The String Cheese Incident is gearing up for an incredible year at Suwannee Hulaween, with some key improvements that organizers Silver Wrapper and Purple Hat Productions hope will make for the best Hulaween yet. Located in the mystical, swamp-like setting of Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, this is a festival that revolves around the creativity, self-expression, and human interaction of it’s patrons. Coming from all over to celebrate Halloween weekend, many people spend the entire festival in costume, which eliminates social inhibitions and results in an epic congregation of music lovers, where everyone is welcome and anything is possible.
For the first time in the four years that the festival has been held at Suwannee, there will be a hard attendance cap of 20,000 attendees. This comes after last year’s attendance total of over 21,000 nearly tripled that of the year before, and set the record for the largest festival ever held at the site. The cap should help festival organizers streamline every aspect of Hulaween, providing a richer experience for all involved. With this slight decrease in population comes an expanded version of Spirit Lake, the Spanish moss-draped Cypress forest where dreams become reality amidst awe-inspiring art exhibitions. Seeing isn’t always believing, but experiencing is, and the interactive art at Spirit Lake will make sure you always have something new to uncover at Hulaween. In addition to the Meadow, Amphitheater, Spirit Lake and Campground stages of years past, Hulaween has unveiled The Patch, which will be similar in size to the fan-favorite Amphitheater Stage, aiming to clear up congestion in that popular area.
Besides all of the organizational improvements being made this year, Suwannee Hulaween also features one the most diverse lineups of the year. Joining seven sets of The String Cheese Incident will be extremely talented artists from across the musical spectrum, including jam, rock, funk, bluegrass, jazz, reggae and electronic, and everything in between. Here are some of our can’t-miss acts of the festival:
The traditional Thursday Pre-Party is back in a big way, with a full lineup across multiple stages that is sure to have something for everybody. Umphrey’s McGee will play two sets, joined by Greensky Bluegrass, Fruition, The Werks, EOTO, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, The Heavy Pets, Con Brio, Marco Benevento and more.
Come Friday afternoon, the park will be full thousands of characters from all walks of imagination. Our musical picks for the day start early with Russo, Benevento & Burbridge in the afternoon, followed by Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe for a funk-filled day. Greensky Bluegrass plays the late-afternoon spot before The String Cheese Incident headlines the Meadow Stage with two sets on either side of an Umphrey’s McGee rager at the Amphitheater Stage. Following SCI will be Anderson Paak & The Nationals, The Fritz, and then the highly-anticipated My Morning Jacket is set to play at midnight, back at the Meadow Stage.
It all leads up to Saturday, the big Halloween celebration that everyone’s been waiting for all year, though it will not fall on the 31st this year, expect to save your craziest costumes (and dance moves) for this 80’s-themed shindig. Our highlights of the afternoon include a rare performance from Larry Keel & Drew Emmitt around lunchtime, recent SCI collaborators Antibilas, and the world-renowned instrumental ensemble, Snarky Puppy, who are making their Hulaween debut. Then it will be time for (count ’em) 3 servings of Cheese throughout the evening. The first two sets should consist of mostly SCI’s own material, which in their case means that just about anything is on the table. The punchy grooves of funk band Lettuce will hold it down at the Amphitheater Stage between the first and second set. SCI has always played a costumed and themed set of cover songs at Hulaween, and stage production is always at the forefront of these larger-than-life spectacles. This year’s theme is dubbed “Stringier Things” and will use music and costumes to celebrate the supernatural horror and pop culture of the 1980s. Musically, this theme is building on last year’s “Ghoul Train” set, which saw the boys covering well known gems from the iconic Soul Train era with the help of host GZA from the Wu Tang Clan. The festivities will continue with STS9, Logic and Disclosure all playing at different stages after SCI wraps things up.
Famed bluegrass family-band The Travelin’ McCourys open up the Meadow Stage on Sunday, which will hopefully not be the last time they play this afternoon. The Motet plays an early set at The Amphitheater Stage before SCI settles into part one of what we can only hope will be another “Sunday Funday,” as Bill Nershi is fond of calling it when the band plays a more traditional, bluegrass-oriented show on Sunday afternoon. Without naming any names, it wouldn’t be farfetched for some of the other pickers around the park to show up to this party. Rebelution will bring the peaceful vibes before the String Cheese Incident’s seventh and final performance of the weekend, which is sure to carry an inspiring and appreciative tone for their loyal fanbase. The Claypool Lennon Delirium should make quite an impact on those that stick around for Sunday night, with their incredibly well-orchestrated sound of heavy, psychedelic rock. The night caps off with Vermont jam band Twiddle, or a super-funky super-group from Colorado featuring Big Gigantic and The Motet.
Bonus pick: After skipping last year, the Suwannee Bluegrass Surprise will return to Hulaween, featuring Keel and Stickley’s Guitar Freak Out, Jon Stickley Trio and Grass is Dead at the Spirit Lake Stage till the wee hours of the morning on Friday and Saturday. If two of the best acoustic flat-pickers on the planet aren’t enough to keep you up late, Keel has been known to bring out some very special friends at these types of events in the past. Either way, this is a pair of after-parties that you do not want to miss.
Written by Richard Oakley
Photographs by Dave Vann and Joshua Timmerman, courtesy of Suwannee Hulaween.