Spirit of the Suwannee Celebrates The 20th Annual Suwannee Springfest!

written by Ashley Feller

   It won’t be much longer before its time to head on down to The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak Florida for the 20th Annual Suwannee Springfest! This unique and gorgeous venue has a long and strong history of being the home of many unforgettable festivals such as Wannee, Hulaween, Aura,  and Magnolia Fest. Each festival has its own diverse flavor but Springfest is different. Springfest is known to bring music lovers from all over the world together to one place to celebrate togetherness through music, art and dance. This is the perfect event to begin your Spring festival season. One of the greatest qualities of Springfest is the consistently amazing lineup of bands and singer songwriters. This is a paradise for everyone who enjoys Americana and Bluegrass music.

    This year promises an exciting line up full of new editions as well as your favorite staples. Leading the pack is the legendary John Prine. He is a songwriter’s songwriter and many of his songs are musical interludes of life, love and hard times. He won

the Lifetime Achievement award presented by UK’s BBC Radio in 2003. He is the creator of the hit song “Angel from Montgomery” performed by Bonnie Raitt and has since been recorded by many other great artists. Prine’s 2013 performance at Spirit of The Suwannee was nothing short of amazing. Prine even surprised the audience with an appearance by the infamous Kris Kristofferson. Prine is a story teller and is a master craftsman when it comes to songwriting.

An exciting new edition for this year’s festival is the incredible Brandi Carlile. After having much success with her hit “The Story” which was produced by T. Bone Burnett the songstress has progressed to having her songs recorded by grammy winning artist Adele. Brandi Carlile might have one of the greatest backup bands out there. She has been regularly touring with the twin brothers Tim and Phil Henersroth for several years. Their harmony vocals have been compared to Simon and Garfunkel and there is no mystery for that comparison. The three are a dynamic songwriting team and sing astonishingly tight harmony. Brandi Carlile’s voice is like an angelic freight train, building steam to intense vocal climaxes.

Railroad Earth has performed at Spirit of the Suwannee for a few different festivals over the years. This band knows no boundaries. They exude virtuosity in their playing and don’t allow genre to define their craft. Last year RRE was featured on Warren Hayne’s album “Ashes and Dust” and also combined forces for a summer tour last year. Recently they have shared the stage with Scott Pemberton, Bill Nershi, and The Werks. It will be exciting to see what exciting new songs RRE will bring to this year’s fest.

Coming all the way from Steven’s Point Wisconsin  making their debut performance is Horseshoes and Hand Grenades! The five piece band is high energy and are extremely fun to watch. Their high lonesome harmonies blend perfectly with their exceptional songwriting. Each member of the band is a master of their instrument. Their instrumentation includes guitar, clawhammer banjo, fiddle, bass, harmonica and accordion. The group recently released “Middle Western”. This album portrays all the essential elements of the perfect album. Between songs which touch on themes of enjoying the rivers of Wisconsin,  to reflecting on life. The harmony is spot on and each solo is colorful and exciting. It is no surprise that we will see a lot more of this band on the festival scene and can’t wait to see what they have in store for the future.

The magic of Suwannee Springfest doesn’t stop with the fantastic line-up. The park is absolutely gorgeous! Many will say it is their most favorite place on earth. The park spans several hundred acres on the Suwannee River in Live Oak Florida. It’s filled with aging Live Oak and Cypress trees. The park features several bathhouses, swimming pool, horse stables, a restaurant, full liquor bar and many cabins available to rent. Primitive  is included with the price of the ticket but there are also water and electric upgrades available for rent. The festival has a diverse mix of tent campers and RV campers. All camping areas relatively near the stages.

One of the hallmarks of this festival is the late night jamming. There are two open jam sites which are both included on the festival map. The first is The Bill Monroe Shrine, a colorful tent paying homage to the father of Bluegrass himself. This jam is hosted by Gainesville’s own “Quarter Moon”. Be sure to listen for the electric bass or pedal steel guitar late in the evening! The other picker’s jam spot is Slopryland which is hosted by festival staple Sloppy Joe from Wisconsin.  Slopryland is probably the most elaborately decorated campsites in the park. Over the years Slopryland has gained the reputation of being a picker’s paradise. Many friendships have been made during late night jam sessions. Great music doesn’t stop when the stages shut down, the music stays alive and well around the fire under the oak trees.

This is a wonderful festival for a first timer or a seasoned festival veteran. The Springfest family has grown over the years and always welcomes new festival attendees. There is love in the air at Spirit of the Suwannee Music park and every year the love just gets stronger though one common ground. The love of live music. This is an ideal festival for families because there are numerous  options when it comes to camping. If quiet camping is your style, the river camp is absolutely welcoming and stunningly beautiful. If you are an all night rager, camp around the pond and enjoy the late night acoustic jam sessions. The music begins March 17th at four 0’clock. Kicking off the party is none other than Randy Judy who founded the festival with Beth Judy in 1996. So pack your festival gear and come be part of one of the greatest southern music festivals.