Suwannee Rising: “Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden”

You would be hard-pressed to find any of the 2300+ attendees at Suwannee Rising Music & Arts Festival who do not share that sentiment from Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”:

“I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m gonna join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m gonna camp out on the land
I’m gonna try an’ get my soul free”

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

After a year of insanity for everyone and especially for the music industry, this was a true gathering. Those of us from Florida have been able to attend a few shows, but some who came to Suwannee Rising from across the country hadn’t shared music with kind, like-minded folks in ages. The festival ran Thursday through Saturday, April 8-10, at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak.

Paul Levine – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

The inaugural Suwannee Rising promised all the magic that Paul Levine and crew could stuff into one weekend, and those in attendance understood that this festival was working overtime to fill the void created by the loss of Wanee, Bear Creek, and AURA, three of the most magical festivals ever, for many reasons. After the necessary cancellation of the 2020 event, there were many praying — in every manner possible — for a successful 2021 Rising.

To say that was achieved would be a gross understatement.

 

Before we dive into the music review, we wish to reiterate four take-aways we observed the day after the festival was over:

[1]  Paul Levine is a wizard (a festival engineer). He has tirelessly worked for more than 14 years to bring the music we love to the park. Once again he assembled an incredible team to pull this off. He has produced bigger festivals, but in context he has never produced better.

[2]  The young people working on the Safety Squad to help us find our pods and otherwise follow protocol were spectacularly positive, helpful, funny, and engaging, all qualities Levine exudes.

[3]  Speaking of pods, there were many, many people who really seem to LIKE the concept of pods. You may not be one of them, but we guarantee there were a LOT who did.

Most notably:

[4]  It is clear we have all missed live music and seeing the bands and performers we love on stage. What we honestly didn’t know, until we heard TWELVE bands in succession tell us, is that THEY missed us EVEN MORE. That outpouring of love, appreciation, gratitude, and relief from some of the bands we elevate to Mt. Olympus status was, for us, the single most important take-away from the weekend. It was a massive group hug!

Also, HUGS.

 

On to the music!

 

THURSDAY, APRIL 8

ANTHILL CINEMA

Anthill Cinema – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

Anthill Cinema had the honor of opening Rising 2021. The seven-piece experimental fusion collective from St. Petersburg has been on the rise for several years; at Rising 2019 they appeared as The Difference. The members come from and play with more than a dozen different bands in the area, and each is an outstanding player. 

They garnered great crowd support given their early start, opening with Mr. Rodgers’ theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” The solid back line of Vinny Svoboda (bass), Yral ‘datdudeon drums’ Morris, and Jimmy Rector (percussion) provided the punch for a great set. “Wash Yo Gaht Damn Hands” was titanic, Mark Mayea huge on keyboards and then Cody Moore soaring on alto sax. 

Front man Justino Lee Walker also played his favorite cover tune, Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and it was hot! They also pulled a tune from the Man of Steel soundtrack, “What Are You Going to Do When You’re No Longer Saving The World?,” featuring Mayea again.

[Anthill Cinema: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Mr. Rodgers’ Theme Song), Montage Music, The Jig of the Blasphemette, When Smaller Becomes Small, The Long and Difficult Conflict of Kronos and Bones, The Big Blue Thumb, Wash Yo Gaht Damn Hands, Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden), What Are You Going to Do When You’re No Longer Saving The World? (Man of Steel soundtrack), Pop Song, Acceptance]

 

THE MELODY TRUCKS BAND

Melody Trucks Band – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

It was truly an emotional event for the Melody Trucks Band to return to the park. She and her band should have been part of Wanee 2018 (the last year), but they were not. Levine made sure they were on the inaugural Rising lineup in 2019, where they shone like diamonds.

This was better, as good a set of music as the band has ever delivered; it was important in one aspect because many of the people attending had never seen MTB live before. Their 11-song set featured all nine tracks from the band’s 2019 debut Walking in Gratitude and positively magnificent choices for the opener and closer. When Trucks showed the band the setlist, they initially questioned why they weren’t leading off with the band’s own material. Be assured that Trucks was spot on in her selections.

The band roared out with “Got to Get Better in a Little While,” a track from Derek & the Dominos in Concert. West Brook on slide and Isaac Corbitt on harp ripped this one up. Willis Gore (guitar) came to the fore time and again, beginning with “Synchronicity.” Trucks unleashed bass player Shane Platten for “Jellyfish. The peak moment was during “Freight Train,” dedicated to Trucks’ dad Butch Trucks of ABB. There were tears in her eyes and in many around the pod-filled field.

