After months of anticipation, planning, and daydreaming, Hulaween @ Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park has finally come and gone. And it was nothing short of magical. It left me with a lifetime of memories, almost too many to count. It’s taken me days to wrap my mind around how truly blessed we are to have something so special take place less than two hours from home. I’m still not sure I have words fitting enough to express what a remarkable weekend it was, from the moment I sunk my feet into the Suwannee sand, to the signs in the rear view, but I’m certainly going to try.
[View photo gallery HERE.]
The excitement was almost too much for my husband and I to bear. While we knew it was a terrible decision, we stayed up way too late Wednesday night, consuming entirely too many liquid libations. Our logic – the anticipation wasn’t going to allow us to sleep anyway, so we might as well have our own pre-party. I guess our logic was slightly flawed, however, because we slept through our alarms and got a much later start to the day than we intended.
When we finally made our way towards Live Oak, FL, all I could think about was how long the lines were going to be and how much music we were going to miss. As soon as we drove through the park entrance, my heart dropped to my stomach. The lines were just as bad as I’d imagined. As I sat in my car waiting for direction, I observed the gentlemen directing traffic. Unlike many events I’ve been to, these guys worked together like a well-oiled machine. They had a system in place and it worked! Before we knew it, we were out of our cars and in line for our wristbands. Again, the lines were deceivingly long and, again, the volunteers had us checked in and banded before we even knew what hit us. If this was any indication as to how the weekend was going to be, we were golden.
While we had quite a bit of music we wanted to hear that morning, there was no point in dwelling on what we had already missed. If we hurried, we had enough time to get our tent set up and still catch Vlad the Inhaler opening up The Patch Stage. Frankly, I didn’t care if the tent went up or not, there was no way I was going to miss my fellow Jacksonvillian in one of his shining moments. Seeing him up there on that huge stage filled us all with pride. I know it was early in the day but, guys, you seriously missed one badass set. It was the perfect way to get my legs warmed and body acclimated to what the next few days would throw at us. I saw several people throughout the day who recognized me from Vlad’s set. They all made a point of high-fiving me, raving about what an amazing job he did. Hopefully you were able to catch his late-night Silent Disco set; where he threw it down once again.
Shortly before his set ended, I had to head back up to the main gate to help resolve a situation. While we were there, our friend miraculously drove up in our golf cart, handed off the keys and a hug, and vanished. The Suwannee magic really was shining down on us already, and we’d only been there a couple of hours. From here on out, the magical moments never seemed to stop.
Anyone who was fortunate enough to attend Hulaween (and the many people who were shut out of the sold-out festival) knows that the lineup for the festival’s fifth installment was stellar. Much like the festival’s host, The String Cheese Incident, the lineup cannot be pigeonholed into one specific genre. While laden with electronic heavy-hitters, there was truly something for everyone. How many festivals can you go from bluegrass’ finest, Greensky Bluegrass, to hip-hop acts like Run the Jewels, and everything else in between?
It would be virtually impossible to cover every talented act that graced those five stages last weekend. And I’m sure each and every attendee had their favorite sets, for their own personal reasons.
Umphrey’s McGee: What can I say? These guys truly are musical geniuses. They proved that when they busted out the full-length version of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Twenty minutes of my life that I will never forget. Bonus: They played the song I’ve been chasing since I first discovered Umphrey’s, “Booth Love.” I went to bed that night thinking “I can die happy!”
Bassnectar: I’m not going to lie, I really wasn’t sure what to expect out of this set. When Bassnectar was announced as a headliner, I knew the festival had just elevated to a whole new level. There were a lot of people initially hesitant or deterred by his appearance on the line up. There were also a lot of REALLY excited people. While my first thought was that I wasn’t going to enjoy his set, I vowed to keep an open mind, not pass any judgement, and find a really cool Bassnectar fan to hang with. I was blessed to find a whole crew of fans to hang with. We planned to meet at the meadow stage “H” twenty minutes before the set, so that we could find the best spot for the show. Unlike most festival plans, this one actually went off without a hitch. As we all settled in, hugging and high-fiving over our meet-up success, I knew I’d picked the right crew for the occasion. For the next hour and fifteen minutes, Bassnectar, aka Lorin Ashton, blew my mind. Between the music, lights, and fan enthusiasm, the energy was palpable. All I have to say is…I get it.
