The Third Annual Purple Hatter's Ball

Article & Photos By Natasha Gaye
Edited By Rex Thomson

When I found out I was going to be able to make the Third Annual Purple Hatter’s Ball and as well share my experience with other music lovers in the community, my excitement grew as the days flew by. I had not attended any of the previous Purple Hatter’s Ball’s but had became educated to the cause after attending Bear Creek Music Festival in 2008, where I had heard about Rachel Hoffman’s unfortunate story. It seems to be bittersweet to have this cause and awareness in the community arise due to a life that had been taken far too soon. From what I have been told by those that were close to her, she was described as a kind spirit that spread her positive energy and love for music with many. A vibe that was infectious after spending a small amount of time with a jovial soul such as herself. Family, friends, and musicians help with this annual music event and celebrate her life while doing so. Rachel was extremely active in the Florida music scene and was known to emit an undeniable congenial energy that was hard to neglect. Other then raising awareness to the cause and to Rachel’s story, this gathering is a celebration of life and a place where friends old and new can come together in unity. The music is what brings us to together but her spirit is what connects us. I want to dedicate this featured piece to Rachel Hoffman, who has inspired many in life and hereafter.

The afternoon started out frantic as I rushed out of the office and was trying to properly change in a car safely. The music was starting at five o’clock and I didn’t want to miss any more then I had to. I hit up the grocery store and I was northbound and on my way to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. It was smooth sailing before I spotted the colossal grim rain clouds that were hanging in the air. Before I knew it the rain was pouring in and I could barely see the car that was a few feet ahead of me. It poured for the rest of the ride up, until I was about 15 miles away from Jasper. I was elated that the rain had stopped but it wouldn’t be too long before it had followed me to my destination. I entered the park and headed to Will Call. As soon as I walked up to the booth I spotted a good friend that I had the pleasure of meeting on one of my music endeavors throughout the year. I greeted Brian with one of the biggest hugs I had in me and beamed as I could tell this was a sign to a great weekend to come. I got the goods and headed into the park. It was still drizzling and the park seemed bare compared to weeks prior where it was filled to complete capacity. I rolled past the amphitheater as I saw some patrons dancing in the rain and headed towards the lake. Met up with some of my buddies and started to make my home for the weekend. I was ecstatic to be with my friends at my one of my favorite places to see live music; I needed a good weekend, with positive energy and great people. Minutes after Daniel helped me set up my tent and we got the tarps up, excessive amounts of rain started to fall. I waited for a bit before I decided to truck up to the Music Hall Stage, 3d Stone was going to be on in minutes and the ferocious rain wasn’t going to stop me. I thankfully had a mini umbrella in my car and made my dark journey in the rain as I tried not to spill my whiskey. I smiled as I watched people frolic through the flooded grounds and felt all around good as hell to be back at SOSMP.

As I walked past the gates the rain had ceased and I shook the lingering drops from my hair. Bodies covered in an assortments of purple billowed out of the music hall, cups were full and hips were moving as in entered the building. The music had just started and the wet figures were gathering around the front of the stage. I was very excited to see 3rd Stone; I had started out the beginning of my year hitting up festivals in and around the state. 3rd Stone was at about three of the six that I had attended. I have had the pleasure of seeing these talented Gainesville natives throughout the years and I was ready for another amazing performance. They have a way of mixing funk, afro-beat, soul and reggae into a groove that anyone could vibe. The percussion and rigorous bass infuse with the guitar riffs so well you can hear how their sound is incredibly cohesive. Their lyrics are powerful and have a positive message of unity and equality. Quintina belts out amazing ranges that lift your heart and soul. The harmonies she creates with Wester (guitar) is something beyond beautiful. When she began to sing the first chores of “You Bring Me Joy”, chills ran down my back as I felt the emotion pouring out of the song, the other members enhanced the overall sound by adding precise guitar solos and boisterous drum beats. The youngest member and guitarist for the band Anthony K. impressed me once again; bring out all the stops with solos and riffs that were accurate and on point. I couldn’t have started out my weekend with a better band. The crowd was enjoying the set as they got funky with “Heavy Water” and brought the heat. Anthony Diaz from The Burnin Smyrnans joined Jose R. on percussion for a couple of songs during their set as well. Adding more percussion is always a good idea and the band was definitely feeling the crowd’s energy. Wester began to play with his teeth as Eli tapped out the heavy bass lines that supported the ample rhythm Sean created on a reduced kit. You could see how much fun they were having performing and taking everything in that was around them.