Brady Clampitt (guitar, keyboards, and vocals) starred on “Fire Inside” and “Live Your Life,” two tunes he penned with Corbitt. Gore dug deep during “Pride Comes Before the Fall.” They shut it down with a song that perfectly encapsulated the weekend, Robert Randolph’s “I Need More Love Every Day of My Life.” People were singing everywhere and smiling, but not none wider than Trucks. We’ve never seen her smile that much, that wide! It was glorious!

[MTB: Got to Get Better in a Little While (Derek & the Dominos), Synchronicity, Can You Feel Me Now, Before I Leave, Stand Back, Jellyfish, Freight Train, Fire Inside, Live Your Life, Pride Comes Before the Fall, Living a Lie, I Need More Love Every Day of My Life (Robert Randolph)]

 

MARK LETTIERI GROUP

Mark Lettieri Group – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

Many were familiar with Mark Lettieri, one of the truly gifted musicians in the Snarky Puppy universe. We were not sure what exactly to expect from this set. Suffice to say that the Mark Lettieri Group trashed any previous notions with a mind-blowing set of heavy fusion. We do not have a setlist, but he referenced several recent albums, including Deep: The Baritone Session, Vol. 1 & 2. All set long, Wes Stephenson on bass and Jason “JT” Thomas on drums just killed.

Lettieri worked a nice tease of “Birk’s Works” into “They Don’t Know,” and Daniel Porter had an excellent “out” piano solo! There were moments that reminded of the great David Sancious, some deep funk. They played tracks from both volumes of The Baritone Session; the second volume was just released April 16. They jumped on another new song, “Pulsar,” which Lettieri told us had never been performed publicly. Lettieri’s playing was a true revelation; he is a monster player!

[MLG: Blockheads, Summer Salt, Jake Funkmayor Shoutout, Extraspecial, Goonsquad, Star Catchers*, Gigantactis, Spark and Echo, Futurefun, Pulsar*, Bubinga]

 

BIG SOMETHING

BIG Something – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

The evening’s headliners from Burlington NC had two great long sets for us, and BIG Something made the most of the opportunity, just five years after their SoSMP debut at Wanee 2016. The two sets featured music across the band’s catalog, opening with “Sirens.” They shifted to really hot funk for “Megalodon,” with lead guitarist Jesse Hensley and Casey Cranford (alto sax) already shooting for the stratosphere. 

In that four song opening sequence, we got the first track from new album Escape: “Dangerous.” They covered John Prine (“Pretty Good”) and tore it up with “Love Generator” and “The Curse of Julia Brown” to finish set one. Keyboard master Josh Kagel sounded great, especially on “Love Generator.”

Set two opened with “Escape” before segueing into two of the band’s most recognizable tunes, “Timebomb” and “Tumbleweed.” Hensley and Cranford were on fire while ringmaster Nick MacDaniels was having a blast singing, dancing, and playing rhythm guitar. As always, Doug Marshall and Ben Vinograd kept the grooves hurtling forward on bass and drums, respectively, notably on new song “Heavy.”

There was a fine David Bowie cover, “Moonage Daydream,” a perfect vehicle for BIG Something, with Cranford on EWI. Hensley had another superb solo on “Waves,” and the closing “Sundown Nomad” was pure dynamite, Hensley first, then Cranford on alto, Vinograd with a drum solo, and some great trance-y piano from Kagel. Encore: You bet! An explosive “Sledgehammer” sent everyone back to their campsites, cabins, and hotels full.

[BS1: Sirens > Megalodon > Plug > Dangerous, Pinky’s Ride, Pretty Good (John Prine), Wildfire, My Volcano, Love Generator, The Curse of Julia Brown; BS2: Escape (intro) > Timebomb > Tumbleweed, Heavy, Moonage Daydream (David Bowie), Waves, Song for Us, Sundown Nomad; E: Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel)]

 

FRIDAY, APRIL 9

And we will take a quick time-out for a brief observation: there were only TWO women on stage at Suwannee Rising (and two at Suwannee Surprise! the following week). There is no quota system, but we look forward to more women involved in the funk and jam community and more women on stage. Back to your regularly scheduled review.

