Suwannee Rising: Our Hearts are Full Once Again
[Feature image is of Cecelia and her Geppetto, Joshua Lederman]
[Grateful for great videos from Rex Thompson & RexAVision from LiveforLiveMusic
and photographs from Joel Shover Photography, Silent J Studio, and Shelly Smith]
Paul Levine is the consummate festival engineer. Bear Creek, Suwannee Hulaween, Fool’s Paradise, Suwannee Rising… he curates amazing talent and then assembles the schedule to maximum effect. This third edition of Suwannee Rising was the perfect case in point April 7-9 at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida.
Headliners Galactic, George Porter Jr., Dumpstaphunk, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, North Mississippi Allstars, and The Nth Power were precisely what this festival required, and once again Levine’s addition of amazing newcomers (relatively speaking) Neal Francis and Franc Moody were perfection. And, once again, the undercard simply exploded each and every day with dazzling music. There were 31 sets of music, every one a delight.
You can go to festivals with 50,000+ fans, festivals with THE BIG NAMES, festivals all over the country and, indeed, around the globe, but you won’t find BETTER music than we got served this year, from the opening set by Eric and the Wildfire to the closing gala The Nth Power Ball.
Mother Nature always looks down on the park with a kindly face. This time, threats of extended thunderstorms were curtailed for the most part into a Wednesday evening blow; by Thursday morning, the skies had cleared. She didn’t cooperate fully, given the BRRR Creek-like late night temperatures, but none of that got in the way of the music.
We have included setlists for every band who responded and invented a few for bands who didn’t.
Twenty of the 31 bands on this lineup were scheduled for Suwannee Rising 2020, the one nixed by COVID-19. This is just another of myriad reasons Paul Levine is so loved in our community.
Thursday’s schedule is the perfect example of brilliant festival scheduling. On the lineup were bands new to the park and most festival-goers along with some with more name recognition and well-known headliners and park favorites.
Erin and the Wildfire from Richmond were the picture-perfect opener for Suwannee Rising 3, playing their first-ever Florida show. We guarantee they’ll be back (OK, we’ll say that about everybody!). Frontwoman Erin Lunsford is a dynamo, a wonderful singer and fine guitarist as well. She and her four bandmates endeared themselves immediately to the early-arriving crowd as they celebrated the release of new album Touchy Feely April 1.
Also, this was the first of 17 bands on the lineup of 31 to feature women, another aspect Levine has carefully and importantly curated.
Early on, there was a difficulty with the sound at the Amphitheater, assuming you wanted to hear other instruments besides the bass. They had the bass cranked up so loud it was hard to appreciate fully what the rest of the band was doing. I complain about this a lot, but I guarantee you many others had the same opinion. Things improved as we went along, especially for band’s who had their own sound engineers, but there is no good reason for this. Somebody must look out for the best interests of the performers.
Fusion Jonez from Charleston laid the fusion and funk on thick in their park debut. And “Lay Back” was almost metal! They feature the standard quartet (guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums) and a three-horn line (trumpet, tenor sax, and baritone sax) plus female vocalist Aubrey Rogers, who came out to wow us on “Whatcha Workin’ With.” They brought a young, fresh perspective to the stage and had people dancing all set long.
[FJ: Soah, Lay Back, Whatcha Workin’ With, Interstellar, Munk, Misbehave, Lust, Squadlive]
In quick succession, we were treated to another band from Richmond: Butcher Brown. Marcus “Tennishu” Tenney played both trumpet and tenor sax throughout the set. The band’s funky jazz and soul set perfectly with the afternoon and the growing crowd. They also offered up some funky hip hop. DJ Harrison was very impressive all set long on synths, electric piano, and Hammond B3. This was the band’s first trip to the park (another 2020 victim), although drummer Corey Fonville played Bear Creek 2014 with Nicholas Payton.
They closed their set with a great tune called “Triple 7,” Tennishu on trumpet and Harrison on B3. What? Ten minutes left? They crushed a Herbie Hancock-like tune with Harrison out front on electric piano.
They too suffered from BASS OVERKILL in the middle of the set.
The South Florida folks were already hip to the superb jazz fusion that Lemon City Trio pumps out, but they made a whole lot of new fans with this killer set. Nick Tannura’s guitar was out front rocking “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” with Brian Robertson pouring on the Hammond B3 funk on “Flying Free.” Meanwhile, Aaron Glueckauf was crushing the beats song after song. Put these guys on your radar!
