Suwannee Spring Reunion 2023: Better than Ever

This year’s version of the Spring Reunion Festival at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park had a packed lineup, and with the exception of brief rainshower, the weather was perfect for all four days. As usual, there were some great headliners and some new faces, and the long-term members of the Suwannee family were there as well. The roots festivals at the Spirit of the Suwannee have long histories and lots of devoted annual attendees. Read about this history here.

The Headliners

Thursday’s headliner Sierra Hull played to a packed house, covering Del McCoury’s “I Feel the Blues Moving In,” the Dead’s “Black Muddy River,” and lots of originals as well, including “Movement 3,” “Out of My Blues,” and “Bluegrass Stomp.” She called up Mile Twelve‘s talented banjo player, BB Bowness, to sit in on a few.

Sierra Hull πŸ“·: Rick Davidson


Sierra Hull with BB Bowness πŸ“·: Rick Davidson

Leftover Salmon assumed their usual late night position on both Thursday and Friday nights, calling up Sierra Hull to join them for a few numbers. The late-night boogie crowd was well represented both nights, while Vince, Drew, Andy, Greg, Alwyn, and Jay held forth.

Leftover Salmon with Sierra Hull πŸ“·: David Lee

Friday night featured the Earls of Leicester, and the Jerry Douglas-led tribute band is one of the most appreciated purveyors of the golden era of bluegrass. Their stage show is a delight and veers into the hilarious at times (staying in character, they seemed befuddled by the strangely recognizable smoke drifting onto the stage from the crowd) . With Shawn Camp taking the role of Lester Flatt and Charlie Cushman echoing Earl Scruggs, they absolutely nail every song.Β  From “Darling Corey,” “I’ll Go Steppin’ Too,” “Who’ll Sing For Me” and many others, there is no other band that even comes close to recreating the sound of those epic formative years of bluegrass.

The Earls of Leicester πŸ“·: Rick Davidson


The Earls of Leicester πŸ“·: Rick Davidson

The Earls were followed on the main stage by festival regular Sam Bush, who had a somewhat different set this year. Playing without his long-time guitarist and harmony singer Stephen Mougin, he recently recorded a tribute album to John Hartford, and his set was heavily influenced by Hartford. From the title track “Radio John,””I’m Still Here,” and one of the most popular songs from his New Grass Revival Days, “Vamp in the Middle,” it was a more traditional show than usual, which was just fine with the crowd. With Wes Corbett on banjo, Chris Brown on drums, and Todd Parks on bass, Bush never missed a step.


Wes Corbett and Sam Bush πŸ“·: Rick Davidson

Saturday night was a special treat, with the Steep Canyon Rangers, followed by the Infamous Stringdusters with Molly Tuttle, and finishing up with Leftover Salmon. The Rangers are sporting a new lead singer, Aaron Burdett, but haven’t lost a step. Nicky Sanders was a live wire as always, dancing up a storm while playing a hot fiddle. Highlights were several songs from their album Be Still Moses.Β 

Steep Canyon Rangers πŸ“·: Rick Davidson


Steep Canyon Rangers πŸ“·: Rick Davidson

I was fortunate enough to see Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway four times last year, and the Grammy winners were the best band touring in my opinion. The first bluegrass musician ever nominated in the Best New Artist Grammy category, Tuttle is a force in bluegrass. In a two-hour set, the Infamous Stringdusters backed her up nicely on some songs from her Grammy-winning album Crooked Tree, then performed a fine selection of their own music (including “Pearl”and “Gravity”) before calling her out once again for some more collaborative efforts. The set included “Crooked Tree,” “Big Backyard” and “Dooley’s Farm”.Β  A straight-ahead version of “Nine Pound Hammer” and covers ofΒ  “White Freightliner,” “Casey Jones” and “Don’t Think Twice” rounded out a great set.

