Fall is my favorite time of year. The cooler weather always seems to bring greater smiles and more buoyant moods for everyone. It also signals the beginning of festival season. It’s a time to pack away all our worries and troubles and dance the night away. Our “festi family” is there with smiles, hugs, and stories around the campfire. It truly is a time to revive our souls, leaving us fresh and ready to face the reality that comes with adulting.
While only in their second year, Suwannee Roots Revival has, for me, become the only way to start fall festival season. With a diverse lineup, which includes Bluegrass, Americana, and Funk, Roots Revival literally sets the stage for the season.
My friends and I weren’t scheduled to arrive at the park until almost sundown. Fortunately, I was able to skate out of work a little earlier than expected, leaving us with hours of music we were worried we were going to miss. Once settled into camp and all the proper hellos and hugs were passed around, we went straight to the amphitheater to get our dance on.
Musical highlights of my weekend include…
My friend is from Raleigh, NC and made it a point to make sure we saw Chatham County Line. It felt like an old time jam and I heard one attendee describe them as psychedelic bluegrass. The weekend was filled with beautiful tributes to Tom Petty and theirs was the first of many that I heard over the weekend. Their version of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” got the entire crowd on their feet and singing along to every word.
It’s rare that the highlight of my weekend comes on the first day of the festival. Given the talent festival organizers had lined up for us, I should have known I would be left blown away on day one. Thursday evening, I was treated to my first Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn experience. The amphitheater is, by far, my favorite place to see a show at Suwannee and it could not have been more perfect for this set. For me, this was an intimate experience. The sun had just gone down and Abigail was dressed in her new fancy dress. The husband and wife banjo team shared stories, offering us a deeper meaning behind each song they played. Between their incredibly diverse talent on the banjo and her stunning voice, I found myself with goosebumps through much of the set. What I found most refreshing about this duo is their ability to incorporate laughter and love into their set. The banjomingle.com plug had everyone talking for days. It was perfect that they were one of my first shows of the weekend, as it felt like a big old hug from Suwannee, welcoming me home.
The Grass is Dead played their first of three sets on the Dance Stage Thursday night. They didn’t waste any time getting down to business, perfectly blending two of my favorite things – bluegrass and the Grateful Dead. They even closed out Friday night’s set with a Tom Petty tribute. These guys played with relentless energy, performing on three stages, and then pickin’ around the campfire until the wee hours of the morning. Once again, I was reminded why they’re one of my favorite bands to see live.
I imagine it would be difficult to follow the energy of The Grass is Dead, but The Revelers couldn’t have been more perfect for the job. Dubbed “Cajun/Swamp Pop,” they brought an interesting blend of southwest Louisiana roots music that had the entire amphitheater on their feet and dancing. I do believe that they were my “golden egg” find of the weekend and I cannot wait to see more of these guys in the future.
Amanda Anne Platt & The Honey Cutters
I was really blown away by a number of acts, in which I was less-familiar with, which is another aspect of Suwannee’s magic; fresh surprises and unplanned encounters. Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters are a perfect example. They had a sweet old-time country sound and her voice had depth and range, giving her “instrument” a unique sound of its own. I was disappointed in never hearing them before, but pleasantly surprised by everything they offered.
While The Lee Boys played several sets over the weekend, my favorite was their Dance Stage set. I have seen them before, but seeing live music in the woods instantly adds greater dimension for both performers and audience, alike. They brought the heat with their funky jams, smiles, and positive vibes. This was, without a doubt, my Friday church service.
The Lee Boys | photo by Josh Webster
Peter Rowan’s Dharma Blues with Jack Casady left me a bit smitten. This was my first true introduction to Peter Rowan, after years of hearing my friends rave on and on about him. Prior to this show, very few people were aware of my love of yodeling. My friends quickly learned the truth, as they say they literally watched the love rush over my face. I may be a little late to the party but, I’m officially a Peter Rowan fan for life!
I absolutely love that the festival promoters treated us to a diverse lineup that included funk acts such as Mother’s Finest. Combining Funk, Rock, Metal, Jazz, and Gospel, Mother’s Finest have created their own unique sound that was full of life and soul. While many would be quick to assume that a funk band does not have a place at what many consider to be a more bluegrass-related festival, these guys not only proved they belonged there, they crashed through those walls, showing us that music should be free of division, stereotyping, and negativity.
Saturday brought us the first of two Rev. Jeff Mosier Band sets. What can I even say to do this one justice? There was so much talent on that stage. While Saturday’s Porch Stage set was incredible, Sunday’s set was something truly magical. I enjoyed watching these professionals and how they communicate and interact onstage. What I loved even more, was seeing the pure joy on each of their faces, as they played their little hearts out.
Sunday’s set, “Symphony of Gratitude,” was a tribute set to honor and remember our dear friend Col. Bruce Hampton. As we all still struggle to wrap our minds around his passing, enjoying the love that music brings seemed like the most fitting way to grieve and accept. As if it wasn’t emotional enough, we had a very special visit from Andy King throughout the set. Andy’s determination and love of music has helped him defy all odds, as he battles Parkinson’s – another fitting and emotional tribute to Col. Bruce, the man who taught so many so much about life, love, and music.
P.S. Fiddlin’ Faye’s singing harkened back to Appalachian roots, like calling to family across the valley, from one mountainside to another. Her voice rang out with clarity and power. Additionally, her smile, fiddling, stage presence, and energy made her a total rockstar that left everyone at my campsite giddy.
After missing last year, due to illness, The Wood Brothers delivered a stellar set filled with energy and love. They introduced some new tunes, mixed in with some old favorites. The highlight of this set was their stunning performance of “Postcards From Hell,” another emotional tribute to the late Col. Bruce Hampton. Goosebumps and tears were flowing throughout the weekend and this was no exception.
The last show of the weekend, as is tradition, was Donna the Buffalo. They had quite a few sit-ins throughout their 2 hour set. Perhaps the most special, was Randy Judy’s rendition of “Seminole Wind,” which is as much of a tradition as Donna the Buffalo closing out the weekend. I happened to scan the crowd as he was singing and noticed every attendee had stopped cold in their tracks to listen, beaming with pride from ear to ear. I heard many commenting on how much stronger he sounded for this performance. Jim Lauderdale also sat in for several songs as well. I always enjoy it when he takes the stage – he has such a presence about him and always finds a way to make everyone, both on and off stage, laugh.
The weather could not have been more perfect for a beautiful weekend at Suwannee, with grinnin’ faces, and pickin’ sounds everywhere. The river was high, but had receded some, compared to the week before. It was such a treat to see live music in this beautiful space. The theme of the weekend was gratitude, another life lesson the late Col. Bruce Hampton instilled in us.
Photos by Camie Hileman unless noted
Video by Rex Thomson for Live for Live Music