[LC3: Welcome to the Neighborhood, Flying Free, Jawn, Them Changes (Thundercat), Dune, Prika, Western, New Moon, Space Raiders, Lemoneapolis]
Maggie Rose had impressed during the bombardment of music at Suwannee Hulaween, but it was nice to hear her without distractions. Her excellent band included bass, drums, guitar, and a female keyboard player and backing vocalist.
Rose also played guitar on some of the songs in the set. She has been on the scene for 13 year, and bios list her as a country singer, but her range runs rings around that tight description. The Nashville star offered a great set of originals and covers such as “The Letter” and “Baby, I Love You.”
Heather Gillis had been missing from the park for a long time, perhaps since the Wanee Festival 2017, when she went toe to toe with a trio of amazing guitarists in The Freight Train Band Wednesday night. Some of us first saw her in 2015 at MagnoliaFest with Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.) of blessed memory. After moving from Tallahassee to Nashville, it was wonderful having her back at SoSMP.
She told us this was her first gig in two years, but you’d never have known it by the way she shredded and her band cooked. The set strolled back and forth between blues and rock, including a killer “Livin’ the Life.” She then went deep space with an incendiary version of “Fire.” There was also a really heartfelt tune she penned for Butch Trucks shortly after his death titled “Be Alright”; she was a mainstay in his Freight Train Band.
[HGB: 1, 2, Livin’ the Life, Fire (Jimi Hendrix), Be Alright]
Galactic and Dumpstaphunk have probably appeared more at SoSMP than all of the other bands combined. This set by Galactic was as great as any I’ve ever heard; they were on fire start to finish. Ben Ellman on harp helped kick off “Clap Your Hands,” the jam-packed crowd in front of the stage only too willing to do just that. “You Don’t Know” was scorching hot, and it was awesome hearing vocalist Anjelika Jelly Joseph blaze her way through “Something’s Wrong With This Picture.” She now seems to be the perfect fit.
Joseph came back to sing “Right On.” Then she invited Neal Francis, who would play the late-night slot later, to join in on organ and vocals on The Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can Can”: pure magic. The band knocked out another of their superb early instrumentals, “Crazyhorse Mongoose,” before Joseph returned for sultry ballad “68 and Cloudy.”
Time to go? Why not Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” the Led Zeppelin version! Encore? Damn sure better be after that!
[G: Clap Your Hands, Domino, You Don’t Know, Cineramascope, Higher and Higher, Something’s Wrong With This Picture, Hey Na Na, Go Down (Big 6 Brass Band), Go Go, Right On, Yes We Can Can (w/ Neal Francis), Crazyhorse Mongoose, 68 and Cloudy, Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Blind Willie Johnson); E: Dolla Diva, Getcha Some]
Joe Marcinek had once again assembled one of his patented all-star lineups, this one sparkling with Steve Molitz on keyboards, Ola Timothy on bass, and Jason Hann on drums. They leapt out with Marcinek’s signature “George Washington,” and this version was brilliant (OK, they always are). Marcinek had a fine guitar solo, and Timothy made lots of new fans with some stunning bass work.
But Molitz… Normally, during a set, Marcinek lets him blast off with “Launchpad” or some other great Particle tune, but this was a tight set with a lot of new material. What’s a keyboard wizard to do? Pack that Particle synthesizer jam into “George Washington,” of course! (Thanks to Collis Thompson for this video excerpt!)
Marcinek’s new secret weapon is Songbird Shella. She came out to sing “Still Got It,” so fine, with Timothy again impressing. “Bulldog” was another new instrumental, and then it was time for Siddiq’s beautiful composition “Weatherman.” To everyone’s delight, Melody Trucks stepped on stage to offer gorgeous harmonies with Shella, Molitz on organ.
“Fever Dream” was another new tune, with Shella and Trucks again harmonizing. More? How about that classic tune “Baby Come Back” by Player, now with three ladies singing as Jessica Jones stepped in as well! They closed with a tune Marcinek and Shella co-wrote called “Before I Go.” Perfect!
[JMB: George Washington, Still Got It, Bulldog, Weatherman (Songbird Shella), Fever Dream, Baby Come Back (Player), Before I Go]
For those of us unfamiliar with Neal Francis, there was a lot of buzz before his set at Suwannee Hulaween, all of it a gross understatement. He and his band have been wowing audiences everywhere he goes, including the recent Gasparilla Music Festival. This set to shut down Thursday night blew those performances away. He has an electric piano rig and a Hammond B3 rig, and he hops back and forth between the two. Watching and hearing a Neal Francis set is like time-traveling to the 1970s!
