The 2021 edition of the Suwannee Rising Music Festival was wet, wild and wonderful. Not even the cloudburst that delayed Saturday’s start time by an hour could extinguish the raging fires inside the sold out, socially distant return to full-on festivals at the Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park. With firepower like Umphrey’s McGee, Lettuce, Goose and more on the bill, it was a funk- and jam-lover’s dream come true… especially after the last year of silence.
Last year’s Rising was one of the first Suwannee events to fall victim to the pandemic, so it’s fitting that the smaller-scale, pod-format 2021 edition made this year’s event one of the first festivals to return on the other end of the shutdown. The spirit in the air was one of reawakened joy and boundless enthusiasm greeted each band who took the side-by-side stages dedicated to “Funk” and “Jam,” respectively. The crowd was more than happy to follow the pod and mask restrictions for the chance to have three straight days of music and mirth under the expansive live oaks of the Spirit Of The Suwannee.
Day 1 | Thursday, 4/8/21
Thursday’s 5:00 p.m. kickoff featured an eclectic opening act, Anthill Cinema. The group’s dual keyboards gave them the sonic range necessary to provide fun, original jams and inspired readings of orchestra film scores. Their take on the Superman theme from Zack Snyder’s Justice League was as impressive as their heartfelt thanks to the director’s cut saving the film.
Melody Trucks fittingly brought her band as one of the few returning acts from the inaugural Suwannee Rising. Rising was conceived, in part, as a way to keep the spirit of the late, lamented Wanee Festival alive. That Allman Brothers-centric event is dearly missed, and having its legacy represented by the extremely talented daughter of late ABB drummer Butch Trucks was a welcome link to the past and a step toward the future all at once.
Big Something made their return to Suwannee a year later than anticipated, but there didn’t seem to be any rust to scrape off. Their intricate jams were as impressive as the deep well of talents each member brings to their jams. It’s rare to hear bands merge progressive time signatures with the amount of soul Big Something brings to bear, but it’s always welcome when they do. Their set was the perfect close to a much-appreciated day of live music under the sun and stars.
Day 2 | Friday, 4/9/21
Magnolia Boulevard, the pride of Lexington, KY, popped the lid off Friday’s can of kick-ass tunes with a ripping set of old school rock and roll. Sounding like a band raised on The Band is never a bad thing, and there’s something almost timeless about Magnolia Boulevard’s fusion of the past, present and future of rock.
Though the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio had managed to fly under the radar of some of the Rising attendees, their set on Friday afternoon etched their funky sounds in the souls of everyone in earshot. Irresistible instrumental post-funk grooves filled the air as Lamarr led his three-piece through a variety of dense tunes that cry out to be used by Quentin Tarantino for his next thriller.
Fast-rising jam band Goose flew in on the wings of infectious grooves. Their first visit to the Suwannee soundly lived up to their burgeoning reputation as one of the most solid jam bands on the scene. Their two sets of danceable grooves and twisting melodies were a perfect starting point for what everyone in attendance hoped will be a long relationship between the CT-based act and the Spirit of the Suwannee.
Goose – “Slow Ready”, “Empress of Organos” – Suwannee Rising 2021
Suwannee Rising welcomed back Park favorites Lettuce for the first time since their well-deserved Grammy nomination last year for their spectacularly funky Elevate album. With dozens of appearances on Suwannee stages under their belts, it’s not like Lettuce doesn’t know exactly how to get the crowd up and shaking their booties. Hell…they’ve been at it for decades and are winning major awards for doing just that. Lettuce’s intergalactic space-funk dance party set was the perfect way to close out Friday night, and judging from the smiles and exhausted body language of the festival goers on their way back to their camps and cabins, it was almost more than fans could stand.
Day 3 | Friday, 4/9/21
Early morning weather forecasts painted a grim picture of strong storms moving through the area, delaying the start of the festivities. Thankfully, most of the system passed around the Suwannee and the music was only delayed by an hour. It was almost as if the weather gods were just as excited as the fans to hear the excellent Saturday lineup of bands on hand to close out the 2021 Suwannee Rising in style.
Guitarist Eric Krasno was ready to lay down some funky blues riffs, and luckily he had a version of his old Chapter 2 quartet (featuring Chris Loftlin on bass, Nigel Hall on keys, and Adam Deitch on drums) to help him make that wish come true. There was a large contingent of funkateers from around the country who greeted Kras and the end of the storms with the same jubilant cheers born from a year of pent up music love.
Chapter 2 (Eric Krasno, Chris Loftlin, Adam Deitch, Nigel Hall) – “Manic Depression” (Jimi Hendrix) – Suwannee Rising 2021
[Video: Karen Dugan]
Speaking of love, Andy Frasco & The U.N. brought a little more of it than their usual heaping portion. In addition to a sit-in from Krasno, Frasco brought a pair of diehard fans onstage during a brief pause in the musical mayhem of the set for a heartfelt and moving marriage proposal. With a “Yes!” secured the band, the happy couple and the fans celebrated the cementing of their live with a collective burst of energy that probably could have provided power for the rest of the festival if we had a way to connect them to the generators. Check out the proposal and ensuing lunacy in the clip below:
Engagement During Andy Frasco & The U.N. Set – Suwannee Rising – 4/10/21
[Video: Karen Dugan]
Lettuce wasn’t done with their Rising duties, and they brought in some reinforcements for their Saturday evening set. In addition Krasno, a former full-time member of the band, joining in the for full performance, Chris Loftlin also joined his fellow Berklee alumnus for a smoking jam that gloriously reminded folks that things like sit-ins were still possible if precautions were followed. Later in the set, keyboardist Nigel Hall reminded folks that he can deliver one hell of a high energy rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Move On Up” to the delight of the entire audience.
Lettuce – “Move On Up” (Curtis Mayfield) – Suwannee Rising 2021
Umphrey’s McGee closed out the weekend a man down with drummer Kris Myers missing the show as he observed quarantine protocols after a recent positive COVID-19 test. As was previously reported, they were more than able to cover the spot with percussionist Andy Farag moving behind the kit and some timely assistance from Ben Atkind (Goose) and Adam Deitch (Lettuce) as well. Their two-set show was heavy on covers and had the loose, free-for-all energy that was a perfect fit for the pent-up energy that permeated the entire festival.
Umphrey’s McGee – Set One – Suwannee Rising 2021
[Video: Game Changer Media Group]
The vibe in the air all weekend was one of desperately needed release. The music scene is bursting at the seams after a year of forced silence. If the electricity and joy of the Suwannee Rising crowd is any indication of the explosion to come once the vaccines have done their jobs and the doors are thrown wide open, we just may be on the cusp of one of the greatest years of live music in recent memory. God knows we’ve earned it.
Until then, the lucky sold-out crowd has the memories and echoes from the epic weekend to keep them going. For those who missed this opportunity to get down, a second weekend of fun—billed as Suwannee Surprise—was added next weekend to give folks one more chance to get funky and jam in the park on April. The Suwannee Surprise promises some top-shelf jams coming from Twiddle and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong playing next to some dank funk from Galactic, Karl Denson, Tank & The Bangas, and even the funkiest man alive, legendary Meters bassist George Porter Jr! Pods are still available for the follow-up event, so don’t miss your second chance to dance the night away under the Florida sun and stars! Tickets for the inaugural Suwannee Surprise are available here.
Scroll down to check out some photos from Suwannee Rising 2021 courtesy of photographer Rex Thomson (Rex-a-Vision).