“Each of us will return to our lives better off for the time we spend here.” – Beth Judy (Festival Director)
Before setting up camp and getting my camera gear ready for the inaugural Suwannee Spring Reunion, I found a few quiet moments of alone time before my friends and associates arrived. The first thing I did was pour over the each page of the schedule brochure planning out which activities I couldn’t miss.
Beth Judy’s opening welcome letter radiated from the first page as she shared a sparkling appreciation for spring’s arrival. I knew she was going to be right, this Spring Reunion at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park would have a positive impact on all our lives. Suwannee brings out the best in people.
New friends I met by the lake
After mapping out a plan for maximum enjoyment, I pitched my temporary home and socialized with my Yonderville campmates. We were a small group at this festival – just the way I like it. Grandpa’s Cough Medicine was playing at the famed Amphitheater stage at 4 p.m. and it was the perfect time to make my initial descent into the music.
Grandpa’s Cough Medicine is one of my dad’s favorite bluegrass bands. Anytime he can’t make one of their shows I try to be his fill-in. Hopefully he’ll be joining me at this year’s Suwannee Roots Revival for our annual father-daughter weekend.
I browsed through the art/vending area, ate a light dinner and made my way to The Porch stage for Turtle Duhks. Opening day sunset performances are always full of joy as old friends hug and laugh during their long awaited reunions. Speaking of reunions, my personal excitement for this set was heightened. The Duhks were one of my favorite groups at my first Suwannee festival: Magnolia Fest 2013. I had been missing their presence on the festival circuit ever since.
The newly formed Turtle Duhks trio featured original Duhk’s guitarist Jordan McConnell along with Linda Garrison Damiano on fiddle and Leonard Podolack on banjo/vocals. An uncontrollable grin swept across my face as I listening to their familiar fusion of gospel, country, and folk music coupled with velveteen vocal harmonies. My face has been stuck like that ever since and I’m grateful.
Prior to the festival we interviewed Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo so their opening night set was especially anticipated. [Read Donna the Buffalo Interview Here]. As expected, they lit The Herd on fire with upbeat tunes like “I Love My Tribe” and “Working on That.”
The energy carried into The Applebutter Express show at The Porch stage followed by Grass is Dead closing out the night at the amphitheater. Grass is Dead always throws a good party, but they were extra impressive with that night’s versions of “Alabama Get Away” and “Brown Eyed Woman.” A few people mentioned their “Shakedown Street” performance to me throughout the weekend. It was definitely one of the top three weekend sets, in my opinion.
I began the next day listening to Quartermoon play the Porch Stage as I waited on a delicious tofu scramble wrap from Solar Café. The schedule was non-stop after that. I managed to catch a bit of almost everything including Verlon Thompson, Peter Rowan, Jeff Mosier with Pickled Holler, a second helping of Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, Grass Is Dead and Donna the Buffalo.
Friday’s featured moment for me was Jim Lauderdale & Friends singing the blues on “Slow Motion Trouble.” Jim was diving deep in his heart on that song and we were all transported to the same place in ours.
Saturday morning I was up early and decided to try yoga for the first time. Lately I’ve been working on trying new things, even if they scare me or even if I know I’ll look silly. But how can we learn if we don’t mess up first? The instructor, Rhonda Bell, is a compassionate soul and turned out to be a great teacher for the first time student. I wobbled my way through the stretches and poses quite ungracefully, but I relieved a lot of body tension; and the spiritual meditation exercises resonated throughout the day. I felt like someone plugged me into a phone charger and I was at 100% battery life. Rhonda is an instructor at Lotus Yoga in Jacksonville – stop by and see her if you’re in the area.
After yoga, Suwannee Spirit Kid’s Music Camp had begun on The Porch stage. I smiled and waved at a few of the families as I passed by on the way back to camp to freshen up before Habanero Honeys at The Amphitheater. The Honeys are Marie Nofsinger, Beth Judy, Annie Wenz, Cathy Lee and Tom Nelly and they are unique in that they only play at Suwannee. Glad I made it out early for the sweet treat. “Bless each day with a new start and put joy in our hearts | It’s love, oh love, that matters most.” And blessed we were for the rest of the day.
Things got interesting and rowdy as usual when Tornado Rider blew onto stage in the Amphitheater. Longtime Rider fans were ready to get weird – especially the pink Easter bunny who shined like the blazing sun with some funky, funky dance moves. The cello verses kazoo battle was probably something I’ll never see anywhere else.
Mellow was the theme in the Amphiteather after Tornado Rider was over. Turtle Duhks caught my ear with some lyrics I felt were speaking to me directly: “Ohhh don’t run from the darkness, live in the light | mystery is calling you in the silence of the night.” And the hopeless romantic in me was happy to hear them sing this song a second time: “How I wish I had my true lover here by my side | but just knowing he’s out there somewhere makes me smile.”
Speaking of love, I fell hard for the angelic voice of Sara Watkins. Witty and charming, Sara entertained us in the Amphitheater until the sun went to sleep. Her rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Early in the Morning” was superb. I also enjoyed “I Want You to Move Me.” There’s always one moment during a festival where I’m so moved by the music I can’t hold back the emotion and Sara had me falling apart on “Tender Hearts.” I just let the tears quietly spill into the Suwannee dust. Sometimes you have to let it out.
