Photo: Jay Strausser
Hosted by STS9, Resonate Suwannee returned to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL on March 30 through April 1. The event’s third iteration provided a phenomenal three-day experience, delivering high art and even higher vibes at one of the premiere festival venues in the U.S.
The glorious natural environs of Spirit of Suwannee Music Park made for a mesmerizing site as usual, with the famed towering live oak trees dripping in Spanish moss, thick, dank swamp, and a stoic forest, plus the iconic Suwannee River that runs through it, in concert with the music and the merry-makers too. Essential Productions‘ Casey Schneider and Zack Szabo linked up with SOSMP’s Paul Levine (Purple Hat Productions) to program a tremendous lineup card in 2023, curating a musical menu that confidently straddled the worlds of organic and electronic dance music with a certain psychedelic twist.
There was a lot to love about Resonate Suwannee 2023, many more jams than are fit to print. Below you’ll find just a few of our favorite things this year.
Drum Circle Tribute To Chuck & Charley Morris
Coming on the heels of the Arkansas kayaking tragedy that claimed the lives of Lotus percussionist Chuck Morris and 20-year-old son Charley, Resonate felt like a necessary gathering of this music community to collectively grieve the loss of this beloved artist and his kin. The hearts of many remained mighty heavy on Friday afternoon as fans communed at the hallowed SOSMP Amphitheater. In lieu of Lotus scheduled set, there was an emotional memorial featuring a large drum circle and prayer, with an abundance of floral arrangements, large images of both men, mandala, and altar. The hour-long proceedings were co-hosted by Rohan Prakash (drummer of Hive Mind and a close friend to Chuck), and Jeffree Lerner of STS9, who has shared many a stage/festival billing with Morris and Lotus. Hundreds of fans gathered in a somber yet hopeful rhythmic tribute to a fallen brother, no doubt a cathartic exercise for all who participated.
STS9: The Host With the Most
Pioneering scene-stalwart STS9 proved to be an ever-hospitable host, unspooling four full sets across the first two nights of Resonate Suwannee 2023. Though the quintet has called Santa Cruz home for some time, many fans still identify them as representing the Southeast, as the group formed in Athens, GA in the late 1990s, and the bosom of its vibrant scene was born and bred in this region. In addition to the music performed, the community that has rallied around this band for over two decades was a major energetic element contributing to the weekend’s festivities, including (but not limited to) a spontaneous wedding of Suwannee regulars, and a renewal of vows between longtime Sector 9 diehards too.
Beginning with a blissful twilight set on Thursday, STS9 peeled off numerous solid slabs from its voluminous catalog, touching on just about every era and aesthetic with the trademark verve and focused intention that has defined this band since the beginning. Night one highlights for this writer included a sublime “We’ll Meet In Our Dreams”, no doubt a nod to the dearly departed Morris boys. A bombastic “ABCees” detonated the whole Amp before a lengthy jungle section quaked the earth, bringing Thursday’s runaway night train into the station with yardie authority.
Friday night’s STS9 show was a thrilling journey in sound, song, and emotion that put peoples’ feet to work early and often. Hitting the stage with an assertive purpose that somewhat eluded the band one evening earlier, the five-piece was locked, loaded, and lethal from start to finish. Among the finest renditions of the modern era, a massive “Orbital” took flight to define the first frame with freewheeling frenetic energy. The second set-opening section of “Instantly”, “ Music, Us” > “New Forms” > “1103″ > “Modular” revealed a Sector 9 swimming in what could be described as the zenith zone. These were razor-sharp readings, chock full of nuanced improv and dialed dynamics, the group communicating and decapitating with reckless abandon whilst grinning ear to ear.
STS9 – “1103” > “Modular” – 3/31/23
As is the norm for the more intimate springtime gatherings at Suwannee, the local undercard was quite strong each afternoon. On the Porch Stage (rechristened the SuperF3st Stage at Resonate Suwannee 2023), Florida-based electronic like Side Trakd, the wildly-popular duo Future Joy, and Jax OG Vlad the Inhaler each threw down mightily. Duval County’s favorite crunchay warrior Vlad welcomed saxophonist Rafael Devon and MC Tashi to his stage for a power hour of high-energy bass, footwork, and juke in Saturday’s blazing noon-day sun.
Future Joy – Resonate Suwannee Recap
Live bands Tamayo and Guavatron continued in the tradition of spicy Sunshine State jams. Hightailing it down from Atlanta, white-hot jamtronica quartet Hive Mind impressed in the afternoon with original tunes like exploratory opener “In Flux” and furious closing combo “Lights Camera Action” > “Full Bloom”. Hive Mind is a fearsome foursome who won the hearts of Lotus fans in mourning with a stirring cover of “Spiritualize” offered faithfully in tribute to fallen comrade Chuck that had some fans welling up with tears.
The SOSMP farm system is in solid shape, which can only mean bright futures for the aforementioned performers if they keep coming back to this supernatural space.
