Suwannee Hulaween Delivers Joy Once Again
This should have been the tenth anniversary for Suwannee Hulaween, but of course Covid had other ideas. Regardless, the 2022 edition of this String Cheese Incident party at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park was a magnificent success, with fabulous lights, music, art installations, entertainment, food and craft vendors, and thousands upon thousands of like-minded people looking for the perfect escape.
And we found it!
Suwannee Hulaween 2022 rocked Live Oak October 27 to October 30, and the smiling faces and incredible costumes everywhere said everything. We were also blessed that Mother Nature offered a brief sprinkle Wednesday morning to tamp down some of the dust, and temperatures were delightful every day (although condolences to those who had wonderful but heavy costumes).
Before we get to the music, several important points. As always, I thought that much of the music presented was too loud, in the ear-damaging range. It is obvious, however, that I am an army of one (or, in any case, not very many), as many people thought the sound was perfect or not even loud enough (!!). I will mention this topic only briefly going forward.
I simply have no way to relate to the EDM artists whose sound to me features bass and sounds/noises. I clearly do not ingest the right substances to appreciate them, and I acknowledge this.
For a much better look at the EDM at this year’s event, check out this fine recap by Dan Shade on Premier EDM.
There were 104 scheduled sets on the five main stages (The Meadow, The Hallows, The Amphitheater, Spirit Lake, and The Campground). There were also shows in House of Lost, at Incendia, in The Oasis, and on renegade stages around the park. Of the 104, I caught at least part of 76 of those. That included 14 full sets and lots of partials. Clearly, I did a lot of set-splitting to hear and see as much as possible. Sometimes I caught the best part of a set; sometimes, I missed it. And there were 28 sets I missed outright.
There are full-set videos of many of the sets from Hulaween. We have published separate articles about many of them and provided links here as well. Thanks to Jake Funkmayor of FunkCity.net, other archivists, and the bands who have put their sets up on YouTube. Other links will take you directly to videos.
Let’s get started!
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27
Paul Levine, the King of Hulaween, came out in introduce Anthill Cinema, the St. Petersburg progressive fusion collective opening the Amphitheater. Levine appeared on numerous stages throughout the weekend to greet the crowds and welcome the bands. Anthill Cinema had just released their new album Everyone Has Anxiety October 21, and they offered great versions of some of those and their back catalog. Mark Mayea’s outstanding keyboard work stood out.
Soul Taxi had the first set on the Campground Stage, which was entirely reoriented this year to make equipment delivery much, much easier. This meant the listening area was a little smaller than in the past. There was a different production company running sound for the first time on this stage, and for the most part the volume was unnecessarily loud. In their slight defense, they were sandwiched between Incendia and Spirit Lake, both of which featured lots of BOOMING bass.
Soul Taxi had an energized set. This quartet from New Smyrna Beach played some great rock and reggae, including a fine “Right Track, Wrong Time.” The rhythm section was solid, and Jeff White played some great chunky, funky guitar. The Hammond B3 player stood out.
I made it back to The Hallows to see American Grime, two rappers and a DJ and more obscenities than I could digest. I headed back to check out Trevor Bystrom, a Florida musician I did not know. His seven-piece band from Bradenton made great world and island music, beginning with Paul Simon’s “Cecilia” done Caribbean style. The group had a great sound featuring his vocals and a female singer as well. Lots of percussion, lap steel, slide guitar, tenor saxophone and more filled the warm afternoon air.
TAPE B was at Spirit Lake. The crowd was dancing to the heavy bass and electronic sounds. Same for later sets by Zingara and Canabliss.
There are always DON’T-MISS sets at Hulaween. The Kyle Hollingsworth Band performance Thursday afternoon is a perfect example. They were digging into that islands-ish String Cheese Incident vibe, and there was a great song called “Please Don’t Pass Me By.” He was joined by bass, drums, and guitar; this band only plays a few times each year. Hollingsworth is a keyboard wizard, nowhere more evident than on acoustic piano, simply fabulous. They threw out some great funky jams and closed with the cover of a metal tune I should know with a “Rosie” tease sandwiched in the middle.
Little Bird, from South Carolina, played some fine funky soul rock, a solid quintet with three vocalists. They offered some mellow tunes and rocked out as well, including brand new tune “Out in the Sun.”