How 1970s, you ask? “Changes, Pts. 1 & 2” should help answer that — just the name! They started off hot and just got hotter. After “Alameda Apartments,” there was a mellow drum intro and then organ into “Don’t Call Me No More” with the refrain “I’ll keep telling lies until I make it.” To honor The Meters (further honored by Dumpstaphunk and original Meter George Porter Jr. Friday night), Francis threw out a superb “You’ve Got to Change (You’ve Got to Reform).”
Piano, organ, clavinet — everything shimmered when Francis played. They closed the night down with “She’s a Winner,” already a fan favorite with the chorus: “Pony up cause she’s a winner, And I want to ride, ride, ride, ride, ride.”
[NF: Very Fine, Changes, Pts. 1 & 2, Say Your Prayers, Alameda Apartments, Prometheus, Don’t Call Me No More, How Have I Lived, You’ve Got to Change (You’ve Got to Reform), These Are the Days, Can’t Stop the Rain, Sentimental Garbage, BNYLV, She’s a Winner]
The perfectly-paced day began with Eddie 9V, a fine retro blues band from Atlanta and a real treat. Eddie played guitar and sang, backed by bass, drums, Hammond B3, electric piano, and tenor sax/flute. Most of the setlist came from his three recent records, including “3 AM in Chicago” and the story of “1945 (Cocaine + Rum).”
They played the title track from new album Little Black Flies before Eddie grabbed his slide for Howlin’ Wolf’s “In the Bottom.” “She’s Got Some Money” included sage advice from his grandpa: “MARRY UP!” They tore up some Albert King blues on “I’m a Traveler” and finished with brand new song “Yellow Alligator,” a tune cut recently in Macon at Capricorn.
[E9V: 1, 2, 3 AM in Chicago, 1945 (Cocaine + Rum), The Come Up, Little Black Flies, In the Bottom, She’s Got Some Money, 9, Left My Soul in Memphis, I’m a Traveler, Yellow Alligator]
Albert Simpson has been a mainstay at the park for years, often playing in the cafe. This set demonstrated his prowess as a wordsmith and as a troubadour. He noted at one point that a particular long night took three or four days. The heartfelt “Pieces” was a tribute to his wife, who “put me back together.” there was a discussion about country music, after which he played “The Highwayman,” his all-time favorite country tune.
Scott Boyer on guitar joined Simpson for “Franklin’s Tower,” “Willin’,” and “Melissa.” There was delight in the lyrics of “Fell Off the Wagon (and Got Caught in the Spokes),” more when he sang Johnny Paycheck’s “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised).” Don’t pass on an opportunity to see Simpson perform; you’ll leave with a smile and a great feeling. There aren’t many like him around any more.
[AS: 1, 2, 3, Pieces, The Highwayman, $49, Franklin’s Tower, Willin’, Melissa, Done My Time, Fell Off the Wagon (and Got Caught in the Spokes), I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised), Bertha]
Just to be clear, there’s nobody named Ernie Johnson, and they’re not from Detroit (Cincinnati, actually), but Ernie Johnson from Detroit had a superb set at the Amphitheatre for those who arrived early (although the sound carried well to many campsites). All dressed in mechanic-style suits with name tags with all did say Ernie, the octet featured the usual bass, drums, and keyboards plus two guitars and trumpet, baritone/alto sax and a female tenor player.
“It’s Cooool” delivered Afrobeat immediately with funk driven by Hammond B3. They dove deeper into great Afrobeat with that Farfisa-sounding organ reminiscent of Fela Kuti, then excellent solos from alto and tenor sax on “Red Foxxx.” They played the title of new album Swamp Nymph, then more amazing Afrobeat featuring flute and electric piano. They are amazing!
[EJfD: It’s Cooool, Red Foxxx, Skylode, Swamp Nymph, Walt’s 1st Trip, RTUC, 12 Fish, Ricky & Charmaine, Tiddy]
The HeadTones from St. Petersburg made the most of their early set Friday with a very attentive audience. The band recently augmented with the addition of Stephanie Perez on guitar. Vocalist Josh Magwood is a good guitar player but no match for Perez. Without his guitar, Magwood was a much more engaging frontman, and his singing was more powerful.
The band played a great set; it’s always great seeing turntablist Brenton Mohn do his thing. Perez ripped several great solos, and the band was cookin’. The sound at the Porch Stage generally was very good, but at one point the bass was so overpowering that it obliterated Jamal Hansan’s tenor sax solo and the hip hop lyrics of the following song. The bands deserve better than this.
