Magnolia Fest Preview

by Ashley Feller

“Are you ready to get your Mag on?”

The weekend of October 15th-18th is traditionally a much anticipated weekend for fans of Magnolia Fest  annually held at The Spirit of The Suwannee Music park. This year marks the 19th year and will certainly be no disappointment. Mag Fest has a rich history of friends coming together under the towering live oak trees to celebrate music, art, dancing, and community. The park itself is one of the most beautiful places in the south! It spans hundreds of acres along the Suwannee River, and is famous for its picturesque views.

This year’s lineup includes The Tedeski Trucks Band, Avett Brothers, Del McCoury, Keller Williams and Grateful Gospel, Jeff Austin, and The Steep Canyon Rangers, to mention a handful. Everyone will be excited to see the infamous Jim Lauderdale. Not only will we be excited to hear his own soul filled songs but we are also eager to see what he’s wearing! Lauderdale is one of many “spirits” of the suwannee. Many artists on the lineup have been staples for years and every year fans celebrate and look forward to hearing new songs from their favorite bands. Some include Donna The Buffalo, The Lee Boys, Nikki Talley, Sloppy Joe, Big Cosmo, and Quarter Moon.

The primary component that sets this festival apart from others is comfort. This festival has some of the best amenities a music fan can ask for. There are 600 campsites on over 800 acres. Each camping section includes a bathhouse with running water for private showers and commodes. These bathhouses are maintained round the clock by the park’s staff and are for the most part exceptionally clean and functional. The park also features several hiking trails, a bar and restaurant, canoe livery, and even horse stables!

There are three ways to enjoy your camping experience at Magnolia Fest. First is RV camping. The park provides hundreds of electrical and sewage hookups and lots of room to park your rig. Then there is primitive camping. There are hundreds of individually cleared out spaces throughout the park. The river might be best for folks with families as it is always quiet. Whereas the pine field, farm field, and Ree’s Pond vicinity is perfect for those who like to party until sunrise of the following day. Lastly, there are many cabins available for rent throughout the park which include most of the comforts of home.

One unique quality of this festival is how “homey” it feels. Most of the people who attend the festival are veterans and have been tweaking their campsites for several years. Unlike some festivals Magfest allows for a lot of personal space. Hardly anyone is camping tent pole to tent pole. Many people find a certain individuality in their campsite and really strive to make it their “Suwannee Home” as many call it. Their sites are decorated by gorgeous tapestries, lights, full elaborate kitchens, and sometimes even projection screens and couches! Just about every campsite has a place for a fire, and everyone is respectful of each other’s space. Since most of the park is under shade it is usually possible to get more than a couple hours of sleep before being “baked awake” by the sun beating down on your tent.

Another Magfest tradition is the after hours jam sessions which take place in the campsites. When the stages shut down the musicians come out to play! It has been widely accepted that some of the best music heard at the festival is not always on the stages but around the fires in the campsites. There are three campsites that encourage visitors to come by and jam, or just hang out and enjoy the music. The first is The Bill Monroe Shrine which is hosted by the band Quartermoon of Gainesville Fl. Every year the group sets of a tent complete with hay bales and of course a shrine to the legendary Bill Monroe. You always know you are near it because you can hear the pedal steel and electric bass as you approach. Some of the most intense and intricate jam sessions happen right in the Bill Monroe Shrine and definitely should not be missed. You can even find it on the festival map!

Another campsite which is also on the map is the famous Slopryland hosted by Wisconsin’s own Sloppy Joe. Each year the band and their entourage which consists of a combination of friends from Wisconsin and Georgia. This campsite is very large and includes a fire pit and a homemade tent which is most times glowing with candles and jack-o-lanterns. The jack-o-lanterns are sculpted works of art and become more visually stunning in every approaching year. The Slopryland tent is fashioned by the SloppyJoe entourage shortly after they arrive at the festival. It is really quite a sight, it is made of palmetto fronds, and primitive wooden poles.

Next to Slopryland is Camp Caruso. Which features the Taj-ma-hut a beautiful hand crafted octagon shaped hut. Many pickers also accumulate there for some late night shredding and debauchery. Don’t be surprised if you see picker’s around the fire, inside the hut, and another group outside the hut. It really is the place where the magic happens.

Whether you enjoy festivals from the comfort of your RV or you’re a bare bones camper or somewhere in between Magfest has something for everyone. From the incredible scenery to the amount of talent this festival is one of the best of its kind. Bring your friends and family, your instruments, and create your own outdoor dream home. The possibilities are endless. Come be a part of a wonderful fall tradition. See ya’ll at the Suwannee and be ready to Get your Mag on!