Suwannee Spring Reunion
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak Florida
March 23rd-26th 2017
Festival Review by Ashley D. Feller
Photos by Jasmine Carroll
The stars aligned in the skies of Live Oak Florida and welcomed the many music lovers to celebrate music and art under the canopy of Spanish moss a stone’s throw from the Suwannee River. The inaugural Suwannee Spring Reunion is a freshly cultivated festival with rich and deep roots. The Suwannee Spring Reunion featured four days of some Americana’s finest musicians. The weather was fantastic. The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is one of the most beautiful venues the south has to offer. The festival is off to an excellent beginning and it’s exciting to think about what may come to fruition in years to come.
Sloppy Joe started the festival out right on the amphitheater stage. The band features five virtuoso musicians from Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Each musician is quite versatile and can be seen swapping banjos, guitars, and whatever else happens to be on stage. Their set was energetic and brought the perfect energy to start the long weekend. Bobby Miller and the Virginia Daredevils followed on the Porch stage. The first day was definitely a bluegrass fan’s dream.
The Flea Market Hustlers debut set was one of the most dynamic of the weekend. They proved a three piece can cover all the bases with the right combination of stellar musicians. Together the guitar, mandolin, and banjo delivered a well-rounded set. Their set featured original songs from their album Last Man Standing as well as a few interesting renditions of recent popular music. The Flea Market Hustlers play exceptionally well together and their enthusiasm for performing for the Suwannee family could not go unnoticed.
Friday evening ended with The Grass is Dead lead by the immensely talented Billy Gilmore. This band is notorious for capturing the spirit of The Grateful Dead’s music while bringing their own creativity to the table. It was the most fitting band to bring Friday evening to a close.
Saturday was a continuation of more great music from Nikki Talley and Jason Sharp. Talley’s songwriting truly stands out and her vocals are powerful. The set featured songs from her most recent album Out from the Harbour as well as a couple claw hammer banjo tunes. Nikki and Jason compliment each seamlessly and have remarkable chemistry.
Verlon Thompson played a peaceful afternoon set on the amphitheater stage. The audience was nearly silent and everyone listened closely to the many stories he shared of his days playing with the recently deceased Guy Clark. Thompson honored his friend’s memory with Clark’s The Guitar, as well as Magnolia Wind. He fondly recalled Clark’s spicy temperament while at the same time praising his generosity. The audience was completely attentive and clung to his every word. In fact, the only other sound heard may have been the leaves falling to the ground.
Peter Rowan’s afternoon set was a great continuation of music. During his set time appeared to nearly stand still. The energy in the amphitheater was ethereal. The set featured his famous song Walls of Time co-written with the Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe. However, this rendition was performed in a somewhat more abstract style in relation to past performances. Chris Henry complimented each song tastefully and cleverly on the mandolin.
At last, it was time for The Earl’s of Leicester featuring Jerry Douglas. This was by far the most powerful and profound set of the weekend. The ensemble truly captured the memory of bluegrass legends Flatt and Scruggs. Shawn Camp’s tribute to Lester Flatt is flawless! He opens his mouth and Lester Flatt’s voice emerges! Not only were the vocals untouchable, the band featured an all-star cast of some of the greatest bluegrass musicians alive today. The most remarkable part of the set was the band never stepped out of character. Every nuance of Flatt and Scruggs was performed with brilliance. However, Jerry Douglas appeared to bridge the gap between past and present by playing in the style of the legendary Josh Graves but interacting with the audience without adopting a persona from the past. This was the pinnacle set of the festival.
The Earls of Leicester
Closing out Friday night was the Craven Rum Jam which featured the master of world music Joe Craven and Zeb Bowles, Erik Yates, and James Stafford from Host Buttered Rum. The jam went in a few different directions beginning with a high energy version of the fiddle tune Leather Britches to a Craven’s Soldiers of Joy from his album Camptown. One of the highest points of the set was the interplay between Craven and Bowles both on the fiddle.
The music hall was one of the most comfortable places to hear music on Saturday. It is a step back into furnished society. It features a full liquor bar, as well as a restaurant. It is also a haven for more intimate performances. Ralph Roddenbery and the B-Sides were absolutely the paramount indoor set. This power trio was a joy to watch. Roddenbery’s songwriting is intuitive, soulful but has an endless amount of heart. Of course, the set would not be complete without Samantha Alessi-Jones stepping in to sing gentle and beautiful harmony vocals. Beedle’s guitar solos were played with such finesse and grace. The bass player was undoubtedly the glue of the ensemble.
Saturday evening highlights include Sara Watkins formerly of Nickel Creek. Her set was somber but engaging. She played an excellent tribute to the great John Hartford with a rendition of Long Hot Summer Days. Then Watkins invited members of The Turtle Duhks to join her for a few traditional tunes. Nearing the end of the set Watkins performed songs from her recent album Young in all the Wrong Ways. The evening continued with performances by Peter Rowan Band, Tornado Rider, Jeff Mosier and Pickled Holler with Hot Buttered Rum closing out the evening.
Sunday was the picture of perfect weather. It was the perfect atmosphere to celebrate the iconic Vassar Clements and other members of the Suwannee family who have passed away. The mood was bittersweet, but the music was the perfect finish for this aspiring festival. Cello master Rushad Egglesston’s set brought just the right amount of humor, and was genuinely a memorable spectacle. The final set ended with the hymn Amazing Grace performed by Jeff Mosier and The Spring Reunion Backsliders Porchestra.
Following the last song on the Porch Stage, there were two scheduled jam sessions on two of the campground stages. The first was hosted by Gainesville’s Quartermoon, at The Bill Monroe Shrine. The second followed at Slopryland which was artfully constructed by Sloppy Joe. Both jam locations have been staples at past events for over a decade which has gained them a reputation of being a picker’s paradise. The two are brilliantly decorated and welcome music lovers to enjoy the musicians playing music together in a casual environment.
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is one of the gems of the south. It is a unique and is the home for some of the best music in the United States. Not only is the park visually astounding but it is also the full package when it comes to camping resorts. The park features endless amounts of Rv hookups, laundry facilities, a country store, golf cart rentals, cabins, cabins, and a restaurant. Spirit of the Suwannee is the prime place for tent camping. There are many picturesque campsites to be found throughout the grounds. The natural amphitheater is one of the most pristine places to be in the park. There is nothing in the world like standing beneath the massive live oak trees hearing the music and feeling the vibrations coming up from the ground back into your body. Then to look up and see the owls perched in the long branches covered in Spanish moss.
The Suwannee Spring Reunion was a wonderful experience. It is amazing the magic that can transpire when lovers of music and art reconvene in an oasis. There is endless potential for this live event and it is exciting. Early bird tickets for Spring Reunion’s sister festival are currently on sale at Suwanneerootsrevival.com Come be part of a wonderful new tradition with deep roots. Special thanks to Beth Judy and everyone who played a part in making Suwannee Spring Reunion a tremendous success.