photo- Tara Gracer
Suwannee Hulaween returned to Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL for its annual technicolor extravaganza on October 27th–30th. Fully sold out once again, the four-day affair delivered one of the stronger and more unique Hula experiences in the beloved festival’s storied history. Host band The String Cheese Incident performed six sets as is their custom, including a Halloween-themed costumed tradition on Saturday night. Other 2022 headliners included electronic artists Fisher and Louis the Child, plus Portugal. The Man, and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.
In the aftermath of nearly every Hulaween, I try to write a detailed reflection on almost all of the sound art I am lucky to experience over the course of one hundred hours onsite, day and night. For 2022’s iteration, instead of focusing on the headliners, hosts, and household names, this more succinct review will shine a light on some of the smaller stages, underground artists, and less established performers that graced Suwannee Hulaween.
The Amphitheater Stage at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park remains my favorite place to experience live music, and Hulaween always invites an eclectic smattering of performers to bless up this sacred space. The live oak trees create a glorious canopy dripping in Spanish moss, and the soundscapes just oscillate through the ether and into the hearts of those souls who fill the air. In addition to fantastic sets from the likes of STS9, Of The Trees, Manic Focus, and CloZee, there were undercard bookings who shined bright like a diamond a bit earlier in the day.
STS9 – Suwannee Hulaween 2022
[Video: Tim Cellini]
Of The Trees — Suwannee Hulaween 2022
[Video: Robert LaComb]
Manic Focus Featuring MZG – Suwannee Hulaween 2022
[Video: F. ranky]
CloZee – Suwannee Hulaween 2022
[Video: Shea McCafferty]
Two of the more impressive sets I took in at the mighty Amp Stage were slotted back to back on Friday afternoon. In a loving nod to the foundational influence of soundsystem culture, Denver-based low-end sorceress A Hundred Drums delivered a bombastic set of bangers, mixing in choice edits of Outkast‘s iconic “SpottieOttieDopaliciousAngel”, Max Romeo‘s yardie anthem “Babylon Raid”, and more fiya. A Hundred Drums put the dub back in dubstep with panache; in doing so, she put the whole game on notice, satiating an enormous midday massive with deep crates and heady plates.
Photo: Aaron Bradley
She was followed by another amphitheater debut, longtime Suwannee prodigal sons Zach and Charles Weinert, a.k.a. MZG. The Jax-bred, Denver-based monozygotic twins have been swag surfin’ a major wave for a few years now, and current events have really been bubblin’ for these boys. Sir Charles and Zak the Blak have been guilty of arson year after year, with various projects across different SOSMP stages—official and renegade alike. When MZG finally rocked the Amp proper, it was a hometown throwdown of epic proportions, making mad booties shake to their potent boom-boom potion.
MZG – 10/28/22
[Video: Tim Cellini]
The Meadow may be the main stage for the Hulaween hosts and headliners, but for the first couple of hours each day, it fostered the trajectory of younger, less established artists. Case in point, North Florida’s own LPT, who on Friday cooked up their patented blend of Afro-Cuban and salsa-dura, complete with a tongue-in-cheek cover of Jacksonville legends Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird”, arranged in a spicy LPT flavor.
Next up on The Meadow that same day was white-hot Cuban sensation Cimafunk, a full-on force of nature makin’ major moves in the Florida sun. Drawing a sizable crowd for the mid-afternoon slot, Cimafunk proved his star power in spades by enticing everybody to get down hard for the duration of the show. A smoldering sauce of throwback funk, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Caribbean, hip-hop, and R&B, all stirred together and served searing hot. Cimafunk, another one on the come up.
Lettuce – 10/29/22 [Full Set]
Now in it’s second year, The Hallows is the stage situated directly across from The Meadow. The newest stage at Hulaween, it replaced The Patch. After some growing pains in its 2021 inaugural run, The Hallows leveled up in a major way in 2022, with better sight lines, higher fidelity sound, and a whole lot more vibe out in the field. Hosting a tremendous slate of artists, this year The Hallows drew larger crowds who were far more engaged and connected to the performances, just a better scene across the board, from the stage to the rage.
