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AURA Music & Arts Festival, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL- 2/15-17

When attending a music festival, it’s important to do so much more than just see as much live music as physically possible, dance till it hurts to stand and stay up late seeing bands walk off stage as the sun is about to rise. Yes granted all of those things mentioned are strongly encouraged, but it’s also important to do some soul searching and explore the culture of the community within the campgrounds. Smile at strangers walking by, make new friends at each live set, be neighborly and leave nothing but footprints behind. There is an electrifyingly positive energy lingering in the air at the Spirit of the Suwanne and it seemed to be in full effect right from the start of this amazing festival.

The Spirit of the Suwannee music park, located in Live Oak, Fl, is the perfect environment for a music festival. Set in the midst of 800 acres of Spanish moss-draped oak and cypress tress along the Suwannee River, there is an abundance of aesthetically pleasing natural beauty to inspire outdoors activities and adventures. In between music fans have the option to swim, canoe, kayak, hike or play disc golf on a full course. The Spirit of the Suwannee music park is already a staple for north Florida, being home to the Wannee music and arts festival as well as The Bear Creek music and arts festival.

This was the first year the AURA Music and Arts festival found its home at the Spirit of Suwannee. This is easily the largest venue to date for this booming festival. The first AURA was held at the Sertoma Youth Ranch, in Brooksville, Florida, to about 850 people. Four years later, a lot of positive publicity and a growing fan base, this most recent AURA festival hosted about 3,500 fans that were in great spirits the entire weekend. Walking through the campgrounds the scent of patchouli and the aroma of burning premium Indian incense Nag Champa were carried through the air. The beauty of this festival is the crowd and the diversity that comes with it, as different cars scattered amongst the grounds could be found playing everything from Jimi Hendrix to Drum and Bass and everything in between. This year’s AURA line up was overflowing with talent, which ignited a lot of anticipation for the weekend’s festivities.

Friday: February 15

The grounds opened up and the bands were ready to get people moving. Consider the Source took the Porch Stage at 1:30 PM to an intimate yet excited crowd. Full of energy, it was apparent Consider the Source were ready to kick it off right. Formed in 2004, this New York City trio combines progressive rock and jazz inspired with Middle Eastern styles. Gabriel Marin’s piercingly swift guitar solos on his fretless double-neck guitar were perfectly complemented by John Ferrara’s thunder-like thumping base lines and Jeff Mann’s steady percussions. This was my first time being fortunate enough to catch this band and I would highly recommend anybody who loves Primus to go check them out.

Stokeswood christened the main stage amphitheater with their alternative rock sound fused with indie influences, around 3 PM and a prompt dance party welcomed them gracefully. Stokeswood is currently celebrating the success of their most recent single “Samurai,” which they didn’t leave out of their set. The band seemed to have full control over their audience especially as they closed out their set with a smooth rendition of the Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better.”

The Main Squeeze left fans captivated as they laid down some gorgeous electro fusion rock and roll with a blend of jazz on the Porch Stage. Celebrating the recent release of their debut self titled album, which was released in June of 2012, the band seemed to be in complete control as they comfortably took risks and improvised nicely. While most of the band’s members are originally from different parts of the U.S. the band currently hails from Chicago. With an impressive resume to support their name it was clear why they were invited to play AURA. Having previously won an international battle of the bands, held in Macau, China, as well as opening up for The Roots and Jane’s Addiction at the official Super Bowl XLVI tailgate party, in Indianapolis, it’s clear that The Main Squeeze posses a certain level of musical maturity well beyond their years. The band is lead by Corey Frye on vocals. Frye has a rich and soulful voice that complements the rest of the band’s precision nicely. Frye even consistently integrated references to AURA and the Spirit of the Suwannee in his lyrics and continued to thank the crowd for their support, as this was their first time playing AURA. Frye continued the theme as he preached to the crowd reminding everyone to keep “spreading the love and joy” and to “love everybody” the band followed his lead and provided a soft, melodic groove as a foundation for Frye to address to crowd.

