Written By: Ashley D. Feller
Suwannee Spring Reunion is a perfect example of what can happen when a divine mix of people come together to enjoy four days of Americana music, art, dancing, and friendship in the stunning beauty of Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak Florida. The Park has an extensive history of hosting a trove of music events throughout the years and continues to grow into one of the best places to bring family and friends to enjoy each other and everything the festival has to offer. This year’ s Suwannee Spring Reunion genuinely was the reconnection of hundreds of people to share the love of community, art, and music. Although Suwannee Spring Reunion is still a young festival it was born from Suwannee Spring Fest which took place in the park for many years and planted the seeds for this spectacular event.
Wonderful spring weather was received during the day throughout the festival but in the evening it was quite cold and perfect for campfires. Quartermoon was the first act of the weekend to play on the amphitheater stage. The harmony vocals between husband and wife John and Raven Smith were memorable and their shared energy was completely captivating. A new addition to Suwannee was Billy Strings whose set was totally unique even for modern progressive bluegrass. One of the most amusing parts of his band’s style was their ability to play in a straightforward traditional bluegrass manor then seamlessly musically morph the song into something perhaps from another dimension. Then go right back into hard-driving bluegrass. Billy Strings and his band were one of the best-received bands to have played all weekend.
Many festival attendees were also delighted for the return of The Jon Stickley Trio who played sets on all three stages throughout the weekend. Jon Stickley Trio has been touring the country throughout the last year and has recently released a new album. This band is profound because they have the ability to engage with their audience with instrumental music. The musical dynamics between Jon on guitar, Lyndsay Pruett on fiddle and new percussionist Hunter Deacon is on fire and every one of their sets had high energy. Their compositions have specific movements which showcase each player’s virtuosity and imagination.
The festival community was also delighted to see the return of Nikki Talley and musical partner/husband Jason Sharp. The couple has recently had a baby girl who just might be the cutest creature ever created. The pair tours the United States in their van “Bluebell” and shares their music in many different types of venues. Talley has one of the most capturing voices. During each set, she played a few tunes her mother had taught her on the claw-hammer banjo. The most interesting quality of Sharp’s playing is his tasteful use of effects. Each effect that is chosen absolutely compliments the songs but at the same time bring color that might not otherwise be present without their careful in corporation.
Front Country in the Music Hall
Another great new addition to the festival was Front Country. This band made quite an impression on the audience and brought a whole new energy to the festival. The overall mix of gorgeous multi-part harmony vocals, the cleanliness of their instrumental abilities and their spirit as a whole made for an excellent set Friday afternoon in the amphitheater. The music filled the concert area and carried up into the higher tiers of the venue as the sunshine peaked through the canopy.
One of the unique features of Suwannee Roots Revival is the music hall. Some tend to think of it as a music venue inside a music venue. The music hall is home to the SOS café, has a full bar, and a great concert area. The most compelling set seen in the music hall all weekend was Ralph Roddenbery’s Friday night set. Roddenbery is an avid singer-songwriter from the Atlanta area. He and his band have been performing throughout the south for many years and have accumulated quite an entourage of people who absolutely love Ralph’s songs. One of the best moments during the show was looking around to see the audience singing along word for word to just about every one of Roddenbery’s songs.
Saturday was an all-day adventure filled with music, and more cool temperatures. The amphitheater stage is the bar far the nucleolus of the festival. There is nothing more lovely than to spend the afternoon in a hammock breathing in the spring air and listening to each fantastic band one after the other. Highlights include Shawn Camp and Verlon Thompson who played tribute to the legendary songwriter Guy Clark. Then Dar Williams, followed by Grammy award-winning Bluegrass band The Infamous String Dusters. One of the most interesting things about The Infamous String Dusters is their ability to change their style of bluegrass throughout the years. Although they appear to have mostly been on the progressive end of Bluegrass there have been varying degrees of their inventive approach to the genre.
The pinnacle of the festival was the late night jam on the amphitheater stage hosted by Billy Gilmore of The Grass is Dead. The show featured a great family of musicians that practically turned their instruments to splinters. Guests included members of Quartermoon, SloppyJoe, Jon Stickley Trio, Front Country, Jeff Mosier, and many others. The crowd huddled close in the cool evening air and danced in the moonlight. It was one of the best musical collaborations ever assembled at Suwannee.
Sunday is always the most bittersweet day at the festival. Folks are preparing to return home, energy is depleting. The festival was so enjoyable this year it was gone in the blink of an eye. The sound crew, the volunteers, the vendors, park staff and festival organizers did a spectacular job of sustaining an unforgettable experience for music lovers. Sunday is also a day to remember those in the festival community who have passed away. The tradition began following the death of legendary Florida fiddle player Vassar Clements and has continued every year since. Donna The Buffalo who has been a Suwannee Staple for over twenty years was the perfect band to end the festival setting the stage for a great evening dance party.
Billy Strings in the Music Hall
A book could be written about all the wonderful qualities of Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. It has every amenity one could ever ask for and every corner is filled with infinite beauty. This festival promotes family and love and the people that continue to come year after year make up a wonderful congregation. The performers often camp among the attendees and it’s not unusual to see the festival staff, and performers out in the campgrounds with attendees sharing the experience. Campsite jam sessions are encouraging and one of the best parts of this festival is to see lots of pickers playing music all day and night for the pure enjoyment of making music with others. There are two campsites on the festival map Slopryland and The Bill Monroe Shrine which both invite folks to come and play music in a casual setting. Both bands are welcoming and encourage visitors to share songs and also play a variety of acoustic music. Many will say the music heard in the campsites is on par with the stage music but offers an amount of intimacy that cannot be experienced in a concert setting.
Billy Strings & Reverend Jeff Jam w/ Jon Stickley etc.
Special thanks to festival director Beth Judy and her team, the park crew, the volunteers, the musicians and everyone who made the festival a complete success.The lineup for Spring Reunion’s sister festival Suwannee Roots Revival has been announced for October 12th-15th and early bird tickets and special combo tickets are available at www.suwanneerootsrevival.com RV and electric sites are available for reservation by calling the park office. Also, thank you to Arielle D’Ornellas for the fantastic photos of some of the best moments of the festival. So in October bring your friends and family to Suwannee Roots Revival and come be part of a new tradition that is blossoming into one of Florida’s best music festivals.