Highlights from The Hallows 2022 for this writer started with a vigorous power hour from SOSMP legends Lettuce. Just back from a sizzlin’ six-week romp through Europe, the sextet threw down the crunk gauntlet with authority—all killer no filler—just before host band SCI’s Disco Horror main event on Saturday night. LETT’s setlist leaned heavily on the band’s latest LP, Unify, the performance punctuated by a torrid take on Mary Jane Girls‘ “All Night Long” that had the whole place shook up, shook down, and all the way turned on.
Other sweet Hallows sets included Upper West Side it-girl Karina Rykman, who opened the stage on Friday with her spunky trio’s buoyant jams. And back by popular demand, Hallows saw the return of the funkiest diplomat: The Polish Ambassador. His midday Saturday slot was a jubilant dance party with folks getting busy in the breezy Florida sunshine. UK phenoms Franc Moody, Vulfpeck-adjacent supergroup The Fearless Flyers, The Revivalists‘ David Shaw, and Atlanta emcee JID also delivered the goods in abundance at the markedly improved Hallows.
Photo: Tara Gracer
The Campground Stage is tucked away in the depths of the phantasmagorical Spirit Lake space, amid the psychedelic big art and spooky installations. Campground is known for hosting up and coming bands, as well as longtime park favorites with dedicated niche audiences. Thursday night’s blistering showing from New Orleans buzz squad The Iceman Special made a firm first impression on the festival. The genre-blurring, idiosyncratic rawk krewe wow’d a sizable crowd of curious Hulaginz drawn in by their intoxicating blend of funk, punk, metal, and noise rock, all the while huffing on psychedelic voodoo fumes.
A pair of bands with much momentum out of the Northeast, both Eggy and Neighbor performed to sizable crowds at Campground, making numerous new fans in the region. As did the hilariously badass kayfabe killers known as Wednesday Night Titans, who turned the Campground Stage into a squared circle and dropped a few bionic elbows—word to “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.
Eggy – 10/28/22 [Full Set]
Another Campground Stage performance of note came from Florida’s dynamic DJ/sax duo Future Joy, who graduated from late night renegade sets deep in the woods to a proper slot on a real Hulaween stage. Future Joy’s Zach Simms and Emily Cooper followed in a beloved SOSMP tradition, getting engaged onstage in front of hundreds of fans and friends. Old school Suwannee vets Toubab Krewe were the final artist to take the Campground Stage at Hula 2022, unveiling a scintillating set brimming with their unicorn blend of lysergic West African styles.
Future Joy – Suwannee Hulaween 2022 Recap
The Spirit Lake stage makes its bones hosting the cutting edge, with programming that has its proverbial thumb on the pulse of what’s hot in the Hula streets, often well ahead of the curve, too. This year’s schedule saw three full-day record label takeovers: bass behemoth Wakaan, the burgeoning gals of Femme House, and the wacky, euphoric house and techno of Desert Hearts. Bass-freaks and ravers could set up a home base at the Spirit Lake stage and camp out for the day as the labelmates took turns showcasing what their brand had to offer the spookified dance floor. Blaque Dynamite,performing with local favorite Tommy Shugart on keys, threw down some mind-boggling fusion funk. Late-night engagements at Spirit Lake featured Colorado bluegrass vets Leftover Salmon, and groovy psychedelic dance band Circles Around the Sun, each playing til the stroke of four in the morning.