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lespecial Brings The Heat From The Northeast
After Michal Menert rocked the SuperF3st stage early on Thursday (way too early, in my humble opinion), lespecial took the Amphitheater and proceeded to turn the party out with its unicorn brand of prog metal, psychedelic bass, shoegazey stoner jams, diabolical detours, and myriad points between.
lespecial was also quite close with Chuck Morris, whom they affectionately referenced as “Chuck-O”. The band often collaborated with the Lotus percussionist over many years and many miles, and as such dedicated “Sugarboy” to him.
As is lespecial’s custom these days, the trio unleashed a barrage of multi-hued original compositions culled primarily from brilliant 2020 full-length Ancient Homies, plus Crayola covers from the likes of Aaliyah, Yheti, Phil Collins, Primus, and a walloping Hudson Mohawk finishing move off the top turnbuckle.
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Mark Farina: A Master At Work
Renowned deejay and tastemaker Mark Farina took over the decks on the Superf3st stage on Friday, immediately following the memorial drum circle. The man must have sensed that people needed a proper purge. This cat just has a way with records, he knows what works when, how to mix appropriate jams to suit the particular vibe and captain the joyride with confidence and gusto.
Farina started the soiree with styles akin to his iconic Mushroom Jazz downtempo mixtape series, slowly building tempo and temperature as the sun began to set. The selector pulled tracks from all eras, genres, and geographies, mining mixes that ran the gamut like early Jamiroquai, David Bowie, Parliament Funkadelic, Steely Dan, and Fleetwood Mac, among other chestnuts and rarities. The set may have peaked with his perfect sunset soundtrack, a glorious slow-and-sexy deep house edit of Bruce Springsteen‘s “I’m On Fire”, libidinously laced to give loving chase to the big star over the horizon. As darkness fell on the dancefloor, the remainder of Mark Farina’s masterclass was drenched in four-on-the-floor euphoria.
Mark Farina – “Let’s Dance (Remix)” (David Bowie) – 3/31/23
[Video: Lobster Trip]
West Coast Electronic Vibes In Full Effect
The Superf3st porch stage played host to DJs and hybrid-electronic projects all weekend. To accompany the EDM programming on the smaller stage, kaleidoscopic optics oscillated across three large video screens, the cutting edge courtesy of Lightbrush and an assorted cast of collaborators.
Since I’m based in the Bay Area, it brought me great joy to see a group of West Coast dancefloor firestarters swing down to the Central Florida sticks and bless up the river Suwannee and its colorful, resonating inhabitants. Long adored at SOSMP going back to Purple Hatters Balls a dozen years ago, Portland, OR’s Emancipator lit up the starry night Friday between STS9 sets. The consistent, graceful, pioneering duo delivered an uptempo, emotive journey that saw Doug Appling and Ilya Goldberg stay in the now frontier, digging into compositions and remixes from their more recently released efforts, save for a couple of savory oldies.
Swamptronic cowboys Dirtwire continued to make new fans in the region with the duo’s eclectic brand of world-instrumentation fervently cross-bred with extremely-danceable, dubbed-out supersonics. Dirtwire welcomed the traditional indigenous movements and adornments of Larry Yazzie, founder of Native Pride Dancers, who was a whirling dervish emoting in a blur of color to the dank Dirtwire soundtrack.
Returning to Resonate Suwannee for the second time in two years, Desert Dwellers dropped an inspired set of patented, meditative psy-bass, an assertive, engaging elixir of past and present Dwellers driven by the ever-thorough Treavor Moontribe and Amani Friend. SOSMP favorite and the world’s funkiest diplomat, The Polish Ambassador, confidently laid down a supreme set of completely new music, much of it drawn from the forthcoming double album Super Chill Goats, due this summer. TPA did throw the people one curveball with his intergalactic remix of Robin S’s timeless house anthem, “Show Me Love”.
Emancipator – Resonate Suwannee – Live Oak, FL – 3/31/23 – Partial
[Video: Joel Munoz III]
Dirtwire – Resonate Suwannee – Live Oak, FL – 4/1/23 – Partial
[Video: Joel Munoz III]
The Polish Ambassador – Resonate Suwannee – Live Oak, FL – 4/1/23 – Full Set
[Video: Fae Of The Forest Films]
There were plenty of little things tucked in the spaces between that warmed the heart, made you giggle, or shook the booty while at Resonate Suwannee 2023. Morning yoga sessions, a plethora of live painters at the perimeter of the Amp, wild dancers, digital artisans, craftspeople, and folksy vendors galore; they all collectively collaborated and coagulated into an inviting forest village brimming with life-force energy. Megan Hamilton dropped hometown heroes MZG‘s “Wayo” on the porch stage, before segueing into a funk-step remix of The Meters‘ “The Hand-Clapping Song”. Brother/sister duo Lawrence, backed by a super-tight funk band, uncorked an absolutely sizzling version of Sean Paul‘s timeless dancehall anthem “Get Busy”.
