Hulaween Humbly Takes the Cake for a Fifth Year [review]

this Hula packed the biggest punch in terms of attendees - with over 32,000 patrons accounted for - the largest in not only Hula history, but Suwannee festivals in general.

A long, treacherous stretch of time has passed us by since the conclusion of our favorite, grooviest Halloween get down, Hulaween Music and Arts Festival at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak. FL. The fifth iteration of this evolutionary event was yet another one for the books, amongst a series of rowdiness that has transpired over the years. However, this Hula packed the biggest punch in terms of attendees – with over 32,000 patrons accounted for – the largest in not only Hula history, but Suwannee festivals in general. Both bassheads and cheese fiends were married together in these monumental moments, starting early Thursday (or Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on how eager you were to get there and snag spots) and partied on till the wee hours of Monday morning.

Fusing the fierce with the modern, Denver-based Evanoff is an electronic experience that is surely shaking things up, and those who caught their early afternoon set at Hula’s pre party know what I’m talking about. This tantalizing trio miraculously merges classic rock n’ roll riffs with futuristic, funky beats for an unforgettable sound that is truly all its own. Having just wrapped up a national tour with this Hulaween appearance, the band is on the path to releasing their first-ever EP this fall, entitled Dark Before Dawn.

Protohype threw down a raunchy set” is definitely not something you expect to hear at Suwannee, but Hula gave light to some of the heaviest hitters this time around, and that statement most definitely has truth to it. The Firepower Records producer had patrons riding the rail as early as 4 pm, giving new meaning to the Spirit Lake stage.

Zach Deputy, a crowd favorite at Suwannee and all over Florida, amped up his fans at the Patch stage with his ear-to-ear smile and zany one-man-band act that never ceases to amaze. Belting a bellyful of vocals and never missing a beat on one of his many instruments all while maintaining a jolly disposition had everyone on their toes throughout the duration of the exciting set.

Speaking of Suwannee favorites, the ferociously funky, never fearful Lettuce brought some serious heat to the Amphitheater stage in the early evening on Thursday, getting everyone psyched for the rest of the fest with their first set of the weekend. A dull moment is something that you won’t find at any Lettuce set, especially when they’re serenading at the Spanish-moss and hammock draped Amp, a perfect spot for getting funkified by these leafy legends.

When you hear the squad screaming “WE WANT THE UMPH” at the top of their lungs, you know its that time. Umphreaks far and wide rejoiced as the American rock band known as Umphrey’s McGee slayed for not one, but two phenomenal, emotionally-heightened sets. The boys nailed the nostalgia vibes when they performed a stimulating cover of “Shine on you Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd, flawlessly. Classic tracks like the smooth and groovy “Booth Love” and “Day Nurse” were heard throughout the venue, and the gang even dabbled into some Michael Jackson snippets here and there, keeping things fresh and lively.

As always, Jason Hann and Michael Travis of Eoto and The String cheese Incident had an exasperating yet successful weekend as they performed both acts throughout the festival, starting with an Eoto & Friends pre party appearance. This defying duo always brings out our weird-but-wonderful sides when they deliver electronic music in an abstract and slightly uncomfortable fashion, in the best damn way possible – especially when they’re accompanied by an orchestra of talented musicians.

Things only continued to get stranger after Eoto, courtesy of a soul-crushing set by Liquid Stranger. The Swedish producer doused us in murderous, gritty drops and savage new sounds from beginning to end, giving Bassnectar and others a serious run for their money.

Thursday evening lasted until about Friday morning at 5 am after up-and-coming producers, Florida natives and West Coast travelers alike, played silent disco sets for the late-night lovers that craved those underground vibes till the early hours of dusk.

Come freaky Friday the tone of the weekend was set; creative costumes were in abundance, campsites were pimped out in spooky and hilarious Halloween décor, and the totems spotted throughout the stages were outrageous per usual, emphasis on the rage. Oh yeah, we can’t forget about the Hidden Valley Ranch-scapades, either.

 

Michal Menert, when accompanied by his trusty band the Pretty Fantastics, is hands down one of the dopest orchestras ever to hit any stage. One minute you’re swaying to some jazzy, sexy beats, and the next your being serenaded by JuBee and Menert who are spitting rhymes and taking names. This experience is especially superb when the setting is Spirit Lake, one of the most majestic places in Suwannee and arguably any venue, anywhere.

Witnessing a slew of yellow jumpsuit clad fanatics rush towards the stage for The Polish Ambassador’s set has seem to become a staple at SOSMP. It was almost like deja vu seeing Polish strut his stuff on the Meadow stage just as he did last year, nonetheless it was every bit as exciting. Funky, futuristic, cosmic vibrations floated through the air with every track played, soothing our souls and awakening our minds, just as Polish intends to do with every set.

Coming a long way since his first Suwannee appearance in 2015, Big Wild’s crowd turnout was truly big, and wickedly wild. Fitting, right? The one-man orchestra dazzled fans with bouncy yet mellow beats such as his remix of GRiZ’s “For the Love” ft. Talib Kweli, as he switches seamlessly from xylophone to cajon drums to a multitude of other instruments.

