This past weekend, something magical took place in the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. I’m talking about none other than Suwannee’s fourth annual Hulaween Music and Arts Festival. The festival brought in tens of thousands of attendees to view local art, art from non-locals, and hundreds of musicians. The headliners who brought about this festival, The String Cheese Incident, played a total of seven sets throughout the weekend and kept up with the Stranger Things theme that had been chosen for this year’s Hulaween. The number of people and camping space was very controlled and neat compared to last year, as the festival capped attendance at about half of last year’s 40,000. The tone for the weekend was set immediately heading into the campgrounds. Here’s a review of the first day.
I arrived Friday morning at around 8AM. We were lucky set up camp close to the amphitheater, as a few friends of ours saved a large space on Wednesday. We setup our camp, got some food in our bellies, and waited for the rest of our camp to arrive. We got in a little late the first day. The first set we caught was SunSquabi, a band who was signed to GRiZ’s All Good Records last year. The flow of their livetronica style set a precedent for the rest of the weekend. After SunSquabi, Brodinski was on at the Patch at 6PM. We passed Future Rock on the way there, and their dad rock roots fused with electronic influences still give them one of the most unique sounds on Hulaween’s lineup.
If you aren’t familiar with Brodinski, he makes a very avant-garde type of house and trap electronic music. His set is about as strange as you’d expect from that genre description. After Brodinski finished at around 7PM, it was time for the String Cheese Incident’s first set of the weekend. They set the bar high with an incredible first set. The energy was high, as it continued to be for the duration of the weekend, and the execution was flawless. We headed over to see Gramatik at about 8:15PM at the Patch. He was still recovering from a broken leg injury and came onstage dressed up as Professor X from the X-Men comic book series, due to being restrained to a wheelchair. The funk and heavy dubstep sound that was anticipated was exactly what was given to the crowd on Friday night. To catch a little more funk and some eloquent musicianship, we left Gramatik early to see the last of Umphrey’s McGee’s set. They’re like a fine wine. Every time I see Umphrey’s, they just get better and better. We headed to Spirit Lake around 9:15 to start the later sets with Slow Magic.
Slow Magic took the stage and set his phasers to feels. His inimitable live sets wrap you up into this intimate bubble with the stage, the music, and those around you. Nothing else matters at that moment. He even gave Hulaween a special Blink-182 remix to treasure for the weekend. After Slow Magic, we headed over to String Cheese playing their second set at around 10:15PM. The set goes from a heavy hard rock style to jazzy sounds right into a flamenco style. The transitioning and range of the band’s talents never ceases to amaze me. We headed to the amphitheater stage around 10:50 to get a good spot for Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals. They came on at 11PM dressed up as Guns ‘N’ Roses and playing “Welcome to the Jungle.” The energy the group had was unmatched by any other that weekend except Cheese. Due to the chilly weather and .Paak being very sweaty from performing, he had steam billowing off of him the entire performance. It was almost as if he had this great musical aura surrounding him the entirety of the set. It was easily my second favorite set of the weekend. We then moved to catch the last two acts of the night at 12AM.
My Morning Jacket came on the mainstage to show everyone what being a rock star is all about. Everything from their lights and sound, all the way down to the sunglasses Jim James refused to take off the whole set, embodied the spirit of rock and roll. They played fan favorites along with some covers that included Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” Everyone at the set was grooving along with the band and one another. It was a loving and free caring environment. We headed to spirit lake after about 45 minutes of My Morning Jacket to catch a little of the Claude Vonstroke’s set. The slow and intimate vibes from main stage quickly turned into an upbeat dance party once we got to Spirit Lake. The Dirtybird poster boy was getting down with his patented style of house music. My girlfriend and I explored the art around Spirit Lake at night to take in the experience with all the lights and a great background soundtrack from Claude.
There was a ball pit installation close to the middle of the area where we found a few festival goers completely submerged. They urged us to join them, so we had no choice but to climb in and wiggle around with our new friends in the art installation that brings back fond memories of jumping into huge ball pits when we were younger. The alien shrine returned this year with some new aliens staring deeply into the crystal centerpiece. Just outside the circle of aliens, there was a live alien cuddled up in one of the couch areas surrounded by netting. All of this was a little creepy, but unexplainably alluring in the lights surrounding Spirit Lake.
That about wraps up what was experienced during day one! There were a lot of other musicians I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing, which is unfortunately the downside to these large music festivals. It also happens to be one of the upsides as well though, as the different musicians and art exhibitions can help shape unique festival experiences for each individual person. There was so much to talk about just from day one, that a review of days two and three will be coming tomorrow!