Photographs by Steven Philips, Words by Sam Popple and Steven Philips

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How to begin describing the magical experience that was Suwannee Hulaween 2015? Not only was it held at The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, in Live Oak, Florida—a venue already drenched with natural beauty—but, recent renovations have somehow taken the best and made it better. Despite the already outstanding ovations regarding its’ past festivals, ones jaw would certainly drop upon a mere glimpse of the latest additions unveiled for this particularly tremendous event – Suwannee veterans being no exception.

Lettuce

Lettuce

The many new art installations, some of which are even hands-on to the public, have established a playground resembling a fairytale. From optical illusions and mazes whose walls were composed of giant, elaborate paintings, to an enormous, furnace-like demon that released loud blows of fire into the air intermittently, warming all who sat around it. Most breathtaking are the hypnotizing light displays that spread and bounced across the beloved Spirit Lake. The atmosphere, and the scenery it in turn created, was certainly something to gawk at. Last but not least, they had also built an entirely new Campground Stage, in the Spirit Lake area as well. Why exactly did they expand and build upon the park for this particular event when it is generally Suwannee’s last, large music gathering of the year? With attendance over 21,000 people, 2015’s Hulaween was the largest event thus far in the parks’ history. This, of course, called for a large ferris wheel, a silent disco that goes beyond any preceding it, as well as the addition of a large vending area near Horse Camping and an additional 80 acres of camping.

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While I can rave about the fantasy land that is The Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park until my next (entirely worth it) 15 hour car ride to return, I must speak now of what really made this entire experience capable of the magic it radiated and bliss it achieved: the people. I refer not only to the beautiful, funky, colorful, kind, costume-clad array of folks who joined together from all over the world to boogie together as family; nor solely to the phenomenally diverse line-up of musicians whose jams and drops were to thank for this compelled “boogie”. Rather, I’m talking about the combination of these two groups, with equal recognition to those who underwent the challenging and lengthy process of creatively planning and organizing the event—not forgetting the volunteers and security who continued to maintain impressive and diligent logistics. From the medical tent to the vendors and from fellow press to the roadies and others involved in production, if you were in attendance, you were a contributor to the infectious atmosphere. It could not have been done without the enthusiasm that I saw in everyone doing their part. The recipe of success for an event that has as much potential beauty as a music festival, is a smooth symbiotic relationship between all involved, and this is no easy task. It’s rare that I leave a festival not having heard of some sort of dilemma, be it big or small. Well, I’m proud to say I was a part of and got to witness the truly moving, eccentric, and memorable celebration of music and expression that was 2015’s Suwannee Hulaween. I think I can speak for most when I say that, with age, your experience and engagement in holidays seems to diminish rapidly. But on this odd holiday in 2015, the collaboration of passionate, original, silly, and loving individuals that gathered in Live Oak, had the ability to recognize the opportunity for that old, exhilarating feeling; to once again find ourselves in a position where it’s possible – where it’s comfortable – to be a child. How to sum up the magical experience that was Suwannee Hulaween? I’m pretty sure we got the tables turned for a night. More fun was being had throughout this festival than every kid who went out trick or treating. Combined.You know when you’re in good company. Stop hiding the child!

Papadosio

Papadosio

Friday’s schedule was packed with artists notoriously loved. Everyone seemed happy with excitement; many already dressed in costumes upon arrival. Not to mention, this would be the first beautiful day of a weekend blessed full with them. David Sugalski, the Polish ambassador, and other early acts, got the already large crowds warmed up in no time. With Railroad Earth and then two sets of String Cheese Incident (SCI) on the main stage, and acts like Nth Power and Papadosio (featuring songs form their new album and colorful muppet costumes) on other stages, the fest was in full swing. The evening continued with a raging Primus set, as well as Pretty Lights and Dopapod. Then it was off to bed, or Spirit Lake or silent disco for the late night.

String Cheese Incident

String Cheese Incident

Saturday was a packed schedule, and SCI’s performance was a sandwich of three sets centered on “Ghoul Train”, their homage to Soul Train’s ‘70’s and ‘80’s disco. According to Jason Hahn, who I spoke with at the EOTO show at Philadelphia’s new Fillmore on Thursday night, learning these “new” songs was a fun challenge for SCI, who tried to work out one new song on each night of the fall tour that they’ve been on. The set came off more than smoothly, with the entertainment of dancers, roller skaters, and some cool costumes. Odesza and Chance the Rapper closed the main stage on Saturday, but I had to venture to the Lake for The New Mastersounds, who packed the place and brought the funk hard, as always.

Little Hurricane

Little Hurricane

Sunday had music until STS9 closed the show at 9pm. I got started with Little Hurricane, a high energy duo on the ampitheater stage, and then SCI’s final two sets on the main stage, with Griz during the set break. Well Griz was no break – never had so many ravers packed the ampitheater for a day time set. High energy techno was expected, but the interjection of a medley of soul hits, done Griz style, took the dancing to the next level. After SCI wrapped up their seventh set of the weekend, Lettuce kept the energy high, even without Krasno’s presence.
We could have stayed home in Philly for some local shows and costume parties, but Hulaween at Suwanee was the place to be for sure. That’s what’s up!

Check out more photos in the gallery (below):