You might not know Paul Levine’s name, but if you’re a live music fan, odds are that you have been to one of his parties. One of the minds behind the incredible Suwannee Hulaween, as well as many of the other events at the celebrated Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park, Levine always has a lot on his plate. After completing this year’s String Cheese Incident-hosted party over Halloween weekend, he is now turning his attention to the newest festival to hit the SOSMP, A Feast Of Funk & Soul Food, happening this weekend! More information here.

Our own Rex Thomson caught up with Mr. Levine to talk about the ups and downs of being a festival organizer and his newest merging of his love of food and funky music! Check out the chat with the Chef De Feast And Funk” himself below.

L4LM: Congratulations on the success of the 2016 Suwannee Hulaween! How does it feel to be so intimately involved in bringing back to back attendance record setting events to the park?

Paul Levine: That is certainly a great thing to be part of, but that certainly wasn’t our goal when we set out to throw this party. We didn’t even know that was achievable, probably. I’m thankful for my great partners and the great team that made it happen.

That really is the secret. It’s not me, it’s the team. With partners like String Cheese, Silver Wrapper and The Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park on the same team there was a lot of committed people working to make Suwannee Hulaween a success. The team really worked well together, and I think that was reflected in what happened on the stages throughout the weekend.

That is what I’ve most enjoyed being a part of. Not for accomplishing anything on my own, but for being a part of this terrific team. Having the work this team is doing and has done leading to such success… that is what is most rewarding.


L4LM: With a host band like The String Cheese Incident, you have a truly versatile band with a national following of free spirited music fans. It seems like an easy event to sell to the people.

PL: I think you’re right about String Cheese, but I think you’re underselling the difficulties of capturing this vibe. The String Cheese Incident is one of the premier anchor bands you could ever imagine for this kind of event, period. Then you combine it with Halloween, in my opinion the greatest holiday for celebrating life without any religious or family obligations, unless you have kids and need to be out trick or treating, of course!

It’s a holiday where people like to go out, hear music and have a great time already. Then you factor in The Spirit Of The Suwannee, which, in my opinion, is the greatest outdoor music and camping venue in the country. So yeah, that is a pretty likely formula for success.

We’re extremely grateful that String Cheese chose to work with us, with one of their flagship events. They put their trust in myself, Michael Harrison Berg and Leif Moravy, the Silver Wrapper team. They trusted us with their vision, and trusted in ours and together the result has just been incredible.


L4LM: This year, as in the past, you booked a wide variety of bands that echo different elements of Cheese’s much varied style. How hard is it balancing these radically different artists and planning where and when they should play?

PL: I think that the music that we book reflects a lot of our own tastes. We certainly book bands that reflect them and their influences, but they are also open to embracing all different kinds of music.

I don’t know that we are confined to do anything in particular. We are entrusted to help curate an event with String Cheese, and we know these guys. They’re our friends. We know their tastes and keep it in mind. But they also trust us, and they know if we bring something new or different to the table it is something that we believe in.

I worked with them for the first time in 1997 in Colorado. They slept on my couch. The guys in Silver Wrapper from up in Chicago have worked with them a lot up there. There is a lot of familiarity and respect from both sides, and that allows it to be really exciting for everyone.

A lot of that energy is at the heart of what people love about Hulaween. The art, the music, everything. People walk around in awe of the art, onstage and off. That is what makes the experience most real for me, on a personal level. Being part of making this experience for the people.


L4LM: You added a new, EDM-heavy stage this year called The Patch. How did that work? Will we be seeing it return?

PL: I think that The Patch was a success, by and large. When we thought of it, yeah, we thought it would be more of a EDM stage, and it mostly played out that way, but it saw some bands too. Sound Tribe was there, Snarky Puppy was there, Whetherman were there.

The reason we put that stage out there is that the Amphitheater was too crowded a couple of times last year. That was one of the complaints we wanted to address. People felt that, during GRiZ and Primus, it was just too crowded over there last year, and we wanted to do something to alleviate that pressure.

L4LM: The entire event seemed so smooth from the audience’s perspective. When did you start working on all the different improvements you made since the previous Hulaween?

PL: We were already working on it during last year’s Hula. This is a non-stop process for my partners and I, and the folks at the Spirit Of The Suwannee. James Cornett, the staff that operate the park year round, and especially Sonny Perez, head of festival operations. Sonny and I we have coffee or breakfast a couple times a week, and we talk about Hulaween practically year round.

