was spell bounding, ending with an unexpectedly insane banjo solo played by Scott Tippin.
As soon as I stepped outside to venture through the rain to the Amphitheater stage, the smell of rain, lightning, wet earth, and campfires hit me. This scent is like a signature cologne for Springfest. Between deluges of rain, we could hear crickets in the trees and imagined them playing tiny fiddles in the oaks.
Donna the Buffalo helped the crowd dance the night away at the Amphitheater. Of particular note was DTB playing a lovely Across the Way as the rain picked up again after a brief lull. The light and music through the rain was a foreshadow of a late late night Leftover Salmon Light Behind the Rain.
Over on the Porch stage, Grant Farm brought a cowboy element in to blend with the hippie, country vibe of the festival. The variety of musicians at Springfest was an ideal blend of funky hippie mountain charm of Boulder CO with the low country southern blues and newgrass.
Old Crow Medicine Show opened their set on the Amphitheater stage with Alabama Slammer and went straight into Take ‘Em Away. Their time at the Grand Ole Opry was evident in Ketch Secor’s drama and southern twang, but the show still rang true as they played all their known songs plus some. Ketch threw in a brief but meaningful political statement when he said they would play a, “song for those who wish they could be here on a rainy night in the live oak grove, those who are in the desert in places like Kandahar that are far from Florida, fighting for their country.” At end of Levi, OCMS demanded to an agreeable crowd, “Bring the troops home – bring them home now.”
As I’ve grown accustomed to see some artists annually at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park i.e.- Cornmeal, Donna the Buffalo, Leftover Salmon, Travelin’ McCourys, Jim Lauderdale, etc… I wondered why I’ve never seen OCMS here. They apparently wondered the same thing because they asked rhetorically, “Why’d it take us 11 years to come back? We should do this every year!” The cheering, soaked and muddy- footed crowd clearly agreed. Hopefully we’ll see them at Springfest 2014. The laid back, peaceful community feel of Springfest was brought to life with the full crowd sing along of This land is your land this land is my land…
Shortly after three encores from OCMS, Leftover Salmon took the stage for Festivaaaaaal! Drew Emmitt, Andy Thorn and Vince Herman’s positive energy was infectious. They were clearly happy to be performing and the fact it was two in the morning didn’t slow them down a bit. They were in good company, sharing the stage with John Stickley, Tyler Grant (Grant Farm), Bonnie Paine and Bridget Law (Elephant Revival), Allie Kral (Cornmeal) and Jeb Puryear (DTB).
Though it can, in the wrong setting, be cliché, the Devil Went Down to Georgia is always a treat played by numerous string talents. Four fiddles on this tune created a full stage at the amphitheater with not a spot of room for another soul. Though the sound crew had some difficulty getting Bonnie Paine’s washboard to sound out with the other instruments, I couldn’t ignore how hard they were working to make it right. Eventually, towards the end of the song, they had hooked up the right part and things seemed to be suddenly working fine. Cornmeal’s Allie Kral and Elephant Revival’s Bridget Law on fiddle really made this standard cover spectacular.
Leftover played their melodic, There’s light behind the rain which couldn’t have been a better fit. If Springfest 2013 had a theme song, this would be it.
At 2:45 am, I had to get some rest, but Leftover Salmon kept playing on and on, full of energy. Sunday was a glorious gorgeous, hot sunny, bluegrass filled day. Sunday seemed to laugh about Friday evening and Saturday’s rains like Sunday couldn’t believe weather like that even existed.
Spring showers bring on the flowers so play on raindrops! See you at Springfest 2014!