The onstage costume party got started in earnest when The Main Squeeze took over the Amp. They were dressed as characters from South Park, and of course Corey Frye was dressed as Chef! They were on fire, mixing their tunes with great covers such as “Voodoo Child (A Slight Return),” with a blistering guitar solo from Maximillian Newman. Frye took a moment to recall performing at the first Hulaween in 2013 in the pouring rain for 5800 fans.
Frye reminded us that we are never alone, a heartfelt plea for fallen friends, as the band played “When the Sun Goes Down,” a composition built on the changes to “Maggot Brain.” They lit things up with a rocker and then tore the place apart, closing with — what else? — Chef singing “Chocolate Salty
My particular adoration for Guavatron (West Palm Beach) is well documented, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for their stunning set, beginning with two tremendous news songs: “View from Above” and “Moon Boots.” As the jamtronic quartet segued into “Xilla,” one of their top jams, Adonis Guava invited Aron Magner, keyboard master of The Disco Biscuits, to join Roddy Hansen, and for 15 minutes we were all mesmerized. They played their “hit” “Disco Shades” and closed with a killer “Ray Gun.” HOT DAMN!
This video catches the last five minutes of new tune “Moon Boots” before they start twisting it into “Xilla.” Then Adonis welcomes Magner to the stage for the “Xilla” jam.
Twiddle, meanwhile, was crushing their set at The Amp. They were truly electrified, and having spark plug Adrian Tramontano at drum kit sent everything over the top. He had a fine feature, and Kyle Hollingsworth’s sit-in was outstanding, playing with Ryan Dempsey. They offered several tracks from new album Every Last Leaf, including “Slippin’ in the Kitchen” and “Every Last Leaf II.”
St. Petersburg’s Ajeva has been on a skyrocketing trajectory ever since their incendiary show at Orange Blossom Jamboree in May, and this Hula set offered further evidence. They came out flame-throwing with “RoShamBo,” and by the time they got to “You Can Too” they were in full-on jam mode. Reed Hills danced all over the stage as he sang, and once again Michael Nivens on guitar and Taylor Gilchrist on bass blew it up.
There was great buzz about the set by Gigantic NGHTMRE, the mash-up between Big Gigantic and NGHTMRE on the Hallows.
The last time slots Thursday night all overlapped. You could either run around like a madman (my usual approach), or sit your ass down for Fisher or The Disco Biscuits or Liquid Stranger or The Iceman Special. Musical mentor Lee Rissin told me in no uncertain terms NOT to miss The Iceman Special, whom I have never seen, but there was just no way I was going to miss The Disco Biscuits. For me, it was the right decision. (Lee is still chastising me.)
The Disco Biscuits. One set, 101 minutes, no breaks. This was everything I had hoped for: “42 > Twisted in the Road (inverted) > Orch Theme > The Wormhole > Above the Waves (inverted) > Another Plan of Attack > 42.” The sound was great, and “The Wormhole” that emerged after “Orch Theme” was officially released on the album of the same name the following day.
Brilliant sets from Guavatron and The Disco Biscuits. On the same day! Dayenu!
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28
The challenge: three excellent Florida bands opening the day — at the same time! Fortunately, LPT had a 15-minute head start. This outstanding Jacksonville ten-man orchestra plays authentic salsa dura and Afro-Cuban music, with two percussionists and no drummer. They had the early crowd dancing.
A brisk walk the back way around got me to The Campground and HoneyWhat, the St. Petersburg group fronted by Danielle Mohr. They were dressed as bees and flowers, distributing antennae headsets to create a hive audience. My comment to Mohr later: “This is the HoneyWhat set I’ve been waiting for.” They kicked ASS. They too had grown a large audience so early in the day, everyone energized and dancing.
Andrea Tafelski set the pace from her drum kit, and Sam Adwell rocked on guitar. Expect to see this great energy in future performances!
