The journey up Florida's 1-10 highway brought a familiar feeling of fluid excitement. The anticipation continued to swell as we ventured further from civilization and closer to the undisturbed nature surrounding the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.
After checking in the festival box office, we fastened our wristbands and fixed a primitive camping pass to the Jeep’s windshield. We drove into the park under a blanket of cypress and oak trees, and feelings of comfort flowed from our core: We are home.
From Oct. 27 - 30, Suwannee Hulaween 2016 cloaked the festival grounds with a monumental celebration of music and art. A carefully curated menagerie of music included seven sets from festival founders The String Cheese Incident, plus performances from My Morning Jacket, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Logic, Disclosure, Umphrey’s McGee and many more.
In its fourth year, Hulaween far surpassed previous iterations. Multi-genre musical prowess, much-needed park expansions and enhancements to the illustrious Spirit Lake enclosure made Suwannee Hulaween 2016 truly stand out.
As the dangling Spanish moss reflected the stage’s hypnotic lights, we reflect on our Hulaween highlights. Here’s our Top Ten recap:
1. Thursday Pre-Party
The addition of The Patch, a new stage near the VIP area, provided enough space to support the more than 21,000 people attending Hulaween. The Patch diverted foot traffic and reduced crowd density, solving last year’s problem of crossroad blockage and low visibility.
The Patch featured a Friday night set from electronic producer Gramatik, who dropped the blowout banger ‘Digital Liberation is Mad Freedom.’ The stage also saw a daytime performance from jazz fusion act Snarky Puppy and a night-time explosion from jamtronica legends STS9, who played the spacey, throwback encore ‘EHM’ to a cheering mob of tribe members.
3. Incendia’s Fire Domes
Discovered in the borders of Spirit Lake, Incendia's set of dome-like structures is a creative vision ignited by flame. Though the weather stayed cool, Incendia provided a unique pyrotechnic experience. Festival-goers nestled under the dome’s fiery ceiling, becoming mesmerized by the heat emanating above. With the option to hang from Lyra rings or cozy up on couches, Incendia was the best spot to take a moment and plan the next move.
4. The String Cheese Incident’s Saturday Cover Set
The String Cheese Incident (SCI) took over The Meadow stage and transported a crowd of ghouls and goddesses back to 1984. Transitioning from tracks like ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?’ to ‘Let’s Groove Tonight’ before moving into a throaty incantation of ‘White Wedding,’ Cheese was responsible for an insane frenzy of song and dance. As one of the most versatile bands in existence, Cheese switched to ‘Sweet Child O’Mine,’ ‘Love Shack,’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust,' before closing with down and dirty rendition of 'Burning Down The House.' With Antibalas horns and blow-up Rubix cubes floating through the crowd, the set was an absolute throwback masterpiece.
By the end of performance, everyone in the crowd donned neon orange cheese stickers, plastered all over their smiling faces and Stringier Things costumes. People prepared to share packets of string cheese, proving that SCI never disappoints.
5. The Campground Stage
A nook of nature's elements compounded with technicolor visual innovation, Spirit Lake’s Campground Stage was a piece of art in itself. Decorated with melting typography and freaky little monsters, the Campground Stage was a hidden gem providing an uncrowded oasis for acts like Bells & Robes and Locochino to dazzle devoted fans.
6. Good Vibes At Rebelution’s Sunday Set
On Saturday afternoon, layers of sunshine blanketed The Amphitheater stage as four-piece reggae act Rebelution took their places. Perched on Suwannee's dusty Amphitheater stairs with 312 wheat beer or a Lagunitas IPA in hand, the crowd swayed to Rebelution's tracks. The band played a few songs off their 2016 release 'Falling Into Place,' but brought it home with favorites that most fans knew by heart. There's no doubt that Rebelution's set had the crowd truly feeling alright.
7. Human Performance Art At Spirit Lake
Spirit Lake's artistic enigma extended far beyond installations. Channeling the essence of Cirque du Soleil, a stream of talented flow artists moved and manipulated their bodies to symbolize the music. Hoopers, fire spinners and Lyra goddesses contorted with unbelievable charm and amazed the crowd with a carnivalesque feel. In a spookier sense, some structures, actually people on stilts, would quickly fly forward to scare unsuspecting passersby.
8. Big G and The Motet
To close the festival, electronic duo Big Gigantic played with the funky Colorado-based act The Motet. Electronic hits compounded with the live funk of The Motet's trumpet and sax had everybody moving in unison, even after three days of non-stop music. The collaboration belted ‘All the Way Up’ and ‘Funk With Me,’ before finishing strong with an eruption of fireworks that flew toward the stars in communion with Big G's number one track ‘Touch the Sky.'
9. The People
Suwannee Hulaween attracts masses committed to festive Halloween fun. Playing into the Stringier Things theme, people dressed to represent the newest Netflix hit. Dozens of Eleven’s traversed the grounds around with boxes of Eggo waffles in hand, and others wrapped themselves in Christmas lights.
The Spirit of the Suwannee Music park is one of the most breathtaking festival grounds, and there's no doubt that Hulaween’s aesthetic mixes with the innate energy of the park. Whether it's wandering through the woodlands and visiting the decorative campsites, getting lost in the prismatic creations of Spirit Lake, or perching under a shady oak tree to watch String Cheese's Sunday afternoon set, Hulaween is home at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.
Suwannee Hulaween’s magnetism will continue to bring new festival-goers to discover the magic and mystery of one of the best festivals to date. Here’s to next year, #HulaFam.