Come join the community at Suwannee Spring Reunion, a festival that brings people together from all walks of life to celebrate Americana and folk music. Nestled in the beautiful Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, this festival offers a unique experience. The majestic live oak trees provide shade and create a serene atmosphere while the Suwannee River runs peacefully nearby. With multiple stages, hands-on workshops, kids’ activities, and unique features like the Music Farmer’s stage, there’s something for everyone. It’s a place where you can make new friends and maybe even find your chosen family. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience the magic of Suwannee Spring Reunion.
Ashley: We are here with Beth Judy, who is the festival director for Suwannee Spring Reunion. We are just right around the corner for this year’s festival. Beth, thank you so much for being here and giving us some information about the festival. And thank you for all you do in advance Suwanee Spring Reunion. What are you most looking forward to this year?
Beth: Thanks for having me, Ashley. It’s a pleasure always to talk about Suwannee Spring Reunion It’s the thing that I always look forward to at the festival, and that is the smiling faces of so many people. You can see it in their eyes and in their smile, and their auras, how happy they are to be in a place where they can have such a wonderful experience. And I’m just so blessed to be a part of making that happen.
Ashley: The festival is known for bringing people together from all walks of life who share a love of Americana and folk music, you could say. What do you think it is about that genre of music that creates such a sense of community among the fans?
Beth: I think one of the things is the honesty and emotional context of the music. All of the musicians, with very few exceptions, are putting such a big part of themselves into the music. But the other, and maybe even more important, is that most of the people who attend these festivals, a very high percentage, make music themselves. They are musicians. They love it, they love being a fan, but they also love spending their free time making music just for fun. And the artists also, as you know, for fun, make music with their friends. So I think that is a huge part of what builds the community, is it is a community of musicians and very avid fans who love to spend their time hearing music created right around them.
Ashley: I’d agree. Some of the best parts of the festival is going out to the campfire jams and playing music with your friends and making new ones. What I love about Suwannee Spring Reunion is that there’s all kinds of things to do. In addition to just going down to the stages and listening to the sets, you’ve also got some unique features? Can you tell us a little bit more about some of the unique features of Suwannee Spring Reunion, such as the hands-on workshops, the kids tent, and other activities might be happening?
Beth: The hands-on workshops at the Music Farmer’s stage are very close to my heart because they are sponsored by our nonprofit arm, Live Oak Music and Arts Foundation. If you’ve been to the festivals, you know that we have raffles there to raise money for that nonprofit and the money that’s raised there goes to do outreach shows locally and in North Florida into schools where, sadly, our music and arts programs are being cut. So we’re trying to, in a small way, subsidize that. For instance, Joe Craven will be going into the schools sponsored by LOMAF while locally in Suwannee County while he’s there this time, and also he does workshops. It’s on the schedule; you can go to a Joe Craven workshop. He’s got two this year, one with Hattie on Putting Soul in your songs. Hattie is his daughter, and Hattie and Joe are just amazing. If you’ve never caught either or both of them together, don’t miss any time you get a chance to see them.
The unique thing about the Music Farmer’s Workshop that I think is that you can actually get professional instruction in, granted not every instrument, every time, but always guitar. Tom Nelly, Dr. Tom Nelly from Gainesville, Florida. Is a doctor of music there. He teaches. He is an amazing teacher and he teaches two workshops on that stage. Roy Book Binder, an icon in the Blues world. I love Roy. He’s been playing our spring festivals since the very beginning. He’ll do a blues guitar workshop and even if you don’t play guitar, going to any workshop or performance by Roy Book Binder, as always a pleasure.
We have new this year, Barry Sager who teaches at Suwannee Spirit Kids Music Camp, which also is a place where we give a lot of our funds that we raise through LOMAF to support a free music camp that happens three or four times a year at the park for kids to come. If you have kids, you need to bring them to music camp. It will change their lives. We’ve seen it over and over. But anyway, Barry teaches harmonica there and his harmonica workshop is a thing of beauty. So that’s a new feature this year at the Music Farmer stage, as well as we have Jared Womack doing a Dobro workshop and many others.
And then we have Tania and the Magic MoonTraveling Circus. Unfortunately, Tania may not be joining us this time, but her team led by Tara is really strong and kids get a an amazing place to go with their parents and experience music, do crafts. Marci who does our festival poster brings them a black and white version of the poster and they can create their own festival poster. We have Kenny and Joy clowning around. There’s bingo. It’s just a wonderful place for the kids to go. Our vending village, where we have, we’re one of the few festivals that still have a craft section where people, not everyone, but a lot of the vendors make their own wares that they’re selling. So you can get unique items there that you can’t get anywhere else. And the food, there’s some vendors that I wait all year to get one-ton tacos and all of those wonderful treats that they have in the vending.