Eugene Snowden is an anomaly, a performer at 60 with moves many 30-year-olds can’t touch. He is a superb vocalist in the mould of James Brown and other soul and R&B band leaders. His incredibly tight band is able to stay with him as he twists and turns through what might have been the setlist five minutes before the show. Two weeks ago, he opened for Cuban superstar Cimafunk in Tampa, and their set was entirely Afro-Cuban. Snowden brought lots of that energy to Hulaween. He finished the set with a heartfelt reading of “Put a Little Love In Your Heart” before closing with “I’ll Do It.”
I passed by The Amp and was not surprised that there was not a single drum on stage with A Hundred Drums, just two DJs! The early crowd was bouncing!
Karina Rykman and her trio were at The Hallows; sound was subpar. Regardless, Rykman, who may actually be a sprite, danced and bounced and smiled all over the stage with her bass while Adam November was cranking out great guitar riffs and the occasional dance on synths. They were deeply funky, and they really rocked out on “Frequent Flyer.”
The day had gotten off to a superb start with LPT and then Eugene Snowden, leading directly into the Afro-Cuban whirlwind Cimafunk and his incredible band. This was a non-stop dance party, Latin style, and a huge crowd had amassed for the 4:15 set. Everybody was moving; it was impossible not to. The band is beyond tight, with a very James Brown feel, and Cimafunk definitely brings that vibe, especially with his perpetual-motion dancing.
It was also not to watch the female vocalists, Ilarivis García Despaigne, trombone, and Katerine Ferrer Llerena, saxophone. They danced all over the stage with their instruments, took lead vocals, and dazzled. They romped through “Rompelo” and everything else. When they got to the band’s smash hit “Me Voy,” Cimafunk had 30+ people crawl over the rail to dance on stage. Mind-blowing!
This meant missing Diggin’ Dirt, a California funk and soul octet that got superb reviews from friends, especially about vocalist Zach Alder. Another band to add to my list.
Liz Cooper, singer and guitarist, was rocking out with her trio (bass and drums). Try as I might, I couldn’t appreciate her vocal style, although many clearly did.
MZG have more Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park appearances than anyone on the lineup (with the possible exception of Lettuce), and they entertained The Amp crowd with their EDM grooves. The brothers Weinert continue to hone their craft.
Mike Mitchell, a/k/a Blaque Dynamite, has been blowing minds across the country with his drumming. His quartet for this set included Hammond B3 master Tommy Shugart, Brad Adam Miller on bass, and Thomas Griggs on guitar. Mitchell was singing along as he directed traffic through the deep, deep funk that was pouring out from the stage. The sound was great for this set. “Blue Wig” was really great.
The danger of splitting sets is that you might miss something major. Like, for instance, a marriage proposal on stage between Emily Cooper and Zachary David Simms of Future Joy. Yep. Read about it later. Cooper handles vocals, DJ, production, and dancing, while Simms plays multiple saxophones and adds more vocals and more dancing. Technically, this is EDM, but they play live, and it is fun, and it is infectious. Also missed a guest appearance by the one and only Miss Jessica Jones. They also played renegade sets from the back of their trailer.
I dig catch a peak of a wedding going on in House of Lost!
There was a huge crowd packed into The Amp to check out the lights, bass, and sounds of Opiuo.
Vocalist David Shaw, frontman for The Revivalists, had a set with his own band. He had a fine quartet centered around Hammond B3 and guitar, and the sound at The Hallows was improved. He is such an engaging vocalist, commanding the stage with songs such as “Cold shot of Liquor,” “Want You to Know,” and “Put Your Money On Me.”
One of the issues with trying to sample so many sets is that you might miss the totality of the performance. That happened with Wednesday Night Titans. The show is based around old films of wrestling stars and interviewers of the past, and then you realize you are immersed in a multi-media sensory overload with brilliant avant garde jazz and superb performances from drummer Zach Danziger, bassist Kevin Scott, and the keyboard wizard. I need to see a complete show to grok this more fully.
Danielle Ponder is a true soul belter who captivated the Spirit Lake audience with her beautiful voice. As I arrived, she was telling us all about the three-word revolution: “I LOVE MYSELF.” It was a powerful message from the Rochester NY singer. She sang, “We want to get up and get down, because hard times are coming.” She also offered “So Long” for all the dreamers.
I heard the second half of the second set by our hosts, The String Cheese Incident. They were rollicking through “Colorado Mountain Bluebird.” “Sirens” was next, and the set closed with “Beautiful.” Something must have happened with the timing of their first set, because this one ran 25 minutes over, which created a domino effect for the following shows on The Hallows and The Meadows.
