Suwannee Spring Reunion: A Celebration of Roots Music
The third annual Suwannee Spring Reunion is almost here, and we have some tips on how to make the best of this soul-recharging hootenanny. From March 21-25 the magnificent Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park (SOSMP) in Live Oak, Florida, will be home to a family reunion of roots music devotees. With a stellar lineup of acts from across the roots family tree including bluegrass, Americana, folk, and string music, there will be no lack of special moments for your sight, sound, and soul’s delight.
With four days of music on five stages, seeing every set is gonna be impossible, but we have some tips on how to get in as many as you can. The lineup is stacked with a wide range of acts from intimate singer/songwriter sets to insane psychedelic jams and pretty much everything in between. Pace yourselves! This is a marathon, not a sprint. Planning ahead while remaining flexible can help make working the schedule a breeze. The kind scheduling gods have made it easier by staggering sets so that if you miss one show, you can likely catch your favorites in another time slot. There are a few exceptions, but most acts will be on stage more than once.
The music officially kicks off Thursday afternoon with acts on the Amphitheater Stage and Porch Stage. The opening of festival is always a good time to be front and center. Festival host Beth Judy and the hardworking crew of staff and volunteers will be ready to make all welcome.
I should probably acknowledge that when it comes to this festival, I am completely biased. This is my home-away-from-home festival — and family. Whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned veteran, you will find yourself letting go of the outside world and living in a universe that is filled with an infectious energy which is unparalleled. Just go with it. Music will be everywhere, from the stages to the campfire jams. It will be hard to pick a favorite, but I can offer a few highlights that include bands that are new to the festival or rarely appear.
Chatham County Line
Chatham County Line (Thurs & Fri) will bring solid newgrass sounds and some fresh pressed shirts. Hailing from Raleigh NC, these sharp-dressed cats are seasoned vets of the festival circuit and know how to put on a show. Their original compositions and tight three- and four-part harmonies have earned them a well-deserved spot on my must-see list. With reverence to the fathers of Bluegrass and an appreciation for the expanding genre, Chatham County Line blend old-school style with fresh sounds.
Hot Damn! There isn’t much that I can add to describe the experience of watching Billy Strings perform. Rolling Stone magazine calls him “the Bluegrass star you don’t want to miss.” I couldn’t agree more. At the ripe old age of 26, Strings has blazed a new trail through the Bluegrass world that teeters on the edge of musical genius. With string-busting energy and rapid-fire precision, his fingers fly, and his vocals soar into another universe. When he tilts his head back, eyes closed, he seems to go into a trance that channels the spirit of some unseen force. It is goose-bump-raising goodness. You don’t want to miss his sets on Friday and Saturday.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives
One day. One set. Do not miss Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives Saturday on the Amphitheater stage. Five-time Grammy award-winner Marty Stuart has been a staple in the country music world for decades. He draws from an endless catalog of songs and an impressive band lineup that includes Kenny Vaughn on guitar, Chris Scruggs on bass and steel guitar, and Harry Stinson on drums. Their latest album, Way Out West, hearkens back to the cowboy days of Marty Robbins and Buck Owens. Bring your dancing boots and plan on being carried away by a whirlwind of stellar musicianship.
The Mammals bring refreshing and honest folk songs that range from somber ballads to snappy uptempo numbers. Mike Merender and Ruth Unger have some of the sweetest duets around. You can catch them Friday and Saturday.
Daddy — Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack
This one is going to be fun. Check out Daddy featuring Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack on Friday and Saturday. This Nashville-based band has a wicked sense of humor and the storytelling skills of true troubadours. Their honky-tonkin’ blues are filled with a soul that is likened to wordsmiths such as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
I could go on forever, but the best part of this festival is discovering new music, so explore the stages and let the songs draw you to where you need to be. There are so many acts that are on my list (like all of them), but a few more highlights are below.
Music Hall Collaborations
Check out the sets in the Music Hall for unique collaborations and shows. On Friday Verlon Thompson and Shawn Camp will perform “Songs of Guy Clark.” These two friends have many stories to tell of their days playing with Guy. On Saturday the Music Hall will host the forum “Songwriters in the Round” with Jim Lauderdale, Verlon Thompson, Will Kimbrough, and Tommy Womack. These guys have some amazing stories to tell. Give them a listen. The Baulkin Brothers are new to me, but in researching the band I have become a fan. Can’t wait to check out this insane psychedelic rockabilly band on Saturday.
Part of the reason that the musicians love this festival as much as the fans do is the opportunity to jam with friends onstage — and in the campground. The sweet and sassy Nikki Talley will join fellow picker Ralph Roddenberry for a set of songs in the Music Hall on Friday. Members from Town Mountain and Jon Stickley Trio will join Billy Gilmore of The Grass is Dead for a Saturday set on the Porch Stage. Count on big smiles and some high-energy pickin’. Be on the look out for artist-at-large and flatpicking wizard Brett Bass as he makes his way onto the stage with various bands.
The festival and campgrounds will offer just about everything that you need for the event. The Country Store is stocked with ice, beverages, firewood and those missing tent poles. You can go full vegan or eat deep-fried deliciousness at wide variety on Vendors Row. Buy some cool arts and crafts, pick up CDs and band shirts at the Merch Tent. If you have little ones, stop by the Kids tent for a list of fun activities.
Get there early, stay late, and enjoy the journey. Wandering around the campgrounds with your ears open can lead to some amazing camp jams day and night. Take a trek down to the river, swing a hammock, take a nap, and just let it all soak in. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., said, “Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” Welcome Home!