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

Saturday: February 16

Waking up to a overcast sky, the temperature was significantly cooler that the previous day. But Saturday had a lot to offer musically so I didn’t waste any time. Eager to see the music get under way I made my way down to the Porch Stage to catch Newton Crosby open things up. Hailing from New Jersey, Newton Crosby has earned a growing fan base in the Northeast by combining jazz and electronic. The band delivered a high energy set that literally brought the sun out from behind the clouds.

The McLovins opened up the main amphitheater for the day. This was another band that I was excited to see live for the first time and they more than exceeded my expectations. The band is currently composed of Connecticut college students; Jake Huffman on drums, Jason Ott on bass, Justin Berger on guitar and Atticus Kelly on guitar and keys. The road to AURA was not an easy one for the band. In order to fund their weekend round trip, the McLovins turned to their fans as they started a kick-starter campaign. After raising enough money the band was able to bounce down to Florida, share their music with the Spirit of the Suwannee and then turn right back around to make it to their classes back in Connecticut. This was a very impressive effort to prove that they are dedicated to sharing their music with as many fans as possible. The band was obviously very happy to be there and their energy radiated to the crowd. The highlight came when the band played a nice cover of The Band’s “The Weight” a timeless rock and roll classic; it was especially exciting to see such young and promising talent take their stab at this number.

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band proved that they were festival veterans by playing some fun filled funk music over on the Porch Stage. The band took the stage and shared a prayer with the audience. This was a special moment for the band and the audience alike, sparking a strong sense of community between everyone who was lucky enough to be there. The band was full of positive energy as they kept the crowd moving throughout the entirety of their set.

Back over on the main stage amphitheater Kung Fu geared up for their Stevie Wonder tribute set featuring Nigel Hall, from Lettuce, and an impromptu sit in featuring Aly Paige Newitt (sister of Jaime Newitt, current drummer in The Heavy Pets), who sat in for the entirety of the set. Kung Fu provided the perfect musical foundation for Hall and Newitt to build off each other’s vocals. The band played signature Stevie Wonder numbers including “Higher Ground,” “Do I Do,” “Too High” and an absolute stunning version of “I Wish.” Hall was in great spirits as he took on impersonating Wonder to an extreme.

“When I was five years old, I used to sing Stevie Wonder songs in the mirror note for note. If you came to see Nigel Hall, he’s not here,” Hall said to a large crowd of fans.

DrFameus lit up the Porch Stage for just over an hour making a triumphant return to AURA. This electronic project created by Allen Aucoin (also a member of The Disco Biscuits) provided a high energy, heavy percussion based dance party. It seemed as if the crowd grew to a respectable size by the middle of the set and was well warmed up to dance the night away.

Philadelphia natives Dopapod kept the vigorous dance party theme rolling as they delivered a smoking set on the main amphitheater stage. This is another young and promising band that continues to push the envelope live. While successfully overlapping into the electronic market, the band has managed to stay pure to their musical roots by not using laptops on stage.

Greenhouse Lounge hit the Porch Stage playing some heavy bass influenced fusion of jam, jazz, funk and dubstep. Their new drummer, Scotty Zwang seemed to mesh well with the rest of the band and appeared to be very prepared to tour with the band. The energy of the band inspired a rowdy dance party.

There were a good number of fans dedicated to Perpetual Groove already lined up at the main stage amphitheater well before they were scheduled to start, happy to watch them sound check before they played one of their last festival sets before their hiatus. The group was introduced by Paul Levin (Bear Creek founder) and was welcomed by a screaming crowd. The band played a stacked set full of classic originals. The energy was brought to a peak when Adam Perry started the first couple of notes of “Naïve Melody” (Talking Heads) on his bass. This was well reciprocated by a full on sing -along with the crowd, as the crowd was belting the lyrics word for word they never missed a beat. It truly was memorizing watching everyone in the crowd sway and dance without a worry in the world. It was a refreshing reminder of the power of musical appreciation and why these senses of community are one of the purest bonds. The band delivered a stellar performance that appropriately ended with “It Starts Where It Ends.” When all was said and done, the band put down their instruments and thanked the crowd. Members of the group as well as fans alike could be seen tearing up, as this was truly an emotional crossroad for everyone. Perpetual Groove will surely be missed but in good time it’s more than likely that they will reunite triumphantly.

Quite possibly one of the most exciting, young, talented, humble and organic bands touring the circuit today is The Heavy Pets. This is a group that can do absolutely no wrong as they’re earning a die-hard following by playing music year round across the country. Originally from New York, but currently hailing from Delray Beach, in Florida, the band has a strong lock on both markets. Composed of Mike Garulli on guitar and vocals, Jim Wuest on keys and vocals, Tony D’Amato on bass, Jaimie Newitt on drums and Jeff Lloyd on guitar and vocals. The band’s three vocalists harmonize together effortlessly resulting in smooth, jazz inspired rock and roll with a twist of reggae. D’Amato has only been in the band since August of 2012, but the transition between bass players has been easy and D’Amato has impressively mastered the band’s extensive catalog. The Heacy Pets are no strangers to The Spirit of the Suwanne music park, having already played four Bear Creeks, two Purple Hatters Balls and the Suwanne River Flood Jam. The band has also played three out of the four AURAs so it seemed more than appropriate to see them on the bill, in a late night slot nonetheless.

The Heavy Pets took the Porch Stage and was ready to play their first set of the weekend. Highlights include a smoking version of “Help Me, Help You,” which surfaced early in their set whipping the crowd into a dancing frenzy. Wuest took the lead vocals and demonstrated some serious chops on the keys, swaying back and forth comfortably keeping the tempo to the rich bass line provided by D’Amato. Jaimie Newitt provided a heavy and consistent drumbeat through out the entirety of the set. Newitt strikes a remarkable resemblance to a young Levon Helm, especially the way he hunches over his snare drum with his shoulders shrugged and keeps the drum fills consistent to the rest of the band. Aly Paige Newitt joined her brother and company on stage for “Got to Know,” “Keep Me Running” and “The Day That The Sun Forgot To Rise.” This was a special set for serious fans of the band, as this was the first time D’Amato played “Earthchaser” live since he joined the group. It was a nice treat to see the brush off some of their older material and bust it out at a festival set.

Papadosio closed out the day with nothing but pure raw energy. The crowd was in full appreciation as the high-energy dance party went cruising past 1:30 in the morning. Enjoying the success of their most recent studio effort, To End the Illusion of Separation, a 20 track, double disc album that was released in October of 2012, the band was armed with a plethora of new tunes that had already been road tested and broken in nicely. The crowd stayed for the entirety of their set and soaked up the electronic fused grooves. The band was very happy to play the main amphitheater stage as they thanked the crowd repeatedly and reminded everyone to “take care of each other for the whole weekend.”

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