[HT: Back in the Day, Sewed Up, WGW, Destiny, All We Want, Chasing Dreams, WANS, The Get Down, Best of You, No Sleep, Solid Ground]
Searching for authentic Southern rockers? Bonnie Blue out of Jacksonville fits that bill perfectly. These boys kick major ass every time they take the stage, and they blew this set out big time. Most of the vocals were split between guitarists Willis Gore and Bradley Churchman. They opened with “Breakthrough,” a song from the band’s upcoming album. Gore soloed, then Churchman on slide. “Beggars Ride” began mellower but rocked out as Adam Kenneway had a bass solo and John Wilson added electric piano.
A surprise entry was a fine version of Bobby Lee Rodgers’s “Outer Space” that featured Wilson on Hammond B3. Shortly after that came a superb “Ride Me High > Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys > Ride Me High > Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys.” Gore is probably my favorite Southern vocalist, and this whole set was a monster. It got even better when they invited horns up for three songs. That was glorious raw power.
[BB: Breakthrough, Beggars Ride, Outer Space, Best Friends, Ride Me High > Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys > Ride Me High > Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, Do You Remember*, Movin’*, Don’t Mean Much*, Walk as Fast]
Revival is a band that has continued to make music after the late great Scott Campbell passed away five years ago. The group is centered around some excellent young musicians and the vocal brilliance of Avis Berry. The group raised their profile with a fine set at Suwannee Hulaween, and this one was even better.
They opened with original tune “Leap of Faith” before a great cover of The Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling.” They turned everything topsy-turvy with a blistering rendition of “Had to Cry Today,” one that Berry and Campbell did in 2015 when they covered the entire Blind Faith album at The Purple Hatter’s Ball. “Keep On Growing” was bursting with energy and love.
Lovely tune “Choices” was a Campbell composition, with the soulful “Speak the Love (That’s on Your Mind)” following, and they closed their well-attended set with “Turn On Your Love Light.” Everybody was glowing; Berry was fabulous, as was her Mondrian dress!
[REVIVAL: Leap of Faith, I’ve Got a Feeling (The Beatles), Had to Cry Today (Blind Faith), Keep On Growing (Derek & the Dominos), Old Man (Neil Young), Choices (Scott Campbell), Speak the Love (That’s on Your Mind), Turn On Your Love Light (Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland)]
Durand Jones & the Indications had made their SoSMP debut at Suwannee Hulaween, but this set was better, wrapped in the intimacy of the Amphitheater. This band, formed by singer Durand Jones, singer/drummer Aaron Frazer, and guitarist Blake Rhein, have been at this for a decade, and they play true soul and R&B as well as anyone. The silky-smooth vocals of Jones and Frazer were augmented by those of their female percussionist.
Similar to the Neal Francis set, the music of Durand Jones & the Indications is like time-traveling back to the 1970s for some glorious music. Not sure if they used their own sound engineer, but the bass levels were PERFECT. And how does Rhein make his guitar sound like a glockenspiel? This band is the real deal.
[DJ&tI: Intro, Smile, Circles, Don’t You Know, Sea Gets Hotter, Love Will Work It Out, The Way That I Do, Walk Away, Morning In America, True Love, Is It Any Wonder?, Can’t Keep My Cool, Sexy Thang, Ride or Die, Don’t Let Me Down, Long Way Home How Can I Be Sure, More Than Ever, Cruisin’ to the Park, Sea of Love, Witchoo]
Electric Kif brought their duffle bag of fusion, prog rock, jamtronica, and funk to the park and dumped it all over the place! The band’s drummer, Armando Lopez, is currently touring with Corey Wong (!!), so Braham Masla did an admirable job holding down the rhythm. They “eased” into the set with the sonic “Sonar” before blowing our minds and melting everything else with signature tune “Labrats.”
Bassist Rodrigo Zambrano was on fire all set. Eric Escanes tore up “Jefe” on Stratocaster, and “Little Louie” was killer as well. They love tearing up Herbie Hancock’s “Hang Up Your Hang-Ups,” but this time they sent “Butterfly” into outer space, double time and totally funked up, with a great assist from two of the Polyrhythmics boys: R. Scott Morning on trumpet and Arthur Brown on tenor sax. Just WOW!
[EK: Sonar, Labrats, Jefe, Little Louie, Knives Out, F.M.B., Butterfly]
One of the central collaborative sets of the weekend featured George Porter Jr. and Dumpstaphunk performing The Meters. It began with Dumpstaphunk playing two of their huge songs first: the deep, down, and dirty “I Wish You Would” and the powerful “Justice.”
