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Hulaween 2013 - Suwannee Music Park  
Posted: 9 years ago by KindWeb Ed
Hulaween 2013 - Suwannee Music Park
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When we think about those special places that have been carved out by nature, seemingly for the purpose of “becoming” musical venues, our first thoughts run to the magical vistas of places like the Gorge, Red Rocks and Mountainview.  But perhaps the most magical of these places is tucked away inside an ancient forest, dripping with Spanish moss, in northern Florida.  While the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park has long been the home to numerous festivals of note (Wannee and Bear Creek, just to name a few) it was when Florida based Purple Hat Productions and Chicago based Silver Wrapper joined forces to relocate the String Cheese Incident’s annual Hulaween celebration to this picturesque locale (and expand it to three days) that I knew that this was the time to experience the magic for myself.


With the “holiday” falling on a Thursday, day one of the festival featured the least varied musical schedule as the hosts promised three sets of musical treats for the festivants.  But the entertainment opened with a set of folksy bluegrass from Larry Keel and his wife Jenn.  Keel’s flat-picking wizardry is always a treat to hear and this short set was no exception, making it the perfect tone setter for the weekend.


String Cheese is known for their over the top theatrics, so I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed at their stagewear for this occasion.  Indeed, only keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth took to the stage with a true costume, and even that was not a great departure from some of the “everyday” outfits he has worn in the past.  But as the band launched into a soaring version of “Delta Dawn” all wardrobe concerns were quickly put aside and the crowd was propelled into a dancing frenzy.  The furor was maintained through “Rhythm of the Road” and “Let’s Go Outside” before giving way to some pure bluegrass with a stellar version of “Doin’ My Time.”  The set ending suite of “Betray the Dark” > “Valley of the Jig” > “Texas” was relentless and left the audience in need of the rest that the set-break offered.


Any lingering thoughts that the weekend might be theatrically lacking were wholly dispelled by the hosts’ second set.  With the immediately familiar sound of bells erupting from the speakers, the band returned to the stage, in face paint and costumes that fully embodied the weekend’s “Voodoo” theme, and launched into AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” to the crowd’s enthusiastic delight.  The weekend’s theme was continued with versions of the Neville Brothers’ “Voodoo” and Fema Kuti’s “Zombie” before morphing into the Police’s “Spirits in the Material World.”  It was during this segment that that the weekend became interactive as the band delivered tens of huge inflated pumpkins, including one that put Wayne Coyne’s gerbil ball to shame, for the crowd to volley about.  (No doubt all audience recordings of this set will have a set note indicating the precise time that the pumpkins completely decimated the tapers section.)  It was at this point that percussionist Jason Hann donned a furry mask and took center stage to lead the crowd in a frenzied but inspired take on Kanye West’s rap “Monster” which had everyone howling in appreciation.  The theme set closed with a troupe of fire dancers taking to the stage while accompanied by the band’s obligatory take on Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” which segued into a delicious midnight blue “Black Magic Woman” that was truer to the original version recorded by the Peter Green era of Fleetwood Mac than the more familiar version from Santana.  It is precisely this type of incendiary set, one that is born from a spark of imagination, kindled by people of immense creativity and fueled by an eclectic electrically charged soundtrack that has established String Cheese as experts in the making of life-long memories.


Set III had to be a bit of a letdown from the theme set but the band did deliver an epic “Black Clouds > Big Mon > Black Clouds” sandwich as well as an appropriately joyous “Joyful Sound.”  The highlights returned with the band’s triple encore of “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” a beautiful take on Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” and concluding with a colossal version of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” that left the crowd in euphoric ecstasy.


The only downside of the Cheese extravaganza was that it went long (too much of a good thing?) thereby causing almost everyone to miss the beginning of Van Ghost’s late night set.  I had seen lead singer Michael Harrison Berg earlier in the day and he expressed some concern about his voice because he was getting over an upper respiratory infection.  Fortunately Berg had some amazing resources at his disposal.  With bandmate Jennifer Hartswick (who along with Natalie Cressman form what Berg calls his “Angel Pipe Choir”, both of whom are probably best known for their work with Trey Anastasio) having her own set scheduled for later in the weekend, her guitar slinger Nick Cassarino joined the “ghost unit” for the weekend.  And, of course, no one is going to complain if Berg happens to add an extra song or two to the setlist that happens to feature the angel voiced Miss Hartswick.  The result was that Berg unleashed an ultrahigh octane rock and funk assault which continuously saw Cassarino and Berg’s own axman extraordinaire, Grant “Shreddy Krueger” Tye, trade “can you top this” licks before resolving into a twelve string dual lead  harmonies.  It was the perfect nightcap for the evening.


Day two, for me, began in the early afternoon with Van Ghost’s second set of the weekend.  Seemingly with a good night’s sleep behind him, Berg led his mates through a set that was more typical of those mid-afternoon festy sets which has made Van Ghost a staple of the Midwest festival circuit.  Full of Berg penned tunes (often with his writing partner Chris Gelbuda), which are known for their catchy hooks and clever, thought provoking and often soul baring lyrics, the set was slightly more laid back than the previous evening’s tour-de-force.  Big Gigantic’s Jeremy Salken joined the band on drums for a beautiful gospel tinged cover of Warren Haynes’ classic “Soulshine”, with Berg and Hartswick taking turns with the lead vocals.  Unfortunately the “damn sure better than the rain” lyric would turn out to be an ill omen for the evening.


First up on the mainstage on Friday was Steve Kimnock who was joined by his son John on drums, Ron Johnson on bass and the legendary Bernie Worrell on keys.  The set opened with a very nice “Africa” before Kimock and company raised the tempo with “5 B4 Funk” which gave way to a jazzy take on the Beatles’ “Come Together”. But it was when the Angel Pipe Choir joined the fun to provide some distaff harmonies and fat horns that the set really took flight.  Indeed, the set ending progression of “Red Hot Mama” “You’re the One” and “Take Me to the River” was one of the distinct highlights of the entire weekend.


String Cheese’s second night was their least dramatic of the weekend, but Set I did feature a nice version of “Black and White” and a Worrell and Kimock sit-in on a truly special “Freedom Jazz Dance.”  It was also during this set that that the preci