Dimond Saints: A collaborative effort, comprised of Oakland-based duo An-ten-ae and Releece, Dimond Saints have developed a musical style that is, in my opinion, unmatchable. I have to admit, I’m a little late to the party when it comes to these guys. Having just discovered An-ten-ae about a year ago and D.S. shortly after that, I’ve spent the last year completely obsessed with finding out everything I could about them, individually and as a pair. This was, personally, my most anticipated set of the weekend. With so much excitement built up, I even worried that I may have over-hyped the performance. How were they ever going to live up to what I had built up in my mind? Well, let me tell you, they blew my expectations out of the water! My only complaint – it was only an hour long. I could have danced to these guys all night long.
Random, late-night DJ sets: Once the Saturday night Silent Disco was over, my friends and I made our way to a campsite party, where Charlie Hustle was throwing down some beats. I danced until my legs were like noodles and Charlie’s set was winding down. On our way to another friend’s campsite, our feet just unconsciously led us to another DJ afterparty. I had no idea who this DJ was and we didn’t know a single soul there. None of that mattered. We danced as passionately at that set as we did at any of the five stages that weekend. I did have a random opportunity to meet him, vvonka, the next day at a good friend’s campsite. Those of us who had heard him the night before saw it as a great chance to sing his praises. Hugs and high-fives ensued.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Funky Love camp for hosting us and having Charlie Hustle as their late entertainment. The DJ set followed a fantastic performance by Shak Nasti with Savi Fernandez.
While the music at Hulaween is the biggest draw, this unique festival is so much more than that. For weeks before opening day, the park begins its transformation. Artists travel from all over the world, pouring their heart and soul into the art installations that make Spirit Lake what it is. As if the park wasn’t magical enough on its own, the lake is transformed into a laser light show with gentle giant creations by Thomas Dambo peeking out from behind the trees, and fire-breathing statues keep you on your toes as you meander from one end of Spirit Lake to the other. The lake takes on a life of its own, adding another dimension to this sacred ground.
Vendors, Staff, & Volunteers
It’s really easy to take for granted the people that make all of this possible. Many of us go through the entire festival without ever considering the hard work and dedication that goes into making all this possible.
I was fortunate enough to have been at the park two weeks earlier for Suwannee Roots Revival. The Suwannee team was already hard at work (and had been for quite some time) building stages, clearing land for camping, and ensuring the park was safe and secure. It was evident to me that the Hulaween team started making plans the moment we left the park after Hulaween 2016. Unlike many festivals, the promoters, Silver Wrapper and Purple Hat Productions, learned not only from their own past mistakes, but from other festival’s successes and blunders alike. No stone was left unturned.
The vendors, staff, and volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure every attendee had a positive experience. Despite working long hours in temperatures that ranged from the 80s to the 40s, everyone I ran into treated me as if I was their first and last “customer.” I made it my mission to show my appreciation to every last one of them. I hope you did too.
I’ve made it a tradition to have at least one “park first” every time I visit my second home. As the weekend was winding down, I realized I hadn’t yet experienced my first. I should have known that the park already had something planned for me. As we were riding around, saying our goodbyes, a group of friends invited us on their journey to “the bridge”. I’ve heard stories of this mysterious painted bridge for years now, but never been lucky enough to find it. This was a remarkable revision to my ritual of saying goodbye to the river, before heading back to the metropolis. If you’re fortunate enough to know someone to show you the way, I urge you to visit the bridge at least once. Its serenity and artistry offers yet another layer to this very special park.
These are some select words to describe my Hulaween experience, but I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, exposing a brief glimpse of an experience that is all-encompassing. The senses are constantly bombarded and emotions can run high. The throngs of people and clouds of dust ebbed and flowed, from beginning to end, with a constant and palpable undercurrent of overjoyed exuberance ever-present. Contagious, to say the least. And, just as the park had grown to accommodate the attendees, it slowly melted back to the trees and swaying moss of day-to-day Suwannee by Monday. As we left and traveled our paths back to our permanent homes, there was the beginning stages of excitement already building for what next year will bring.
P.S.: Did anyone else notice the butterfly presence throughout the weekend? If I didn’t know better, I would think they planned that too 🙂
Words by Heather Solburg
Photos by Courtney Scout & Jen McKinnon