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Alien Excellence: Suwannee Hulaween 2018 Recap

The aliens have landed…and they’re looking for ground scores! After being abducted into a intergalactic world of space creatures for nearly a week, coming back down to earth has taken a bit of adjustment. I’m sure you can relate. Read our review of the extended weekend below and feel free to share on social media:

Each year Suwannee Hulaween manages to outdo themselves on the lineup, sound systems, lighting, art installations and general infrastructure of the independent festival.

Sold-out at approximately 21,000 attendees, the event drew a mixture of jam and electronic fans from all over the country to see Jamiroquai, Janelle Monae, Odesza, STS9, The Revivalists, Tipper and of course, The String Cheese Incident. (Full photo gallery here)

Curated by Silver Wrapper, Purple Hat Productions and Synergy Event Production, the independent festival aims to create an eclectic, one-of-a-kind show based on feedback from fans, as well as event staff and members of Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. We’d say they set the benchmark for cultivating a community event that encourages return annual attendance.

A noticeable leap forward this year was the female performer presence. Celebrating the power of the divine feminine, SCI dedicated an entire set to female vocalists (more on this in a bit).

Speaking of women powerhouses, Texas rapper/singer Lizzo and Canadian DJ/producer Rezz absolutely blew us all away. Both were very colorful, positive-vibe sets that really kicked things up at Suwannee Hulaween 2018. French electronic musician CloZee was also a highly talked-about feature at this year’s event. Continue for full recap…

Rezz photo by Taylor Elberg

Day 1 – Thursday, 10/25

By the time I arrived on Thursday afternoon there was a sea of cars lined up to enter the park. I got checked in and hurried my way to STS9’s “Axe the Cables” set at The Patch Stage. I made it just in time for my top priority of the day.

Opening day energy was high as everyone emerged draped in their first costumes of the weekend.

STS9’s second Patch set was equally as hypnotic.

As the rain drizzle was steadily building momentum, I hiked over the Amphitheater for one of my favorite jam bands – Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. By the time they started getting into the groove about halfway through the set, J.R.A.D. had formed a rainy dance party full of smiling faces.

I stayed for a little of the second set before heading back to camp to finish setting up, which basically entails folding down my back seat and unrolling a Thermarest self-inflating air mattress. Keep it simple (and dry) is my motto!

I missed The Floozies but talking to friends throughout the weekend, I got the general consensus they were a top show of the pre-party. The Floozies recently released some new music:

Minnesota was my favorite pick of the day. I came to Hula for the bass and Minnesota delivered. His Adventures Through Space & Time tour began this October and he came to Hula prepped with new audio, visuals and massive bass. Listen to “Yoga Pants” below.

Day 2 – Friday, 10/26

Friday started off pretty muddy as I slipped into my boots, stretched out my dancing legs and trekked my way to The Meadow for The Wood Brothers. Still sleepy-eyed and bed-headed, I sipped on coffee and counted my blessings to be in my favorite place on earth – Suwannee-land!

Medeski Martin & Wood followed at The Meadow. I have been privileged to see them twice in one year and have developed a new fanship for the jazzy funk trio. Their new album, Omnisphere, is available here.

I let serendipity take me wherever I needed to be throughout the weekend and fate led me right to the front of Lizzo’s proud and loud display of rapping and singing. This woman has important things to say about self-acceptance, self-love and letting our true selves shine. I found myself hanging onto every word:

“Tonight after you’re done partying, look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I love you. You are beautiful and you can do anything!’” 

I say that to myself everyday and I hope you will too.

Dr. Dog was another first-time experience for me. The clouds had cleared and the sun was shining down on The Meadow as I found a shady tree to watch the show. Hula was Dr. Dog’s last show of 2018, but don’t worry, they’re heading back out in 2019 for their Critical Equation tour.

More Cheese please! I couldn’t get enough of the host band on Friday. I was working in the V.I.P. pavilion reading tarot cards so I had the perfect view for both of Friday’s sets:

S1: Texas, Manga, Gone Crooked+*, Hey Lorocco*, One Step Closer > Turn This Around > > Let’s Go Outside

S2: Black and White, BollyMunster, Illegal, Rivertrance > Drums, Joyful Sound > Search, Colliding

+ = FTP * = w/ Rayland Baxter

If you haven’t done Hula in the V.I.P., I highly suggest upgrading next year. The food, entertainment, massages, sound therapy and restroom conveniences are well worth the expense – not to mention having plenty of room to get down.

I took a break and explored Spirit Lake for the first time during the Dirtybird party. A wooden lounge chair on the lake offered an opportunity for some much needed rest as I slipped into a catnap listening to Justin Martin and watching the spooky light show. Our photographer, Taylor Elberg, is a pretty huge Dirtybird enthusiast and captured quite a few shots of Ardalan and Fisher. Our full photo gallery to follow soon.

photo by Taylor Elberg

My feet caught a second wind for Odesza. I had missed the Jacksonville stop on their A Moment Apart tour and was grateful to have another opportunity to experience them again live. The only other time I’ve seen Odesza was at Hulaween two years ago. Hopefully Odesza at Hula will continue as tradition.

Day 3 – Saturday, 10/27

Toubab Krewe opened Saturday at The Meadow with their West African-jam fusion signature sound. We caught up with T.K. at Purple Hatter’s Ball earlier this year to discuss their latest album, Stylo. Take a look at the interview here.

I was reading tarot again on Saturday in the V.I.P. so The Meadow stage was easy access for me. Lettuce brought the action as the morning chill had worn off and Hula came out to party in the Florida sunshine. Visual artist Bean Spence was doing a signing for his official Suwannee Hulaween posters. I got mine!