 

MAGNOLIA BOULEVARD

Magnolia Boulevard – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

This was our first time hearing the rocking quintet Magnolia Boulevard from Lexington TN, fronted by excellent vocalist Maggie Noelle, who also plays guitar. They began with a “California Love” sandwiched inside “Losing My Grip,” then on to a song perfect for Noelle: “Strong Willed Women.” The jams were strong, featuring Gregg Erwin (guitar) and Ryan Allen (keyboards). There was a solid Allman Brothers-sounding tribute at some point, and they closed with two tracks from the group’s 2020 EP Natural Illusion: “Smooth Sailin’” and “Ride.” Expect to see this band a lot more in the near future.

 [MB: Losing My Grip > California Love > Losing My Grip, Strong Willed Women, Planting Seeds > Without You, Together, Mother Design, More, Smooth Sailin’, Ride]

 

DELVON LAMARR ORGAN TRIO

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

If Lettieri’s set was a delightful surprise Thursday, then the set from the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio was a jaw-dropping mindfork (or some similar word). Old school meets the future in this band, honoring the tradition of the Hammond B3 + guitar + drums trio. They shot out of the gate with “Chicken Leg.” By the time they were done with “Call Your Mom” from new album I Told You So, we were aware that we had a tiger by the tail, just barely. Guitarist Jimmy James put on a clinic!

Lamarr on B3 stood out on “Gettin’ Stiff” (and we’re guessing at a song title or two), and they followed that with “Cold as Weiss,” named for drummer Dan Weiss. James then ripped our heads clean off as he went wild during “Buttered Popcorn.” He began his solo, then did Hendrix, Nirvana (“Come As You Are”), Led Zeppelin (“Whole Lotta Love”) and more stuff I couldn’t scribble down fast enough.

They went old school with “Pride Soul,” roared on a fine cover of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Move On Up,” and let James loose again for “Don’t Worry ’Bout What I Do,” more old-school funk that melted into “Chameleon.” Closer “Fo Sho” (from the new album) included a fine “Inner City Blues” tease.

[DLO3: Chicken Leg, Call Your Mom, Gettin’ Stiff, Cold as Weiss, Buttered Popcorn, Pride Soul, Bounce, Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield), Don’t Worry ’Bout What I Do > Chameleon (Herbie Hancock), It’s a Shame, Fo Sho]

 

GOOSE

Goose – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

This was the first time for many of us seeing Goose. What to make of this first time for a band rapidly rising? Your mileage may vary. Initial impressions: excellent jams, great segues, superb musicianship, but… I guess I was looking to be bowled over, waiting for the earth to move, and that was not their approach, at least for this night. They are more ethereal. Both sets were really solid. Let’s dive deeper:

Set one incorporated rock, reggae, soft rock, and much more for a set that drifted off into the pines. There was great keyboard work — especially piano — from Peter Anspach, and fine guitar playing from Rick Mitarotonda and Anspach. The jam from “All I Need” into “Jive Lee” was excellent, and they left the crowd anticipating set two.

Trevor Weekz (bass), Ben Atkind (drums), and Jeff Arevalo (percussion) were outstanding all evening providing the framework for great jams and segues. The opening “Wysteria Lane > Inside Out > Flodown,” including that Spoon cover, kept people dancing. Anspach’s clavinet playing on “Rosewood Heart” slid into a brilliant cover of “Mac Que Nada,” the brilliant hit by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66.

I definitely want to see them again, up close and personal.

[GOOSE 1: Lead the Way > Doc Brown, Jive II, Time to Flee, Gun Street Girl (Tom Waits), Turned Clouds, All I Need > Jive Lee; 2: Wysteria Lane > Inside Out (Spoon) > Flodown, Arcadia, Rosewood Heart > Mas Que Nada (Jorge Ben/Sergio Mendes), Slow Ready > Empress of Organos]

*The Prince of Egypt ‘River Lullaby’ theme teases from Rick

 

LETTUCE

Lettuce – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

If Lettuce had played only one song Friday night, it would have been enough. DAYENU. “House of Lett,” a stunning track from latest album Resonate, made it very clear we were in for a special night. When this band is encouraged to “do it like you do,” there is simply nobody better. Rhythm sections are the backbone of every funk band, and it does NOT get any better than Erick ‘Jesus’ Coomes and Adam Deitch. Period.