Circles Around The Sun – “Money’s No Option” – 10/28/22
[Video: F. ranky]
The most gripping, gut-wrenching, and ultimately rewarding set at Hulaween 2022 took place at Spirit Lake as well, Friday night courtesy of Rochester, NY ex-public defender Danielle Ponder. Clad in a bright orange dress with her afro high as the moon, the stirring singer-songwriter was backed by a sparse trio of instrumentalists. Ms. Ponder showed out something spectacular, gaining a gang of new devotees as she sang tales of connection, inspiration, motivation, devastation, psilocybin, and personal affirmation. After offering a selection of songs from her LP Some Of Us Are Brave, she unveiled her very own celestial reimagination of Radiohead’s 1993 debut single “Creep”, eight unbelievable minutes that leveled every last human soul standing in her wake, with nary a dry eye among us. Absolutely stunning stuff; this lady is goin’ places.
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To close down Spirit Lake on Sunday night, dream team Nigel Hall (Lettuce) and Butcher Brown unspooled a spiritualized session that—like Ms. Ponder two nights earlier —will not soon be forgotten. Richmond, VA’s veteran jazz-funk virtuosos warmed it up with Dilla-fied funk, slick nods to Black Moon and hometown hero D’Angelo, and a choice curation of compositions culled from their last couple of critically acclaimed records, #KingButch and Triple Trey.
Before long they were joined by the enigmatic Nigel Hall, with whom they collaborated on his most recent solo offering, 2021’s Spiritual. Hall operated mostly in the frontman/vocalist role, occasionally detouring over to the ARP synth stage right, or to the Hammond B3 or Fender Rhodes. The squad proceeded to explore the Spiritual record a bit with electric readings of “Wake Me” and “Gotta Go to Work”, as well as “Coffee”, found on Butcher Brown keyboardist DJ Harrison’s excellent solo album Tales From the Old Dominion. A soul-drenched “Thank You” saw Nigel dig so very deep and discover yet another gear, as the whole team brought the stage, and the festival at large, to a rousing crescendo and finale.
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There were even smaller spaces tucked away inside Spirit Lake that raged into the wee hours. As per tradition, the long-running Silent Disco scene went hard in the paint, with standout sets from the OG Vlad the Inhaler and Booty Boo. The Incendia fire domes once again drew large crowds deep into the night, highlighted by A Hundred Drums on Thursday, and the Desert Hearts crew on Saturday.
When we spilled into the campgrounds after closing time, there was more music to be discovered and enjoyed at the various renegade soundcamps that dot the SOSMP woods. A couple of new discoveries for me in 2022 included the DJ duo Sista Nasty, who could be found dialing up the illest, minimal dark dubstep at a non-descript spot way out in the bird sanctuary. Those same dudes dropped some liquid drum n’ bass at the Oasis tent on Sunday night—also mighty tasty flavors. A different DIY soundcamp in an adjacent hood in the woods also hosted some ill drum n’ bass til the wee hours, as Jacksonville’s PRNT SCRN and Gainesville’s Illterror went back to back trading rollers for a good long while.
Last year, I randomly stumbled upon Hwoofer, a really dope DJ playing renegade in the woods. For 2022, just like Future Joy and MZG, he received a higher profile opportunity after puttin’ in work in the renegade scene. Sunday night after Nigel and Butcher Brown, we moseyed over to the House of Lost, an empyrean cathedral in Spirit Lake that hosted weddings, memorial services (RIP Darek), seances, poetry readings, musical and dance performances, and beyond. The House of Lost is the work of artist collective Lost Creations.
To shut down the whole shebang, St. Petersburg-based DJs Hwoofer and Rogerthomas unleashed 90 minutes of absolute lava, traversing through trap, hip-hop, and dubstep—only the finest selections. Maybe my single favorite moment of the entirety of Suwannee Hulaween 2022 was when Rogerthomas, neck deep in subaqueous-bass, laced up D’Angelo’s Voodoo banger “Playa Playa”, a pure panty-dropper if there ever was one. For five feverishly erotic minutes, everybody got down just a little harder, with a little more swag, and all was right in the world, if only til the sun came up just a few hours later.