The Spirit of the Suwannee: Blackwater!
23 Oct 2011

The Author

Profile photo of Abbey Beal
I love spreading my Sparkle!


Amongst the sweeping Spanish moss that billows through the trees of Suwannee Music Park lies an energy I have found unique and profound amid the festival scene. I went to Suwannee with the desire to feel the intimate and familial energy that has seemingly dissipated in some of the large, mainstream festivals. Sure enough, Suwannee manifested my need. The grounds are well groomed and endlessly interesting, with a public pool, general store, indoor stage with a burger café, and an open-air cage filled with several colorful Macaws. I was thrilled. The line up for the weekend was unique and diverse, bringing an eclectic crowd with it. The campsites were sprinkled throughout the woods; some people camped off the beaten path while others created monstrous compounds with fire pits right at the center.

As I scanned the schedule for the weekend, I realized the diversity of sounds was going to create quite a treat for music lovers from all genres. I would have to agree with the rumors that the grounds are very heavily policed, however I felt the police presence was intended to keep away the very thing I loath the most: lack of consciousness. The cops were friendly, cordial, and, from my experience, were there for safety precautions and as scarecrows for wooks, who would only attend the festival to make money. Take this as a warning: Suwannee is not a ‘free for all’ in the broadest sense of the word and the crowd treats the grounds as a sanctuary for music, not drugs.

Day one, aside from a little rain, was vibrant. As we pulled into our campsite Zach Deputy provided cheerful jams that echoed through the woods. As the sun finally set, Perpetual Groove turned up the lights. Having heard of how wonderful their show was at the Catskill Chill Fest weeks earlier, I was really hoping for them to bring the energy I very dearly missed, and they did. It was a sentimental set. They played ‘Stealy Dan’ and finished off with a ‘Sweet Oblivious Antidote’ that brought me to tears, just as it did the first time I saw them nearly five years ago. It was Brock’s birthday, so everybody was really raging for him.

For the highlight of my weekend, Jason Hann and Michael Travis fired up and seriously shredded as EOTO. Jason’s smile is so contagious, and their new mash-ups were refreshing. They inspired me so much that I finally learned a hula-hooping trick I had been trying to figure out for months. Thursday ended a little on the early side, but around 1:00 am Zach Deputy surprised us all with a late night set. It was truly the best I had ever heard from him. It created a mist of happiness throughout the chilled forest, and the perfect sounds to rest my eyes and feet to. I never wanted it to end.

The heat arose again Friday morning, and the village started to stir. The aromas of bacon and grilled cheese flooded the air as I sipped on an ice-cold mimosa. I hit up my first show of the day with the Grooveshark Crew, who were hardcore representing J2K, friends of theirs from Gainesville, Florida.  J2K became my favorite new music of the weekend. They have a song called ‘Spaghetti and Meatballs’ that was basically our campsites theme song, simply because it gave everyone a reason to scream spaghetti and meatballs, as those are the only lyrics.  The talented lead guitarist and pianist, Jason Shooster, led a knighting ceremony at our campsite before Sunday night’s Flaming Lips set.  Jason had everyone down on one knee, and proceeded to literally ‘knight’ each person with a glowing wizard staff and give them names such as, ‘blueberry queen’, and something to the effect of ‘dankness in the trees’.  After a giant group hug, the ceremony ended and the raging began.

At the meadow stage, we had an afternoon and night full of some 21st century reggae and dub. Passafire, who often come to Charleston, kicked it off, followed by Iration and the Easy Star All Stars. The All Stars were just as awesome as their set at Camp Bisco this year, and the beautiful booming female vocals were empowering. As the All Stars took their bows, Ghostland started up across the field. The lasers reached through the woods all the way to where we were camped: a serious step up from previous shows. I posted up in a hammock and smiled to myself, watching the dancing hilarity that Ghostland ensues upon their fans.

As it turned Saturday everyone was thankful we had made it to day three with no rain (considering it was supposed to rain the entire weekend). Pogo provided an interesting performance in the afternoon as he invited as many people on the stage that could fit during his set. I caught a bit of Pepper, which certainly triggered nostalgic memories of high school. The energy in the trees was electrifying as the sun was setting and music lovers sprinkled on their glitter and glow sticks. The Flaming Lips had me melting when Wayne Coin started singing ‘Do You Realize’. The theatrics of their show, as well as Wayne’s antics in the hamster ball were exceedingly entertaining. But to be honest with you, after the first half hour I was bored.  The show was not as continually exciting as I had hoped. They took long breaks between each song and the endless blabber was distracting. It was the only let down of the weekend, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.  As the Lips’ set came to a close, the sound of Buckethead’s spinning fingertips filled the air. His ‘Welcome to the Space Jam’ mash-up was fucking awesome, followed by his new and improved nun-chuck performance. The mystery of his identity and odd choice of props make his performance one of the most unique at festivals. If I could see him play with Les Claypool it might be the most amazing guitar duo performance I could ever witness in my lifetime.

Finally, the show I was looking the most forward to all weekend: STS9. Murph was in action and they were sounding just as I had always remembered. The crowd was pulsing as they jammed through ‘The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature’ > ‘Evasive Maneuvers’ > ‘Monkey Music’. Everyone seemed relieved and ecstatic that Tribe had really brought their A game. Their set ended beautifully with ‘What Is Love?’ > ‘When The Dust Settles’ > ‘Arigato’.  Seeing this set really made me wish I had jumped on tickets for their sold out New Year’s run this year. As the dust settled and the music receded, everyone continued to rave about Soundtribe’s performance. When 3:00 am rolled around, rumors flooded the woods that Greenhouse Lounge was playing in the art tent, which housed incredible geometric art by a Sparkleberry favorite, Andy Reed, as well as several other talented artists from Florida. Their smooth melodic beats were the perfect way to end the weekend.

The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park really proved to be the oasis I had been hoping for. The absence of dub step and infusion of reggae really made for a mix up of artists and genres different from many other festivals in 2011. I am already looking forward to Bear Creek this coming November, and urge all of you to try to make it to this magical venue. Special thanks to Tim Hall for my up close an personal views, Ori Blistein and the Grooveshark Crew for their hospitality and guidance, and for all the volunteers and producers of Blackwater who helped create such a blissful weekend.

Cheers, Abbey


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