Then they invited the Meter Man himself, GPJr., to join them for a tour of the music of The Meters: hits, deep cuts, and everything in between. There’s only so much you can accomplish in 75 minutes, and they crammed it full of great music. Nick Daniels III played bass with Porter while Tony Hall and Ian Neville both played guitars.
The set began with two songs we didn’t recognize before they played “Soul Island” (Cabbage Alley 1972). This was all one long jam, which morphed next into “Africa,” except that they sang “New Orleans” instead. There were a couple more songs in there with (perhaps) “Look-Ka Py Py” before “(The World Is a Bit Under the Weather) Doodle-Oop.”
The hardest jam of the night occurred when they careened into the funk-slammed chorus of Bootsy’s Rubber Band’s “Another Point of View.” DEEPER THAN DEEP! Everybody was blazing! They lowered the temperature with a fine take on “It Ain’t No Use” with superb piano from Ivan Neville. Porter took vocals on the encore, “Just Kissed My Baby” as Hall switched to bass for the finale. It was everything we hoped for and more!
[GPJr/D: I Wish You Would, Justice, ? > ? > Soul Island > New Orleans (Africa) > Look-Ka Py Py? > ? > (The World Is a Bit Under the Weather) Doodle-Oop > Another Point of View (Bootsy) > It Ain’t No Use; E: Just Kissed My Baby]
Polyrhythmics had traveled to Suwannee Hulaween 2019 from Seattle and were slated to return for the ill-fated Rising 2020. They were the lone band on the lineup with two sets. The Saturday night outing was a blast from this octet, as guitar Ben Bloom addressed us as “future skeletons”!
These guys rock, funk, jazz, fusion, and have a damn good time doing it. The horn section — R. Scott Morning on trumpet, Arthur Brown on tenor sax, and Elijah Clark, trombone — added great spice to every song in the set. Bloom is a beast on guitar, and the rhythm section was superb: Jason Gray, bass; Grant Schroff, drums; and Karl Olson, percussion.
[POLY1: Lord of the Fries,Bowling Green, Pupusa Strut, Corpus Collosum, Au Jus, Crippled Crabs, Jessie’s Party, Stinky Finger]
Chances are few if any of the folks in attendance had ever seen Franc Moody, the British dance sextet, and not many more had checked them out online before the festival. A very unscientific survey would suggest that most people were truly knocked out by this incredible band. Make no mistake: this is pure dance music: funk, disco, R&B, some trance-dance.
And the crowd danced. The entire set. The ringleaders of this enterprise, Ned Franc and Jon Moody, have been together for eight years. They stand together in front, flanked by Amber-Simone, vocals and percussion, and Rosetta Carr, bass and vocals. Their music is infectious, the falsettos glorious, the beats hypnotic, and the vibe just right. “Raining in L.A.” was a new tune highlighted by Farfisa organ, soprano sax, and more falsettos.
The key-tar came out during “She’s Too Good for Me,” and Amber sang “Dopamine,” the last song of the set. Well, except for that encore: “(Working On My) Dance Moves”! Y’all come back now, y’hear?
[FM: Big Cheese, Dream in Colour, Terra Firma, Skin On Skin, Raining in L.A., Flesh and Blood, Charge Me Up, Mass Appeal, Night Flight, She’s Too Good for Me, In Too Deep, Dopamine, Dance Moves]
Beartoe (Roberto Aguilar) is a troubadour, playing this set with four talented musicians, including Ashley Galbraith, bass; Taylor Galbraith, drums; Sam Farmer, drums; and Andy Reis, Hammond B3. The Galbraiths once again widened their fan bass with superb performances. Beartoe’s finger-style guitar brushes multiple genres during a set, from the classic “I’m a Ram” and his own “Whole Lotta Burnin’ in My Soul.”
Reis stood out on Led Zep’s “Going to California.” There were no bass issues from the sound booth! Beartoe played country rock on “Fishcrow” before a mellow “St. John’s River” with the incredible line “I’m drowning in your excuses.” He switched to his mandolin guitar, or “mandola,” for, appropriately, the finale “Mando.”
[B: 1, 2, I’m a Ram, Whole Lotta Burnin’ in My Soul, Going to California, 6, Fishcrow, St. John’s River, Mando]
Savants of Soul do the soul revue justice, harkening back to the ’60s and ’70s with a fresh show. Nine Souls are on stage, including their four-horn section that includes the trumpet player/female vocalist. She handles some of the vocals along with the group’s very tall lead singer.