The hazard of splitting sets is that you might miss out, and I certainly missed the beginning of the SCI set when Cimafunk and band came out to join in on a long version of “Eye Know Why.” Watch that here.
If I were the general manager of a terrestrial country radio station, I would dump all that nonsense they play in the garbage and just play Margo Price 24/7. Nobody kicked more ass than she and her band did. Four guitars! Incredible! She opened with “Been to the Mountain” and followed up with “461 Days.” Unfortunately, the overloud bass was drowning out some of the vocals. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR THIS TO HAPPEN.
Her music stands firmly at the intersection of country, outlaw, and rock, and she and her band do justice to each. There was some mention of the female orgasm before “Tennessee Song.” The piano player was a star all set long. She was struttin’ the stage in her beautiful long dress, singing “Don’t Say You Love Me When You Treat Me This Way” (it’s probably some abbreviation of that). FABULOUS!
I missed Manic Focus at The Amp, always one of the most popular EDM artists there.
Not at all sure what was happening at the beginning of the set by Portugal. The Man in The Meadow, because I was grabbing a very later dinner (more likely supper; it was after 9). They began with a presentation about native lands taken from native Americans, which might be standard for them, although I don’t remember it from previous shows. The message was vitally important, but there were many people in the crowd definitely NOT in the right headspace for that. The fact that the set began half an hour late (that domino effect) further aggravated the situation.
Their music set was solid. Painted up as Juggalos, they offered originals, a Nirvana tune, “From the Sea,” great vocals, and a nice drum intro into “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.”
CloZee was the favorite set of many people I talked to, and The Amp was packed like sardines. The lights and bass were overwhelming.
The British duo Franc Moody brought their amazing band and non-stop dance party to Suwannee Rising back in April, and it was awesome to get to see them a second time this year. Getting this out of the way, the bass was too loud the entire set, making the wonderful nuances of their great set much harder to appreciate.
Disco, funk, dance pop: Ned Franc and Jon Moody do it all, with great support in particular from Amber-Simone, vocals and percussion, and Rosetta Carr, bass and vocals, plus their tight percussion section. We got plenty of their great music, including “Skin to Skin” and “Raining in L.A.” They also gave us a brand new ballad.
I was enamored by Franc Moody, and it didn’t look like I would get to see Eggy. The time shifts on the two main stages gave me a window, and I booked back to the Campground, fortunate to catch the last 20 minutes. I won’t miss them again. This quartet put the jam in jamband. Their harmonies were superb, and every member crushed. Cannot recommend them highly enough!
There were lots of complaints about the Chet Faker set, primarily that it wasn’t his usual EDM set. This despite the fact that the schedule clearly noted that he was performing a DJ set. Which was magnificent.
We had several years of The Jon Stickley Trio and The Grass is Dead playing the Friday and Saturday late-night slots (2:30 to 4:00). This year, Circles Around the Sun were invited to handle Friday night. This was pure magic: Spirit Lake was packed, the visuals were happening across the lake, and Circles poured out 90 minutes of the exact vibes at least many of us were looking for. Thank you, John Lee Shannon, Dan Horne, Adam MacDougall, and Mark Levy for the instrumental space disco jam rock!
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 29
Day 3! Ready! The Snozzberries from Asheville were blowing up The Campground early, beginning with “This is Now.” There was a quick drum break by Paul Gladstone while a power issue was straightened out. Guitarist Evan Heller then asked, “You guys mind if we slow it down for a second… JUST KIDDING!” And they launched into more of their power psychedelic rock! I split before Brock Butler of Perpetual Groove joined them onstage for their epic “Have a Cigar” encore!
Player Dave had drawn an early crowd to The Amp for some bass music with a nice beat.
I was unaware Artikal Sound System was from South Florida. The quartet playing was solid, with vocalist Logan Rex bouncing all over the stage in her black bikini. They offered a fun set on the early sun-washed Hallows stage with their reggae-tinged music.
