Why drive fifteen hours to attend festivals at Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park (SOTSMP)? I’ve done it four times, and I’m so excited for my fifth trip down there I can hardly contain myself. This will be my first Hulaween, but I’ve done this drive for both Wanee and Bear Creek, other festivals at this same venue. What makes it so special? I hate driving long distances. But Every time I leave the Suwannee, I already can’t wait to return.
1. The location, in North Florida, attracts people from all over. Sure there are a lot of attendees from around the state of Florida and Georgia as well, but not an overwhelming majority. People come from the entire East Coast, as well as the Midwest, Texas, and even the Rockies and West Coast. So I always seem to run into friends from other places.
2. The park is amazing. There is enough space that no matter how big the festival, there’s plenty of room for everyone to camp, and it’s carside camping. The closer you camp to the stages, the tighter it is, so you can choose between more space or less walking. The park has some features that are a bonus to music festival attendees. The Suwanee river, which is the color of strong iced tea (due to runoff from the roots of the cyprus trees) is easily accessible for swimming and canoeing. The bat house is huge, and it’s a treat to observe these creatures. The main stage provides ample area for viewing, dancing, shopping, whatever you want to do, during even the most crowded of sets. The amphitheater is a permanent bandshell which accommodates a couple thousand people on the flat dancing area right in front of the stage, plus several thousand more on stepped rings around the dance floor, for setting up chairs, hanging hammocks, and finding shade from the sun. Other smaller stages in the campground provide more intimate music experiences. The silent disco is the best, and conveniently located, especially compared to others at venues like Vibes or Electric Forest. The park is huge, but many people have golf carts, and I’ve hitched many rides in exchange for a beer, or sometimes just a smile and some conversation.
3. The lineups are always great. But why? Because the festivals I’ve attended at SOTSMP have been curated by (or at least built around) top musicians. Wanee by the Allman Brothers, Bear Creek by the funk musicians of Royal Family Records, and Hulaween by the String Cheese Incident. I’m looking forward to some of my favorite electronic and jamtronica acts (like Pretty Lights, Griz, and Polish Ambassador, STS9, EOTO, Dopapod and Papadosio), some of my favorite jam bands (like String Cheese and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead), some great jam grass like Railroad Earth and mostly, a top flight funk lineup including Lettuce, The New Mastersounds, and the Nth Power. Add to that such eclectic acts as Primus, Slightly Stoopid, Chance the Rapper, and Odesza, and you have an amazing amount of music for one festival
4. The staff that runs the SOTSMP festivals is outstanding. They aren’t looking for any trouble, and they don’t expect it. So although there is sufficient security to handle any situations that may come up, the staff always seems friendly and helpful. The vendors that sell food, clothing, art and other things are very diverse, and there are so many choices you never get bored with them.
5. Finally, the campsites deserve a mention, because there is a tradition of people arriving early, blocking off space for their friends, and investing substantial time and effort to create an outdoor home away from home. Lighting, from candles to strings of LED’s and lasers in the trees is evident at many sites. Signage and decoration, campfires and other amenities make so many campsites special, and they all seem to be very inviting to passers by.
So; a fifteen hour drive (each way) for a festival. It’s so worth it to me, and that’s why I’m going back. Again and again. And I most of my friends who aren’t going wish they were. See you there!