Written by Charles “Bones” Frank, Photos by August J. Heisler
Saturday at Hulaween is the main course of the four part stacker sandwich, with Sunday serving up a well endowed dessert fit only for the devout String Cheese Incident horde. After what was a monumental Friday afternoon and night, good cheer around the festival grounds was palpable. It was just unreal to walk to and from the venue, exchanging smiles with strangers, enjoying playful interplay involving each attendees costume, and prancing through a wonderland of Florida paradise. Below you’ll find some meaty coverage of the all five of Cheese’s remaining sets of the weekend, in addition to of course the descent of the Space Cowboy, and my vision line as I trap into the woods at Spirit Lake, only this time under the moon!
String Cheese Incident Sets 3 & 4 & 5 (Saturday):
The third and fourth appointments with SCI were modest place sitters before popping the cherry on the big Halloween themed set of the weekend, the big kahuna if you will. Still though, there were some major standouts in “Djibouti Bump,” the ode to their home place “Colorado Bluebird Sky,” and of course “Jellyfish.” Anytime “Jellyfish” appears, especially preceding the feature set of the weekend, listeners know they’re in for a special evening. The numerous jellyfish totems stood high over the adoring crowd, dancing in the moonlight, tentacles lit up and dangling, creating the one of a kind canvas over a jam crowd that only happens at String Cheese Incident shows. The meat of Hulaween was indeed upon us. “Jellyfish” rang in at just over eleven heavenly minutes before “Rosie” would cap the penultimate SCI set of the night. Next up… the costumed set. What did String Cheese have in store this time?
Cheese really cooked up a special brew for the weekend’s special themed set, and in an ode to the cosmos and to the great women of the world, they blew out the swamp with a “Women of the Galaxy” theme. This set featured the band clad in gentlemanly zombie attire, fire spinners galore, Draculas, and numerous female guests such as Rhonda Thomas, Lisa Fischer, Jennifer Hartswick and even the mighty Ann Wilson on vocals and horns. This set served as one of the coolest romps of the year on stage, but was also a nod to the era in which we live, and to the importance of empowering women. As I mentioned earlier, String Cheese has never been a group to shy away from talking to their crowds, and from delivering important social messages with their music. Even as I key this stroke on my keyboard, women everywhere are fighting injustice. In their workplaces, homes, national political conversations and so many more arenas, women are fighting for equality. String Cheese Incident did a tremendous job of using this set to not only throw down a set of sing along chorales, but to deliver a firm message of the importance of banding together behind the women in all of our lives to ensure social equality and safety. The set runs like a seamless highlight reel of lady infused covers:
“Gimme Shelter,” “Rock Steady,” “Proud Mary,” “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” “Respect,” “Valerie (Amy Winehouse version),” “Heartbreaker,” “Politician,” “Baracuda,” and finally the appropriate “Get Up, Stand Up.” Again, admiration seeped from the back of the crowd to the front. Leave it to String Cheese to punch a set of classic hits while accenting it with powerful message. Well done friends, well done.
Following the “Women” portion of the show came the dance party “Galaxy encore” which really served as set unto itself. Cheese sandwiched various space tunes inside a huge “Rollover” sequence. The set read as follows: “Rollover,” -> “Close Encounters Theme,” -> “Star Wars Title Theme,” -> “Cantina Jam,” -> “Imperial March Jam,” -> “Star Trek Jam Next Gen Jam,” -> “Original Star Trek Jam,” -> “2001,” -> “Rollover.” Whew. What a night.
Sets 6 & 7 (Sunday):
Bluegrass Cheese! Sunday at Hulaween marks the final two appearances for the gracious hosts and of course sees Nershi, Kang & the gang bust out their pickin’ skills. There is nothing more pure than a Sunday pickin’ session from String Cheese Incident and this edition stayed true to that notion. “High on a Mountain Top” was the easy favorite from the first of the afternoon’s sets, and an appearance from The Nth Power’s Nick Cassarino on the second set sing along Hollingsworth driven “Superstition” reminded us all that this place indeed held mystique.
Though of course String Cheese, through their seven colossal takeovers of the main stage, was the centerpiece of the weekend for most attendees, there was still one gem at the forefront. When the news of this headliner leaked many months ago, before any other lineup announcements were solidified, many of us who traversed through our teenage and early adolescent years in the 1990s keeled over in disbelief. The star mover himself, the galactic traveler, the space cowboy in the flesh, Jamiroquai was to stomp the grounds of Hulaween. The moment was upon us all, I texted my girlfriend back home “I can’t believe I’m about to see Jamiroquai.” Many in the crowd like myself prior to listening to Jamiroquai in the 90’s had no concept of real dance music, any concept of an underground disco scene still in existence, and the words “techno,” “electro,” “and synth pop,” had no real meaning. Enter Jamiroquai, a figure who changed all of that.