If there was only going to be one true bluegrass entry on this year’s lineup, then we got the right one. Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway have had a magical year, and their Hula experience was truly a sight to behold. Their brilliant Alice in Wonderland costumes were perfection (the Tim Burton version), beginning with Molly “The Red Queen” Tuttle. Their early set drew a huge crowd who were rewarded over and over again by the incredible artistry and costumes of each of the band members (from left to right in photos): Bronwyn “Alice” Keith-Hynes, fiddle; Kyle “Cheshire Cat” Tuttle, banjo; Molly Tuttle, guitar; Shelby “Mad Hatter” Means, upright bass; and Dominick “Blue Caterpillar” Leslie, mandolin.
The set included tunes from the band’s April release Crooked Tree. Molly turned Keith-Hynes loose on new tune “Dooley’s Farm,” and then, inexplicably and unnecessarily, the sound folks decided that the bass needed to be WAAAY louder. GRRRRR… Molly talked about cowgirls in hats, and they played another new one, “Side Saddle.” “Over the Line” gave Kyle and Means a chance to romp.
The quintet boogied with “Up On the Hill Where They Do the Boogie” before Kyle knocked out some wicked wah-wah banjo. They went to Bluegrass Wonderland in “Alice in the Bluegrass.” Meanwhile, toward the back of the stage, a six-foot White Rabbit was lurking. The Jefferson Airplane classic “White Rabbit” was… inevitable! Their version was spectacular, including a bass solo as White Rabbit danced with Means, and it featured a lovely banjo coda. (More about this soon.) MAGIC INDEED!
As mentioned, for me EDM ranges between noises and great music; The Polish Ambassador had a great show, pumping out excellent deep house music across the meadow. By contrast, for me EAZYBAKED was nearer the other end of the spectrum.
Spirit Lake featured the Femme House Takeover, my favorite of the three takeover scenes (although Desert Hearts Sunday were a close second). First up were Riva and Bianca, and the music was joyous, as were those in attendance.
Meanwhile, I was hustling to catch at least part of the set by Caitlyn Krisko and The Broadcast. They were blowing up a fine set. After “I’m Counting On You,” they offered a true gem in Gil Scott-Heron’s “Lady Day and John Coltrane”! They played new single “You Got a Feeling,” other originals, and a killer take on “Rock and Roll,” Led Zep style!
There was a distraction, however, which led to a second distraction. From the production area behind the Campground stage, stage manager (and king) Pete Stitz was leading Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway, all still in costume, over to the back entrance to Church of the Lost. My Spidey-sense was tingling (well, it would have if I had any). I went to the front entrance to Church of the Lost to work my way around… and stumbled into the end of a celebration of life! Respectfully, I went to the beginning of the pathway from inside the church toward the back entrance.
I was rewarded when I entered the “room” (no ceiling, of course) beyond the arched tunnel of vines, the focus of which was a huge banquet table looking not a little like the Mad Hatter’s! And above the table was a second table suspended from branches above, with appropriate tableware also suspended from the table!
Veteran photographer and videographer Jay Strausser was with the band, and they were working out the blocking so that they could record “White Rabbit” in such a magical setting. People passed through, came, went, stayed, and were respectful. Tuttle and band were so accommodating for people who wanted to have their pictures taken with them. They actually did a second take on the song; both were stunningly beautiful up close and personal. I will post an article with all of my photos once the official video has been released. What great fortune to be in the right place at the right time with the right people!
By the time all of that was over, it was time for South Florida’s Tand, who have been having themselves a huge year, with great festival appearances and the addition of bass beast Jordan Richards. They lit into a long take on “Fat Tua” full of deep funk and Daryl Wolff’s synths and then jammed into “Bloom Bloom > Swim > Lou’s Discotheque,” rocking hard, with Mike Garulli blistering on guitar and Wolff this time on piano. They continue to elevate their game each time out!
HVNLEE and Kaleen Zanders were having fun sets at the Femme House Takeover at Spirit Lake. I enjoyed the time I spent with each of them.
Lawrence is a band fronted by brother and sister team Clyde and Gracie Lawrence. Clyde plays keyboards; they both sing, and they have a fine trio plus three horns, filling the sound. The band plays plenty of originals and fun covers as well. Early in the set, they offered a tune they last played in 2014 (they’ve been around!), “Oranges.” They offered brand new tunes “I’m Confident (That I’m Insecure)” and “23” and played set favorite “Do You Want to Do Nothing with Me?”
