In a forest of oak trees, amidst the Spanish moss, lies a place where not even 20 degree nights could dampen the fire that spread throughout the campgrounds of the Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park this past weekend. Just about two weeks ago, the AURA Music & Arts Festival took place, and it left everyone who was in attendance with a warm feeling and happy memories. After last year’s AURA Festival I knew I would definitely be coming back, and this was the most successful year yet.
I began my journey Wednesday night with an evening flight from New York to Jacksonville, only to be surprised with a familiar face on the plane. None other than Johnny Winter was sitting in the row right behind me. I hadn’t even left New York and already I was surrounded by musicians and festival goers. For those who aren’t familiar with Winter, he is an old American blues guitarist. It didn’t take much for me to realize this was going to be a weekend for the books.
Arriving midday Friday, we were greeted with a warm welcome and friendly smiles. It’s always refreshing to travel to the South for festivals, as the southern hospitality and friendly vibe are things you just don’t get up North. We were lucky to get a spot right next to the lake, and I was told by SOSMP vets that it was one of the best areas around—hidden in the trees yet in close proximity to the action. After setting up camp and unpacking my dancing shoes, I was ready to wander the campgrounds and head in for some music.
Kicking off the weekend was New York’s very own “Sci-Fi Middle Eastern Fusion” trio, Consider the Source. They opened up on the Porch Stage, and the sun was shining down on music lovers gathered to listen to the first energetic set of the festival. Consider the Source teased fans with the Aqua Teen Hunger Force theme song . Not wasting any time, I grabbed myself an AURA pale ale, made special for the festival by the Dunedin Brewery (located just outside Tampa), and soaked in my surroundings. The Porch Stage was conveniently located near the Amphitheater Stage, and with no overlapping sets there was no need to miss any music—with such a stacked lineup, that made making decisions that much easier.
Traveling from New York for a weekend camping trip is by no means an easy task, but thanks to the people at Project Shelter I was able to grab some essential camping gear for a reasonable price and a little karma boost. If you’re not familiar, Project Shelter provides on-site pickup for camping supplies at music festivals—all of the supplies (tents, chairs, sleeping bags, etc.) that are returned at the end of the festival are donated to sheltered refugees and displaced families. A really novel idea, you can pack light, pick up your gear and drop it off at the end knowing it’s going to people in need. So in preparation for the night ahead, I grabbed my chair and headed back to the campsite to relax for a bit.
As the sun started tumbling down, RAQ took the stage to keep everyone warm in the chilly nighttime hours. It’s been about a year and a half since their last show, and they rarely played during the two or three years before that. But right off the bat they brought the pure, high-energy hyperfunkaliciousness they’re known for with a scorching “Shirley Be A Drooler.” The pace didn’t slow down a bit with “Botz,” “Brother From Another Mother” and “Will Run” back-to-back-to-back. Everyone was in high spirits and there were plenty of grins on the stage. Complete with a monstrous Beauregard and a special AURA-themed “Sweet Cream Butter,” the boys had an excellent show and definitely started 2013 off right.
Next was Break Science on the porch stage, just in time to catch artist at large Adam Smirnoff (a.k.a. Shmeeans from Lettuce) hop in and bring his funky guitar melodies to the party. Closing out the night were two sets of Conspirator followed by Perpetual Groove. By the time Conspirator hit the stage, the festival grounds really did light up, literally. New to AURA 2013 was the introduction of lasers. I’m not always the biggest fan of lasers, but man did those trees come to life, producing a mossy explosion of color. Their first set started off strong with their new single “Pow Wow,” and ended with “Tumbler,” another hit off of their new EP Unleashed. After coming back they played a classic, “Boomshanker,” to ease the crowd into what would be another raging set.
Later in the evening, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across an acoustic set Friday night in the art tent with Newton Crosby. It’s these small sets that make me yearn for small festivals. AURA began as a small grassroots festival which has now blossomed into an annual gathering of music, art and friendship. The number one thing I cherish about this festival is that as it continues to excel full speed, it never loses its intimacy. With approximately 3,500 in attendance, it still seems as though everyone is family.