The two-man tornado of a horn section — Eric ‘Benny’ Bloom on trumpet and Ryan Zoidis on alto sax — does two things in particular exceptionally well: solo… and throw down machine-gun like punctuation with mind-blowing precision (seriously — how do they play that fast?) They grabbed songs from several of their albums, including one more from Resonate (2020), “Silence is Golden,” and three from Elevate (2019), including “Larimar,” “Royal Highness,” and the gorgeous Nigel Hall feature “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

Hall was all over his keyboards as well: electric piano, clavinet, and synths. And never lose sight of Adam ‘Shmeeans’ Smirnoff on guitar, who had a big night. The huge set closed with “The Force” from Crush (2015) sandwiched in between to songs from 2012’s Fly: their cover of “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and fan favorite “Do It Like You Do.” And we had one more night to go!

[Lettuce: House of Lett, Larimar, Sounds Like a Party, Mr. Yancey, Silence Is Golden, RVA Dance, Tryllis, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Royal Highness, Slippin’ Into Darkness, The Force, Do It Like You Do]

 

SATURDAY, APRIL 10

ERIC KRASNO’S CHAPTER 2

Rain delayed the schedule by an hour and a half, but Mother Nature cooperated and let the music roll on until after mindnight!

Eric Krasno’s Chapter 2 – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

Kraz has been a household name at SoSMP since forever ago with numerous appearances at Bear Creek, Wanee, and AURA. Eric Krasno’s Chapter 2 was a most welcome addition to the lineup, and what a band! Nigel Hall and Adam Deitch from Lettuce and Chris Loftlin on bass filled out the quartet perfectly. Kraz, Hall, and Deitch go way back to days when Kraz played with Lettuce.

Chris Loftlin – Eric Krasno’s Chapter 2 – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

They opened with two tracks he said were from his 2010 album Reminisce; Hall sang “Be Alright.” There was a long introduction before Kraz finally got to the head of “Manic Depression,” a song he has played often at the park. It gave everybody a chance to stretch out and strut.

After the Stevie Wonder cover, Kraz mentioned something about curse-killers (well, that’s what it sounded like back in Row 19), and off they romped with Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers teases and Loftlin with a monster solo. He got another one on the closing track as well. Kraz’s guitar-playing was wonderful, but his relentless smile on those 40-foot screens was even better!

Chris Loftlin & Kraz – Eric Krasno’s Chapter 2 – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

[EKC2: 1, Be Alright, Manic Depression, You Haven’t Done Nothin’, 5, Open Out?]

 

ANDY FRASCO & THE U.N.

Andy Frasco & Ernie Chang – Andy Frasco & the U.N. – Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

I once wrote that “there is nothing even remotely like an Andy Frasco & the U.N. concert.” I will stick by that description. Spike Jones on PCP. The band made a grand entrance as they lit into “Keep On Keepin’ On,” the title track from their new album, followed by what should be Frasco’s theme song, “Mature as Fuck.” Frasco’s Hammond B3 is front and center, and he spent almost as much time on top of it as he did playing it, not to mention the unabashed dancing and the “Richard Simmons Sex Workout.”

In order to be a successful “comedy band,” your musicianship must be absolutely top-drawer (ref. Spike Jones, Louis Jordan, Mickey Katz, Frank Zappa, and the like), and the band Frasco has assembled is every bit of that. Chris Klein once described them as “blues-rock fueled by reckless abandonment and a disregard for the rules, with witty lyrics to back it all up.” The entire band stands out, but most prominent, visually, at least are Shawn Eckles on guitar and tenor saxophone wild man Ernie Chang (OK, Eckles is wild, too!). 

Shortly after their cover of The Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law,” things went total bozo during struggle. He had called Eric Krasno to the stage, and then it was madness as the bass player went to drums, Chang went to keyboards, Frasco to bass, and likely other shenanigans. As things returned to some semblance of… well, not normalcy, but status quo, anyway, the band and Kraz ripped “Runnin’ with the Devil.”

There was a speech on stage by some guy who mostly said the F word, although people seemed to understand, and it turned into a marriage proposal! Then, as Frasco noted in the setlist, he got people to jump around before a medley beginning and ending with a twisted “Lean On Me” that involved “We’re an American Band.” DAMN SKIPPY!