I only caught a glimpse of Dirtwire; many raved about them. I heard sitars and interesting sounds and music. They are on my list for further inspection.
This was the day The String Cheese Incident would play three sets, climaxing with their themed set. They opened set two with “Let’s Go Outside,” “Sweet Spot,” and a fine reggae-ish “Shantytown” with Andy Hall of The Infamous Stringdusters. It featured a great jam and tremendous Hammond B3 from Hollingsworth.
I zipped off to check out Asheville’s sexbruise? It is obvious that seeing a partial set did them no justice at all. The band members were dressed as police, and I appreciated the sentiment of “It’s OK to Party.” This is participation rock, built on improvisation and pop and electronic music and, probably the kitchen sink. They deserve my full attention next time.
Back at The Meadow, I missed “Rivertrance” but arrived in time to hear Hall on dobro still up in the mix and Hollingsworth’s B3 front and center during a massive jam.
The conventional wisdom for many Saturday evening was: a Cheese sandwich with Lettuce and Sound Tribe icing, or dressing, or something. The great part about the sandwich was that all that was required to see and hear the set by SoSMP ambassadors Lettuce was to turn around. I spent the majority of the weekend on a solo mission (because nobody else is that stupid), but for these three sets I was so happy to be with my Short-Cut Camp/Jam Cruise friends.
There is nothing quite like Lettuce funk. Built on the titanic rhythm section of Erick “Jesus” Coomes and Adam Deitch, this sextet sits at the paragon of funk. They got to business immediately with “Mt. Crushmore” and kept the funk strong with “Royal Highness.” The sound was too loud for Lawrence earlier, but they had this one dialed in perfectly.
The New York juggernaut continued with “Waffles” and the powerful “House of Lett,” Ryan Zoidis and Benny Bloom magnificent on horns. Lettuce always deliver, especially at SoSMP. (Lee Rissin delivered lettuce, too! The videos don’t lie.)
Another of the weekend’s most popular sets was provided by Of the Trees at The Amp.
It was time for the big one, The String Cheese Incident theme set: Disco Horror. Look at the setlist and notes first:
[S3: Rigor Mortis(2)(3) > Psycho Killer(4) > Time Warp(5), Highway to Hell(6), Dead Man’s Party(7), Le Freak(8)(3) > Superfreak(9)(3), Spirit of the Boogie(10)(3), Ghost Town(11)(3)(12)(13) > Time Warp(5)(12) > I Will Survive(14)(12)(3), Disco Inferno(15)(12) > Jump in the Line(16)(3)(12)(1) > Disco Inferno(15)(12)]
[(2) – Cameo; (3) – ft. Antibalas horns; (4) – Talking Heads; (5) – Rocky Horror Picture Show; (6) – AC/DC; (7) – Oingo Boingo; (8) – Chic; (9) – Rick James, bitch; (10) – Kool & the Gang; (11) – The Specials; (12) – ft. Rhonda Thomas & Tony White; (13) – Halloween Theme song outro; (14) – Gloria Gaynor; (15) – The Trammps; (16) – Harry Belafonte]
Seriously. They continue to one-up themselves year after year. Antibalas horns were fabulous. “Dead Man’s Party” was a real treat, and Rhonda Thomas and Tony White sitting in from “Ghost Town” to the end of the set? Priceless! Especially “I Will Survive”! Disco Inferno for sure! Fireworks! Balloons! EVERYTHING!
J.I.D had the unfortunate position of following that as many people packed up to leave. It was a hip hop party, and lots of people hung around.
The majority, however, poured themselves into The Amp for STS9. I found it odd that loud bass music was pumping out of The Oasis at the top of the right side of The Amp: poorly timed.
No matter for STS9, who had a superb set, although the bass was a bit rumbly. The set began in a dreamy state, but then the intensity built and built toward some incredible tension and release as the jam continued to evolve. They kicked the tempo WAAAY up to a fever pitch, just what we were looking for. STS9 are always magic at Hulaween.
I checked out the light show in The Meadow with Louis the Child briefly, but the music was, once again, not what I was searching for.