He came out to massive applause, the UK turned international sensation that had come to the swamp at Suwannee to transport us. Something to note, returning to my earlier point of set placement and scheduling: his set following the galactic encore set from String Cheese was perfect. Another example in the carefully planned seguing that this festival uses as a flow tool. Jamiroquai, adorned in a blinking crystalline looking headpiece burst into the history books of Hulaween lore. The energy now was solely kinetic, the crowd moved as one. Picture a network of people each nearly touching one another and each doing a simultaneous part of the robot dance moves over and over again. We were bound in a sea of motion, and at the helm of the ship was a strange British captain backed by clean funk. Although to the dismay of many Jamiroquai did not play his mega hit “Virtual Insanity”, he did bring out the big guns in the form of “Space Cowboy,” “Traveling Without Moving,” and “Starchild.” Upon gathering some reactions from those back at camp and throughout the grounds during the rest of the festival, I found that his set may have washed a bit over the younger contingency of the crowd, who didn’t know what to expect, and that his set hit HARD for those like myself whose middle and early high school years came at the time of Jamiroquai’s most prominent reign over the pop charts. I speak for those of us in that assembly when I say that I will never forget this set, and how lucky I feel to lend my thoughts to it.
Subsequent to the musical tidal wave I was riding after the Jamiroquai thriller I followed my footsteps to the only place that could continue to harness my senses, this time the moon as my guide.
Spirit Lake at night:
Enter a world where surrealism oozes from every limb and leaks from underneath every tree. Spirit Lake at night is more of a figment of imagination in which people simply wander around asking one another “is this real?” Like some kind of Salvador Dali painting come to life, Spirit Lake at night sees the Hulaween production staff flex their full muscle. Words do not do justice to this supernatural place, but luckily my photographer August Heisler was at my side to capture some of the scenery. Eyes dart from one area to the next, fixated on a giant electric wire lotus flower, at the top of which a Tesla conductor is hitched, creating a bolt of electricity at the stroke of a keyboard that rests at the base of the flower. The giant beasts of the wood have all come to life, with various projectionists having a field day depicting movement on the figures. People gather at the base of the lake where a huge hologram is cast far into the lakes mire, the form of which changes by the minute and is set to an eerie lo-fi soundtrack. A person on a water jetpack shoots up over the hologram, dazzling the sets of eyeballs resting on the bank. I wander more- a casino is built into one corner of the wood where one can wager any heady item in exchange for a chance to win another heady item of similar value. A vaulted cube like structure plays host to thousands of individually colored round hanging light bulbs in which travelers of the realm lay under and stare into the electric stars. This is a feast for the senses fit for a king. I traveled through this lair like a cell through a membrane, pleasantly bumping into other worldly conceptions one after another. No detail is left untouched at Spirit Lake at night, and it is this attention to both grandiose and minute detail that helps solidify the legend of these grounds. Also located in Spirit Lake are two stages, the Campground Stage and the Spirit Lake Stage. I was lucky enough to take in a nighttime rustle from a bolstered modern era festival favorite, who although still on the rapid rise has solidified themselves into the canon of Hulaween royalty after only their first appearance at the festival.
This nine-piece funk fleet from Brooklyn is a high stepping bomb drop of friendly but commanding sound right from the jump off. Before the festival I spoke to lead guitarist and vocalist Dave Brandwein about how special the group’s first invitation to Hulaween was and he promised me the band would deliver in full for the appearance. He did not lie. Turkuaz dove into their power hour set and from the start it was clear they were taking no prisoners. The dual female harmony parts supplement the central parts of their songs perfectly. This is an expertly constructed group with a firm concept and dedication to high energy every single time. Adorned in their traditional rainbow get ups (each member wears a different solid colored outfit), Turkuaz moved through materiel new and old. Favorites like “Digitonium” joined forces with tracks off their new album entitled “Life In The City” such as “If I Ever Fall Asleep,” and “Make You Famous.” Sticking with the Halloween theme Turkuaz also busted out titles like “Gremlins,” and “Holy Ghost.” There was not a single note of downtime during this set. The Sunday soul shaker funk bomb had been delivered, the payload had been dropped, and it was an all out tub-thumper in the woods at Spirit Lake. This set played its’ role of festival closer perfectly. As I’ve returned to a few times, Hulaween organizers were precise with schedule crafting, and punctuating the festival with a high energy affair is how you show love and appreciation to your patrons, and how you end an affair properly, inciting anticipation for the next year’s installment.
I departed Hulaween Monday feeling so lucky for life. The feeling was mutual around the campgrounds as I traveled one last lap in Loop Camping to breathe in one more breath of humbling vitality. There is something sad, pacifying and comforting watching groups of friends and loved ones exchange farewells after experiencing something so special in togetherness. In a world which can at times seem dark, Hulaween stands tall as a testament at the end of the festival season that there is always a special light that guides those of us in this community. The sun is always shining my friends. This is Bones, signing off on another year of magic in the Floridian swamp kingdom at the Spirit of Suwannee.
To keep up with all my work, events, writing, and adventures, remember to follow The Jamwich on social media, follow my individual professional page Uncle John’s Bone, and of course follow the unprecedented work of my photographer August here at The Jamwich as well, in addition to his page August J. Photography. We still have one special piece of coverage from Hulaween to roll out, which is our interview with Papadosio, which you can find right here at The Jamwich!