We made a lot of changes, and all of them required a lot of logistical coordination. We had to envision the new plan, put it in place and teach people how to use the new plan. For us Hula is a year round concern.

The String Cheese Incident had a lot of fun playing the hits of the eighties, including their cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”

L4LM: As a part of the promotion team you have duties all around the park, but you are also known to try and catch a bit of every show if possible. In your dashing back and forth, were there any musical moments that stood out for you?

PL: Of course. There were lots of great moments for a lot of different reasons. A lot of the people playing this festival are friends. Friends from around the country and a lot of Florida friends. It was great seeing friends seizing the moment and elevating themselves.

Watching Groove Orient and Kaleigh Baker start things off the weekend on the main stage was really nice. It is really important to me and my partners to represent the Florida and regional music scene, to give it a chance to be heard. To give our friends, people who work every night in bars, a chance to shine on these big stages, to build their fan base. To see them do that and make new fans, that means a lot to me.

Also to see folks like Karl Denson and Joe Russo and Marco Benevento jamming, the McCourys jamming with Larry Keel, Drew Emmitt, Lettuce, Snarky Puppy, The Jon Stickley Trio, Grass Is Dead…just back to back to back amazing. And, as for new things, having My Morning Jacket was a dream come true for me and the fans. Seeing MMJ embrace the park like they did with the show they put on… it was really special!

Oh, and I also just have to say Anderson .Paak kicked ass!

We agree! Check out Anderson .Paak wowing the audience with his hit “Come Down”, below.

L4LM: The Spirit Lake art installations got even crazier with a new giant being permanently added to the park, as well as an amazing array of light and physical displays. Are you trying to fill the park with these awesome monsters?

PL: Thomas Dambo, the artist, he and his team has done some really interesting work over the years. He makes his art out of pallets, so he is re-purposing stuff that was just waste to make art, which is great.

It is great that we get to leave these behind for people to enjoy not just at Hulaween, but year round. We’re more than happy to make this contribution to the park. We get a lot of use out of the park, and leaving behind something beautiful is awesome for us.

L4LM: Turning from art to food, the park is getting ready to host a new event you are spearheading, A Feast Of Funk And Soul Food. The event seems to combine the spirit of the disc golf jams you’ve promoted in the past with your other passion, food. What was the inspiration for the new party?

PL: Recently Southern Soul BBQ started running the Cafe that is part of the music hall. They make incredible food. They’re world famous, they’ve been featured on television in magazines countless times. And of course, we love funk and soul music.

Now that we have a new great restaurant in the park, it just seemed like a no-brainer to combine all the things we love about the park, the music, the disc golf and now the food into one incredible experience. We’ve invited friends from other restaurants around the country to come and help us serve an amazing culinary experience for everyone to enjoy.


L4LM: How long have you been a “foodie”?

PL: I used to own a restaurant back in the day when I lived in Colorado. I grew up in Long Island. I guess you could say I have been a foodie all my life. I’ve been in that business for twenty five years. I’ve studied food and wine extensively all my life. It’s one of my true passions.

L4LM: Sounds like you’re the perfect person to throw this party then. Besides their solo set, The Nth Power is also hosting the third performance of the stellar Earth, Wind & Power tribute set. Have you seen them put this show on personally yet?

PL: I have. The tribute they do is just outstanding. They bring in some very impressive special guests like Jennifer Hartswick, Skerik, Farnell Newton and more to really make it something special. That will be performed Saturday night. We also have our buddy Roosevelt, the Jennifer Hartswick Band, Groove Orient, Leisure Chief and more.

It’s going to be a few hundred people listening to some wonderful music, eating some delicious food, camping and enjoying the park. This is part of a series. We’re gonna do a lot more of these smaller “Food & Music” events in the future. There’s a lot to look forward to.

Here’s exclusive video of the inaugural “Earth, Wind & Power” set from a special Jazz Fest late night earlier this year:

L4LM: Besides the tunes, there is going to be a disc golf tournament as well, correct? Do you get out and throw as well or are you too busy?

PL: I don’t know that I will get to get out and participate, sadly. I do enjoy playing it.

L4LM: Well, thanks for helping throw such an amazing Halloween party for us, and for taking a moment to whet our appetite for the upcoming festival. It sounds like a great chance to fill our bellies and our hearts with love!

PL: It’s gonna be a lot of fun! Hope to see everyone down there!

You can find tickets and more information regarding A Feast of Funk & Soul Food Festival by heading to their official website. The full schedule and food menus can be seen below.