Tokimonsta, the last of the artists on the Femme House Takeover, were having a real dance party at Spirit Lake. I enjoyed that for a bit before hustling back to check out Neighbor.
Neighbor, one of the skyrocketing “new” jam quartets, were killing at The Campground. The vocals were excellent, and their psychedelic rock game was tight. They played an interesting tune built on “Loose Lucy” and rocked non-stop. Somebody called a request, and out came “Two Tickets to Paradise”! Which they nailed! Neighbor shut the set down with a shitkicker rave-up called “Trippin’ in the Van.” (“Bed”?)
Somehow, to this point, I did not know they were doing silent disco (although I should have guessed, and they had it Friday night as well). It was all under the auspices of the one and only Vlad the Inhaler, so you know it was great.
While they were setting up, I heard music. Right nearby. There was a tribe of fire dance flow artists in a blocked off oval, and Toubab Krewe (4/5s of them) were sitting on a make-shift stage, playing during the hour performance. Toubab offered precisely the right music to accompany these outstanding flow artists. More Spirit Lake magic.
I attempted to get in line for silent disco, but the line was Disney-worthy, and I didn’t have a fast pass.
Leftover Salmon, like Circles around the Sun, were perfect for the late-night slot. Drew Emmitt, Vince Herman, and Andy Thorn were out front, Herman in a Santa suit! However, the craziest costume all weekend, hands down, had to be bass player Greg Garrison, who wore a blow-up unicorn head that had to more than four feet in diameter, always sagging to his right side. What a trip! Drew Emmitt wore a fox head all set, and the wolf on drum kit was Alwyn Robinson.
The set was a trip, too, kicking ass and not bothering with names. Harry Belafonte’s “Zombie Jamboree” was certainly a treat. There was some song about a funk boogie grass band (I think they were self-describing). I was beginning to fade about 3:30 and was packing it in when Kyle Tuttle, still in full Cheshire Cat regalia, jumped on stage and banjoed it out with Andy Thorn! Thorn sang “I Hung It Up” before the band blasted through, naturally, “Black Hole Sun.” LoS hung it up with the very trippy “Here’s Looking at You.”
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30
Row Jomah, like many other bands, were making their Hulaween debut, and they made the most of it. Their regular quintet was augmented by semi-regular guest Dave Gerulat on percussion and very busy new daddy Christian Ryan on saxophones and flute. Despite the overloud amplification, they offered a fine set, opening with “Rain Down” and “Tell Me.” Mel Walsh is so underrated as a guitarist! New tune “Push and Pull” was really good and featured a fine free jazz break and drums from Dylan Chee-A-Tow. Joe Roma was in fine voice as always.
I split to see Mark Lettieri Group. Lettieri is a Snarky Puppy alum and had played Suwannee Rising 2021. If this Hula set wasn’t my most favorite of the weekend, it certainly kicked the most ass. Like major ass. I was totally floored. His band is killer: Wes Stephenson, bass; Jason “JT” Thomas, drums; and Daniel Porter, keyboards.
Jake Funkmayor of FunkCity net and king of the Snarky Puppy fan club recorded this and numerous other sets, but this is the one I wanted to watch first (also the next five times), because DAMN. This set teeters around between fusion jazz, kickass rock, and some nasty shuffle as well. I recommend the video. Check it all, but “Goon Squad” is one fine place to start.
I am still amused that some folks there kvetched that The String Cheese Incident were playing only one set on Sunday, not two. “Because we expect seven sets of Cheese, ya know.” Sigh. SCI had Andy Hall back up for the first eight songs of the set, beginning with “Birdland” (Weather Report), with “Wheel Hoss” stuffed in the middle. Everybody took a shot at this one, including Nershi and Hall and Hang on fiddle and then guitar. Hall sang “Hold What You’ve Got” with “Coming Home Baby” teases, and “Hold” drifted into “What You’ve Done.” The only “Black Clouds” we saw all weekend were at the end of their set!
Marbs was the first of the artists I heard on Spirit Lake for the Desert Hearts Takeover, percussion-heavy and danceable.
I also check out Lewis Del Mar briefly, playing some nice indie pop at The Amp, but it was time for Cory Wong.