No matter how many times this situation occurs, I am always impressed. On 24 hours’ notice, the band was without a bass player for the show. Up stepped Max Bleiweis, who absorbed the catalog and played a seamless set. BRAVO!
“For Another” featured a far-too-common problem: “My baby wrote it for his lover; I’m not his girl any more.” All the while, Benny Cannon was directing traffic from his drum kit. Right before the closing song, there was a message: ALL THE SQUARES GO HOME! (Nobody left!) A bouncy “Dance to the Music” shut down the dance party (until the next one!).
[SoS: Spot at the Top, Second Chance Lover, Love and Affection, Right on Time, Since You’ve Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby), Medicine Man, Out in the Distance, Honey Child, For Another, Puff Puff Pass Out, Deliverance, Son Be Strong, Darkness, Dance to the Music]
Polyrhythmics, Round Two. Paul Levine, announcing every set, noted that April 9 was the birthday of the Amphitheater, receiving a great round of applause. The band shot out immediately with “Liam Rides a Pony,” drenched in Afrobeat.
Nathan Spicer on electric piano and Arthur Brown on flute stood out on the rocking jazz funk of “Yetti Set Go.” The horns split for the slow guitar feature”Octagon” and returned for “The Cutdown.” There was some Fela Kuti-like magic during “Chelada.” Two great sets!
[PR: Liam Rides a Pony, Yetti Set Go, Octagon, The Cutdown, Labrador, In the Trees, Chelada, Clydesdale, Fairweather Fiends]
In a weekend full of entertaining bands, Cowford was near the top of that list. This quartet from Jacksonville (Cowford was Jax’s original name) swing wildly back and forth from great Southern rock to screaming metal, always with a grin. Leader Nat Spaulding Jr. is a singer/songwriter and plays rhythm guitar. His huge cowboy hat is almost tongue in cheek, except it’s not.
“Bullgator” sure enough mined that country rock vein, and by the time they got to “Snakebite” it was about an inch this side of metal, with Steve Honig on killer guitar. Spaulding has amazing lung power, and he rocked “Florida Man” big time. Great music and one fun time with these boys.
[COWFORD: Bullgator, Blood, Snakebite, If You Need Me, Moving On, On My Mind, Tear Me Apart, Sabertooth, On the Run, Florida Man, Shine, Swamp, Wizard]
Magnolia Boulevard is one of two bands who played Rising 2021 and Hulaween 2021 and were invited to Rising this year (the other is Anthill Cinema). This was by far the most satisfying of the three. The Amphitheater always vibrates, but Magnolia Boulevard did all of the work. The tight quintet from Lexington really shone, especially vocalist and guitarist Maggie Noëlle.
There were times the group’s sound was reminiscent of Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Noëlle certainly reminds of Susan Tedeschi in range, power, and soulfulness. Guitarist Greg Erwin was a standout all set. Somewhere in the set they invited Vaylor and Melody Trucks up to join them on The Allman Brothers Band song “Desdemona,” so beautiful.
Not only does Anthill Cinema share the distinction noted above about playing Rising 2021 and Hulaween 2021, they are the ONLY band to have played all three Suwannee Rising festivals (they were called The Difference in 2019). AHC were locked and loaded for a great set, which is exactly what they blew out. The low end was so solid with Vinny Svoboda on bass, Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris, and Jimmy Rector on percussion.
Ringmaster Justino Lee Walker led the troops on a wild ride through a sampling of their great recordings after cranking up with “Munsters Opening Theme.” “Big Blue Thumb” led to a drum break. Coming out of that, they went Latin, Mark Mayea with some gorgeous piano. Through “Flight of the Kiwi > Pandora’s Box > Fuge,” they touched on Zappa, played prog rock, and descended into cacophony, then went full metal during “A Picasso’d Lie.”
Wordsmith and word-spitter Jon Ditty rapped through “The Art of Punching Up” and “Personal Raincloud.” Finally, they closed with fan favorite “Pop Song.” As Mike Garcia described it, that set was “a whole smoothie!”
[AHC: Munsters Opening Theme > When Smaller Becomes Small > Montage Music, Big Blue Thumb > Drum Break > Flight of the Kiwi > Pandora’s Box > Fuge, A Picasso’d Lie, The Art of Punching Up (Jon Ditty), Personal Raincloud (Jon Ditty), What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving the World (Hans Zimmer), Pop Song]
There are few bands who fit on the Amphitheater stage as well as North Mississippi Allstars. They just sound like they belong there. Luther and Cody Dickinson brought their traveling show to the park where they are so loved. Jessie Williams was on bass, and Sharisse Norma was center stage with gorgeous vocals (and her little daughter, I believe, standing there with her!). Later, Joey Williams joined in on guitar.
