PREVIEW: HULA Heavyweights: A Look at the Top Artists Appearing at Suwannee Hulaween 2018
Every fall, deep into the month of October, Suwannee Hulaween provides a resounding exclamation point to festival season. Located in the sleepy, swampy confines of Live Oak in Central Florida, Spirit of Suwannee Music Park is a fascinating hostess—a stunningly beautiful venue dotted by towering oaks dripping with Spanish moss with a river called Suwannee winding through it.
The four-day affair, a partnership between Florida’s Purple Hat Productions and Chicago’s Silver Wrapper in concert with host band The String Cheese Incident, has revolutionized the festival experience for the southeastern United States. Like SCI themselves, this festival knows no booking boundaries and is not hamstrung by genres. When it comes to Hula’s lineup, there is no festival on the eastern seaboard than offers such a serious smattering of talent, running the gamut in style, substance, and panache.
Now approaching its sixth incarnation, 2018 finds Hulaween welcoming the likes of ODESZA, Jamiroquai, Janelle Monáe, and Tipper; this year just might be the boldest and most diverse musical lineup in the festival’s already storied history.
The bedrock foundation of Suwannee Hulaween is The String Cheese Incident, the embryonic energy and original personnel behind the entire event’s ethos and execution. Each and every year, the longtime jammers perform no less than seven sets over the course of the three-day affair, including the much-anticipated Halloween-themed Saturday night special. SCI treats Hula like a family affair, as the band rolls out some of their most beloved tunes and special rarities for an audience that soaks in and celebrates the band and all its styles.
SCI has such varied influences found within their own songbook, from both covers and collaborators. Those colors are on display and so often well-represented on the Hulaween lineup card; 2018 will be no different, as an absolutely stacked schedule promises stimulating serenades from nearly every corner of the earth. This preview will focus on the bold font names—the heavyweights, the headliners that will appear at SOSMP this October.
String Cheese Incident – Suwanee Hulaween 2015
First things first, this festival booked Jamiroquai—a feat that must be admired and respected, given the dearth of North American appearances from the band. Beginning with last year’s electrifying comeback album Automaton, Jamiroquai returned to the zeitgeist with a funkafied fury, and hardcore American fans have enjoyed their first performances here in the States in thirteen long and agonizing years.
Mesmerizing bandleader/vocalist Jay Kay has whipped Jamiroquai’s live band into a formidable shape that rivals any incarnation since the 1990s, and the crew is continuing to diversify setlists and explore improv-heavy arrangements in songs both current and classic. From coast to coast, the US is finally soaking up all the Space Cowboy magic they can; the Saturday night headline at Hula will be the band’s fifth and final appearance in the US this year. A supersonic slab of sizzle and sexy, this set will put an exhilarating exclamation point on a once-unfathomable chapter in this iconic band’s history. It’s crystal clear to anybody paying attention that the entire JMQ unit is cosmically aflame, as they globetrot their way on down to the Suwannee River come October.
Jamiroquai – JazzOpen Stuttgart 2018
[Video: Cyril Braquet]
The impossible-to-categorize ODESZA is quite possibly the hottest live act in EDM. Their titanic appearances at Coachella 2018 reverberated into a massive trek around the world, propelling the group to another level of creativity and popularity. The group’s founders—Harrison ” Catacombkid” Mills and Clayton “Beaches Beaches” Knight—aim high and swing mighty, deftly delivering an experience that is cinematic and theatrical.
Now the pair are bringing the ensemble and their magnificent, mammoth A Moment Apart tour to Hulaween. Remember, ODESZA forever lives inside of Hula’s heart, the product of a shape-shifting performance on the Amphitheater Stage in 2015. Their thrilling joyride on that special Saturday evening remains the stuff of Suwannee legend, and said legend has fueled folks to hold out hope that the dynamic duo would return to the music park. These days, ODESZA’s show is a spaceship circus of shapes, colors, lights, smoke, projection mapping, live horns, lead guitar, and a six-member drumline; it digs from several complimentary genres, all the while integrating live instrumentation- once again a perfect recipe for Hulaween desire.
ODESZA – The Park At Wild Horse Pass – Chandler, AZ – 4/20/2018
The steadily-rising career trajectory of Janelle Monáe has been nothing short of inspirational to behold. Since emerging in the late 2000s, the 32-year-old Kansas City native has landed a beauty contract with CoverGirl, acted in an Academy Award-winning film (Moonlight), and worked with eclectics like the late Prince and Brian Wilson. Looking back to her in 2010 as a wide-eyed and ambitious pop tourist with a potent purple co-sign, Monáe has evolved to absorb and deconstruct pop and R&B with a fanatical focus, producing phenomenal musical art, which she fervently expresses sonically, visually, and emotionally.
