Suwannee Spring Reunion: A Roots Family Revival
They say that we have two families: the one we were born into and the one that we find along the way. I would add that some of us are fortunate enough to have a third family: one built around music. The Suwannee Spring Reunion festival was a celebration of all of these. From March 21-24 the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, was home to a gathering of Roots music fans of all ages.
The third annual Suwannee Spring Reunion was a festival all about the love of roots music and the people who make and support that music. From the epic campfire jams to the small and intimate workshops, there was an abundance of opportunities to be IN the music. This is true for the festivillians and musicians alike. Being able to get up close and personal with the music in such an open and collaborative environment sets a standard that most other festivals can only dream of.
There were so many amazing sets of collaborative music throughout the weekend with members of several bands sharing the stage at once. One of those special moments that stands out is the Saturday morning opening set of Nikki Talley and Jason Sharp. The park was abuzz with news that Marty Stuart’s big black bus had arrived for his evening set. Singer-songwriter Nikki Talley was warming up the vocals on her first song and noticed that Marty Stuart was sitting side stage. Of course, she said hi and good morning to him between songs. Well, he strolled up and shared a few choruses with Nikki on her cover of “Long Black Veil” and then walked away. Stuart is not known for sitting in on sets and, according to his crew, had not done that in years. The magic of the Suwannee got him.
How can you not love Joe Craven? Well, if you didn’t before, you have to now. His beautiful and soulful daughter Hattie Craven joined the show, and they were a delight to behold. With familial harmonies and an unmatched enthusiasm for music, the duo instantly won the hearts of the crowd.
I must admit that I am totally biased on this one. I just love Chatham County Line and their music. Maybe it is the suits and ties or perhaps the fact they they are consistently one of the most solid bluegrass/Americana bands out there. They did a great mix from their catalog of original songs as well as covers from their latest album Sharing the Covers. With stellar three- and four-part harmonies and well-honed musicianship, these guys are truly pros. They were even nice enough to sit down and do an interview with us backstage, which we will share later.
Town Mountain were on fire with the honky-tonk vocals of Robert Greer for their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and original “Up the Ladder.” Banjo-pickin’ Jesse Langlais got some front time on vocals for songs like “Down Low,” which he co-wrote with Tyler Childers for TM’s latest album New Freedom Blues. The band has a deep base in bluegrass but is not afraid to bring in influences from country, rock and Americana to create their own path into the genre.
What can I say about Billy Strings and his band other than WOW! They delivered a high-powered blend of old and new, throwing down licks with influences drawn from heavy metal all the way across to Mac Wiseman. Their genre-busting catalog of songs is extensive with a delivery that at times go off into another plane. When Billy Strings goes into a musical trance with head thrashing, hair flying, and eyes closed, he takes his guitar leads into the stratosphere and then brings them back for a smooth landing. From his hit “While I’m Waiting Here” to the Bill Monroe cover “I Haven’t Seen Mary in Years,” Strings’ vocals go from harsh to somber at will and always with a passion that is palatable.
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives were a huge hit for the festival. I was not sure what to expect, but to say that it was impressive would be a gross understatement. They put on one of the most professional and excellent sets of music that I have seen in a great long while. With “Cousin” Kenny Vaughn delivering next-level guitar licks, Harry Stinson laying down the drum beats, and Chris Scruggs on guitar and vocals, Stuart has assembled the perfect band. Mind blown, and the bar has been raised.
So much music. It was everywhere. When it comes to campsite jams, the SSR festival is the place to be. When wandering around the campground, you never knew who would be out there jamming. From the Monroe Shrine to Slopryland and beyond, there were late-night jams around the campfires that included musicians from Jon Stickley Trio, Town Mountain, Jim Lauderdale, Donna the Buffalo, The Grass is Dead, Jeff Mosier, and so many more.
Sadly, Verlon Thompson had to cancel his appearances due to the passing of his father, Don Thompson. His good friend Shawn Camp had his band sat in for the Tribute to Guy Clark, then went right into the Shawn Camp Band set in the Music Hall. He trusted his cape.
There are many folks who come to the festival just so that they can jam with friends all day and night. You might have caught the father of Clawgrass, Mark Johnson, playing his signature Deering banjo in a all-day campsite jam. By the lake there was a pod of Old Time pickers that fiddled the night away. The folks at Kamp Happiness kept the campfire and music stoked when it got cold at night. From the deep woods to the river, there was non-stop organic music throughout the park. It was spectacular to partake in the homegrown gatherings of musicians from all levels that came together to fill the air with music.
With all of the music going on it, was hard to catch every set. All of it was fantastic, and my camp-mates were excited about Daddy with Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack. The Jon Stickley Trio did an awesome closing set on Saturday. Abby Owens graciously filled in a time slot for Verlon Thompson with great success as well as sitting in with several other bands. I could go on, but you will just have to come to the next festival and experience it for yourself.
If you are already missing the Suwannee, don’t worry because the Suwannee Roots Revival festival is only six months away. The initial lineup includes Sam Bush, Del McCoury, We Banjo 3, The Travellin’ McCourys and more! We will see you there.