Ashley: I love the flash-fried Brussels sprouts vendor and you’re absolutely right. I just love LOMAF and it makes my heart so happy to hear that Joe Craven is still going out in the schools and doing things with the children. That’s awesome. And your band, the Habanero Honeys. I’ve been watching y’all over the years and I just love your poetic approach to music and how you incorporate that. Can you tell me a little more about the Habanero Honeys and tell me a little more about your group, and I think the lineup may have varied a little over the years. Can you tell me how it is?
Beth: It does. The lineup this year is always Kathy Lee, myself and Tom Nelly. And then more recently added as always is Steph Lee and Jeff from Sloppy Joe. And our newest edition is an, oh my gosh, such a powerhouse, Nikki Talley and so that is our Habanero Honeys for this time, and that’s our basic band. Now we’re hoping Annie Wenz and Marie Knofsinger were two of our original members and they come back when they can. And Annie unfortunately was hit really hard. She lives on Pine Island, and so Hurricane Ian devastated her home. And they are moving from Pine Island and looking for a place up, I believe, near you. So that’s what they’re doing. This Suwannee Spring Reunion they’re scouting for places, but she’ll be back with us.
The story behind the Habanero Honeys is an interesting one because it started the very second spring festival back in ’98. Yep, the last century. I’ve been doing this a long time and we were out after the music with Guy Clark and Peter Rowan out by the campfire and having some laughs and fun and high jinks. And so after that ended, we went off on a golf cart ride where we ended up down by the river singing together. And somebody said, wow, that sounds good. We should do a set. And Marie goes, come to my set in the tent tomorrow we’ll do a set instead of my set. There is contention over who came up with the name. All of us claim that we did. I claim it too, but Habanero Honeys were born that night and we did our set instead of Marie’s set the next day, we winged it totally, which is how we do it now. We never rehearse till we get to the festival. And I’ll be honest Nikki Talley told me just recently that our rehearsal for Habanero Honeys last year was one of her favorite Magnolia memories. She said, we have so much fun because we’re just figuring it out we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I certainly don’t, I don’t claim to be a musician. I write some poetry and they talked me into putting it to music. My favorite part, and this was one of the things Nikki was referring to, is when I do my spoken word, they all get to create the music to go behind it and that’s really fun. That’s a fun thing. And that ties back to why I think this music builds community and builds friendships, is because creating music together creates families, it creates chosen families. And that’s what I see so much at these festivals, is some people weren’t lucky enough to have families that they spend time with and sadly, that’s sad for them, but our chosen families are folks that we meet with, sometimes only at these festivals, sometimes they get together between festivals. But these chosen families have been created and create new communities with these folks together. So that’s what I love, love, love about doing this. It really is important. It affects people’s lives in an immeasurable way. It’s easy to see it in their lives because they tell you and so many people express the same sentiment about it. It’s why I’m still doing it. This is hard work. Looks easy and glamorous, but it’s a lot of hard work. But I’m still doing it because I look at those people there and I know that they need it.
Ashley: Thank you so much. I’m so grateful that you and your team continue to do it. And speaking of which, a lot of people are simply unaware of how much goes into an event. How much time would you say that you and your team spend before the event preparing and then also post-event breaking down when it’s time to go home?
Beth: It’s getting earlier and earlier with the advance stuff because bands are booking further and further out. It changed a little after the pandemic because that kind of put the brakes on everything and we had to start over. But before the pandemic, bands were booking out a year and a half in advance. So if you didn’t start with at least some of the folks now, Granted, we’re blessed enough, and I’ve asked enough people, they’re happy that we have the same bands. Some people say the lineup is the same, and it does have a lot of the same people, but I’m telling you, the people who come there want to hear these people. They want them there. And they want to hear new people. So it’s a balance. But I start usually a year to nine months. Now really bearing down on the lineup because we generally announce at least a handful for the next festival, which it, will be in October. Suwannee Roots Revival. I’m frantically finishing up details for spring and trying to book roots at the same time so it gets it gets a little tough and in my case, because the things I delegate great, but I am a control freak about something. So I do a lot of it myself and I miss my partner, Randy Judy, he helps me out. Still lets me bounce ideas off of him. But when we were in our hay day, my work was cut like a good part because he did a lot of the advance checking out bands, figuring out what the lineup’s gonna look like, all of that and so now I do it with his spirit and intention in mind. What we learned together since we started this is, I use that. And I’m really glad that even though his health is shaky he still loves to come out and be there for the festival. And the interesting thing, I’ve always maintained that these are major healing events. He is always better when he is out there. He feels better. He’s always more engaging, talking to people. And so I maintain that mental health, physical health, encouraged and made better by being within this energy field that we create while we’re there. I would be remiss in talking about how much work goes in if I didn’t say I depend on a team of amazing people. I couldn’t do it without them. It takes all the parts of my team. And I’m not gonna start naming people because I’ll forget somebody and I’m not gonna do that. But they know who they are. It’s as important to them, even though they get paid, it’s not a job. This is something they do for love. It’s something they do because they love being part of creating this. As far as onsite, we get there at Spirit of the Suwannee, usually Sunday, Monday. I get there usually on Monday. And most everybody is out by Monday. I stay over till Tuesday to finish some accounting stuff. But that on site, it’s about eight days, eight to nine days of build, do the festival, take it down and drive off thinking about what we can do different and better for next time.
