Suwannee Spring Reunion 2022: Wet and Wild

Despite some evening rains that disrupted the schedule, this year’s version of the Suwannee Spring Reunion was a great experience and return to normalcy. This year’s lineup was heavy on the progressive bluegrass front, with Yonder Mountain String Band, Trampled by Turtles,  Greensky Bluegrass, and Fireside Collective leading the charge. With usual openers The Grass is Dead leading off, Jim Lauderdale provided a countrified set with his electric band, but unfortunately he was headed for a music cruise, so the always entertaining Verlon Thompson/Jim Lauderdale set wasn’t to be this year.

Jim Lauderdale. Photo Credit: Rick Davidson

Virtuoso headliner and first-time attendee Sierra Hull brought her genre-defying band and provided a great Thursday night set. Fresh from a stint with Bela Fleck’s “Bluegrass Heart” tour, she demonstrated her progressive chops, trading breaks with fine fiddler Avery Merritt. Shaun Richardson on guitar and Erik Coveny on bass provided solid timing in the many tempo changes that are a hallmark of this band. Starting off with a trio of songs (“Poison”, the beautiful “Over the Mountain,” and “Middle of the Woods”), the band was a great way to start the nighttime headliners. At one point another fine fiddler, John Mailander, joined them for a few numbers. As befits a set on St. Patrick’s Day, they closed with an Irish jig and had the crowd up and cheering.

Sierra Hull. Photo Credit: Rick Davidson


Sierra Hull, Avery Merritt, John Maillander. Photo Credit: Rick Davidson

Two Foot Level, a Tallahassee band, was playing on the Porch Stage, and they were a pleasant surprise. Led by music teacher Jason McMillan, the band features traditional bluegrass instruments plus a drum set, but their catalog is varied and includes several fine original songs plus a great cover of Johnny Cash’s “Cry Cry Cry.” Bassist Todd Bevis is a dervish onstage. They’re worth going out of your way to see.

Two Foot Level.Photo Credit: Rick Davidson

Yonder Mountain String Band closed the amphitheater stage with a high-energy set. Allie Kral and multi-instrumentalist Nick Piccininni pulled out twin fiddles on “All the Time,” and with added guitar by Adam Aijala, they had the crowd up and cheering. The hot song “I Just Can’t” leans  traditional, and Kral sang another new song, “Change of Heart.” Piccininini’s mandolin and vocals nailed another new song, “Into the Fire.” A great set by a band that’s been around for many years.

Yonder Mountain String Band Photo Credit: David Lee

Friday’s lineup included blues legend Roy Book Binder and Florida-based Quartermoon. Fireside Collective from Asheville did an afternoon set. Anchored by Joe Cicero’s and Tommy Maher’s lead vocals and Alex Genova’s solid banjo, Jesse Iaquinto’s mandolin and harmony vocals provided some great listening.

Fireside Collective.Photo Credit: Rick Davidson

Festival regulars Donna the Buffalo were up next, followed by Greensky Bluegrass… and that was about the time the skies opened. After a delay they started up their set with a muddy dancing crowd that was primed for their progressive extended jams.

Festival regulars the Jon Stickley Trio moved their set to the porch stage and played into the early morning.


Greensky Bluegrass. Photo Credit: David Lee

After a tough weather night, Saturday looked to be much better. With regulars Nikki Talley and Jeff Mosier opening up on the main stage, they were followed by the Songs From the Road Band. I had seen them several times before, first at the IBMA festival, and was looking forward to seeing them again. They delivered a set that ran the gamut from originals like “Outside of Omaha” to covers like Leon Russell’s “Prince of Peace.” The band grew out of a group of friends including bass player and primary songwriter Charles Humphrey III, who was the bass player for the Steep Canyon Rangers for 17 years; Sam Wharton, fine guitar player and harmony singer; mandolinist and livewire front man Mark Schimick; fiddler James Schlender, who has a history of playing jazz as well as bluegrass; and Gabe Epstein, the newest member and accomplished banjo player. Blazing instrumentals such as “Superman” and “Sailor’s Hornpipe” (combined in a medley with Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds”), tight harmonies (“Traveling Show,” “Road to Nowhere”), and Shimick’s dynamic stage presence makes them a “must-see.” When a band enjoys what they’re doing, it’s infectious… and they have fun when they play. They were my favorite band of the weekend. If you get a chance to see them, don’t pass it up.

Songs From the Road Band. Photo Credit: Rick Davidson


James Schlender, Gabe Epstein: Songs From the Road.Photo Credit: Rick Davidson

Another North Carolina band, Chatham County Line, followed on the amphitheater stage. The vocal-centric band featuring Dave Wilson and John Teer on most vocals can change things up when bass player Greg Reading moves to pedal steel, but they are a great listen regardless. They were followed by the godfather of the Suwannee festivals, Peter Rowan, doing a solo set.

Chatham County Line.Photo Credit: Rick Davidson


Peter Rowan Photo Credit: David Lee


And once again, just as jam masters Trampled by Turtles were about to take the stage, a major thunderstorm rolled in, forcing the crowd back to their cars and campsites. After a brief hold, they came out and did a complete set while the crowd danced it up in the mud. There were many references to the “Woodstock of the Suwannee”; the moisture didn’t slow down any enthusiasm.


Trampled By Turtles Red Wing Roots Music Festival 2018
Trampled By Turtles – Photo credit: Jody Carbone

Sunday is traditionally known as “Vassar Sunday” in honor of the late Vassar Clements, a regular at these festivals. Tony Furtado traveled from California to play, bringing along vocalist and fiddler Luke Price. Furtado is a road warrior, a master of slide guitar (he once played with Gregg Allman) and banjo (he won the Winfield banjo contest twice). He switches from acoustic slide blues to jazz to folk in a mix that pretty much is defined by the term “Americana.” Price shone on vocals and added just the right touch of support musically.


Tony Furtado and Luke Price. Photo Credit: Rick Davidson


If Peter Rowan is the godfather of these festivals, Verlon Thompson is the prodigal son, always welcomed back with love. Thompson played this festival for many years as Guy Clark’s sideman and co-writer. After Clark’s death he has continued to perform and write. His Sunday set included “Asheville Turnaround” and Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live is to Fly.” His shows are gentle, caring, funny, full of great stories, and, when he cuts loose on the guitar, riveting. I’ve been fortunate to know him a little, and he is something very rare: a truly nice person.


Verlon Thompson.Photo Credit: Rick Davidson

The traditional closing act of this festival is Donna the Buffalo, and they were joined by Peter Rowan in a rollicking set. Other acts that generated a lot of buzz were Town Mountain and Free Range Strange.

Donna the Buffalo and Peter Rowan Photo Credit: David Lee


Town Mountain. Photo Credit: David Lee



Free Range Strange. 📷: Cassidy C Schaefer


It was a great way to get back in the groove for this annual get-together. As always, Beth Judy has done a wonderful job of putting together a fine line-up, a mix of new acts and  familiar regulars that made for a great time in spite of the excessive moisture. I’m ready for the fall roots festival at SOSMP, the Roots Revival. October can’t come soon enough.







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