Spacing Out at Hulaween: Out of This World Moments November 6, 2018 07:41

Photo by Keith Griner

Words by Tiffany Clemons

Additional Photos by Isom Morgan Photography

Spirit of Suwannee Music Park (SOSMP) is by far one of, if not the best festival venue in the country. Nestled on the shady banks of the historic Suwannee River in North Florida, SOSMP is home to over 800 acres of camping areas, concert ready fields and Spanish moss draped trees, making it the perfect setting for Suwannee Hulaween, The String Cheese Incident’s annual music and visual arts festival.  

The String Cheese Incident (SCI), Silver Wrapper, and Purple Hat Productions made sure no detail was spared when it came to this year’s sold out fest. From the diverse lineup to the insane art installations at Spirit Lake. It was bigger, better and in my opinion, the best yet. 

This year’s theme was “Creatures of the Galaxy,” and the 20,000+ attendees went full blast-off with their totems, costumes and out-of-this-world camps. In celebration of the feminine divine, SCI’s Saturday night Hula Incident set was dedicated to “Women of the Galaxy,” and featured female powerhouses.

While everyone embraced the galactic attitude there seemed to be a bigger ongoing theme throughout the festival and that was the power of the VOTE. Multiple artists used their platform to encourage festival goers to use the power of their voices and to be the change.

Here were some of the notable takeaways from this year’s event:

For a $20 donation, early birds were able to attend “Hula for a Cause,” a pre-pre-party that was held in the Music Hall on Wednesday night. All donations went to support Convoy of Hope and Volunteer Florida in efforts to help communities affected by Hurricane Michael and in return for your donation, you were given a night of music by BeartoeCatfish AllianceCBDB and the one-man band Zach Deputy. If you aren’t familiar, Zach is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter and can usually be seen surrounded by keyboards, pedals, drum pads, and sound boards which allows him to create an entire live band, looped with his own live playing. He describes his style as “island-infused drum n’ bass gospel ninja soul” and we’d recommend catching one of his sets near you!

Just Chameleons opened the Spirit Lake stage on Thursday for the pre-party and had everyone dancing to their original reggae, jazz, funk and soulful music. Not far from home, this Tallahassee based band closed out their set with a dedication to the late Mac Miller covering his song Dang! that features Anderson .Paak.

Over on the Patch Stage, Augusta-natives Funk You were laying down a powerful set of their own. This band always makes the most of their opportunities on the big stage, and Hulaween was no different. Highlights included a killer take on Prince's "1999," as well as guest appearances from The Brotherhorns and vocalist Amy Taylor.

Bubbles filled The Patch sky for Sound Tribe Sector 9’s first set of the weekend where they performed their album, Axe the Cables. Though this, as far as I know, was the only fan-planned bubble party, bubbles filled the air most of the weekend and it definitely made for an even more magical experience. Who doesn’t love bubbles? Also, seeing STS9 in the daylight is weird. They performed another set in the Patch later that night.

For the most part, the weather throughout the weekend was perfect. We had a little rain on Thursday night that started with a drizzle during The Floozies over in the Patch. This little element of wet, according to like, EVERYONE, completely elevated their set. It made the lasers a little more sparkly, the funk a little funkier and definitely made you a lot more smiley.

During Lettuce’s post-midnight pre-party set, the drizzle continued and a massive spider web broke out. Someone brought one of those faux stringy spider web thingies, typically used for a Halloween decoration to the Amphitheatre and while holding one end, began to pass it around. From one person to another it began to stretch and grow, and before you knew it, almost the entirety of the audience was under a canvas of spider web. Edit: I’ve learned that some people hate this… but I thought it was awesome!