Day one was a huge success, but my excitement for Saturday’s music only grew. Saturday afternoon, Consider the Source played just a few feet from our campsite, which brought me back to Catskill Chill, where by some stroke of luck they also played only a few yards from my cabin. I’m thinking it’s a new tradition? I hope so. After an extended set, I gathered up my crew and headed over to the Amphitheater Stage for a serious funkfest, brought to us by the one and only Kung Fu. Friday night’s set had me amped and I had been looking forward to the Stevie Wonder tribute featuring Nigel Hall—and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Classics like “Higher Ground” (with Adam Smirnoff and Jimmy Dunstan) and “All Day Sucker” were huge hits, and “Sir Duke” got the crowd singing, “You can feel it all over!”
Saturday night’s lineup was pretty damn sexy—Dopapod, Greenhouse Lounge, Perpetual Groove, The Heavy Pets, and my personal favorite, Papadosio. Dopapod made a triumphant return and played a fantastic set full of songs old and new. A notable part of their set came with a song called “Present Ghost,” which had its official debut only a couple of weeks earlier. It’s an extraordinarily catchy tune with a lot of room for exploration. But it also has the structure to shape up as a great studio track on their next release after some road testing. Perpetual Groove played a stellar cover of “Naive Melody” by Talking Heads, ending more than 15 performances at Suwanee with a nostalgic set.
As my favorite set of the evening, words cannot explain the joy that Papadosio brought. For years now, Papadosio has been culminating a sound of love, joy and understanding that brings us back to our roots through progressive and psychedelic melodies. As the first notes of “Find Your Cloud” reached my ears, I could feel a burst of energy with shouts of “Dosio” ringing through the trees. That was just the beginning of this high-energy set, which pumped out one raging song after another. Whether they were playing gorgeous trance (“Night Colors”), serious jam (“Magreenery”) or heart-pounding livetronica (“Polygons”), these guys were doing it right. Papadosio ended with “Snorkel,” just in time for us all to get a little weird with “The Eyes Have Eyes.”
For its inaugural year, the Silent Disco returned each night to the Porch Stage. You certainly couldn’t find it by listening, but don’t be fooled, for some the party had just begun. Being a huge Papadosio fan, I was lucky to join the spiritual journey through the 8 different frequencies with Earthcry. Accompanied by a few friends, we smiled and sang along as Anthony had us ‘ohm’ (as if mediating) to the music.
Earthcry gently plucks our heartstrings, stirring up the primordial pot of vitality, connecting us to one another and the source through frequencies that set us free.–Hannah Faigan
Fire seemed to be the theme of the weekend. Fireworks, campfires and straight fire on the stage helped keep everyone warm as the temperature plunged down into the 20s. In an attempt to avoid freezing, we retreated to our campsite for whiskey and conversation—after all, what’s a trip to Suwanee without some campfire chats?
For those who were up early enough, Kelly Searcy from Green Monkey Yoga in Miami was holding yoga sessions, but I personally had to pass. Why? Because up next was Sunday morning Brockfast with some Girl Talk-itos from the Free Loving Foodery, and an acoustic set from Brock Butler. After that was Lingo from Atlanta, Georgia. I hadn’t heard much of Lingo prior to AURA, but they ended up playing one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Sitting in was Brock from Perpetual Groove, playing the classic crowd favorite “The Weight” by The Band.
And then it came down to three last sets—The Heavy Pets, Dopapod, and Papdosio—but the night was far from over. The Heavy Pets graced our ears with their ever so happy progressive jams, while Dopapod prepared us for liftoff with their funky space rock tunes. As per tradition, Papadosio closed out the weekend with a back to the basics set—playing some of their classics on a cosmic journey. After Saturday’s high-intensity set, Sunday was a much different pace with moments of blissful exploration and captivating melodies that took the crowd on an unforgettable trip. Overjoyed and floating were the patrons still in attendance for this final set, as Roosevelt Collier from The Lee Boys jumped on stage to open up with “The Plug.” The band played a few hits off their new album T.E.T.I.O.S., including “Direction Song” and “Stick Figure” as the encore, but what really brought it home was “Cue.” Call it what you will, but it was none other than a funky love machine that had every person bouncing around and smiling “Ear to Ear,” nothing left but a sweet taste in our mouths.
After my second experience, I’ve realized AURA is more than just a name, but also an idea that we carry on with us into our everyday lives. There’s so much more to a festival than just music, and AURA seems to encompass it all, allowing you to express yourself through music, art, meditation or just a good laugh with old and new friends. As always, big thanks to Daryl Wolff (AURA founder and organizer) and the rest of the AURA team and Brotherly Love Productions for a memorable weekend. These guys work hard to put on one of the best festivals of the year, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for next year.
**RAQ review by Tim Foran