In the cozy, exquisite confines of Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, the inaugural Suwannee Rising took place April 4-6th, and the event was–by all accounts–a fantastic experience and certain success. Like a phoenix of sorts, Suwannee Rising summoned the celebrated vibes of long-lost SOSMP gem Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival, hosting several bands from that hallowed event. Not even a smattering of rain overnight could put a damper on this phenomenal party, as warm temps and fiery performances kept people buzzing for three glorious days and nights.
Juxtaposed with the mammoth scale of Hulaween, Suwannee Rising felt intimate and chill, but there was never a dull moment over the course of the festival. The most well-known event at the music park was Wanee Festival, rooted in the Allman Brothers Band family tree, and which took place in late April every year for over two decades, but was discontinued in 2019. The ghost of Wanee loomed large at Rising, and many festival-goers expressed that this event was going to have to replace their annual Wanee sojourn, no small feat. Judging by the collective response, Suwannee Rising succeeded in the arduous tasks of honoring Bear Creek and Wanee, whilst simultaneously carving out its own festival identity, all in its very first year.
The most rewarding part of Suwannee Rising was its legendary venue, the mystical environs of SOSMP. Much has been written of the towering oaks, the dripping Spanish moss, the unparalleled Amphitheater stage experience, and of course the river called Suwannee that runs through it. Majestic organic psychedelia adorns this ethereal musical playland. The slow pace and no overlapping sets on the schedule allowed for festival-goers to really drop in with one another and spend quality time, and that was fostered immeasurably by the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.
On that note, a deep bow to the late founders of the park Jean and Bob Cornett, the latter who passed away just a few days after Suwannee Rising concluded. Thank you for opening up this natural wonder for us to frolic, all these years, all these dreams. Condolences to son James and the rest of the Cornett family.
Even though there was a mellow pace to the festival, the Amphitheater Stage and the reconstituted Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage were host to three full days of blazing musical performances, mostly of the funkier variety. For the remainder of this Suwannee Rising reflection, please enjoy a few favorites, highlights and a smattering of videos of some of the most enjoyable performances of Suwannee Rising 2019.
The New Mastersounds – Thursday
There was a clear musical lineage from Bear Creek to Suwannee Rising. Several of the bands booked to play this weekend had roots at the funky November SOSMP festival that took place from 2007-2014. The New Mastersounds were among the BC host bands that returned to Suwannee for this new festival, which coincides with NMS 20th anniversary. Eddie Roberts and company delivered two tremendous sets, including a headlining set on the Amphitheater Stage Thursday night. The rollicking sets were chock full of their patented blend of garage funk and classic boogaloo, including beloved cuts and their brand new single “Shake It”. In addition, they welcomed vocalist Lamar Williams Jr., of the Allman Brothers family tree, for “Trouble” and a couple of other tunes. The singer brought the Wanee connection to the equation, appearing at both NMS Suwannee Rising sets and bringing a bluesy edge to the boogaloo.
A healthy group bands that grew up on the Suwannee were well represented at the inaugural event, and continued their regional ascent by delivering impassioned performances on both stages over the three days. Locals Electric Kif impressed on the Porch Stage, as did Ben Strok and the Full Electric, while Melody Trucks Band, she also of the ABB family tree, performed beautifully on the Amp on Thursday at sundown. Atlanta’s Voodoo Visionary proved to a packed Porch Stage audience that their buzz is well deserved, jamming out with a super-charged, aggressive spin on funk rock madness. Same could be said for the sexy swagger of Holey Miss Moley, who also wowed on the Porch.
For reflections on moe.‘s Saturday evening set, I asked one of their most dedicated fans, Rex Thomsen, to share his thoughts:
Jam band stalwarts moe. made the most out of their Suwannee Rising headlining set on Saturday night, delivering a deep dark set full of heavy guitar jams and impressive musical pyrotechnics. Guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey were both at the top of their game and the fan reactions after each big song were clear signals that their efforts weren’t being wasted. Bassist Rob Derhak showed his tendency to get funky with extended popping and slapping runs while percussionist Jim Loughlin and Vinnie Amico ran amok through a wide variety of time changes and out of left field fills. From the impressively heavy “Rebubula” sandwich that bookmarked the main set to the hallucinogenic “Silver Sun” to the fiery new tune “No Hope For The Future”, moe. gave the inaugural Suwannee Rising and the fans more than their money’s worth.