LIZZO, LIZZO, LIZZO. Lizzo is an over the top-female empowering-twerking-rapper/singer from Texas and just happens to be one hell of a flute player too. She is loud, proud and is spreading her feminist message… one leg at a time. Her risqué dance moves are paired with messages of self-love and acceptance and really makes you want to take control of your life by the balls.  She reminded everyone that after they are done partying, and every day after, to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I love you,” and to remind yourself that you are beautiful and you can do anything! Her set was full of surprises. She had 2 fabulous featured dancers and her DJ behind her. At one point, someone from the audience threw up a disposable camera and while Lizzo missed the catch, she chased after it, snapped a photo from the stage and tossed it back. She stated, “Women are so wonderful. We’ve got titties… and all this ass! I love being a bitch!” She then also admits to being a little boy crazy and went into her song, Boy. Don’t forget that reminder…

BUT DID YOU SEE THE WALKING TALKING TREE IN SPIRIT LAKE? He told me I could get up in his branches anytime… 

One big notable point that needs to be made, are the green efforts. Large blue bags were passed out upon entry and throughout the fest for festival goers to recycle. You could fill your bag and bring it to the booth near the main Spirit Lake entrance and trade it in for a chance to play smashed-can “plinko” and sign up for a raffle prize.   

Odesza returned to Hula for the first time since 2015 as the first headliner of the weekend and the sheer production value of their show is mind blowing. In 2015 they were on the Amphitheatre stage with a backing screen and a few lasers and lights. This year, their set was a full-on masterpiece. They featured on a raised platform where the front was a screen, and with the backing screen, 2 side screens and their iconic icosahedron shaped screen above the stage together it created a pano-effect for visuals. The Odesza Drumline marched out and lined the platform stage wearing “Jason” masks with their all white ensembles and signature hoodies. With visually stunning lasers and intricate lighting, choreography, confetti cannons, fireworks and thousands of fans singing every word, it was clear why they were brought back as a featured headliner.

Photo by Keith Griner

Were you stopped asked a weird question? It might have been because you were being polled for “Festy Feud” which took place over in the Silent Disco. With questions like “What is one thing you could change about festivals?” and answers like “Stank-ass portos” and “Tall ass totems,” a lot of laughs were had while contestants played the feud.

I was sitting in Spirit Lake watching the laser beams shoot over the lake and into the trees when a stranger came up to me and handed me a box with 3 buttons. I asked what it was and he said, “push one.” About a million outcomes ran through my mind in the split second before I pushed one and the second I did, fire bursted from one of the floating flowers on the lake. I released it and pushed another and fire shot up from a different one. I WAS CONTROLLING THE FIRE ON SPIRIT LAKE. If I may be so bold, I’ve never felt more powerful in my entire life than I did at that very moment… and for about 10 minutes after that. You truly never know what magical experience you’ll have in Spirit Lake, especially after dark.  

One of best part about festivals is discovering new music, and discovery is exactly what happened when I stumbled into the Patch for KNOWER. They are typically an electro-jazz music duo Louis Cole (drums) and Genevieve Artadi (vocals), but have been touring with a band. I don’t know what it was about the drummer (I swear I don’t have a thing for drummers), but he was magnetic. Maybe it was because he was wearing a giant snow parka in direct 70+ degree sunlight that peaked my interest, or maybe because Genevieve and I have the same hair color, or that she was screaming lyrics like, “butts and tits and money… YES!” that made me stop, but I’m glad I did. Their music blurs the lines between electronic, jazz, funk and weird music. But weird as in different, nothing you’ve ever heard before and in the best way possible. Genevieve bounces around the stage engaging the audience and as a whole, this band is terribly exciting and progressive. 

Lettuce took the Meadow stage early on Saturday afternoon and while they jammed their funky jams, people began to throw actual lettuce… during Lettuce. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this. Does this happen at all Lettuce shows? It. Was. Hilarious.

If you were looking for a little pick me up, all you had to do was stop by The Complimentary Bar in Spirit Lake, but NOT for a cocktail. The Complimentary Bar was setup to serve COMPLIMENTS! What a great idea. There should be more of these everywhere, like those little library book houses.

The 5th SCI set of the weekend was the Hula Incident featuring, “Women of the Galaxy,” and I’m just going to go ahead and say that it was the BEST theme set EVER. The set paid tribute to the young and the old, the late and the great, and the best of the best female singers of our time and featured Lisa FischerJen HartswickRhonda Thomasand Ann Wilson. 