Rad reviews circulated among the campgrounds of Frameworks‘ Thursday night set, Big Something‘s Saturday midday soiree on the Amp included a run through Mac Miller’s “What’s the Use”, and newcomer Sneezy making its Spirit of Suwannee debut. Revelers raved about renegades from funky Florida upstarts Sauce Pocket, Tamayo, and house DJ Charlie Hustle, the latter already a certified G in these woods during October’s Hulaween parties. International bass gymnasts Ott. and Opiuo both dropped low-end thunder to shut down the Superf3st stage on consecutive nights before The Floozies closed it Saturday night between funk heavyweights on the Amphitheater.
Cimafunk Stuns Suwannee
On the way into the weekend, many fans in attendance were less than initiated with this artist – but once he hit the stage, they got familiar with a quickness. Hailing from a small town just west of Havana, Cuba, the enigmatic Cimafunk (government name Erick Iglesias Rodriguez) is on a rocket ship to international funk hero status, and the Suwannee fam is lucky to be a regular stop on the freight train to the stars. Cimafunk, which is Rodriguez backed by his band El Tribu, is no stranger to the park, having performed on the main stage at Hulaween 2022. However, with the sun gone down and the vibes as high as the moon, this was an entirely different, deeply intoxicating experience, light years from the midday set last October.
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For the penultimate performance on the Amp at Resonate Suwannee 2023, Cimafunk hopped behind the wheel of the Mothership. He hot-wired that archaic spacecraft, and drove the teeming Resonate massive into a frenzy with a display of unrepentant mojo. Backed by a super-tight band punctuated by Latin percussion and bouyant horns, Cimafunk as a frontman, bandleader, and main event was nothing short of a revelation; a bolt of torrid, tantalizing lightning from the moment he commandeered the stage through the band’s final bow.
In between wildly-funky originals and Afro-Cuban traditionals, Cimafunk dropped a searing version of Prince’s robust funk workout “Musicology”. For the entirety of this scintillating set, Cimfunk provided a potent showcase of African-American and Afro-Cuban grooves. In the spirit of Dumpstaphunk at Bear Creeks past, Cimafunk invited dozens of fans onstage to join him in a jubilant boogie to conclude the fabulous fiesta.
Butterfly Release For Rachel Morningstar Hoffman
Before the final performance of the weekend, there would be another emotional dedication of sorts. Festival co-producer Paul Levine, who’s long been behind numerous beloved Suwannee events, reached back into yesteryear for a treasured tradition from Purple Hatter’s Ball, another intimate spring festival that took place at SOSMP for several years.
The annual gathering was held in memory of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, a music fan and friend to Paul and many others. In 2008, Rachael was tragically murdered during a botched drug sting. Each year, Hoffman’s mother “Mama Margie” would take the stage at PHB to address the crowd with some poignant thoughts and memories of her dearly departed daughter. Then a group of Rachel’s friends and favorite bands would release 24 butterflies into the sky, 23 for each year Rachel lived, and one more for the hearts of those in attendance. Levine, Margie, and longtime SOSMP favorite Lettuce would lovingly reprise this ceremonial tradition to close out Resonate Suwannee 2023.
Lettuce Loves The Spirit Of The Suwannee
The love affair between the future-funk veterans of Lettuce and the Amphitheater Stage at SOSMP is the stuff of legend, as evidenced by the annual throwdowns at Bear Creek for nearly a decade, Purple Hatter’s Balls, Suwannee Rising, and almost every year at Hulaween.
There is just something celestial and otherworldly about the LETT energy in this space, particularly when the group closes out the festival. For the last set of Resonate Suwannee 2023, the six-piece would yet again rise to the royal occasion and uncork a premier-level performance of preposterous proportions. Opening up with new bangers “Vamanos” and “Hawk’s Claw”, both found on 2022’s magnifcent LP Unify, set the tenor and tone for the evening’s seance, bringing low-end thump and psychedelic mystique in equal servings.
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For nearly two hours, Lettuce demonstrated why the group carries such a sterling reputation at SOSMP, and that the Amp stage remains its throne. Highlights from this fantastic voyage included a swaggering romp through “House of LETT” and four-on-the-floor euphoria with a surgical detour through Ronnie Laws‘ “Always There”.
A bubonic version of “Waffles” went fully subaqueous, then segued rather seamlessly into “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”—think sledgehammer then serenity. The Tears For Fears cover was remixed with Soulquarians vibes as is the norm of late, and this reading featured Nigel Hall‘s nod to the late Bobby Caldwell with a gripping run through “Open Your Eyes”.
To bring it on home, Lettuce invited Cimafunk to the stage for a fiery sprint through their Fly anthem “Madison Square”; the song was revealed in a certain salsa-fied rage that allowed for the vocalist to get his lyrical scat on rather feverishly, concocting a torrid, steamy rendition of “Madison Square” that was native to this particular performance. Kudos to Paul Levine for dreaming up this crucial collab, and then manifesting it into existence. Salute to Resonate Suwannee 2023!