After I gathered my composure, I popped into the Music Hall for a few minutes of Quartermoon. Jeff Mosier with Pickled Holler was playing simultaneously at The Porch Stage followed by Peter Rowan Band at The Amphitheater. I caught the first part of Tornado Rider’s second set and I’m not going to lie, I was wiped out! So I trekked back to camp and listened to Hot Buttered Rum while peacefully lying in my tent thinking about what a good weekend it had been so far.
Sunday morning I woke up with one thing on my mind: yoga! So I wandered down to the meadow and took my place with the few others who were up early. I wish I had known about the stamina increasing benefits of yoga a long time ago. The deep breathing and meditation along with the total body concentration really quiet the mind and get the kinks out of the body.
After yoga I was pumped for the Permaculture Action Workshop scheduled in the Butterfly Garden. I had wanted to go to the first workshop that was hosted by Polish Ambassador during Purple Hatter’s Ball 2016, but I slept through it. I’m really liking the new me – she does things!
The good people from Great Southern Forestry and Grow Here Now taught us about grow & chop – a method of growing various plants for the purpose of adding nutrients to the soil so the ground becomes naturally fertilized. They also showed us how to erect a vertical garden. I don’t think I’m quite ready to take on that challenge in my own space just yet, but I’ll happily help maintain the garden we all created together whenever I’m at SOSMP, which is often. We planted blueberries, peach trees, squash, beans and flowers. I left the class with a headful of knowledge, an eager to create and a handful of ant bites. You gotta take the bad with the good. : )
I watched Quartermoon and Guests at the Bill Monroe Shrine before taking a golf cart ride to the river with some amazing Asheville ladies. We had a blast and ended up closing out the night at Slopryland. It was some much needed girl’s time.
One of my campmates, a super bright 7-year-old named Ava, pointed out that every time she saw me throughout the weekend I was either at the food vendors or shopping. LOL. I made it a point at this festival to spend my time and money wisely doing things I want to do. And I’m glad I did! Here are some non-music things I fully enjoyed:
WHAT I ATE
Tofu Scramble Wrap @ Solar Café
Lately I’ve been making better food choices and I’m grateful to Suwannee Spring Reunion food vendors for making these choices healthy AND delicious. The tofu scramble consisted of a 10” grilled tortilla wrapped with tofu, broccoli, red cabbage and carrot – sautéed onions and then seasoned and grilled until golden brown. I didn’t eat the tortilla and it was still very filling.
Tie-Dye Sunrise Smoothie @ Solar Café
The wrap was so good I had to come back for a pick-me-up smoothie the next day. The tie-dye sunrise isn’t on the menu – I just happened to walk up and see one being made and the blend-master gave it to me. It’s a colorful creation formed by pouring a Strawberry Blonde on top of a Mango Mama. Complete ingredient list: strawberry, banana, apple juice, pineapple juice, mango, and coconut milk. It was a refreshing treat during the warm afternoon Tornado Rider set!
A delicious plate from VIP catering
Food angels were blessing me all weekend. I met a new friend who took me down to catering where I got hooked up with a plate of southern home cooking. I couldn’t eat the BBQ pork but I shared it with a hungry security guard and a campsite neighbor. Their smiles of satisfaction told me it was cooked to perfection. The sweet potato and peas medley was the perfect combo of root vegetable and legumes. The mac and cheese was off limits as I have a dairy intolerance, but I ate half of it anyway and just suffered for it later. Note to self: get lactose pills until I can master the vegan challenge.
1st Street Mahi Taco @ What’s the Catch
I tried the 1st Street Mahi Taco (minus the shell) for the first time and I can say it is my new favorite. Grilled Mahi, pineapple, mango, pico de gallo and Peruvian island sauce make for a light yet fully satisfying meal. It’s going to be hard not to order this dish every time but there are several other menu items still on my to do list. If you’re up in the air about choosing a taco, this one comes recommended by the owner. What’s up Tom!
WHAT I BOUGHT
Live the Life You Love
This sustainable apparel line from Hooked Productions promotes a passionate message with maximum comfort and earth-friendly materials at the forefront of their mission. It was hard to choose one design so I purchased two t-shirts: a recycled cotton and recycled polyester blend and a blend of 70% bamboo viscose and 30% organic cotton. The latter I washed today and there was no shrinkage. Thanks to Kari for the assistance in making such a hard decision. At their price point I could have easily bought another shirt. Next time!
At last year’s Suwannee Roots Revival I bought a beautiful embroidered tank top made in India. It fits me so well I purchased a similar dress and another tank top. Indo has a keen eye for the bohemian style and they’re always bringing in new inventory. Every time I wear one of their imports I feel so feminine and free, like a butterfly.
The Grateful Dead guy: buttons, 2 for $5
One for me and one for my sister-friend Carmen who made me fully appreciate the Grateful Dead after so many years of not getting it. I didn’t catch the guy’s name that sold me the pins, but he looked exactly like a guy you’d expect to be selling Grateful Dead pins at a festival.
In summary, Suwannee Spring Reunion echoed the new life that comes with this time of year. It was a celebration of creativity, feeding our spirit with happiness and fueling our bodies with dance. It was a comforting reminder that we are all one living, loving organism always better off for the time we spend sharing each other’s light.
Here are a few more select photos and you can VIEW THE FULL GALLERY HERE.