Below is the setlist: 

Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones) – Lisa Fischer on vocals

Rock Steady (Aretha Franklin) – Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet

Proud Mary (Tina Turner’s version) – Rhonda Thomas on vocals

Killing Me Softly (Robert Flack) – Lisa Fischer on vocals

Respect (Aretha Franklin) – Rhonda Thomas on vocals

Valerie (Amy Whinehouse) – Rhonda Thomas on vocals

Heartbreaker (Pat Benatar) – Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet

Politician (Cream) – Ann Wilson on vocals

Barracuda (Heart) – Ann Wilson on vocals

Get Up Stand Up (Bob Marley) – allllll the women of the galaxy!

Needless to say, it was a powerful and empowering set but when Ann Wilson herself, belted out Heart’s own Barracuda, the whole place went nuts. The ongoing “be the change” theme I mentioned previously was made even more clear when the ladies all came together for Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up. It was an incredibly commanding and inspiring moment that united not only all of the musicians and vocalists on stage, but everyone in the audience as well. The energy was unparalleled.

And speaking of parallels, a parallel universe is where the encore went with SCI’s “Space Jam.” They began with Rollover and took it to another planet, literally! From Star Wars to Star Trek and all your favorites in between, it is going to be really hard to top this year’s theme! Until then, you can watch the encore in it's entirety below.

A lot of folks missed the Incident’s encore because they ran to the Patch to catch the ever funky Vulfpeck. These guys are known for their funky rhythms, quirky lyrics and anecdotes between songs and together it all makes for a fun and groovy show. With multiple sit ins by Adam Deitch, (Lettuce and Break Science) the Shady Horns, (Lettuce) and Roosevelt Collier, their set was non-stop energy, especially after their featured vocalist Antwuan Stanley showed up. Vulfpeck knows how to interact and engage with their “Vulf-pack” and that was proven when the crowd was asked to participate in a little lyric change during Christmas in L.A. It just so happens that “Hula in Suwannee” fits as the perfect substitute with the melody. Each section of the audience was given a different harmony and when everyone sung together, it was harmonious. Check out their full set thanks for below.

The elusive Jamiroquai would only step foot on US soil to perform five times in 2018, and thank goodness that Hula was one of those times because HE. WAS. AMAZING. Seriously though, if you weren’t already in another universe after SCI’s encore, Mr. Jay Kay took you there. With his robot hat that gave me serious Bowser vibes, he and his tight British jazz-funk band charged the Meadow stage a little late (see Vulfpeck), but played a little late to make up for it and everyone danced… the. entire. time. I can’t even really describe the experience because it was just that, an experience. If you were there, you get it, and I’ll just leave it at that.  

What did you bet/win at Frick Frack Blackjack? I saw a guy win a hand with a pixi stick, some string cheese and a condom. 

New Orleans vibes were in full effect on Sunday, complete with an authentic second line parade into Spirit Lake for Rebirth Brass Band. The parade was filled with dragons, dancers and some Do Whatcha Wanna. Once the line reached the Spirit Lake stage, the party didn’t stop. The second liners stuck around with their elaborate costumes and danced and sang with pure jubilee the entire set. This was a highlight of my weekend and definitely the perfect way to wake up my Sunday!

Photo via Keith Griner

Sunday at the Amphitheatre was an entire NOLA party on its own, with every artist having some sort of tie to the Big Easy. Kicking off the day were Hula celebs Jen Hartswick and Nick Cassarino. I call them Hula Celebs because during any given set, one of them would pop out and jam along with whoever was playing. It almost became a game! Jen Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band) and Nick Cassarino of The Nth Power, (which was formed where? New Orleans!) have been touring together almost all of 2018 and are an incredibly talented and wonderful duo. Their soulful vibes and unique sounds work together in perfect harmony. Since they were opening the day, Jen tried to figure out who in the crowd was just waking up, or who hadn’t been to sleep yet. It seemed to be about 50/50 from what we could tell. She also joked that she is a 5pm singer, so we were just going to have to deal with her 11am voice… could have fooled me because she blew me away. I saw her and her band five years back at a little fest called Bear Creek and while that was amazing, she is more of a leading lady than ever. Her voice paired with her subtle trumpet riffs were the perfect way to get Hula’s final day started. Nick you were good too… haha. But for real, dude is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to guitar and vocals. I’d go see this duo everyday if I could. 