Their Hill Country blues is so authentic, so honest, and so embracing. They opened with “Shimmy” and “Goin’ Down South” before the title track from brand new album Set Sail. Who else would you want to hear play “Shake What Yo’ Mama Gave You”? And the only way to close was with “Shake ’Em On Down.” That music goes deep into the soul!
[NMAS: Shimmy, Goin’ Down South, Set Sail, Bumpin’, Call That Gone, Drums, See The Moon, Rabbit Foot, Shake What Yo’ Mama Gave You, Skinny Woman, Up & Rollin’, Prayer for Peace, Need to Be Free, Shake ’Em On Down]
If you hadn’t read about them, you might not have known that Brother & Sister meant Vaylor Trucks and Melody Trucks, Butch’s children who were featured on the cover of the Allman Brother’s album Brothers and Sisters. They had assembled a mighty band for their tour, including Willis Gore (Bonnie Blue) also on guitar, Matthew Stallard on bass, and the double drums of Eric Sanders and Garrett Dawson.
The entire set featured the music of The Allman Brothers Band. There are numerous groups out there paying tribute. We knew this would be special, just not THAT special. Because it was. Melody and Gore both sang during the set, which got down and dirty with “Not My Cross to Bear” before bouncing back with “Statesboro Blues.” Vaylor is an incredible guitar slinger, and Gore is the perfect man to hang with him during the set.
Vaylor’s child, Astrid Trucks, came up to sing a heartfelt “Please Call Home” that also featured a lovely piano intro. They stayed up to sing and play guitar on the absolutely giddy “Jessica.” Stallard had a fine set anchoring with the bass. After Melody sang “Dreams,” they dug in deep for “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” It was spectacular; Vaylor and Gore were stunning. Welcome home, Brother and Sister!
[B&S: Don’t Want You No More > Not My Cross to Bear, Statesboro Blues, Stand Back, Please Call Home, Jessica, Midnight Rider, Blue Sky, Dreams, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed]
The Amphitheater was slammed for St. Paul & the Broken Bones, the Birmingham, Alabama, band who almost seem larger than life. They feature a horn trio in their eight-piece band, all centered on the soulful vocals of St. Paul Janeway.
The set featured uptempo rockers and ballads, all with St. Paul’s falsetto and upper-register voice. When he went off for a superb band instrumental, trombone player Chad Fisher threw in a great “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” quote!
Daniel Donato was listed on the lineup as “cosmic country.” I wasn’t sure what might be. I am sure now. I will never miss this guy and his band. It was fabulous! The setlist below is just an attempt, but frankly it didn’t matter what Donato on guitar and his bandmates played; it was awesome. Many missed it jockeying for position for the grand finale. Everything flowed so nicely, with Dead-like and ABB-like themes throughout. Check him out for sure.
[DDCC: 1, Big River > ? > Ghost Riders in the Sky > jam > drums > ?, Justice > Jessica, Always Been a Lover]
That left The Nth Power Ball, a truly spectacular finale. SOUL-CLEANSING.
The Nth Power — Nikki Glaspie, Nick Cassarino, and Nate Edgar — and Paul Levine, our festival champion, put their heads together to devise a special closing set for this year’s Suwannee Rising Music Festival. However, to refer to this set as merely “special” is a gross understatement. The Nth Power Ball wove together so many amazing threads into a stunning quilt of music, and every single person in attendance will be forever grateful for what they put together.
As Cassarino explained at some point early in the set, Levine (the curator of Suwannee Rising and Suwannee Hulaween as well as Fool’s Paradise and Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival) made some suggestions about directions they might take during the set.
Glaspie told us this:
Not sure if you caught the theme or correlations, but a lot of these songs either Duane Allman played on, or the Dead or Jerry covered them, or they’re just classics! We had a blast doing this. I’m guessing you have all the musicians names. It was listed on the initial lineup. Except we had Jonathan Mones (Ghost-Note) on tenor sax and Daniel Donato on guitar on “Whipping Post.”
