There are certain weekends of each year that are pre-marked on my calendar. Things like the Super Bowl, week one of the college football season and the World Series are things that are always ingrained on my calendar. Purple Hatter’s Ball is no different and the excitement that I experience in the weeks leading up to the event often times can’t be contained. While the weekend is always a blast and the memories that are created are ones that will be remembered for years to come, it’s the memories of my dear friend Rachel Morningstar Hoffman that quickly bring me back to Earth as I’m reminded of why everyone comes together at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park on this particular weekend. Sure the good times that I have each year at PHB are ones that I’ll cherish my entire life, but I would gladly give them back for one more day with Rachel!
[View our Purple Hatter’s Ball 2017 photos HERE]
Purple Hatter’s Ball is held in memory of Rachel Hoffman who was unjustly taken from us back in ’08 and serves a vessel of knowledge for the rights of confidential informants. Rights that Rachel was deprived of and, consequently, lost her life because of it. The Morningstar Foundation was created in her honor and helps raise awareness for the rights that confidential informants often times don’t know they have. PHB also serves as a weekend of remembrance of the beauty of Rachel and the joy that she brought so many people. Each year also serves as a family reunion of sorts and this year was no different. The music helps bring us together but it’s the celebration of Rachel and all life that continuously brings us back each year.
The Thursday pre-party is always a good primer for the weekend which is why I wanted to make it out to SOSMP in time. Also because I haven’t seen my good friends from Dubconscious in years and they were part of the Thursday shindig and boy am I glad I made it. Blackwater Grease kicked off the music and the boys from nearby Jacksonville did not disappoint. They brought their swag with them from Jax and proved to be a great way to get the crowd moving. The surprise appearance by artist-at-large Isaac Corbitt only further added to the energy.
Bells and Robes, formerly of Gainesville, FL but currently hailing from Atlanta, GA, was next and their unique blend of melodic sounds and electronic beats is one that you can’t miss. Their set made sure the audience was moving with fluidity in their hips and left them waiting for more.
Zach Deputy, who is no stranger to the SOSMP, brought his playful demeanor and clever songwriting to the party and, as always, was a huge hit with the crowd. Dubconscious hit the stage shortly after Zach finished and they made sure to dig deep into their archive for the performance. They played tracks that they haven’t played in years while the crowd intently listened to the soothing reggae sounds.
My very close friend Vladimir Kulishevskiy, also known Vlad the Inhaler, got things started on Friday at the Amphitheater stage and it was a set that I’ve always looked forward to. My friend playing on the stage that has grown to be a pedestal for our musical community made my heart happy. Jacksonville based Lucky Costello followed and their heavy electronic sound proved to be fuel for the rest of the day.
Dubconscious played their second set of the weekend shortly after Lucky Costello and instead of continuing to dig into the archives, they played some of their crowd favorites that the audience jumping for joy. “Constantly Inspired” has been my favorite Dubconscious song for years and it’s one that will always be a Purple Hatter’s Ball staple. It speaks of the very message behind PHB and reminds me of the love and gratitude that filled Rachel’s heart. Needless to say, my excitement was easily recognized when the group played the track. As Dubconscious was finishing up their set the sun was fading beneath the horizon line signaling to all that the festivities were about to heat up. Catfish Alliance is no stranger the PHB and they brought their sexy smooth style for this year’s audience to get lost in. Sexual Manatee, the band’s front man, is always a spark of fun and he did not disappoint with his performance.
The Russ Liquid Test, which features Andrew Block who is another PHB veteran, hit the Amphitheater stage next and they came with the heat! Their jazzy style mixed with an electronic sound give the group such a unique sound that set the crowd right heading into the night’ last couple of acts. Check out our interview with the group here.
The boys from The Malah have been friends of mine since the very first PHB 10 years ago and nothing has changed since then. Brandon Maynard and I were reminiscing on the first PHB, which served as the venue and spark to our longstanding friendship, and the memories that we had made that weekend are still influential in our friendship today. This serves as a testament to the beauty that blossoms from Purple Hatters Bal each and every year. The trio set the crowd on fire with their performance and set the tone for the rest of the night.
Emancipator was the evening’s main event (we chatted with Doug Appling here) and I was very excited to see the duo for the first time in years! The set was just as I remembered and their unique sound, fueled by the intricate violin play, proved to be the perfect ending to an incredible Friday. The crowd left fulfilled and ready for the private parties at individual campsites and also ready for the Saturday that awaited.
It wasn’t billed as such but Saturday was definitely the beach day and the stage situated on the banks of the Suwannee River was popping from noon until dusk. NickFresh brought his dance heavy sound from Jacksonville and the beachgoers were gifted with a dance fueled set of classics. JuanJamon Band (check out our interview with the band here) took the stage after NickFresh and their funk driven set kept the feet moving and the good times flowing. I slipped away from the music for a little bit to take a dip in the river to cool myself off. The summers in Florida, and at the SOSMP in particular, are known for being brutally hot and this year has been no different. Being situated on the black waters of the Suwannee River is part of the Hallmark charm that this venue has and it only felt fitting to enjoy it since I was close.
I had to make a mad dash to get back to the amphitheater stage for the Dead Keys Tribute set to the late Scott Campbell. Scott has been a part of the SOSMP family for years now and the news of his passing earlier this year left the whole gang deeply saddened but happy to know that he was no longer suffering from the cancer that took his life. The Dead Keys was his band and the remaining members played a love filled set to their fallen comrade.
Margie Weiss, known to Rachel’s friends as Momma Margie, took the stage for her annual releasing of butterflies in honor of her late daughter. Momma Margie has had a resounding effect on me since meeting her and her ability to remain positive through so much negative gives hope that Rachel’s unjust death will not pass in vain. Momma Margie’s spirit paired with her tenacity for justice is one that keeps me focused on remaining positive through life’s most troubling times. (Read our interview with Margie here)
The rest of the night was stacked with PHB veterans from Zach Deputy and Dumpstaphunk. Sprinkled in between were groovy, funky and beat driven sounds from MZG and Zoogma. All of these acts are very close to my Suwannee family and it always brings a smile to my face seeing friends find success and progress in their careers. Knowing that I’m surrounded by such driven and creative friends gives me motivation to keep up.
The most meaningful event of the weekend, to me, was not a set of music but rather the potluck celebration celebrating not only Rachel’s life and but the message behind the festival each year. The potluck served as a venue for me to catch up with old friends in a more personal setting. The potluck symbolized what PHB means to me! The adhesive bond that my musical family has is unlike any other and the potluck displayed the love and unity that we all feel for one another.
This year’s PHB was unlike any other because each year comes with new emotions, new goals and sometimes new faces. I’m looking at you Ms. Mary May Kurkowski. But each year also carries the same weight on the soul as the last and coming together in celebration of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman gives us the sobering reality check that life is precious and fragile and can be taken from us at any moment. Since life can be ripped from us at any time, it is important to remember that love will always trump hate and unity will help us all enjoy life to absolute fullest.