From the very start, this festival had enough to fill my musical void. I’m sure this was a shared sentiment from the attendees during this weekend. This was my first experience attending a festival at Spirit of the Music Park and Campground in Suwannee, Florida. It was put on by SilverWrapper and Purple Hat Productions, with the help of String Cheese Incident. It was such a delight overall that the excitement was hard to contain. This wasn’t necessarily bad besides being giddy the whole time. This also isn’t bad, especially for a 4 day, 7-set SCI festival in sunny north Florida.
Thursday night brought a solid set from Particle featuring guest spots Jason Hann of SCI and Aaron Magner of the Disco Biscuits. The percussive addition of Hann created an exciting Latin/West African infusion in the mix along with the added keyboard chops from Magner. From start to finish, they were dialed in and brought it to those who arrived early to see them play. They also closed with a cover of Becks “E-pro.” Later, Electron gave a great performance, playing many Disco Biscuits songs, but also playing Pink Floyds “Comfortably Numb>Rock Candy>Comfortably Numb” toward the end. This was a great warmup for the weekend to be.
Friday started off with an afternoon bang from Greensky Bluegrass warming up the mainstage, whose been touring steadily in support of their newest album If Sorrow Swims. They always prove to impress any crowd and venue, day or night. All were dressed as white angels with halos, suitable for this bunch. There wasn’t many overlapping sets but when there was, it became challenging in a good way. This festival brought top quality all around and a chance for non-natives to catch unfamiliar regional acts.
String Cheese Incident began their opening set with the theme from Friday the Thirteenth, which set the tone for the festivities to come. This made way for a great “Restless Wind” with a Friday the Thirteenth tease contained and into a seamless “Joyful Sound” next. This was quite the spacey version with a lengthy intro and appropriate with all the time throughout the weekend. It’s nice that the band takes time to ease into a song from time to time which is not always possible when not playing a festival. This led right into the sexy latin-esque tune “Pygmy Pony” and “Piece of Mine,” which Michael Kang got some serious play on, along with a big ol’ “Give Me The Love.” The distance this (GMTL) went to was very transcendental, tribal, and electric. This version was further explored than ever previously witnessed. Cheese was definitely showing the love to this great crowd of fans. This led into another smoker “Valley Of The Jig” that went to some interesting places, with great contributions from all members. The set closed with “Can’t Wait Another Day.” Then Shpongle would entertain until the now infamous Hulaween set.
The all cover SCI Hulaween set started off with Rolling Stones “Sympathy For The Devil,” then the 1984 classic Theme Song to Ghosbusters, which led right into a beautiful rendition of Bob Marley’s classic, “Time Will Tell.” Kang can handle the lyrical range and power necessary to pull this hit off, and the strong percussive backing from Michael Travis and Jason Hann didn’t hurt either. Next, came the powerful Paul and Linda McCartney song “Live And Let Die,” which took off in usual Cheese fashion, to another level, by elevating it so well as they do with the great cover songs they carefully choose. Also, the help of guest vocalist Rhonda Thomas and Tony White and the Antibalas Horns, created such a depth to the songs. “Just Passing Through” is a nice transitory tune that they fit into the covers, but actually is a Cheese song, cowritten by Bill Nershi and John Perry Barlow. This lead into a phenomenal Led Zepplins “Stairway To Heaven,” a song that could not of been as powerful had it not been for the presence of Rhonda Thomas, whose no stranger to powerful soul music producing 6 of her own albums. She was also a strong thread in the Isaac Hayes band for ten years, along with Hann. They took no time leading into Blue Oyster Cult’s classic “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and into The Doors “Break On Through,” which saw some fun exploration in an accurate but improvised fashion. Next came Talking Heads “Heaven,” an obvious choice after just breaking through, but indicated that the setlist had an overarching theme of “afterlife” that was consistent throughout the context and execution of this set. Then came a “Live And Let Die” reprise out of nowhere, leading into set closer Michael Jacksons “Thriller.” It was full of pyrotechnics, dancing zombies on each side of the stage and a giant MJ face with arms stretching outward, controlled by guys below. This was quite a closer of a dance party, with plenty of heavy bass by Keith Mosely and soulfully accurate singing by White. What a finish to the Hulaween set, with yet another set to go for the night.
Always a great SCI opener and classic staple “Miss Browns Teahouse” was aided with the horns and guests staying up for another round. Such a sweet version of this long time staple made for a great transition into a version of Kool & The Gangs “Hollywood Swingin.” Billy even stated, “How do you like this String Cheese Big Band sound?” It was definitely more full than their already dense sound. Then came a Kyle Hollingsworth song “You’ve Got The World,” which is always impressive. This one in particular had that extra special quality, much ado to Kyle's hyper funk level, the extra voices, and heavy Kang shreds! Slowing it down a bit into a nice and calming great version of “Hotel Window” that led them to liven it up with a huge sandwich of “Rosie” into Fela Kuti’s “Zombie” back into “Rosie.” It was an incredible display of versatility for this band who continue to push the envelope. And what a way to drop that Kuti track within their own song while having the sweet horn addition. Next, a very strong “Way Back Home” into “Just One Story” without a blink of the eye and into a blasting Stevie Wonder cover “Superstition” with a great vocal jam. This would put a close to their 3 set shenanigans, but not for the night of music.
Beats Antique is no stranger amongst this lineup and fit in well after the final set of Cheese for the evening. They had a great performance, even including a sit-in from tour mate Lafa Taylor, who is a NW rapper/producer, based in LA now. Seeing guests with them was new for me and I am hoping they don’t shelve that idea. Last but not least was the mighty Thievery Corporation, who put on a fantastic show into the brisk evening. They kept the crowd warm through a solid array of hits off their discography including “Radio Retaliation” and “Vampires." They continue to maintain such a powerful sound while traversing era’s, genres and regions.
Then I caught some of the fantastic “outlaw bluegrass" jams from locals Grandpa’s Cough Medicine who really know how to throw a late night get down. That was the end of the night for me while perusing Spirit Lake and all the incredible