Cars had been funneling in consistently since about noon that day but the largest crowd of the day gathered at the main stage amphitheater to see RAQ come out of their hiatus for the first time since July of 2011. The last time they played together was at a festival in upstate New York, so this was a very special treat for fans of the Vermont based quartet that’s anchored by Conspirator’s Chris Michetti and Kung Fu’s Todd Stoops. First coming together in 2001, the band has played almost every major festival across the U.S. as well as collaborating with an extensive list of musician’s over their tenure on the jamband scene. The band even hunkered down at Trey Anastasio’s Barn Studio in Vermont to record their third album, Ton These. The crowd was locked in as the band delivered timeless classics from their repertoire. Die-hard RAQ fans will have a few select chances to see the band live, as they are scheduled to play at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on March, 28th, The Gramercy Theater in New York on March 29th and The Blockley in Philadelphia on March 30th. This short but sweet Northeast run gives fans closer to their home state a reason to rejoice in them briefly stepping out of retirement.

Break Science shifted gears for the next hour over at the Porch Stage. This was the first electronic based act of the festival and it was clear that the fans of EDM. came out of the woodwork to get down. The crowd sizes had doubled, if not tripled by now, and cars were still flowing in consistently. This Brooklyn based electronic duo has developed a strong fan base through their consistent touring. Celebrating the release of their new EP, titled Twilight Frequency, which was a collaborative effort with Michael Menert, it was clear the band was full of fresh inspiration and energy.

Conspirator filled the Friday headline spot with two sets and they were quick to drop the heavy bass lines that their fans crave. Opening up with their new single “Pow Wow” the band was in all smiles as they dipped into their new catalog. The light show was absolutely stunning and the band’s impressive light rig could be seen from the other stage. The retina pleasing light show was perfectly synched to the band’s smooth transitions. Touring off the success of their new EP, titled Unleashed, which was released in January of this year, the band is proving to fans that they can still continue to evolve musically. One of their musical highlights came when they slammed into an instrumental cover of Daft Punk’s “One More Time” which initiated a huge dance party and a small sing along amongst select fans.

Kung Fu took the Porch Stage by storm laying down their fusion funk filled groove chops to a sea of appreciating fans. Kung Fu is a band that can flawlessly hold a groove while simultaneously taking chances, building layers upon layers of music that will all come together and erupt like a live volcano in the sense of a rapid halting breakdown. It appears that everyone in this band is a great listener and when they do chime in with their respected instrument, it fits perfectly. Composed of Tim Palmieri on guitar, Robert Somerville on tenor saxophone, Todd Stoops on keyboard, Chris DeAngelis on bass and Adrian Tramontano on drums, this band is stacked with talent. Their exquisite rhythms and exotic timings are sure to please the ears of any new listener.

Kung Fu released their debut self-titled album in 2011 after the band formed in late 2009. Since there inaugural year, the band has toured non-stop, building a loyal fan base along the way. Currently, they have just released a new track off their upcoming album called Do the Right Thing, which they opened their set with. It didn’t take but just a few measures before the band had the audience captivated with their precision and range. Somerville provided a nice lead on the tenor sax, displaying some impressive stamina as he comfortably kept up with the rapid pace of the rest of the band. The band laid down a great version of “Bopcorn,” where DeAngelis provided a nice and thick bass line that Palmeieri could improvise over with his guitar. The band closed their set with a nice version of “Gung Ho,” before coming out for an encore where they debuted a new track called “Loose.”

Todd Stoops later looked back and recalled, “One of the best nights of my life last night. The crowd was hot, the band was tight, it was one of the best sets I’ve ever played in my life and the RAQ set was killer too man, I was really lucky to have two really good sets.”

Perpetual Groove was the last band to play on Friday at the main amphitheater stage to a mesmerized crowd eager to soak up as much music as the band could deliver over the course of the weekend. On January 13 the band announced plans to go an indefinite hiatus after their “final show” at the Georgia Theater on April 5, stating that Albert, Adam and Matt will continue touring and recording under the new name Ghost Owl. Brock apologized to fans but was quick to state that a reunion is not out of the question. The Georgia natives formed in Savannah back in 1997 and since then have made a memorable mark in the jamband community. Their set was packed full of energy but the highlight came when they delivered a nice cover of “Ali Baba” > “Paul Revere” (Beastie Boys).

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