Ashley: That’s amazing. And I love what you said because I’ve always considered Suwannee Spring Reunion a therapeutic experience myself, I call it the Suwannee Reset because I always feel better while there and when I leave. And I think that you do a wonderful job with that balance of old favorites and folks that audience may not have seen before. So let’s talk a little bit about the lineup. The festival feature is a really diverse lineup, and it’s awesome. I’m so excited about it. Can you tell me about some of the acts that you’re most excited to see this year, especially any new editions?
Beth: Absolutely. I’m always excited to see our favorites, and I hesitate to call them old favorites, they’re wonderful and they’re an integral part of our shows. But some of the new folks coming this year, I am excited Big Richard, if you haven’t caught them all, female band. I’m excited, so excited to see more women in this genre, more women coming up. Before we had We had Lucinda, we’ve had Emmy Lou. There was a handful, but as far as every time I looked at all these bands, it was five guys, and they were great. I’m not dissing men. I love them, but I’m so glad to see women finding their place in this music. And I think Big Richard is going to be one of the festival favorites, so be sure and check them out. Armchair Boogie is a band that is from Wisconsin, and they are getting a growing fan base, and they’ve actually played Sloppy Joe’s Jack Pine Festival a few years ago. And I think they’re going to kick off the amphitheater set on Thursday. So that’s another band that I’m excited to see.
John Mailander has been coming with our festival with Rev. Jeff Mosier for a while, and he sits in with everybody. He is just an amazing musician. If you don’t know his history, he’s in Bruce Hornsby’s band, so he’s no slacker. So he is amazing, and he’s going to bring his very eclectic John Mailander’s Forecast They’re going to have a set on Thursday. And he’ll be around for the rest of the weekend as well.
But I’m excited to see something different, and it’ll be interesting to see. Our community has big ears, so I have faith that they’re going to embrace what John brings for us. I’m excited to see Molly Tuttle. John is, first of all, he has that Vassar-like quality that he is just a kind human being who just radiates love from him. So that is a really good start to me for someone that I want to keep including in the festival because he’s got that love, that caring, and it comes through in his music loud and clear.
There are others, let’s see, Mile 12 from Colorado, I believe has men and women and it is a Bluegrass band. And I think they’re going to catch everybody’s attention as well. Caleb Caudle, I think Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas have done some recording with them. He’s quite amazing. And I’m thrilled about all the new additions. Let’s see, The Ain’t Sisters. They’ve been coming with Ralph Roddenberry for a while now, I’ve had the intention to bring their band, and finally, I was like, we need to do this. I just really need to do this because they are quite amazing too.
So that’s, there’s so many things, and I love the Earls of Leicester, even though we’ve had them before. They’re not new to us. And obviously, Jerry Douglas has played with us a few times over the years when it worked out back in the day he was playing with Alison Krauss, so it wasn’t always possible to get him in on our dates, but that’s just that band Earls of Lester just is very cool. Very cool. And musically phenomenal. So there’s lots of things. It’s like I love everybody, and unfortunately, I don’t get to see it all. I end up behind the scenes. But I love to hear from everybody about what they like. That’s one thing I would ask is give me your feedback. When you’re at a festival and you see something you think is wonderful, let me know because that helps me know how. Because I want to curate this lineup in a way to feed the audience. I want the thing that makes all this work. I want to keep doing it, so feedback is always good, and then I’ll do whatever I want.
Ashley: I think you’re nailing it. I think it’s great. The lineup is always just top-notch. Another great feature about the festival is it’s at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, which is essentially a camping resort. They’ve got everything Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park offers camping options. What should folks know before they pack up their cars and head to the festival?
Beth: Most of the people who’ve been there before know these things, but I guess if you’re coming for the first time, what you should know is it becomes a community of camps. There’s 800 acres in the park. So if you’re a person who wants to be camping off by yourself, there’s certainly a place for that. First of all, if you haven’t been there before, get there early in the day unless you have a reserved site, and then you’ll know where you’re going. But if you haven’t been there before, get there early in the day and daylight and take a little time to ride around a bit and check out the campground. I would go to musicliveshere.com and go under camping, and there’s a page called park Maps, and it’s overwhelming because there are so many different parts, but that might help you pick where you want to be, and just know that wherever you are, there are going to be people who will welcome you. At one point a few years ago, someone went around and they named their camps. So as someone at the end of a festival, I got handed a list that had over a hundred names of the different camps that people have created. So there’s pretty much anything you want there.