Molly Tuttle and the Infamous Stringdusters: πŸ“·: Rick Davidson


Infamous Stringdusters πŸ“·: Rick Davidson


The Distinguished Fans Award

I feel obligated to take a few moments and honor some dedicated fans. One way of determining star power is when your fans know all your songs, sing along with them, and just basically go nuts when they see you, reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s Swifties. It’s even more remarkable when they’re in elementary school, and you’re a bluegrass player. With that, I give you The Mollies and an accompanying video (make sure you watch till the end). Yes, Molly is a star.



The Regulars

There are artists that we know we will see at the Suwannee roots festivals. Some have been coming for decades, like Peter Rowan, Verlon Thompson, Joe Craven, Nikki Talley, Jeff Mosier, Roy Book Binder, Jon Stickley, Sloppy Joe, The Grass is Dead, Jim Lauderdale, Keller Williams, and Donna the Buffalo. Most of these artists performed multiple sets and collaborations, and they are the structure that keeps dedicated festival-goers coming back year after year. Jim Lauderdale played with Donna the BuffaloΒ and surprised the crowd by sneaking the Songs From the Road Band in as his backup band on Sunday. John MailanderΒ  was the artist-in-residence and sat in with just about everybody.

New Faces

Some of the bands making their first appearance included some unique women-centric bands. The Ain’t Sisters are a folk rock-oriented action-packed group; you’re not going to get bored watching them. The androgynous Barb Carbon and Annie Bozeman tore up the crowd during their late-night blowout in the Dance Tent. Big Richard is a band of established Colorado musicians who joined forces a few years ago and have been tearing down the patriarchy ever since. Cellist Joy Adams can channel some Rushad Eggleston vibes, and they can provide some really fine harmonies. Both of these bands are worth seeing.

Big Richard πŸ“·: Rick Davidson


Ain’t Sisters πŸ“·: David Lee

A supergroup of north Florida musicians, most of whom have been playing together for many years, Medicine Springs made their first appearance at Live Oak as a group, although all of the members have played at these festivals many times before. Anchored by Lis and Lon Williamson‘s rhythm guitar and bass, Scott Anderson‘s solid and impeccable banjo playing, Tim Higgins‘ excellent fiddle, and multi-instrumentalist Gabe Valla on guitar and mandolin, they are a solid group that we hope will play more festivals. Highlights were “The Sweetest Gift,” a great version of “Strangest Dream,” one of my favorites, “Cold Sheets of Rain,” and Darol Anger’s “Ride the Wild Turkey.”

Medicine Springs πŸ“·: Rick Davidson

Mile Twelve is a Boston-based group that has been well-known to the bluegrass world for a number of years. They were voted Best New Artist by the IBMA in 2020, the same year BB Bowness won the highly-regarded Steve Martin Banjo Award, and they were on the rise, but the pandemic slowed everything down. They are a melodic, polished band; lead singer Evan Murphy carries most of the vocals, and new fiddle player Ella Jordan has stepped right into the vacancy left when Bronwyn Keith-Hynes joined Molly Tuttle’s Golden Highway. Highlights were the fascinating look at war in “Jericho,” “Close Enough to Hear,” and “Johnny Oklahoma.”

Mile Twelve πŸ“·: Rick Davidson

Caleb Caudle is another musician whose career was upended by the pandemic. The singer/songwriter developed a relationship with John Carter Cash, who produced his most recent album, Forsythia. With Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas supporting and playing on the album, it’s a heartfelt reflective effort and has been well received. Seeing himself as an outlier, “I Don’t Fit In” is described as an anthem “for all those self-aware weirdos.” The catchy “Crazy Wayne” is another fine effort. He’s on a national tour this summer, so go see him if you can.

Caleb Caudle πŸ“·: Rick Davidson

Armchair Boogie is a Wisconsin band that is well known in the Midwest, and they were delighted to be able to play in the Florida sun on their first trip to Live Oak. Their forte was in the Dance Tent. A funk-oriented group that lives up to their name, they were exactly what the Dance Tent is about… boogieing down.

Armchair Boogie πŸ“·: Rick Davidson

It was a great weekend at the family-friendly festival, with lots of music in the campgrounds as well as on the multiple stages. For many fans and musicians, it’s just like returning home as you pull into the park, and as they say, there’s no place like home.



Suwannee Spring Reunion




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