The energy that embodies live music lovers’ affinity for the Halloween season is officially materializing all over the country, and while many bands and their adoring flocks of supporters prepare for their hits, there is no Halloweekend celebration ready to boil out of the cauldron more than Hulaween. Hulaween takes place in the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida and this year’s installment sees The String Cheese Incident curated gathering in its’ fifth annual edition. The festival lineup is absolutely bursting with multi-genre spanning talent, complete with a Thursday pre-party which could stand alone as one of the greatest days of music of the year. Hulaween is SO much more than just the bands that round out the bill. Veterans of the festival and newcomers alike will wrap themselves to the joy, mystery, music and community that lives inside the woods and mystical swampland that winds through the park. As the weekend rapidly approaches allow me to direct your gaze to five features (in no particular order) of Hulaween not to be missed.
1. The production and art installations:
For those returning to the grounds, this may be a no-brainer, however many travelers making their first jaunt into the spooky night may be understandably fixated on the lineup of musicians. The lineup is nothing short of a saliva inducing explosion, but the production and art installations that pepper the grounds is what really helps set the mood. I implore everyone to take a second on the grounds to breathe in the atmosphere. Take a few minuets to take a walk with no specific destination, lose yourself at Spirit Lake, let your eyes climb up and down the Spanish moss laden richly on the trees, lit up by a production crew that has been on site for weeks prior getting everything prepared. Hidden around every turn and in every nook and cranny you will find feasts to stimulate your eyes and brain. Sanctuaries of flowers, blinking lights, lasers, projections, and so much more will create a treasure trove of sensory.
2. The covers, costumes, and surprises carefully planned by the artists on stage:
For many bands, Hulaween is the exclamation point on festival season, and it is nice to return to the chaos that is normally associated with summertime once more, but this time under the beautiful cloak of Fall. Many artists will use their stage time as an opportunity to celebrate Halloween and will be dressed up, present special musical themes, and are always sure to pull a few surprises, either in the from of surprise guest sit-ins or off the wall covers. The String Cheese Incident will present their Halloween set on Saturday evening, and their set will be one that should pull every attendee from their campsite and to the main stage where the Halloween spooktacular will be in full swing. Bands work year round bouncing Halloween ideas off of one another trying to ultimately find the perfect fit to deliver in the swamp, so be sure to reciprocate their hard work with your applause!
3. The accessibility that no one provides like Hulaween:
Beer lines? Insane wait times for much needed bathroom breaks? Lack of places to sit down, meet up, and collect ones self or one’s group? Forget about it. Hulaween has you covered, the site is mapped by experts of operation, the staff is friendly, eager, and experienced, and the beverages come to you via well lit rolling carts no matter what stage or area of the venue you find yourself. Returning to regular concert life after Hulaween can be agonizing simply because of how well prepared the good folks at Spirit of Suwannee are. Accessibility of facilities and vendors to the patrons is a welcome and triumphant feature of this festival paradise.
4. The collection of local Floridian talent accents the lineup perfectly:
Florida is a hotbed in the jam scene for amazing state based bands that stretch all of the panhandle state’s bounds. Be sure to seek these groups out and lend them an ear. You may just stumble on your next favorite band. To name a few to highlight on the festival schedule, check out the dynamic rock and roll freight train Come Back Alice; the funk generals Ajeva; Holy Miss Moley; the uniquely whole folk jam warriors The Applebutter Express; and of course hailing from the royal Allman Brother’s family, whose love will forever call the grounds at Spirit of Suwannee home, the Melody Trucks Band. These Floridians will capture your hearts and soul.
5. The bat house:
Located near the back of the property in the general campground fields is the bat house, a small vaulted structure that plays home to the area’s local mascot horde, the Florida Bat. The bats play a critical role to the land’s ecosystem, not to mention watching them flap across the sky as day fades to night is just downright eerie, cool, and captivating. As you amble about the grounds make sure to follow your feet to the bat house and celebrate nature.
These are just a few of the numerous features that enrich the Halloween wonderland at Hulaween. If you are lucky enough to find yourself on these hallow, haunted, illuminated grounds this year then be sure to play a sponge to the above, and absorb as much of the production, topography, sites and sounds that Hulaween has to offer. I will be on site all weekend with my photographer August Heisler by my side to document the action, so if you see two handsome media devils walking about, feel free to stop and say hello!