The Spirit Of Suwannee Park has been home to numerous events over its decades of existence, and the newest party, The Suwannee Roots Revival, is a distillation of the essence of what has come before. Boasting a line-up of fabled park alumni like Leftover Salmon, Donna The Buffalo, Sam Bush, Peter Rowan and so many more, the weekend had a very familiar vibe of string music, family and fun.
One of the most beloved venues in the country, Suwannee opened the gates to a sea of happy faces of all ages for a weekend that promised a good time for all. The opening Thursday night festivities included a wild bluegrass re-imagining of The Who‘s rock opera Tommy by The Hillbenders that had the crowd dancing and cheering with wild abandon. Check out their version of “Pinball Wizard” here. With sets from Town Mountain, Grass Is Dead and more the opening stanza got the weekend of to a fabulous start.
Check out the heartwarming bluegrass style version of “They Love Each Other” below:
Florida native The Sauce Boss does more than just fill the air with music, he also fills the bellies of the crowd with gumbo! Setting up a huge pot onstage he called up members of the audience to help him cook on a table as he cooked on his instruments. Now only was his grinding style of one man band jamming palatable the gumbo was delicious!
Col. Bruce Hampton & The Madrid Express
Guitarist, actor, amateur psychic and all around music legend Col. Bruce Hampton brought his current band, Madrid Express to the venerated amphitheater stage for an amazing set of blues guitar riffs and odd ball lyrical bent. Never one to take the straight and narrow path, one of the highlights of his two sets over the weekend was his unique take on the Cream classic “I’m So Glad.” Give it a listen below:
Jeff Mosier and his brother Johnny rarely find time to reunite their beloved jam grass band Blueground Undergrass, so any opportunity to enjoy their magic is a welcome one. With two sets scheduled for the weekend, fans were quick to make it as close as they could to see the mystical dynamic the siblings and their bandmates share. The crowd of diehards sang along with every song and hung on every note, including the stellar rendition of the classic Garcia-Hunter tune “Black Muddy River” that follows:
The scheduled performance by The Wood Brothers was unfortunately cancelled due to a medical issue with Chris Wood, but Luther Dickinson and J.J. Grey were enlisted to perform a reduced version of their singer song writer super band The Southern Soul Assembly. They traded songs and stories and had a grand time sharing their love with the crowd. You can see a pair of their more moving moments here.
Pro Tip: Whatever party you’re throwing, if you truly want it to be a success, don’t forget to stock up on plenty of Leftover Salmon. Vince Herman is the living embodiment of the festival spirit, and the effortless way he works the crowd into a frenzy is a joy to behold. With his long time partner-in-crime Drew Emmitt in tow, Herman and the rest of the dauntingly talented musicians showed a diversity and depth that belied their ragamuffin appearance and party mentality. We’ll have a bit more from Leftover later, but for now check out the rollicking cover of T.Rex’s “Bang A Gong” they dropped on a most receptive crowd below:
Portland based sister act Shook Twins chose to use part of their set as an opportunity to honor John Hartford, the man who helped pioneer the “Jamgrass” permutation of the traditional art form that has sprouted into so many wonderful varieties of roots music, including their own. Between the ethereal harmonies they can bring and the infectious smiles that they never seem to lose the pair and their band delivered a fun set of their own material and the aforementioned tribute to Hartford, a silly take on his classic “Get No Better,” which you can watch below:
Jon Stickley Trio
The North Carolina connection to the Spirit OF The Suwannee was in full effect with the stunning interplay of the Jon Stickley Trio. With the main man on guitar, along with fiery fiddler Lyndsay Pruett and drummer Patrick Armitage all working on seemingly separate but intertwined melodies, their sets were among some of the most musically challenging and engaging of the entire weekend. Check out a slice of their instrumental mayhem below:
Peter Rowan Band
Inspired by Elvis, Peter Rowan picked up the guitar and has been making music and magic ever since. He is one of the elder statesmen of bluegrass and possessor of one of the sweetest and most beloved voices in the history of the form. Rowan brought his band of top shelf players to the park for a pair of sets that had the whole audience singing along at the top of their throats. His magic was too much to contain in a single clip, so we have a pair of highlights for you. First up, a rousing rendition of one of the signature songs of the Americana songbook “Midnight Moonlight.”:
Next, let’s check in on Rowan’s Sunday solo set, as he sat alone and led the crowd in a series of glorious campfire styled sing-a-longs that had everyone in attendance lifting their voices in song. Enjoy the full bodied take on another songbook standard “You Are My Sunshine” below:
Sam Bush Band
Along with his friends in New Grass Revival, Sam Bush is another of the architects of the much mentioned jamgrass scene. His mixing of rock and roll and blues influences with the more traditional instrumentation of the mountain music art form has been a beloved part of the music world for close to four decades, and on his most recent album, Storyman, he demonstrated a relevance that many of his contemporaries surely envy. Here’s a reggae flavored track from his newest record, “Everything Is Possible.”
To help close out their Saturday set Leftover Salmon brought out Jon Stickley and Lyndsay Pruett for a wild and crazy rendition of “Oh Me Oh My” that served as not just a bookend to their weekend but also a statement about the spirit the bands and the festival were trying to establish. Give the fun a listen below:
In the spirit of so many events held in this storied park, the last day condensed to one stage, helping build a communal, family feeling to the goings on. Enlisting Donna The Buffalo to continue their long running series of stellar shows in the park was a wise move on the part of organizers, honoring tradition all the while.
DTB’s fans are a rabid bunch, and they managed to make the closing set of the weekend one of the most energetic as well. A parade of guests emerged throughout the set, with the band welcoming out old friends and fresh faces alike while never losing the love of the rapt audience.
Seeing the eager young faces romp around the grounds having the times of their young lives promised a future generation of fans to keep the hammocks and dance floor filled long into the future. And, judging by the crowd size and the warm reception the artists received it looks as if this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!