Suwannee Roots Revival, hosted by Spirit of The Suwannee, attracted hundreds of music fans over the weekend of October 13th-16th. The four-day event is a celebration of music, dance, art, and community. The Americana music festival has a long history in the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and many often call themselves spoiled after attending because Roots Revival is one of the most peaceful and relaxed festivals you can add to your calendar. It is perfect for music lovers of all ages. It is also a haven for bluegrass lovers and those who appreciate quality songwriting. This year the lineup included Florida’s own JJ. Grey and Mofro, The Punch Brothers, Grammy award-winning songwriter Shawn Camp and more. It was also a treat to see a few new additions to the lineup, such as A.J. Lee and Blue Summit, The Krickets, and The Kitchen Dwellers. Personally, I found the festival healing on a spiritual level… Roots Revival is not merely an entertainment event, but an immersive, therapeutic, and cathartic event. Annually, it beacons folks out of their everyday routines to camp in the forest, cook over an open fire, put new strings on their instruments to dance, sing and embrace the community that loves roots music.
The festival kicked off on Thursday afternoon with a hard-driving set by Grandpa’s Cough Medicine. The band has performed at the festival many times over the years, but no matter how many sets I catch I am still amazed by the speed and precision with which they perform bold in- your-face Bluegrass. Later in the evening, I excitedly hurried down to the Porch stage to catch my new favorite band, AJ Lee and Blue Summit. The band features Scott Gates and Sully Tuttle on vocals and dueling lead guitars, Chad Bowen on upright bass, Jan Puratt on fiddle, and A.J. Lee on mandolin and vocals. I was most impressed by their original songs, their crystal clear harmony, and their charming rendition of Junior Brown’s Venom Wearin Denim. Lee’s voice is pristine and fresh but still carries the listener back to another place and time. AJ Lee and Blue Summit made a lasting impression on the audience that evening. I especially enjoyed that each of their sets throughout the weekend was different from the last and each one had its own energy and flavor.
By Friday, the campground was starting to fill in. Folks from all over the country crafted their homes away from home in RVs and tents. Some build the most beautifully ornate campsites ever seen and some throw down a pup tent and a table, balancing out the festival culture with a more minimalist approach. Whatever your camping style is, Spirit of The Suwannee has got you covered. Primitive camping was included with general admission tickets, but there are also upgraded campsites available for tents and RVs. The park spans hundreds of acres and includes several recently updated bathhouses, a country store, golf cart rental, and, of course, the SOS Cafe. The weather was perfect. Slightly warm in the afternoon, but for most of the day and night the air was cool and crisp with very little humidity, which, for Florida, is astounding. Friday evening it was great to catch a great set by Jacksonville’s JJ. Grey and Mofro on the amphitheater stage. It was wonderful to see such a dynamic and powerful performance glowing with Florida pride. I can still hear J.J.’s distinct voice echoing “Lochloosa is on my mind” in my memories. Really, it was quite thrilling that there was an option to see two bands at once with a great horn section. Because at nearly the same time, Blair Crimmins And The Hookers were performing in the dance tent. This band was also a new addition to Roots Revival and stood out in the line-up. This was definitely a great opportunity for those who love to swing dance to indulge in the music that Blair Crimmins And The Hookers were making in the dance tent.
On Saturday I awoke and realized I was out of ice. With the help of my trusty wagon, I was able to take Hippie Road, which runs behind the amphitheater stage and leads to the country store. There I was able to restock on ice, beer, and a couple of small items I had forgotten. By the time I made it back to camp with the ice, it was time to head down to the amphitheater stage for Dread Clampitt’s 20th-anniversary set. I have loved Dread Clampitt since the first time I saw them at the Red Bar in Grayton Beach twenty years ago. The band has been through many different seasons throughout the years but they have consistently fed their community with amazing music and stories. Their set was a glorious tribute to their lost bandmates Justin Price-Rees (fiddle) and Kenny Oliverio, who were both integral parts of Dread Clampitt’s journey, but sadly, both musicians passed away tragically on separate occasions. It was amazing to see Matt Miller join Dread Clampitt during their set and even more special to hear him recreate a couple of Justin’s original fiddle tunes. Which until now had only lived on in recordings. The band was also joined by Mark Gillespie, an accomplished guitarist who did a wonderful job of adding the finishing touches to the songs. Their set filled me with a myriad of emotions, mostly happy but mournful at the same time.
After Dread, I was excited about visiting the Music Hall. Since the pandemic, this was the first time the stage had been open for Roots Revival. It’s a great escape when you need to cool off in the air conditioning, take a comfortable seat, and have a sit-down dinner while you enjoy more music! I was pleased to find an open seat at the bar, so I ordered a cocktail and enjoyed the haunting melodies of The Krickets. They are an all-girl band that is not only a band of great harmony singers but a trio of poignant songwriters. Each of the women brings their own spice to the table to create an earthy blend of tales from the swamp, and the spirits of those who have traveled to the great beyond.
On Saturday evening, The Punch Brothers performed an astonishing set back on the amphitheater stage. Their virtuosity is something that I don’t think can be completely understood until you see them in person. I love how their music is equally rustic yet polished, with all the flair and nuance of Jazz but with dashes of modern pop with interplay much like chamber music. The Punch Brothers are definitely one of the most unique bands in the Americana space today and it was wonderful to hear them gracefully transition from Bluegrass classics such as Jerusalem Ridge to Thile’s modern songwriting.
At Roots Revival, Sunday is also known as Vassar Sunday. Not only is it a bittersweet day of remembrance for the legendary fiddle player Vassar Clements, but for those from the Roots Revival community who have also passed. Each year through song, dance, and amazing performances, their memory is celebrated and remembered. On Sunday morning, Verlon Thompson put on a stellar solo performance on the amphitheater stage. Sunbeams penetrated the canopy and the audience lingered on Thompson’s every word. He told the stories of his years of playing the guitar alongside the iconic songwriter Guy Clark and the mournful tale of Opry star David Akeman, better known as Stringbean. Near the end of the set, Verlon enthusiastically invited Shawn Camp and Lisa Stewart to the stage to sing an impromptu version of Susanna Clark’s Come From The Heart. It was a beautiful moment in Roots Revival History.
Donna The Buffalo played the traditional closing set featuring several guest musicians who had performed through the weekend. Each year it is a blessing to reconnect with those who have attended Roots Revival before but to also meet newcomers and experience the festival vicariously through them as well. Suwannee Roots Revival is one of the greatest events to ever bless the state of Florida and it continues to blossom with unrelenting heart and soul. Special thanks to festival director Beth Judy, Randy Judy, and everyone who worked so diligently to make the event a memorable success. See you at Root’s sister festival, Suwannee Spring Reunion, at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, on March 23rd 2023. Visit suwanneespringreunion.com to purchase early bird tickets.