MAVIS STAPLES Y’ALL. Standing tall at 5 foot nothing and 79 years young, Mavis freaking Staples. Her deep raspy voice commanded the Amphitheatre and she was all smiles as she spoke to the audience during her set. She even said that she was going to run for president, but then immediately laughed and said to not take her seriously… however, I’d totally vote for her! She’s compassionate, has a lot of stories to tell and inspiring. I’m sure you are wondering how she ties to New Orleans…. WELL, not only is she a Jazz Fest alum, she filmed her last video, If All I Was Was Black, in NOLA and while it controversial, (what isn’t these days?) was also a powerful political statement video showing the replacing of statues throughout the city. Check out the official music video below.

Straight outta NOLA, the funktastic, Galactic, took the moss-covered stage next and was anyone else hoping for a David Shaw cameo for Hey Na or Dolla Diva? Because I was… at that same Bear Creek when I saw the Jennifer Hartswick Band, I also got to see David, Maggie Koerner and Galactic debut Dolla Diva on that same stage. Oh well…

And speaking of David ShawThe Revivalists, also hailing from New Orleans closed out our NOLA day and the Amphitheatre stage for Hula 2018. This is their first time back since 2016, (though David Shaw did a solo set in 2017) and like Odesza have grown tremendously. If you are a fan of The Revs, you probably know that they like to their own surprise theme for Halloween. If this was your first show, like the confused person behind me, it was a great surprise! The guys came out full throttle, all in a different color Adidas track suit, jumping and yelling, “YOU GOTTA FIGHT, FOR YOUR RIGHT, TO PAAARRRRRRRTY!” (Was this an underlying message of the ongoing “fight for your right” theme throughout the fest? Or just a coincidence?) They went right back into Revivalists mode singing songs from their last album Men Amongst Mountains, a few oldies like Criminal and slowed it down with a crowd favorite, Soulfight.

They also played their latest #1 hits Wish I Knew You and All My Friends and then went straight back into Beastie Boy mode for a Sabotage encore. Lead man, David Shaw, engaged with the audience the entire set tagging hands and jumping in and out of the crowd and ended the set thanking the audience for being kind to one another. He said he could clearly see the love amongst us and reminded everyone to continue take care of each other and to vote. If you weren’t a fan of The Revivalists when you came to this set, you definitely were when you left. Their new album, Take Good Care comes out on November 9 and you can pre-order it via the band's official website.

Suwannee Hulaween 2018 was almost over, and there were only 3 sets left to catch… unfortunately they were all at the same time. Festival goers had to choose between the Brooklyn based funk band Turkuaz on the Spirit Lake Stage, electronic music DJ, Gramatik in the Patch and the inspiring and powerful female presence of Janelle Monae on the Meadow main stage.

Janelle Monae was an important closer to the ongoing theme of the fest because she enforces messages of equality and love, which are both important in today’s social and political climate, not to mention this woman can SING! And DANCE! Her production was bright, bold and beautiful just like her and her music. She spoke her truth and encouraged everyone to find theirs. It was perfect. (Note: I gave myself a blister trying to dance like her a few years ago at Jazz Fest. I refrained from doing that this time. Mostly because my legs were still dead from dancing to Jamiroquai the night before)


These moments are only a drop in the bucket with everything that you could have experienced on the SOSMP grounds. I’ve been to a lot of festivals and easily average 5-10 a year, and Suwannee Hulaween takes the cake as my favorite. From the art and ambiance, logistics and layout, organization, community and diverse lineup, it’s a true fantasy world and we are lucky enough to get to play in it. With over 80 miles danced/walked, I’ve officially put another Hula in the books. Stay tuned for early bird tickets and snag them while you can. The past 2 years have completely sold out and I’d really love for you to join me next year for a new set of beautiful experiences!