Suwannee Hulaween: Breathtaking Is An Understatement
I had the pleasure of joining Sam O’Shay, founder and CEO of TFV, for the 6th Annual Suwannee Hulaween Music Festival this year, and boy was it a weekend I didn’t expect coming! I have been to ‘Suwannee’ for a couple of festivals in the past, but Hulaween holds a life of its own in this magical forest! From the insanely unique lineup to the art that seemed to go on forever, to the land itself, Hula 2018 really broke all my expectations and gifted me a weekend I will never forget.
The ‘Spirit of the Suwannee’
Even before the lineup, I must begin with the one-of-a-kind location and set-up of this festival. Every time someone brings up festivals at Suwannee Music Park, they always go on and on about the ‘Spirit’ of Suwannee. Why? Well, when you’re amid 800 acres of oak and cypress forest surrounding the Suwannee River, camping under century’s old Spanish moss-draped trees, and head-banging while overlooking the magic of Spirit Lake, you can say that spirit is FELT, on all levels. The forest has an energy to it that guides you to every beautiful experience you are looking for throughout your weekend. Spirit Lake is where the heart of this festival lies, and its annual rendition is designed exclusively for every Hulaween. This dream-like wonderland is jam-packed with art installations, performance art, incredible light, and laser shows, and endless entertainment while you’re waiting for your next favorite artist to perform. If you’ve never stepped foot on this beautiful land yet, then this is your reminder to put Hulaween 2019 on your list!
There is also something seriously special about the community that magnetizes towards this Music Park. That sweet, Southern hospitality of Northern Florida is most definitely felt throughout your time spent here (especially at their Country Store and $10 all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet with biscuits & gravy galore). The work staff, VIP headquarters, and volunteers were all more than gracious and helpful in any given situation; it truly seemed like everyone just wanted to have the time of their life! Not to mention, every time I have returned to Suwannee, I feel like I’m coming home. Ask anyone at this Music Park, from vendors to yearly festival-goers, and they all say the real reason they come back is that this is where their soul fam is. Hulaween is the festival to find lifetime friends, undeniable connections, and infinite, warm hugs.
Now For What We All Come To Festivals For…THE MUSIC
If you didn’t know already, Hulaween is hosted by the String Cheese Incident, a progressive bluegrass, neo-psychedelia jam band that’s been around since the early 90s. Every year they seem to play for, what seems like, the entire weekend…this year they played SEVEN individual sets! From the amount of music they’re able to perform in one weekend, to their impeccable production and overall inimitable performance, STI at Hulaween is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Catch some of their Saturday night SPACE JAM Encore show from the fest below:
The String Cheese Incident – SPACE JAM Encore – Hulaween 2018
To add on to that, British jazz-funk band, Jamiroquai, was in my opinion, the most unique book in Hulaween’s history. They haven’t played in the U.S. since 2005, and this was only one of a handful of shows they played in America for this tour. Jay Kay, also known as the ‘Space Cowboy’, and the entire band put on an unforgettable show for their eager, diehard fans, that will surely never be forgotten.
Lastly, if you’ve never heard of Soulection, Hulaween was the best live introduction you could have possibly asked for. As an independent music platform and artist collective, the Soulection team (Joe Kay // SOSUPERSAM // j.robb // ESTA) took over Spirit Lake for four hours BTB! The most idiosyncratic and mesmerizing group of DJ sets I’ve ever had the pleasure of shaking my booty to.
This isn’t even mentioning the rest of the line-up: Odesza, Janelle Monáe, STS9, CloZee, REZZ, Gramatik, NGHTMRE, TroyBoi, Stephen Marley, Lettuce, the list goes on and on. From the headliners and special guests to the well-known artists that have a piece of everyone’s heart, this diverse lineup is unlike any I have seen before, offering a weekend of bliss to any and all music lovers.
There Is Always Room For Improvement
While the music, production, crowd, and overall experience of Hulaween 2018 was top-notch, there were some setbacks that can most definitely be worked on for next year. Hulaween has an entire page on their website for their ‘Greening Program’ (https://www.suwanneehulaween.com/greening/), where they make a pledge to “make soil and recycle” for the entire weekend. While I did see volunteers picking up recycling throughout the grounds, for the individual festival goer, there was an extreme lack of trash and recycle bins throughout the festival, from the stages to the campsites. You should never have to search for a trash can at a music festival! Also, they state their “composting program will include all of the festival’s food, waste, and compostable food service materials.” There were absolutely ZERO composting bins, and from what I can tell, only plastic and paper materials offered. Any production company should make it as easy as possible to keep the grounds as clean and environmentally-conscious as possible, and I think this is a huge problem with music festivals today. If we don’t start treating the land as importantly as we do the music, then soon we won’t have these beautiful locations to hold our favorite festivals at.
Also, who likes cold food? The ticketing system at Hulaween was nothing short of a headache. When you’re hungry at a festival, you want food, now! To buy food throughout the weekend, you had to go to a separate tent to exchange your cash for food tickets and pay EXTRA for it (e.g. 6 tix = $7). On top of that, if you didn’t have cash, the tent for credit cards was completely outside of the vending area. This was not clearly stated anywhere, so after waiting in line and ordering my food, I had to run to a tent to get tickets, to then learn I had to run to another tent farther away because I only had a CC. Long story short, make ANY purchases easy for attendees and don’t take extra money out of their pocket when they’ve spent upwards of $400 to be at your festival.
Would I Recommend Suwannee Hulaween 2019?
This is an easy answer. Heck. Yes. While these small setbacks are something that we’re trying to work on improving for festivals in the future with TFV, the overall experience of Hulaween was truly unrivaled. Most of the artists I got to see perform shared that it was a night they didn’t even expect; the crowd and energy was just that wildin’! As a creative, I’ve never experienced such a large amount of art all at once, my inspiration was overflowing by the time I left. I reconnected with old friends, made dozens of new friends, and didn’t feel one bad vibe all weekend. You also can’t find any other festival where everyone walking past you is wearing a Halloween costume every night…’Spoopy’ is an understatement for this one-of-a-kind festival. Hopefully I’ll be seeing you their next year in your favorite costume! And I highly recommend keeping an eye out for those Early Bird tickets come March of next year, as GA prices start at a sweet deal of only $199!
Photo Credits: Lauren Mades and Sam O’Shay for The Festival Voice