Cory Wong is another perpetual motion machine, throwing down a non-stop dance party, and NOTHING BUT THE FUNK. His band is so very tight, especially that five-member horn section. DAMN! Have you seen any of his promo pictures where he is doing one of the Ministry of Silly Walks steps? That’s exactly what he does, all over the stage. The grooves were Mariana Trench deep.
After a very short set break, The Fearless Flyers were up and ready to go, featuring none other than the aforementioned Mr. Wong and the aforementioned Mr. Lettieri with Joe Dart on bass and Nate Smith on drums. The gimmick here is that the two guitars and the bass guitar are mounted on stands, and each player stands behind his instrument to play it. That is amazing to watch, and they make it work. They marched onstage to the Air Force theme song “Wild Blue Yonder.” Their funky, chunky set was full of original tunes and a cover of “Reelin’ in the Years.”
Two Feet were at The Amp with a solid set of rock and blues from the quartet.
Mikey Lion, part of the Desert Hearts Takeover, had a tremendous set of great dance music, percussion heavy and not too loud, very enjoyable mix.
Back at The Campground, PURPLE GURL were blasting a killer set. These ladies from the Tampa Bay area truly rock. (Actually, one dude filling in on bass, because the band’s bassist, Juna Serita, is in Japan playing with her amazing fusion quartet x). Shevonne Philidor, whose own band had a great set in Church of the Lost Thursday, I am told, handled vocals and rhythm guitar, with guitar-shredding monster Stephanie Perez (The Head Tones) and Natalie Depergola on drums. They rocked lots of originals and a fine take on “When Doves Fly.” The area began filling up as the vibes radiated outward.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead had two sets on the main stage. I arrived for set two “Dancing in the Street” (well, on the dusty pathways). Out of “I Need a Miracle,” the great band rolled into “He’s Gone > That’s It for The Other One > space > Scarlet Begonias > I Know You Rider”! That was really fine, Russo directing his troops. Tom Hamilton was brilliant on guitar, Marco Benevento the same on keyboards.
There was a huge crowd at The Amp for iconic Sylvan Esso, whose great voice floated above the powerhouse bass. The light show matched the enthusiasm of the group and the fans.
Desert Hearts owned the last set of the Takeover at Spirit Lake with fabulous deep house and acid jazz creating yet another dance party.
Asheville’s Toubab Krewe had a great set at The Campground, although I confess I enjoyed the Saturday night pop-up set with the flow artists even better. They were at full strength, with much of the focus on Justin Perkins playing kora and kamelngoni. Luke Quaranta was superb on percussion.
In the competing timeframe, Butcher Brown were shutting down Spirit Lake with a solid set. Their “solar music” twists up fusion, funk, hip hop, jazz, and more into their very own blend. The crowd around the Spirit Lake stage was packed. They had the amazing Nigel Hall of Lettuce joining them. Sadly, because I bounced back and forth, I never caught Hall when he was on stage with them. SIGH
That left it to Dogs in a Pile to shut down the (official) Hulaween music. Paul Levine, who had introduced as many bands as was physically possible, was delighted to welcome the swelling crowd overwhelming the Campground Stage to check out Dogs in a Pile, whom he described as first-time Suwannee attendees and very likely returnees.
This Asbury Park quintet — with Jimmy Law and Brian Murray on guitars — blew their set straight out of Spirit Lake. It is obvious why they have gain great accolades recently. The sound improved drastically when the request from stage to sound engineer was TURN THE BASS DOWN. (He needed that message all four days.) The band rocked, funked, reggaed (reggae-ed?), and tossed out a great space jam. These guys are heirs apparent!
After that closing set, I wandered around Spirit Lake, enjoying the fabulous art. At the far end was Incendia, the flame-throwing stage where DJs blasted bass and dance music.
And, finally, dayenu. It was enough.
Kudos to all of the bands and performers, volunteers and security, Spirit Care and Fire & Rescue, Spirit Lake artists and stage decorators, lighting directors and sound engineers (but turn it DOWN), media coordinators and ticket-takers, and the seemingly 30,000 great fans who had their 800-acre takeover for four days (and some much longer).
Thank you, Paul Levine and crew. Much love.
We will post a photo gallery soon of all the incredible people, costumes, artists, and installations at Spirit Lake!