If the weather is good and it’s not too dry, we can have campfires in the park. We always ask that people be vigilant and never leave a campfire unattended. That’s just basic protocol. But it’s a beautiful place. If you haven’t been there before, spend a little time researching. Looking at the maps, if other people who have been there, talk to them, find out where they camp, what they recommend. There are areas that are quieter, like over their primitive areas, around the loop area that are quieter. Areas around the lake area are a little more rowdy. That’s where a lot of the primitive camping is. But basically, scout it out. Maybe not settle in the first place talk to people when you get there. Ask for advice. They’ll be more than happy to help you. You will come away with new friends and maybe even new chosen family.
Ashley: That’s so true, and I love how these family camps have evolved over the years because now there are generations of people that have come to this festival. People have brought their kids, and these kids have grown up and made offshoots of those original camps. It is just so cool to see the creativity that goes into. Some of it is like glamping. Some of them are just downright gorgeous.
Beth: That’s correct. Bring your bikes. That’s another camping tip. I would say bring your bicycles, and then you can ride around easily and check out all the different camps. One of the things about that generational thing that I love, I have had people bring their baby and hand it to me and say he or she was conceived as Swan’s pre-reunion, and they named it something appropriate. Magnolia, so far, I haven’t had anybody name it Suwannee, but that’s probably happened or is going to. But the thing about the generation, grandparents have been the first people to come and bring their grandkids, and then the kids come, or it’s the kids and they bring their parents and then they bring their grandkids. The most I’ve seen is five generations. Five generations of families doing things together. And this is not just one family, this is in multiple cases. It’s a family reunion for people. It’s a family outing. It’s part of their life. They plan it, and that is, that’s community plus. That’s building relationships and making your life better. If you can do things with your family or found family that can make your life happier and make the challenges that we all face during the year so much easier to face because you have this support and those people are there for. The people who come to these festivals are the kindest, most open-hearted loving people.
And part of it, not all of it just attracts those kind of people. I’m not trying to take credit for it, but I’m telling you that from the very beginning, we set an intention from 1997 with the first Suwannee SpringFest was the first. We set an intention of a community of love and healing and music and positive impact on the lives of the people who were there. And we attracted those people who needed that in their lives, and many of them are still coming. I’m issuing an invitation. If you’re hearing this and never have been there and you feel like there’s something missing, you need something in your life. You don’t have the friendships or the community in your life that you would like, come here. I think you’ll find it. I can’t guarantee it, but hey, you’ll at least have a really good time for sure.
Ashley: 100%. Some of the most dearest friends I have to this day were made because of Suwannee SpringFest. Absolutely. It’s so true. The community that surrounds it is every bit as valuable as the music and the park and everything else. It’s wonderful. I appreciate you meeting with me today, Beth, and thank you so much for all that you do. I’m so looking forward to the festival and seeing everybody and hearing all the wonderful music and just being in that gorgeous, magical place. What can attendees expect from this year’s Suwannee Spring Reunion, and what message do you hope to send with the festival as a whole?
Beth: The message I want to send is that everybody needs a break, and you can take it here, and the message is, take care of yourself and have friends and have community. And music, it’s the pen. It’s the thing that holds it all together. But the really important part is the experience and the relationships and the community. And so what I want everyone who comes to Suwannee Spring Reunion to go home better than when they got there. That’s, if that happens, if even a good part of people go back better than when they got there, me and my team have done a successful job. My team, including the artist and every single person that participates. Ashley, I appreciate you having me here today, and I appreciate all that you do to support music. The things that you do to keep it going and are also an integral part of us all making it work. It really does take a village, and thank you for what you do as well.
Ashley: Thank you.
So there are still tickets available. Where do folks go, and where can they find out? Just more general information about the event, rules, details, etc. Where should they go online to find that information?
Beth: www.suwanneespringreunion.com to get your tickets. There’s also some information on there. There are a few rules. If you don’t know the rules when you get to the festival, you get a festival program, there’s a rules page. Take a look at that. Our basic rules are be kind, be nice to each other, the golden rule, treat everybody else just as you would like to be treated, and we’ll all get along and have a wonderful weekend. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help you out.
Ashley: Thank you, Beth, and y’all, you’ve heard it. Y’all come out to Suwanee Spring Reunion, enjoy some music. Meet your new best friends. Join the family reunion, and we’ll see you there at Suwannee Spring Reunion March 23rd-26th 2023.