Three sets of Cheese followed including the tribute to female songstresses. Later, a guest appearance by Ann Wilson of Heart completely caught me by surprise. When they started the “Baracuda” bassline my jaw dropped – I never thought I’d get the chance to see that song performed live. Saturday’s list of songs & features:

S1: Birdland, Sweet Spot, Sing A New Song > These Waves > Djibouti Bump > You’ve Got The World, Colorado Bluebird Sky

S2: Desert Dawn, Get To You^, Hi Ho No Show, The Big Reveal, Jellyfish, Rosie

S3: Women of the Galaxy: Gimme Shelter (1), Rock Steady (2), Proud Mary (3), Killing Me Softly With His Song (4), Respect (5), Valerie (6), Heartbreaker (7), Politician (8), Baracuda (9), Get Up Stand Up (10)

E: Rollover > Close Encounters Jam > Star Wars Jam > Cantina Jam > Imperial March > Star Trek Next Generation Jam > Original Star Trek Jam > 2001 > Rollover

^- w/ Rhonda & Tony on vocals
1- Rolling Stones cover, Lisa Fischer on vocals
2- Aretha Franklin cover, Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet
3- Tina Turner cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals
4- Roberta Flack cover, Lisa Fischer on vocals
5- Aretha Franklin cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals
6- Amy Winehouse cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals
7- Pat Benatar cover, Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet
8- Cream cover, Ann Wilson on vocals
9- Heart cover, Ann Wilson on vocals
10- Bob Marley, cover featuring everyone

Featuring the Mofro Horns, Rhonda Thomas & Tony White, Jen Hartswick, Lisa Fischer, & Ann Wilson

SCI photo by Taylor Elberg

Jamiroquai headlined Saturday for a rare U.S. performance. The English singer only had four shows in the states this year with Hulaween being one. Our fellow media friend, Bee Getz, got engaged in the photo pit at the show! So many happy tears for Bee and his lovely lady:

Since I couldn’t make it to most of the other stages, I relied on feedback from conversations with new friends I met throughout the weekend. Vulfpeck in The Patch won the most votes, with Jon Stickley Trio and Roosevelt Collier Trio ranking high as well.

I spent Saturday night out late at Spirit Lake watching gamblers in the casino. Apparently at 4am broken cigarettes and condoms (hopefully not broken) are high stakes at the dice table. I butterfly hopped around the Silent Disco and Incendia stage with a nice guy in a bear onesie before calling it a night. He shared this trippy photo for the blog:

Spirit Lake photo by Andre Sas @itwasalljustadream

Day 4 – Sunday, 10/28

Needless to say I slept in until Yonder Mountain String Band came on at 1 pm. A lot of other people were still at camp but plenty came out to celebrate early with the Colorado bluegrass band.

Ott followed over in The Patch and I caught a few songs from Galactic‘s funky dinner-time get-down in the Amphitheater. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see The Revivalists but a poll of the audience says they killed it.

Sunday’s Cheese set lists:

S1: Barstool, Mouna Bowa > High on a Mountain Top, Stay Through, White Freightliner Blues, Whiskey Before Breakfast, Water > Purple Strains (Earl’s Song), Close Your Eyes

S2: Vertigo, Way Back Home > Beautiful, Superstition*, It Is What It Is, Sirens > This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)*

* = w/ Nicholas Cassarino on guitar and vocals

Nghtmre was still raging over at The Patch stage when I made my way there to get a spot for Gramatik – another of my top priorities. It was the hardest I’d danced the entire festival.

Janelle Monae was playing at the same time in The Meadow. Once again, another strong female voice representing forward growth and evolution. Her messages of equality for all are supremely important in today’s social climate. Thanks for speaking out, Janelle. This world needs all the guiding light it can get.

Janelle Monae photo by Taylor Elberg

Day 5-7

Ok, so we’re supposed to go home after the festival but I stuck around to enjoy the park and help out in artist catering. Monday morning I cleared some energy blocks during yoga on the river. I found a secluded beach on River Trail and stretched and breathed my way back to normalcy. Props to the ballsy couple brave enough to dive into the chilly water at 8am – I’m guessing they were from Michigan.

There is so much work that goes into putting together this festival…and just as much taking it down. I really enjoyed learning more about the kitchen operation and feeding the festival staff. Tre Bien Foods kept us eating well!

Each night the catering staff stayed up around the campfire, cuddling in blankets to stay warm and relaxing after many, many long days. The best part was sharing all our “post-festival ground score” stories. My ground scores list:

folding table
jacket & flannel shirt (left by the trash! can you believe it?)
camp soap
$2.76 in pocket change
$5 bill that I left for the awesome folks that supplied the comfy glamping tent for my final night’s stay. The car bed was certainly getting a bit cramped after awhile and it was time to trade in for some luxury.

This gentleman got me beat though:

Once I rejoined society on Facebook, I discovered this hilarious thread in the Suwannee Hulaween group:

Do yourself a favor and go check out the rest – it’ll pass the time at work much faster.

Thanks to Silver Wrapper, Purple Hat Productions, Infamous P.R., Tre Bien Foods, the Spirit Lake installation crew, A/V production, art vendors, security, my V.I.P. and catering coworkers and the entire staff of Suwannee Hulaween and Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.

I’d personally like to thank everyone who had a tarot card reading with me. All your stories were truly inspirational and you gave me an amazing gift by sharing.

Until next year Hula! We love you.

Taylor Elberg & Friends


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