[Frasco: Keep On Keeping On, Mature As Fuck, Slam Piece, Waiting Game > Richard Simmons Sex Workout, Love is a Gun, Better Days, I Fought the Law > Fight Floyd, Struggle (switch instruments and figure it out), Talk About It with Eric Krasno > Runnin’ with the Devil, Sunny Day Soldier > proposal (she said yes), Walk > get people to jump around, Lean on Me > Animals > speech > Lean on Me] 

 

LETTUCE

Kraz & Shmeeans – Lettuce Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

Want a spirited debate? Ask people which night of Lettuce they liked better. Bottom line: both were spectacular. There was great sentiment for the Saturday set, given that compatriot Eric Krasno played the whole show with them. With a nod to Kraz, the setlist included four songs from the 2008 album Rage!: “Last Suppit,” “Move On Up,” “Sam Huff’s Flying Ragin’ Machine,” and “Blast Off,” and they opened with “Reunion,” a song from their 2002 debut Outta Here, “Reunion,” which also included the title track from Resonate.

“Finders Keepers” featured some blistering wah-wah trumpet from Benny Bloom, and the deep jam found Shmeeans and Kraz in spacey territory before Zoidis on alto and Hall on synths blew it up. At some point early on, Hall had a superb piano solo, and then guest Chris Loftlin stepped on stage with Coomes (twice!), and IT WAS ON! Coomes and Deitch once again did what everyone aspires to. The “Move On Up” cover was magic, Kraz ripping a solo and Bloom and Zoidis in hot pursuit. 

Normally, Lee Rissin would have brought in crates of lettuce to shred and toss overhead into the packed crowd — pre-COVID. This time, he made dozens of little sandwich bags full of lettuce with a special note telling us how to Lettuce!

Kraz & Shmeeans – Lettuce Suwannee Rising 2021. 📷: David Lee / Gypsyshooter

[Lettuce: Reunion (inc. Resonate), Finders Keepers, Last Suppit, Kron Dutch, Lettsanity, Don’t Change For Me (including A Message From The Meters), Break Out, Blast Off, Phyllis, Move On Up, Sam Huff’s Flying Ragin’ Machine]

 

UMPHREY’S McGEE

Umphrey’s McGee – Rising 04.10.21. 📷: David Lee – Gypsyshooter

That left it to Umphrey’s McGee to close out the weekend. All day long, rumors were circulating about the fact that drummer Kris Myers had COVID and would not be there; then the speculation began in earnest. Deitch would play the whole set? Others?

As they stepped on stage, Brendan Bayliss (I think) explained the situation, pointing out that they did have another drummer, percussionist Andy Farag, who opened the show. Fan reviews were all over the map, but UM sent two great sets our way with a lot of fun and several guests as well.

“Hajimemashite” had a fine guitar solo from Jake Cinninger, followed by great piano work from Joel Cummins segueing into “Atmosfarag” and then one of their favorite covers, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (fans’ too). In the middle of “Triple Wide,” Cinninger grabbed the kit and Farag took his on his usual percussion duties. “Multitasking” was properly named, as Cinninger, still at kit, also played guitar! A great cover of “Making Flippy Floppy” with Ben Atkind of Goose on drums shut down set one.

With Farag back on drums to begin set two, out poured tons of prog as the band started with “Glory” and then “Attachments > Den.” Cummins was superb on piano. Cinninger took over the drums again for a long sequence, including a Ryan Stasik bass solo, a “Give Up the Funk” tease, and a Cinninger rap. Deitch did indeed pull triple duty, helping the band close set two with a powerful and very spacey “Dr. Feelgood > Push the Pig,” a superb jam with guitars and synths blazing. Encore? “Fame”!

[UM Set I: Silent Type*, Hajimemashite* > Atmosfarag* > Shine On You Crazy Diamond*, The Triple Wide*^, Sociable Jimmy%, Multitasking&, Making Flippy Floppy#]

[UM Set II: Glory*, Attachments* > Den*, FF% > Much Obliged% > Soul Food%, Dr. Feelgood$ > Push the Pig$; E: Fame$]

* Andy on kit

^ Andy, then Jake on kit

% Jake on kit

& Jake jam on guitar and drums simultaneously

# Ben Atkind on kit (Goose)
$ Adam Deitch on kits (Lettuce)

 

Thank you to EVERYONE involved in bringing Suwannee Rising and Suwannee Surprise! to festival-starved fans from all over. So many hugs. So many tears. So much pure, unadulterated joy. THANK YOU.

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