Written By: Ashley Feller
Photos By: Arielle D’Ornellas
The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park celebrated its second annual Suwannee Roots Revival October 12th-15th in Live Oak Florida. The festival welcomed some of the best bands and solo acts in the Americana music genre. However, this year was a hot one in more ways than one. The line up featured a wide pallet of roots music that was quite pleasing to a diverse audience. The music varied from Bluegrass, Funk, New Grass, Country, and also Blues. With so many listening options The Suwannee Roots Revival was a divine experience for just about any music lover.
The festival kicked off on the amphitheater stage with The Adventures of Annabelle Lyn from nearby Tallahassee. The female trio sang with remarkable three part harmony and exuded much versatility in their instrumentation. Their original songs are spunky and creatively arranged. Their rendition of Pink Floyd’s Time was the zenith of the set.
Thursday night was a great night to explore the many music options. The highlights of the evening included Grammy Award Winning husband and wife Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. They are the definition of power couple. The two combine their own unique styles into a blend unique to itself. Fleck’s melodic style and Washburn’s claw-hammer style banjo playing are an incredible combination. Closing out the evening was The Grass Is Dead in the dance tent. Their set was an energetic mix of Grateful Dead tunes given the Jamgrass treatment.
Friday felt like the first real day of the festival. The camps were in place brilliantly decorated and sounds of camp site jam sessions could be heard throughout the park. The Spirit of the Suwannee is a pristine camping resort. It has electric sites and primitive sites, cabins, two tree houses, a country store, and also a full bar and restaurant. There are also several bath houses reasonably placed throughout the park as well as laundry facilities. The park spans several hundred acres of beautiful forest. The canopy consists of massive live oak trees, and cypress trees encircle Spirit Lake. It is here that music lovers construct their weekend homes and celebrate everything imaginable but mostly the love of music in the great outdoors.
The music on Friday was fantastic. The morning performance of Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters set the tone for a superior day. This band has a knack for songwriting and it will be exciting to see where their journey may lead them. Another great set was Dread Clampitt from Grayton Beach Florida. Balder Saunders and Kyle Ogle have a long history of performing and writing music together. Together on guitar and mandolin the two generate a great deal melodic energy between them. The interplay between the two musicians is nearly mesmerizing. The best part of their set was when they played an excellent rendition of Running Down a Dream by the recently deceased Tom Petty.
Friday evening began with a relaxed and somewhat spacey performance by Peter Rowan and Jack Cassady. Followed by sets featuring Chatham County Line, Contra Dancing with The Dunehoppers, which led up to a spirited show by national touring band Mother’s Finest. This band definitely brought a unique listening experience to Roots Revival. Mother’s Finest has been touring the world since 1972 and still continue to be one of the best bands to have emerged out of Atlanta. The Grass is Dead closed out the evening with an all star jam featuring other musicians on the weekend’s lineup.
By Saturday the festival was in full swing. Highlights include performances by Willie SugarCapps, Jim Lauderdale, and also the Rev. Jeff Mosier Band. The most moving performance of the weekend was by Shawn Camp and Verlon Thompson. The two paid tribute to the late Guy Clark who was one of the greatest songwriters in history. Camp and Clark had written several tunes together and Thompson had spent years touring by Clark’s side playing tasteful and supporting guitar parts. Camp and Thompson were seated close and slightly hunched over a music stand and sang an unforgettable version of Clark’s Desperados Waiting for a Train.
Next, The Steep Canyon Rangers completely captured the audience with their musicianship and energetic performance. It would be inaccurate to call The Steep Canyon Rangers a Bluegrass Band when their abilities go beyond the traditional form of music. The Wood Brothers followed and closed out the evening playing their most well known song “Luckiest Man” Their vocals lingered in the trees, and the upright bass resonated through the amphitheater. Lastly the evening ended with Donna The Buffalo who have traditionally performed late Saturday night. Their positive lyrics and hypnotic grooves beckoned dancers up to the front of the stage to dance the night away under the stars.
Sunday, much like the year before was bitter sweet. As mentioned in the festival program the day was dedicated to remember those in the Suwannee family who have passed away. Vassar Sunday began to honor the legendary Florida fiddle player Vassar Clements who was a legend among musicians and will always be an integral part of the park’s history. Ever since then the last day of the festival has become a day of remembrance to musicians and those who have been long time members of the Suwanee festival family. This year the focus was on Col. Bruce Hampton who was one of the most influential musicians who ever lived. Hampton was a main stay at various festivals at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and will be forever remembered for pioneering the jamband scene in Atlanta. Hampton recently passed away while performing on his birthday at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. He was surrounded by world renowned musicians, family and friends. To remember and honor him Rev. Jeff Mosier and friends performed clever renditions of his songs from the various bands Hampton had formed.
The Suwannee Roots Revival has more heart than perhaps any other festival in existence. Any veteran Suwannee attendee will tell you the feeling of arriving home once they come through the gates of the magic forest. The park is beautiful, peaceful and the perfect place to camp while enjoying music with family and friends. This year yielded a wonderful experience for those craving a musical adventure. This festival is one of the last that is the product of sheer love of culture, and the togetherness that comes from bringing diverse people together in a beautiful place to share their common love of live music. Congratulations and thanks to Festival director Beth Judy and everyone who made the second annual Suwannee Roots Revival a weekend to remember for everyone who attended.