Equally impressive was the polished set from beloved funksters The Fritz, formerly of Jacksonville, FL who decamped to Asheville, NC several years back. The Fritz, hot off the release of last year’s electrifying Echo EP, took over the Amphitheater on Thursday and dropped a massive disco-fied dance party on a huge crowd. Even better, many in the audience knew the words and knew the tunes, which only added to the huge vibes and billowing positive energy. But this writer’s favorite band of the undercard was Thursday’s LPT, a 10-piece Afro-Cuban ensemble that absolutely slayed the Porch Stage. The North Florida group specializes in spicy salsa styles, and includes JP Salvat on percussion, formerly of another beloved, long-lost SOSMP jamband Saltwater Grass. It was heart-filling to see and hear him perform such vibrant people music with the amazing LPT, and by the looks of the crowd, I was not alone in my admiration for this band.
Dumpstaphunk featuring MonoNeon: “Up for the Downstroke”
New Orleans’ freight train Dumpstaphunk is another beloved Bear Creek band, and they spent Saturday afternoon’s set reminding everyone just why they’ve got the reputation they do. Bombastic and bludgeoning bass duo Nick Daniels III and Tony Hall welcomed the incredible MonoNeon from Ghost-Note for a particularly punishing run through P-Funk’s timeless “Up for the Down Stroke.” Dumpsta also impressed on their own burly “Justice”, just dropping one heaping pile of greasy NOLA groove after the next. New drummer Devan Trusclair injected Ivan and Ian Neville’s krewe with a youthful shot of exuberance, as does the addition of the Naughty Professor horns. Extremely solid midday set from Dumpstaphunk in the beaming Suwannee sun.
Oteil Burbridge & Friends
Former Allman Brothers Band and current Dead & Company bassist Oteil Burbridge assembled a magical assortment of musicians to formulate Oteil Burbridge and Friends. The venerable bassist called upon renowned players like Neal Casal and Scott Metzger on guitars, Dead & Co’s Jeff Chimenti on keys, and J.M. Kimock on drums, and this collective delivering a spine-tingling set of classic ABB, Dead and JGB tunes with aplomb. Beginning with a dreamy “Blue Sky > Franklin’s Tower” combo, Oteil led this troupe through a joyous collection of beloved songs. Highlights for this writer included their take on “Dear Prudence” and a mesmerizing “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” It was crystal clear to any and all who enjoyed this mystical set of music that Oteil was singing and playing to his late brother Kofi, who tragically passed away a few weeks before the festival, and whose spirit and presence filled the air for the entire weekend.
Ghost-Note was new to the scene at SOSMP, but featured some familiar faces from the Snarky Puppy krewe like founding drummers Nate Werth and Robert “Sput” Searight. That dynamic duo incorporated former Prince affiliate MonoNeon and assembled a band of killers, and a fine-tuned machined showed up at Suwannee for two merciless sets of funk gymnastics, R&B and hip-hop jams, and some fusion rage to boot. The band dedicated a song to their late friend and collaborator Kofi Burbridge, and for the first of several moments this weekend, you could feel the keyboardist/flutist presence in the air. In addition to their otherworldly sets and various sit-ins with other artists, Sput, MonoNeon, and other members of Ghost-Note trekked out into the legendary Suwannee woods for a 4am campground jam with a few cats from Lettuce, and a handful of other musicians who played this festival. Truly an unforgettable experience at the very first Suwannee Rising, as Ghost-Note was accepted into the bosom of the Suwannee natives, and I have no doubt that if this festival comes back next year, so will this band.
Hard to put into words what transpired during Lettuce‘s festival-closing set on Saturday at the stroke of midnight, so I won’t even try. I’ve seen a lot of Lettuce, and a lot of Lettuce at the Spirit of Suwannee, but I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed such a transcendental journey from the band as they delivered on this evening. In a word, it was astonishing. The band dedicated the performance to the late Kofi Burbridge. I was left speechless by the two-hour exploration and I remain that way a week later. Ask the dude that hopped the rail during a massive “Madison Square”, the young woman levitating as whirling dervish during the scintillating “Larimar”, or the older gentleman reduced to stammering and tears at the conclusion of the performance. Yes, it was THAT POTENT. Nothing short of amazing, this venue’s favorite band’s finest hour, and to have lived that musical adventure with the good people of the inaugural Suwannee Rising, that is something I will treasure for the rest of my days.
Then we spilled into the woods for the legendary campground jam, another unforgettable part of Suwannee Rising. Where else do you catch the likes of Adam Deitch, Robert “Sput” Searight, MonoNeon, Nigel Hall, and more doing everything from classic Herbie Hancock to timeless J-Dilla, til the sun was about to come up? The answer is nowhere else but here. The Spirit of the Suwannee, I tell you… it really is a thing,
Talking about a new tradition. A phoenix… rising on the Suwannee River. Cheers to doing it again next April at the Park.