It comes as no surprise that Suwannee Hulaween’s host band, The String Cheese Incident, was as devilishly delicious as they’ve ever been – and then some – performing with various guest instrumentalists all weekend long for themed sets and originals alike. Their “Night of the Loving Dead” set on day three included songs such as “Love Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players, Al Green’s “Love and Happiness“, Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” and more soulful classics. Throughout the weekend, OG Cheese tunes like “Can’t Wait Another Day“, “Colorado Bluebird Sky“, “Rumble“, and “Joyful Sound” brought the hardcore fans to tears, and opened up doors for newcomers. Guitarist and Suwannee veteran Roosevelt Collier joined the guys on stage for a bit during “Song in my Head“, and saxophonist Kamasi Washington threw in his two cents for a sexy rendition of “Bumpin’ Reel“. But they didn’t stop there – this can-do band covered everything from Beyoncé to Sublime to Led Zeppelin over the course of their 7 sets, which still isn’t enough dairy-filled goodness for us. In summary, hail to the Cheese, always and forever.

The creative duo of Manic Focus has quickly climbed to the prestigious status of being a SOSMP favorite over the years, bringing us that sweet, heavy live electronic music, performed all organically per usual – with the help of the live band, including a horn section from the Russ Liquid Test, drums, and strings. Somewhere between rock, funk, glitchy EDM, and hip-hop is where MF finds their sound, and it is truly all their own.

We put on our boots n’ pants for some silky-yet-ghetto tech and bass house grooves from the likes of Destructo followed by Claude VonStroke, the face of DirtyBird Records. The crowd was shuffling from left to right at the Spirit Lake stage, enjoying the sounds of the underground at their disposal.

Bassnectar performing at SOSMP is something that would have been completely out of the question years ago, yet come Friday night of Hulaween 2017 he proved to the masses that his heavy-hitting, in-your-face style can please even the most irreversible non-believers. Kicking things off with the original “Loco Ono” and moving into “Ice Cream Sound” by Jantsen and Dirt Monkey had patrons flailing right off the bat. Then, we were blessed with more Drum n’ Bass than I’m pretty sure has ever been played at any Bassnectar set, which had the crowd two-stepping like maniacs. Oldies but goodies like “Red Step” and “Plugged In” gave us those gritty, low-down chills, but what else would one expect from one of the most evolutionary names in bass music history?

Although necks were in debilitating pain post-nectar from the headbanging frenzy, patrons picked up the pieces and forged onward for the Saturday sets. Roosevelt Collier, Perpetual Groove and Kamasi Washington started things off sensually and smoothly, the way any Saturday should begin.

FKJ, short for French Kiwi Juice, is a Parisian prince who knows how to have the crowd eating out of his palms. Early Saturday afternoon he performed stunning and seamless renditions of popular songs such as “Canggu” and “Skyline“, moving from drumpads to vocals to keys and of course, the saxophone, an integral part of all of his tracks.

The majestic and tribal Beats Antique always puts on a mesmerizing performance, full of bold tunes and theatrics alike. The String Cheese Incident even joined forces with the trio to play a fierce version of “Egyptic” that surprised every dancing body in the crowd.

Crushing things as always, The Disco Biscuits had a vengeful return to Hulaween this year as they pristinely played the high-energy “Digital Buddha“, and even debuted a track called “Tubular Bells“, a tune used as a theme song for the classic horror movie The Excorcist, turning heads for even their longest standing fans.

Sunday fun-day was in full force come Portugal. The Man’s set, and you can bet on the fact that the crowd was awaiting the riveting moment to conclude the set with the record-winning “Feel it Still“. Throughout the set, the Portland-born rock band did a filthy cover of Pink Floyd’s “Brick in the Wall“, and played originals like “Noise Pollution” and “Hip Hop Kids” as well.

The daring disco-infused Goldfish put on a feel-good show for the crowd, complete with saxophone and strings. This spunky duo from Cape Town has collected quite a status over the years, due to their ability to merge a fusion of funkiness into their tunes, flawlessly.

Space Jesus’s long black hair swayed with the Suwannee wind as he destroyed the crowd with dangerous drops, murderous chops and everything in between. Starting things off with a brand-new collab track with Liquid Stranger and progressing into even more fresh material like an unreleased track with Digital Ethos, the space man dished out some serious treats. Of course he included some originals like “Won’t Stop” for those hip-hop vibes.

The legendary Lotus never seems to miss a beat at any show, and their Suwannee Hulaween set was no exception by any means. Favorites such as “Spiritualize” were played with precision, setting in those Sunday vibes with ease.

The festival came to a close with All Good Records founder GRiZ, who was laying down the law with both beats and vocals, with Muzzy Bearr on guitar by his side. Halloween classics like “Monster Mash” had patrons going wild, begging for more when the set concluded.

Suwannee Hulaween is truly an unprecedented event that has continuously touched our souls over the years, and its all thanks to the curators of the event, and of course the warriors that compose the SOSMP staff. Here’s to you, and here’s to looking forward to another stupendous year of Hulaween in 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connor Lavin

21, currently studying journalism in the Sunshine State. Fueled by bass music, traveling, and writing about those experiences.

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