Suwannee Hulaween- Live Oak, FL

Hulaween 2017
Hulaween is amazing. Of all the festivals I’ve seen this year (this was number 11) this was the most balanced in the most categories I can think of. Food, lineup, venue, weather, facilities, access, security, etc. Hulaween is my new favorite festival without a doubt. In a time of dying festivals (Gathering of the Vibes is so missed), others selling to corporations (cough Mt. Jam cough), and a flood of indie festivals coming up, it is easy to get distracted and bamboozled.
Hulaween first won me over with the lineup first. Even before they added the full list and the Thursday pre-party, I knew it was going to be amazing. Kinetic lives in SC and had me fly close to her. I hadn’t seen her since Phish and Dopapod this summer. She is amazing, I love her, and miss her from afar. We dance with all we have and channel energy from someplace above (or below?) that keeps us going further. We connect like those together over multiple lifetimes. She collected me at the airport, we ran errands, then headed south to the western edge of Florida just south of Valdosta, GA.
The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL hosts up to 20,000 attendees and features car camping, tent camping, RVs, and some glamping options as well. The space features some permanent structures including a general store, coffee shop, restaurant, and showers. Those were all masked by what descended just for the weekend. Countless huge art installations in the oak woods infused the copse with intrigue and wonder. Fire, colors, strobe lights, steampunk bars, swing huts, meditation space, oversized chairs looking over the lake, a butterfly dome, and probably more fantastical things I missed.
We got in at 9 and were ready for JRAD’s 11 pm set at the amphitheater. Settling on a patch of sand a few steps up from stage height, I found 2 then 3, then 5 people I knew dancing close by. Introductions to the crew came at song breaks (rare when JRAD is on stage) and our hugs helped tie the room together. Afterwards, Greensky Bluegrass played deep in the woods. This was my first glance at the colorful world in the woods. Imagine Electric Daisy Carnival plus Burning Man but dripping in Spanish moss. I spent the night wandering with my care bear friend.

I woke before most of the crew which included Kinetic’s friend Ashley who was enjoying her first music festival. She and I wandered the space to get a better lay of the land and watched The Nth Power, Greensky, and Mike Gordon before finally rejoining Kinetic and Lola. Reunited, I shared tales of the people we ran into who I did, didn’t, and forgot to expect at an event like this. Together we ate dinner sprawled out on the main field to the sounds of Nathaniel Rateliff (my first time hearing him live). It was a quiet time before the first two of seven String Cheese sets over the weekend.

Late night, we troll tolled anyone trying the enter a wooden shack set in the woods. The fire domes were full as the
troll toll hut hulaween
temperature dropped so the shack would have to do. The inside featured a bench around three of the walls, covered in cushions. The ceiling was covered in dried sunflowers and leaves. We graciously invited any curious passersby but as they entered we demanded they tell a joke. Some left quickly. Some had crap jokes that were funny. Some had crap jokes that weren’t. Many walked right out in fear. That kept us busy till the wee hours with the Jon Stickley Trio providing a soundtrack.
Saturday I missed Tank & the Bangas but saw Aqueous. The morning was calm and we saved energy for three Cheese sets. The third was their Halloween extravaganza themed around 14 love songs mostly in chronological order starting with The Ohio Players and leading to Beyonce. Giant inflated hearts bounced around the crowd as well as some Keith Herring looking people holding hearts over their heads (also inflated). Fireworks, confetti, and a genuine sense of love overcame the packed field. Our extended crew behind the soundboard started a kick line during the All You Need is Love encore. By the time the Disco Biscuits came on I was spent. Kinetic and I laid down to listen. I survived a trip to the fire hut afterward but then went straight to bed.
Sunday was cold. Quick venture for a burrito then we laid out in the sun looking for warmth. We ate lunch and danced to the last of the Cheese sets with our remaining energy. There was one last more reason to keep a reserve tank. Ween was about to come on. This was only the second time I’ve seen them. They played a great mix of tracks from their entire catalog and are very fun on stage. They managed to squeeze 17 songs in and by the end, we were thoroughly wiped out.
We walked out to Griz playing and, having packed in the afternoon, we were ready for a quick escape. Zero traffic aided our two-hour drive to a hotel (via a Denny’s at 2 am) made life very easy. The weekend felt very long, very comfortable, and just so damn fun. I cannot wait to go back next year.

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