So about that lineup, beginning with The Nth Power: Nikki Glaspie, drums and vocals; Nick Cassarino, guitar, vocals, and MC; and Nate Edgar, bass. Then add Melody Trucks, percussion and vocals; and Vaylor Trucks, guitar, who performed together as Brother and Sister; Jennifer Hartswick, trumpet and vocals (Trey Anastasio Band), Pete Levin, keyboards (Greg Allman Band/Blind Boys of Alabama), Scotty Flynn, trombone (Pretty Lights/Odesza), and Greg Erwin, guitar and vocals, and Maggie Noëlle, vocals (both from Magnolia Boulevard).
Levine introduced the ensemble just after midnight, praising The Nth Power’s ability to create brilliant tribute sets such as their Earth Wind and Power shows. And then it was off to the races, beginning with “You Can Make It If You Try” from Sly’s 1969 magnum opus Stand! The horn section with Hartswick, Mones, and Flynn was awesome throughout the set, especially there and on “Maggie’s Farm,” Bob Dylan done Solomon Burke style, on steroids! (Burke’s version came out before Dylan’s did in 1965!)
At this point, Melody and Vaylor stepped on stage for “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” a song Gregg Allman wrote for his brother shortly after his death. This thread tied into the Wanee Music Festival, an event created by The Allman Brothers that flourished at the park for 14 years. Hartswick handled lead vocals.
Hartswick and Cassarino, who work so well together, sang Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” a song the Jerry Garcia Band loved to cover. The version of “Hey Jude” they played with Cassarino leading was from Wilson Pickett’s 1969 recording with Duane Allman on guitar.
Next to join the ensemble on stage was Erwin from Magnolia Boulevard for the Steely Dan classic “Reeling in the Years.” Then bandmate Noëlle came on to sing Aretha’s 1967 smash “Baby, I Love You.” Edgar on bass and Melody on congas got things fired up for “Spanish Moon,” so powerful with the horn section. Cassarino handled vocals, and Mones blew a fine alto solo. (Hartswick, Mones, and Casey all stood out, despite my sketchy notes.) Cassarino then offered some fine vocalese and matching guitar — so fine.
Cassarino then said, “We’re going to take you on a trip now. This is uncharted territory for us as a band as The Nth Power. This is uncharted as fuck. I don’t know what else to say.”
If there was a centerpiece to the set, it would have to be the stunning “Terrapin Station” the group rolled out, ten minutes of heaven. As they closed the song, the horns left the staged, and Erwin and Daniel Donato came on stage and got plugged in. Donato had just played the set previous on the Porch Stage, and it was magnificent. He calls it Cosmic Country, but he and the band rolled through a great range of jams including The Grateful Dead and ABB.
The band lit into “Whipping Post,” and the surge of electricity that passed through the crowd during “Terrapin” did another lap. Levin took lead vocal and had a fine Hammond B3 solo (he added fine keyboard support all night) before they turned Donato loose. Meanwhile, Vaylor Trucks was also strapped in and ready. Erwin took the next round with a fine jazzy solo that built in intensity. Then it was Vaylor’s turn, and he romped from jazz to his amazing Yeti Trio vibes, and Cassarino had the last round. 19 brilliant minutes.
Melody Trucks was working the congas through the entire pair of tunes, and there is simply no way to describe the magnificence of Glaspie on drums, who sounded for all the world like two drummers on both songs. She was — and is — a goddess.
The horns and Noëlle returned to the stage. Cassarino noted: “Paul Levine’s the curator. He curated this band. For all our tributes, we’ve never had any tell us what to do or who to have. And Paul — except Paul Levine — and Paul gently suggested that we put this together with these people, and we graciously obliged, because we suss the people, and we trust his vision, and we trust the energy in this park, and we trust y’all. This is our last song, and thank y’all.”
They chose “The Weight” for the finale, Aretha’s version from 1970 with Duane Allman on guitar. Melody Trucks, Noëlle, Hartswick, and Cassarino all joined in on vocals.
The Nth Power
[NTH POWER BALL: You Can Make It If You Try (Sly & The Family Stone), Maggie’s Farm (Solomon Burke version), Ain’t Wasting Time (The Allman Brothers Band), That’s What Love Will Make You Do (Little Milton), Hey Jude (Wilson Pickett version), Reeling in the Years (Steely Dan), Baby I Love You (Aretha Franklin), Spanish Moon (Little Feat), Terrapin Station (The Grateful Dead), Whipping Post (The Allman Brothers Band), The Weight (Aretha Franklin version)]
Thank you to Paul Levine and his staff, all the volunteers, staff, security, and medical personnel at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, the 30 bands who enrich our lives and took us away to a most magical place, and each and every person who shared in that magic.
We will semi-patiently wait to hear about Suwannee Rising 4!