Suwannee Roots Revival isn’t just another music festival—it’s a sanctuary for the soul, a haven for the beating heart, and a magical place for some of the most awe-inspiring Americana music you’ll ever hear. Positioned along the majestic Suwannee River in Live Oak, Florida, the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park swung open its gates from October 5th-8th 2023, welcoming lovers of music, art, and community for a long weekend of camping and good times. Whether you’re navigating the highs or lows of life or you are living in perpetual bliss, Suwannee Roots Revival offers a transformative and affirming experience, embracing you in an atmosphere brimming with unity, celebration, and musical brilliance. Among Florida’s rich list of music festivals, Suwannee Roots Revival stands out—not just for its stellar line-up but also for its breathtaking venue that captures the very essence of the Sunshine State.
This year’s Suwannee Roots Revival was a fantastic occasion full of bluegrass, folk, blues, and even salsa. Or should we call it Salsa-grass? The headliners, Trampled By Turtles, brought their high energy folk punk to the stage, energizing the crowd with their spirited performance. Hot Tuna, the legendary blues-rock ensemble with roots in Jefferson Airplane, also captivated the audience with the incredible collaboration between Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady.
Fans were thrilled to welcome Electric LarryLand, Americana legend Peter Rowan, and Big Richard, whose genre-mashing set left many hoping they’ll become a Suwannee staple. One of my the most unique ensembles was was LPT, a 10-piece salsa orchestra based out of Jacksonville that had everyone dancing at all hours in the dance tent, especially during the multi-genre classic El Cubanchero featuring Drew Matulich and Billy Gilmore of The Grass is Dead.
It was surprising to see Donna the Buffalo, a Suwannee Roots mainstay, take the stage without one of the founding members Tara Nevins, who was unfortunately under the weather. Despite her absence, lead singer Jeb Puryear and the band delivered a unique performance, putting his own spin Poncho and Lefty and also bringing their iconic songs to the stage in a way never seen before by their fans.
The long-awaited return of Snake Oil Medicine Show added a dose of silliness to the festival. But the standout moment came from Rev. Jeff Moser and Friends, who reminded us that “Music is a healing force in the universe. We all need healing” Their finale set closed with a poignant rendition of the Grateful Dead’s Black Muddy River, encapsulating the festival’s transformative power. It was magical to stand in the bright lights underneath the live oaks with a healthy crowd of folks singing along to one of the greatest Grateful Dead songs in their catalog. Experiencing the healing force for themselves collectively.
This year’s Suwannee Roots Revival also featured standout performances by Sloppy Joe and The Ain’t Sisters. Sloppy Joe, a long-time festival favorite from Wisconsin, captivated the crowd with their unique blend of Slopgrass and roots music, especially during the festival’s grand finale. The Ain’t Sisters, hailing from Atlanta, energized the audience with their eclectic folk-rock and radiating set. Both bands left lasting impressions on the festival, resonating deeply with an audience eager for more.
Suwannee Roots Revival is a camping festival and the atmosphere is relaxed, allowing everyone to find their own peaceful corner amid the natural beauty of the venue. Families, new festival-goers, and seasoned music lovers all find a home here, united by their love of enjoying music in nature with friends.
Workshops and Jam Sessions
The festival features a workshop barn stage offering various instrument tutorials, but the real magic happens in the campgrounds. Impromptu acoustic jam sessions spring up like wildflowers, at all hours usually around Spirit Lake. There are two dedicated jam campsites, Slopryland hosted by Sloppy Joe and The Bill Monroe Tent hosted by Quarter Moon, serve as epicenters for these musical gatherings. The hosts are always friendly and welcoming, creating an inclusive environment where everyone can join in.
Beyond the music, the festival offers a range of activities designed to enrich the whole family’s experience. Yoga sessions provide a moment of zen, while a dedicated kids’ tent offers a variety of engaging activities.
What’s truly remarkable is the festival’s growing culture of intergenerational fellowship. It’s heartwarming to see families return year after year, dancing in the sunshine, playing music, and spreading love. Among the live oaks of Suwannee, countless stories are born, stories that will be told and retold for generations to come.
Whether you’re a minimalist camper or someone who enjoys the finer things, Spirit of the Suwannee has got you covered. With general admission, you get access to primitive camping, but for those seeking a bit more comfort, upgraded campsites for tents and RVs are also available. The park sprawls across a vast expanse, featuring newly renovated bathhouses, a well-stocked country store, and golf cart rentals for easy navigation.
The weather was nothing short of perfect—warm afternoons gave way to cool, crisp evenings, a rare meteorological treat for Florida. And let’s not forget the SOS Cafe, your go-to spot for delicious bites and refreshments.
This fest isn’t just a feast for the ears; it’s also a smorgasbord for the senses, thanks to its eclectic array of vendors. From homemade crafts and unique treasures to crystals and bohemian-style clothing, the marketplace was a haven for those looking to take a piece of the festival spirit home with them.
The food vendors took attendees on a gastronomic journey around the world. Whether you were craving Bahamian cuisine, won ton tacos, or Indian-style curry, there was something to satiate every palate. Traditional American fare was also on offer, ensuring that even the less adventurous eaters found something to enjoy.
Reuniting with my soul sisters
One of the festival’s most touching moments for me was reuniting with my dear friend and former bandmate, Heidi, and her husband “G”, who traveled all the way from Germany to be there. Heidi, Joleen Jones, Melissa Aiken, Mindy Smith and I were once part of a band called The Sweater Puppets in the mid 2000s. Life happened, we grew in our own ways, and we no longer all live on the same side of the world. Yet, years later, we found ourselves making music together again in our campsite because throughout the years we have made conscious efforts as friends to meet up anywhere and everywhere we can. Could there be no better place than Suwwanee Roots Revival? This magical moment served as a reminder that the bonds of music and friendship know no boundaries or distance.
Music, Stories, and Community
My experience was enriched by the wonderful people I met and interacted with. From jamming with lovely folks from Tallahassee to Sunday late-night storytelling sessions and songs with multi-instrumentalist Barry Sager in our very own campsite, each interaction added a whimsical note to my festival experience. I even had the chance to interview singer songwriter Nikki Talley and connect with volunteers from the Live Oak Music & Arts Foundation (LOMAF), an organization committed to advancing music and arts in North Florida. Stay tuned for a special episode of my podcast “Sunshine State showcase” for more on this.
As the final notes of the festival reverberated through the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, it was clear that Suwannee Roots Revival remains a wonderful example of Florida’s vibrant music and arts scene. This year’s festival was a harmonious blend of soul-stirring performances, community engagement, and personal connections that span continents and decades.
From the high-energy sets of national acts like Trampled By Turtles and Hot Tuna to the heartwarming reunions with lifelong friends, this festival is more than just an event—it’s a celebration of life itself. The festival continues to be a sanctuary for those seeking solace in music, friendship, and the natural beauty of Live Oak, Florida.
Special thanks to festival director Beth Judy and all the organizers, volunteers, and attendees who make this festival a resounding success year after year. As we look forward to the next chapter at Suwannee Spring Reunion, we’re reminded that the true spirit of Suwannee Roots Revival lies in the community it fosters and the memories it creates.
See you March 21st-24th for Suwannee Spring Reunion , under the live oaks and along the great Suwannee River, where the music plays on and the spirit flies freely.