This year’s critically acclaimed album Dirty Computer finds Monae straying away from the android backstory that defined her first two LPs while staying close enough to her authentic self to not-so-gently prod the culture-at-large on topics of race, gender, and sexuality. Critics around the country have been glowing about her magnetic live performances, complete with a crack band that knows her material inside out. From her ravishing outfits, intergalactic styles, and androgynous pansexual appeal, Hulaween most certainly has never experienced the likes of Ms. Monáe. With her outlandish post-funk parades and “Art & B” arrangements, she is sure to show everybody at the Suwannee just what the freaking fuss is all about.
Janelle Monáe – “Q.U.E.E.N.” – Queen Elizabeth Theater – Vancouver, BC – 6/12/2018
In April 2016, Tipper headlined a full moon gathering; Tipper & Friends his first-ever appearance at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. Yet the producer-wunderkind has been at the artistic apex of this culture for a very, very long time. Discovered in London in 1997, Dave Tipper has been a peerless pioneer in psychedelic electronic music and progressive sound design, operating for the better part of two decades.
Riding the wave and rewriting the rules of nu-breaks for the first era of his career, this mad Englishman has been making idiosyncratic sound-art of all shapes, sizes, and tempos for as long as we can remember. Climbing all over frequencies that defy the preconceived laws of sonics, Tipper challenges the masses to dig deeper. The mercurial shaman offers both ambient, kaleidoscopic downtempo explorations and/or fast, furious, feverish intergalactic sessions. On each subsequent release, he has explored new auditory terrain, and Tipper always incorporates a state-of-the-art visual accompaniment to his ethereal excursions.
Tipper & Friends – Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park – 2016
[Video: Hart Cleveland]
Jamtronica pioneers STS9 are no strangers to Hulaween, having blessed up SOSMP for several years. The band is long celebrated in this community, and whether they play the main stage or the Patch, Soundtribe will always pull an enormous crowd at Hula. In 2018, STS9 have settled into a zone with confidence and adventure, and it shows in their increasingly deeper performances. On the heels of their own inaugural Wave Spell festival in northern California, STS9 will have the improv engines juiced when they return to these swampy confines. Sector 9’s current vibe reaches further into their glorious past than ever before, and the band has arrived at a happy medium inside their universe.
STS9 – Suwannee Hulaween 2015
[Video: Nick Kullman]
Another extremely popular band sure to pack the place to the gills are the white-hot, low-volume heroes-in-groove of Vulfpeck. Hailing from Los Angeles by way of Michigan, over the past half-decade, this fearsome funk force has become a global phenomenon, incorporating the juiciest elements of soul, pop, and R&B. There was even a (successful) online petition circulating among the Floridian Vulfpack, intent on convincing the band to (finally) play Suwannee Hulaween. Bandleader Jack Stratton might make you laugh, but bassist Joe Dart will cause your head bob like an emergency brake; this band simply forces the listener to groove. Putting a premium on space, dynamics, and a less-is-more approach, quite frankly, Vulfpeck is in a league of its own.
Vulfpeck – Ancienne Belgique – Bruxelles, Belgium – 9/15/2017
[Video: AB – Ancienne Belgique]
Tory Lanez is a Canadian rapper and singer, a burgeoning international star with major buzz. He received just propers from his sizzlin’ mixtape Lost Cause (2014), and then exploded when his sophomore album, Memories Don’t Die, which was released in early 2018. Lanez describes his own personal style as “Swavey”—”a two-adjective word. A lot of people use it as an attribute, but the real definition of ‘swavey’ is a genre of music. The genre of music is the genre of fusing more than one together.”
In the spirit of Chance the Rapper, Logic, Run the Jewels, and Vince Staples—all of whom have blessed up the SOSMP for Hula’s past—Lanez will be carrying the tradition of emerging hip-hop to be showcased at Hulaween.
Tory Lanez – Sway In The Morning
[Video: Sway’s Universe]
Of Ukrainian descent yet hailing from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Isabelle Rezazadeh began DJing at the ripe age of 16. REZZ started on the decks by spinning her favorite tracks from other artists until, inspired by a deadmau5 concert, she began to create her own. Skrillex took note of REZZ on a blog and sent her a message on Twitter.
The flame was sparked and a star was born; REZZ is among the hottest rising artists in electronic dance music and has been blowing up around the world with a genre-mashing concoction of dark, sizzling, sinister techno. The producer announced her second studio album, Certain Kind of Magic, will release on August 3rd, 2018, through mau5tra.
REZZ – “Flying Octopus”
Bluesy bayou merchants The Revivalists have a long and lovely history with the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, dating back to early Bear Creek appearances that saw the band put their heart on the line in the midday sun, winning fans by the dozens each and every song. Nearly a decade later, The Revivalists are lighting up the globe, delivering the same NOLA-fied prescription for musical magic.
Led by scintillating vocalist David Shaw, the band is an equal opportunity emotional experience with guitarist Zack Feinberg, drummer Andrew Campanelli, pedal steel player Ed Williams, bassist George Gekas, saxophonist Rob Ingraham, and keys-and-trumpet player Michael Girardot. Raised on Crescent City porches and schooled at Tipitina’s Uptown and the Jazz Fest fairgrounds, there is a palpable passion that permeates the audience whenever The Revivalists take center stage.
