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Published: 2014/11/10
by Bob Tis

Suwannee Hulaween, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL- 10/31-11/2

Photo by Joshua Timmermans via the SCI Facebook page

While The String Cheese Incident didn’t bust out the first cut off their most most recent album, “Colorado Bluebird Sky,” at their second annual Hulaween at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak Florida, the skies were that blue, all weekend. The weather was actually colder than SCI’s home state of Colorado, compliments of a cold front pushing into the Sunshine State from the north, temperatures went below freezing in the Florida night. This prompted band members to don their stashed away ski coats at times over the three days. During these even sets the group played most everything else besides “Colorado Bluebird Sky,” delving into chestnuts from their early days to a number of songs from their most recent album, the 2013 Jerry Harrison produced Song in My Head. But it was the Halloween set, that found the band dressed as tuxedoed zombies in full white face for this celebration of the afterlife that the fans are still buzzing about.

Everyone tries a little harder on Halloween, especially at Suwannee, where the field was filled with everything from dancing packs of giraffes to that guy on the Geico commercial who is made of money. Wiggling fairies danced inside hula hoops, tigers chest-bumped gorillas, Hunter Thompson and Nixon boogied through the first set with wizards and stilt-walking jumbies from the first notes of “Restless Wind” right through to the final chorus of “Can’t Wait Another Day,” during the first set. But when the band took the stage for the second set of the night in full costume accompanied by Rhonda Thomas and Tony White and the Antibalas Horns, also in full devil regalia, the mayhem of this Incident took full effect.

First the band ripped it up with the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” and continued to play a full set of holiday themed classic rock songs. The second song of the set really infused both the trick and the treat in the evening when the band busted out a perfect rendition of Ray Parker Jr.’s famous movie theme “Ghostbusters.” Another movie theme, “Live and Let Die,” also had fans buzzing all weekend, this one for its sheer drama. Pyrotechnics launched from the stage and fireworks sizzled in the sky while the fully orchestrated version of Paul McCartney’s song left jaws dropped to the grass. The set also included Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” and Bob Marley’s “Time Will Tell.”

Kyle Hollingsworth pulled off a sentimental “Heaven,” by the Talking Heads from his office spot on the keyboards before the full band launched into a “Live and Let Die” reprise complete with giant inflatable skulls bouncing over the crowd like massive ping-pong balls and confetti shooting from the stage. A spot-on “Thriller” closed the remarkable Halloween set with a giant Michael Jackson head lifting from behind the stage with big hands slowly inflating while fans wiggled to the unforgettable 80‘s pop tune.

Another full set with the Thomas, White and the horns followed and the final Halloween night set closed with an encore performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

But this second annual Hulaween event was much bigger than one set and one band, it was a full on festival from the Thursday night on, when Particle brought it hard with a heavy dose of their electronica to the the amphitheater stage right through to past midnight on Sunday when Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, clad in heavy winter clothes, brought a steaming heap of long awaited Grateful Dead covers.

It is funny about Suwannee, the venue hosts a lot of festivals and each one seems to attract a strong showing of southern Deadheads. While the Grateful Dead themselves never played the big field, Furthur headlined a Wanee festival a few years back and the tie-dyes still come in droves, hanging their dancing bear tapestries from the live oaks like the abundant Spanish moss, all over the hundreds of acres of foresty campground.

It was on Saturday afternoon, in fact, when Keller Williams launched into the Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” on his acoustic guitar, that the entire festival seemed to get a collective second wind, something about Jerry’s vibe that put a new spring in everybody’s step after the Halloween festivities of the day before. And it was later Saturday when Keller, in a puffy winter coat, joined String Cheese, along with Nicky Sanders from the Steep Canyon Rangers and closed out the night’s first set with “Franklin’s Tower,” that the crowd became intensely involved in the evening’s Incident.

Music on the main stage goes late goes late at Suwannee and the hyped up hippies enjoyed late night sets on the mainstage by Thievery Corporation on Friday and Big Gigantic on Saturday as a giant ferris wheel twirled and spun a light show of its own.

Sunday, with the waxing moon rising in the crisp blue sky and a bright sun not quite warming up the large crowd in the field, the two lovely ladies from Asheville North Carolina’s Rising Appalachia warmed the crowd with lilting ballads of nature, conscious fun and social justice.

It was a weekend comprised of many moments for festival folks which all folded into one big party. On Thursday as the first evening was winding down Particle started covering Pink Floyd to send everyone off to bed or elsewhere. Some amazing hacky sack played out Friday afternoon while the Tennessee based Judah the Lion somehow seemed to help keep the sack in the air. Shortly after that Greensky Bluegrass emerged on the mainstage dressed as angels with halos on, and nailed the Paul Simon song “I Know What I Know.”

“This is our favorite place to play,” mandolinist Paul Hoffman told the crowd.

So much music was going on that by late Saturday night that at one point concert goers had to pick between Big Gigantic on the mainstage, a tasty set from The New Deal at the amphitheater and an inspired performance including some Steely Dan covers by Kung Fu on the Spirit Lake Stage.

Camping is always a big part of the fun at Suwannee and the way the home cooked campsite meals were shared around during the weekend warmed the coldest of hearts. And because southern rock really is royalty around here, the crowd went wild when the Dean Ween group showed up for an afternoon set on Sunday, about ten hours after getting off stage in New York City, an opened with new tune called “Dickey Betts.”

“The last time we were here, the Allman Brothers were here too,” Ween said. “That was a special moment for us.”

Moments like that kept on building on each other to help festival goers fight the cold. When Joe Russo’s Almost Dead took the stage late Sunday the telephone said the temperature was 30 degrees. The band launched into a space jam that neatly segued into “Truckin’,” this was the fabric that a lot of festival freaks wanted to hold, perhaps a chance to stay connected with the initial spark that touched off the jamband conflagration so many moons ago. After running his band through a perky “Crazy Fingers,” Russo ended the evening and the festival with the “Help on the Way,” “Slipknot,” “Franklin’s Tower” holy trinity, the final part of which String Cheese and friends played the night before. And as the autumnal cold seized the festival grounds, the dew was successfully rolled back for another year.

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