Reggae Was the Theme at the 5th Suwannee Hulaween

November 2, 2017Pola Bunster

There’s a certain shade of glimmer that finds its way into the eyes of anyone who has experienced the magic at Spirit of the Suwannee River Music Park & Campground. Whether for any Bear Creek past (R.I.P), Wannee, or for any of the recently awesome Suwannee Hulaweens, I can honestly say that from the bottom of my obsessively funky heart, there really is just nothing like it.

It feels like the world’s levels of turbulence have been stuck in overdrive lately, but I can speak with all confidence that everything we may feel like our real lives are lacking (empathy, abandon, openheartedness) can be found in unlimited spades over at Suwannee, and this year’s Hulaween was no exception. After almost a decade of visiting the music park for my yearly (and sometimes twice-yearly) dose of funk, it really has become the place for constant pleasurable sighs, of immediate best-friendships, a funeral for over-use of inside jokes–it’s childhood wrapped up in clovers; it’s home.

Photo by TheDROP


With the rise in popularity surrounding music festivals, it does feel like one thing has been shifted to second thought: the music. Well, not at Suwannee Hulaween. This is the kingdom and queendom of music. This is where music reigns supreme and calls all the shots. Feeling sleepy? Here’s a 4PM funk set by New Orleans royalty, Dumpstaphunk. Feeling overhyped? Here’s a 2AM acoustic set by David Shaw of The Revivalists or a string-filled performance by Greensky Bluegrass if you want to get even more weird. Want to party? Don’t worry, Andy Frasco & The U.N. will literally throw a bat mitzvah during their set. Do you have an abundance of crackers? Well, stay tuned for seven sets of cheese, The String Cheese Incident, that is.

While writing this, I sit back and wonder why live and jam music ever found its way to the butt of every joke in the first place. Is it because an appreciation of musicianship has gotten lost among the mainstream? Well, even popular artists like Chet Faker, Portugal. The Man, and Vince Staples knew that they had a picky crowd to impress. And impress they did. But among the many genres that can be uncovered under the hanging moss and sweeping Florida pines, reggae seemed to be the connective tissue this year, finding its way in many of the lineup’s sets.

It started on Thursday with the pseudo-prince of Suwannee, Zach Deputy, who often uses reggae rhythms as a basis for his catchy looping style…and maybe a guest appearance of the kazoo. And then came The Nth Power‘s second set of the weekend on Friday, a heroic tribute to Bob Marley. They effortlessly fluctuated between well-known tracks like “Exodus” and “I Shot the Sheriff” to his lesser, funkier songs with passionate ease. It was a moment of pure daytime bliss at The Amphitheater.

You could hear hints of reggae influence in the sounds of local boys, Magic City Hippies and the happy energy of Stick Figure. And when it came time for the festival’s hosts, String Cheese to take the stage for their fifth set of the weekend, their tribute set inspired by love, there was no surprise to hear “Is This Love” played impeccably by some of jam music’s greatest masters. Finally, a descendant of the legend himself made his way to the stage for what would be the most surprising set of the weekend for me: Damian “Jr Gong” Marley. Armed with a band of heavy players, Marley’s set was the icing on the cake for the festival.

It makes sense, really, when you think of it. Since reggae’s roots involve everything we need to feel alive: equality, freedom, love, and a whole lot of music.