Party in the Pines Festival was a welcomed new fall music event bringing the biggest names in country music to the Northeast Florida area. Headlined by Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Jake Owen, Brothers Osborne, Easton Corbin, Ryan Hurd and more, the inaugural two-day event took place in White Springs, FL at the prestigious Bienville Plantation, a world-renowned hunting and fishing resort.
According to an article in Suwannee Valley Scene magazine, the property’s owner, real-estate developer Robert Morey, took his vision for a country music festival to Vickie Bass, an experienced event producer. From there, the idea made its way to Dennis Freeman of Freeman Enterprises in Nashville where it began to become reality. Freeman became the event’s site manager and enlisted a talent agency to assist in the musical curation. Overall the process took about a year to complete.
Cover photo by Milo Davis Photography
Upon entering Bienville Plantation, I was greeted by vast greenery, friendly traffic directors, and the smell of flourishing pine trees and freshly cut grass. I immediately I knew the atmosphere was the perfect setting for a family-friendly country music event.
I arrived a little later than planned on Friday, October 20th, and after a highway detour, some missed turns and check-in booth confusion, I was eager to get settled and watch the show. So were hundreds of other people. The lines were long and the sun was still beaming on us, but I kept my patience and some courteous staff members soon helped expedite my check-in. For a first year festival, some logistical slow downs are to be expected and I was glad to see a sizeable crowd for such a new event.
Party in the Pines offered camping accommodations for both tent and RV camping. Being in a rural area, staying on site was certainly convenient. I talked to some of the festival patrons who were lodged in nearby Lake City hotels – they seemed happy with that choice as well. Apparently the drive to Lake City isn’t much of an issue at all.
October is my busiest event month and with Suwannee Hulaween approaching, I kept my camping situation light. Just a mattress pad in the back of my Jeep, a camp chair and a cooler of goodies – the necessities. Oh and bug spray – do NOT forget the bug spray if you plan to camp here. I set up my temporary home and chatted with my camp neighbors from iHeartRadio: Country 102.5 WYNR in Brunswick, GA. Radio host Beth Walters and her husband Ryan were a blast. Beth let me pick her brain over the weekend on media and radio communications. I was grateful for her shared knowledge, especially on the country music acts. This particular genre is not my normal scene.
Inside the venue I located the Main Stage as well as the secondary stage, hosted by Sleiman Enterprises. Production was A+, from sound to lighting at both stages, everything was well put-together. The Sleiman Stage became a huge draw for many over the weekend as it hosted a variety of southern rock and country-rock bands.
The main stage GA viewing area left a little to be desired. It was difficult to see and hear from the small amount of general area viewing space. I would recommend springing for the reserved seating or V.I.P. if possible. Hopefully they can allow for a slightly expanded GA viewing area next year. However, the Sleiman Stage featured just the right amount of space for boogying.
Food vendors offered a decent selection of Asian, American, Mexican cuisine and more. By Saturday all the walking and dancing had left me famished. I ordered a hefty New Orleans seafood combo – vegetables, rice, fish, shrimp, clams and crawfish. I couldn’t figure out how to eat the crawfish though. I tried to pull the head off like I’ve seen in movies but it just squished everywhere. =/
They say to save the best for last, but I’m just going to jump right into my favorite act. Miranda Lambert stole my heart. She took the stage wearing some feisty glitter tights, jean shorts and a black tassled blouse. She’s beautiful! Her set lasted for an hour-and-a-half as she sang songs like “Vice”, “It Takes All Kinds of Kinds”, “Pink Sunglasses” and “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Miranda let her bestie Gwen Sebastian takeover the mic on Gwen’s single “Cadillac.” There was a moment during Miranda’s version of “Tin Man” where I had to let the tears out.
Speaking of broken hearts, the juiciest moment of Miranda’s show was when she started talking about her divorce. “Sometimes bad sh*t happens to good people…and you drink through it,” she raised her glass of vodka. “I got divorced in 2015 and I wrote a song about it on a napkin.” Then she proceeded to belt out “Mama’s Broken Heart” with ferocity. I couldn’t help but relate.
My second favorite of the weekend was another spitfire female – Maren Morris. Maren strikes me as the perfect candidate to crossover into pop, if she ever wanted to. In addition to being a standout vocalist, Maren is also a heartfelt songwriter. “I Could Use a Love Song” was one of her memorable creations during the set. I also enjoyed “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry”, “80s Mercedes”, and “Angels from Montgomery”, a song she’s been singing since she was 10-years old in Dallas honkytonks. Next to Susan Tedeschi, Maren put on the best live rendition of this song I’ve seen so far. Maren also put her spin on Beyonce’s “Halo” which was an unexpected surprise. I also loved her gospel-like delivery of “Church.” Maren’s husband Ryan Hurd also sang a few notes during the set. They make a cute couple!
Natalie Stovall was another powerhouse at Party in the Pines. Natalie took to the Sleiman Stage with her firey fiddle, gorgeous golden locks and badass attitude and the crowd was electrified. Her hour-long jam included Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”, Destiny’s Child’s “Looking Crazy”, Jimi Hendrix’ “Foxy Lady”, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and the list goes on. Natalie performs over 200 events a year and I’ve missed her sets a couple times at different festivals. I guarantee I will never miss her again. Natalie just announced she is the comeback artist for #TeamBlake on The Voice. We’re rooting for you girl.
By now I should probably talk about the men of the weekend. Keith Urban was of course a crowd favorite. I was a little late to his show and the security guard chastised me for not being up front and center sooner. From camp I could hear him opening up with “Slip Away.” Halfway through the show he invited Maren on stage. His extended version of “Can’t You See” was a highlight along with “Sun Don’t Let Me Down”, “Love Somebody” and U2’s “With or Without You.”
photo via Party in the Pines website
The Michael Stacey Band was a pleasant recent discovery. Their blend of southern rock and bluegrass fit well with the Sleiman Stage theme. They performed a poignant version of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Soulshine” just as the sun set on day one.
The five-piece southern-country-rock band South of Heaven was another Sleiman Stage discovery. They played on a steamy Sunday afternoon at 3pm. The hellish heat was certainly fitting for a band named “South of Heaven.” Coincidently one of their songs was called “Dancing with Devil.” I think we definitely were on that day. Good times.
Easton Corbin held a meet and greet in the media lounge where I got to briefly meet him. His single “A Girl Like You” was a treat and I especially enjoyed his version of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.”
Eli Mosley had the audience hootin’ and hollerin’ while performing Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison.” This got us ready for his new boot-tapping single “Run Boy.” By then we were dancing up a dust storm as he went into Brad Paisley’s “Crushing It.” Eli crushed it no doubt.
My friends and I closed out the weekend with Grayson Rogers getting down to “Friends in Low Places.” (Apologies if you heard me singing along.) Grayson’s show was just the right way to wind down after Miranda Lambert. I hung in there until the very end.
Photos and Videos
Here are a few photos from the weekend along with some video clips found on social media. We’re looking forward to seeing the future growth of Party in the Pines.