The Revivalists with Roosevelt Collier – “Forgot About Dre” – Bear Creek Music Festival 2013
[Video: Chris Rogers]
The buck doesn’t even begin to stop there, either. Suwannee Hulaween has always incorporated reggae offerings into their programming, and 2018 will see another royal son of Kingston visit the music park. Stephen “Ragga” Marley is probably the closest in spirit and vibration to his legendary father, Bob Marley, and Stephen got a proper dose of the Hula magic when he performed with his brother, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, in 2017.
This year, Ragga is bringing Ghetto Youth International, his own band of raggamuffins, to deliver a mixture of original music and Nesta’s timeless catalog of anthems. The vibes will be sky high and the bass drops mad low when this melody-making mystic flows through the air.
Stephen Marley – “The Traffic Jam” featuring Damian Marley
[Video: Stephen Marley]
Another returning artist to Suwannee Hulaween is gritty electro-funk producer Gramatik. Coming of age on Cold Busted label ten years ago, the Slovenian-born Denis Jašarević dreamt big and set out on his own course of action. For several years now, Gramatik has been constantly evolving his brand and sound with a close cadre of collaborators. Gramatik’s imprint Low Temp is home to several artists that the producer has taken under his wing, but Jašarević main focus remains on his own artistic craft. Gramatik’s most recent EP release was Epigram, which dropped in 2016 and featured the likes of Raekwon and Russ Liquid.
Gramatik – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – 6/17/2017
[Video: Catherine Elizabeth]
Another of the more exciting and enigmatic artists in hip-hop is Action Bronson, a furious emcee in the tradition of Ghostface Killah who is also the host and star of his own VICE food show, F*ck, That’s Delicious. Bronson made a name for himself over the last decade for his appetite for destructing beats as well as copious amounts of cannabis and his culinary critiques. This hulking beast on the mic takes no prisoners; Hulaween is in for a treat when the Flushing Grizzly brings Queens to the Suwannee River, and Bronsalino is sure to satiate the masses when he storms the place with a vengeance. It’s high time to make way for Mr. Wonderful.
Action Bronson – 2018
On the other end of the proverbial map, trap music will again be heavily represented, as LA’s wildly-popular NGHTMRE and London’s undefeated ratchet man TROYBOI will both bring the bombastic beats. These producers may have decidedly different approaches to 808s, but both eschew heartbreaks for earthquakes in a quest for a most royal rumble. NGHTMRE’s ascent to the upper echelons of dance music stardom has been well documented in this country, but the unflappable Brit TROYBOI has revolutionized the genre in recent years, and his set is sure to be a lesson in crunkalogic science.
TROYBOI – Electric Daisy Carnival 2017
Rounding out this tremendous roster of headliners and heavy hitters are a trio of Suwannee favorites. Psychedelic hip-hop/future funk sorcerers Lettuce will return to Hulaween for a fourth consecutive year. The veritable house-band for the beloved, now-defunct SOSMP festival Bear Creek, LETT has now developed their own relationship with the Hulaween massive, and as such, both of their sets are must-see TV. Downtown NYC freak-jazz will be well represented by the godfathers themselves, Medeski, Martin & Wood; having played Bear Creek already, this will be MMW’s maiden voyage to Hulaween and is sure to sizzle and satisfy. Same for iconic R&B/Gospel queen Mavis Staples of the legendary Staple Sisters, who will make an extremely rare appearance to deliver her inspirational “message songs,” a performance that is sure to be an instant classic. People are still buzzing about her riveting sessions at Wanee 2012 and MagFest 2013.
Mavis Staples – “The Weight” – Suwannee MagFest 2013
The free-wheeling Grateful Dead all-star celebration Joe Russo’s Almost Dead returns for the pre-party on Thursday. Taking the GD blueprint and exploring new frontiers, JRAD’s maniacal marathons on the Amphitheater Stage at Hulaweens past have cemented their reputation at this festival. Comprised of an all-star team including wizard keyboardist Marco Benevento, complimentary guitarists Tom Hamiltonand Scott Metzger, and trusty bassist Dave Dreiwitz, JRAD is a white-hot machine when Sir Joe Russotakes the reigns. With the group’s adventurous approach to the greatest American songbook, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has proven its power, selling out ever-growing venues across the country and consistently rising on the bill on festival lineups nationwide.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – Suwannee Hulaween 2017
Ladies and gentleman, that’s only the bold font, too. As one makes their way further down the concert poster, the Suwannee Hulaween lineup plunges even further into the annals of progressive electronic, jam, hip-hop, and beyond. L4LM will be back with more thorough previews of additional artists, and discussions that are certain to stoke your Suwannee flame.
Suwanee Hulaween will return to the magical Live Oak, Florida venue, The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, from October 26th to 28th, this fall. With a truly diverse lineup filled with massive talents from the live music scene, Suwannee Hulaween 2018 is bound to be the best iteration yet. For more information and ticketing, head to the festival’s website here.