Throwback: Looking Back On Purple Hatters Ball July 14, 2016 19:41

Words and Photos by Amanda Franklin: Live & Listen

Last month, funky friends from across the southeast gathered at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park for the annual Purple Hatters Ball, a festival that was established as both a memorial and celebration of the life of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman.  The festival is known for its diverse lineup and intimacy, and this year was no disappointment.  Featured artists included The Floozies, Papadosio, The Polish Ambassador, Earphunk, Roosevelt Collier Band, The Mantras, Sunsquabi, and more.  Dynamic lineups always bring interesting crowds—there were those who fell for the allure of The Floozies’ funky style and Polish’s eccentric performances as well as those who mainly came to catch Earphunk rock the stage and groove to some late night Dosio.  Regardless of who people came to see, every stage at every set was booming and bustling with dancing bodies. 

Thursday night was a reunion of sorts.  Old friends embraced and sat on the deck of the music hall to share cigarettes and stories of daily life that happens in between festivals.  In hospitable Suwannee fashion, new folks were just as readily welcomed.  Around midnight, Sunsquabi began drawing a crowd inside for the pre-party headlining set.  The couple hundred or so people who had managed to get work off on Friday and get to Suwannee a night early gathered in the music hall to drink and boogie into the late night. 

The days at Hatters were long, bright, and beautiful.  Once more people arrived at the festival, the river became the place to be during the day.  After snagging a golf cart ride, I made it down to the river just in time to catch Funk You at the Beach Stage, which was jam-packed with jams all weekend.  14 bands played that spot over two days, and shorter half-hour/hour long sets kept the atmosphere ever evolving and interesting.  Down on the water, beer, sunlight, and laughter kept attendees dizzy and joyful.  Everyone piled together onto huge floats in the middle of the river.  A few friends decided to maximize their chill factor by floating the river in their beloved blowup festival couch.  I’ve seen that same couch several times around Suwannee, but I had to double take and chuckle when I saw it come drifting on the current, touting three guys comfortably in its seatJacksonville’s MZG took the opportunity to film a new music video on the river’s beach, featuring hundreds of smiling faces and a few hilarious tumbles down the giant slip n’ slide. 


As the sun settled its way low into the sky each day, people headed back to their campsites to prepare for the night of music ahead.  Friday evening treated us to delicious jams from The Mantras and an absolutely raging set by Earphunk.  Part of my face may still be at the Amphitheater stage after lead guitarist Paul Provosty proceeded to shred it off with riff after wailing riff.  Papadosio provided the crowd with a smooth set that seamlessly traversed between faster and slowed down psychedelic grooves.  Every note was carried on the beat of drummer Mike Healy, who skillfully controlled the group’s tempo and vibe  

Saturday night was nothing short of dance party.  Following The Hip Abduction and MZG, The Polish Ambassador did not disappoint, keeping things interesting as always, right down to the classic mid-set outfit change.  The Ambassador also stopped to share some powerful and reflective words on death and Rachel’s legacy before taking the crowd back into a celebration of life and music.  The Floozies closed the night with their signature sound: funky samples, distortion, and irresistibly danceable beats. The Amp stage crowd became a flowing sea of moving people—not a single body was still.   


The Polish Ambassador

When the last band left the main stage each night, by no means did the party stop.  In fact, it seemed to mark the official start of all late-night shenanigans.  For those who couldn’t kick off their boogie shoes, the Silent Disco was popping until the sun rose.  Those who wanted to adventure explored the grounds on golf carts, acting as a taxi service to random strangers who became friends within minutes.  People gathered again on the beach, but the mood was much different at night.  The Suwannee River flowed slowly in still silence, reflecting the moss-laden trees that tower over it in a perfect mirror image.  Creatures of the night swam in the river, bathed in the moonlight, and reveled in the pure natural beauty that surrounded them.  

On Sunday, Rachel’s mother shared some words before releasing butterflies into the air to honor a sweet spirit taken too soon.  The gravity of death, especially young lives lost, always spurs many thoughts and emotions.  I think most people can agree that life is too short, and we should use what we’ve been given to know and love as many people as we can.  Though her time on earth was brief, Rachel lived her life in that way, and everyone who knows her attests to that.  All weekend long, I watched relationships blossom before my eyes.  While this isn’t uncommon at music festivals, there was something special in the air at Hatters—call it the Spirit of Suwannee, call it Rachel’s legacy, call it the magic of music, but the unadulterated love and joy that drifted on the wind that weekend was truly ethereal.  Purple Hatters Ball reminded us to stay positive, present, and loving, and I hope people will carry that message with them and pass it along… Until next year, Purple People!

The Polish Ambassador

Michael Comeaux of Earphunk

Purple Hatters Ball 2016

Mark Hempe of Earphunk

Dave Johson of The Hip Abduction

Purple Hatters Ball 2016

David New of The Hip Abduction