I ended up heading back to the campsite after their set to find some dry shoes and to refill my drink. I walked past the amphitheater and check out some of the vendors, where there were about five booths set up including grub, special interest, and clothing. I decided that I would save the browsing for Saturday and kept walking towards my site. I was awfully surprised that I had not seen much of any law enforcement, which if you have ever been to a music event that was held at SOSMP it is definitely something you can’t miss. Wondering if the rain had stopped them from coming out or not, I ended pondering for a few moments before I bumped into my crew. Everybody was finally here, set up and ready to boogie. After getting the essentials we head back up to the Music Hall Stage to catch the Greenhouse Lounge set. Seemed like more people were out now that the rain had stopped and they were mostly socializing among each other on the side porch next to the entrance of the building. Squeals of joy and laughter filled the air as friends greeted each other. I actually ran into two good festival friends that I had met at the beginning of the year when i started this musical journey. We coincidentally had the same run of festivals for the beginning of the year so it was more like our monthly meet up. I was happy to see their faces as well all of the beautiful faces that I have come to know due to my live music addiction. Friends from all over the state had come to celebrate Rachel. It was small and local but the energy was abundant and I couldn't think of any other place I would want to be.

I caught up with my friends for a bit before I had headed inside the building. It had been quite some time since I saw Greenhouse Lounge but the last set I saw was filled with high energy and I was ready for some more. I walked up to the front of the stage as they began, a familiar fusion of electronic dubbed out soundscapes and breakbeats filled the hall. For many this wasn't the first time they had heard or seen of Greenhouse Lounge. Friends and locals to the Jax Beach area were showing much love to the band as they broke out the heavy bass lines, acute guitar riffs, delectable percussion, and detached synth sounds that gave the perfect feel to their set. LED hoops were spinning, kids were grooving and the floor looked as if it were moving. I decided to head outside for some fresh air and to catch my breath. I could still hear the music and enjoyed watching all the happy people pass me by. I was feeling good, more than good. This was a nice change after the string of bad luck I had been running into as of late. I got a little caught up in my own head and decided to head back to the campsite to get my bearings. I was still not in the right mind set but I just needed a good funky get down, so I headed back up to the music hall. Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band was the last band scheduled to play and I was ready to get funky. I had seen the band play before but it was a good hot minute since I had seen them and I admit I was skeptical. I ended up in the front off to the right and I got excited as I saw the trombone and saxophone player walk onto the stage. They were warming up and I could tell this was going to be a hell of a set. Al The bass player and also vocals for the band was dressed up like some super funked up hero. A cape, purple fitted pants, leather finger cut off gloves and to top it all off he had a purple hat with leopard print edges. He plugged in and the horns joined him next, warming up their money makers as the rest of the band walked on stage. They also had three other musicians that sat in with the horn section, a trumpet, trombone and sax. I am a huge sucker for horns. I feel like it adds so much more to a band, the dynamics, and sound are incredible, I feel like it gives much room for chaotic creativity. As they started their set I was excited as the powerful horns and vivacious bass lines grabbed my attention. The keys, drums and guitar all tied together to accomplish this grand heavy funk metal sound. I was getting down like it was nobody’s business, and the funk was flowing through my body and I couldn’t help but to get down. I was surprised at how much I was enjoying their set. I was trying to watch as close as I could to the keyboard player Mary. She was mesmerizing and had a style that I had not seen in many keyboard players. I think what makes this band so great is that most of them have side projects, which can definitely help a musician to explore other realms of sound. They played a full set including “Horn Star” and a “Row Your Boat” lullaby cover. The crowd was nowhere near weary and was begging for more as they ended their set. More is what we wanted and that is exactly what we got. They encored with “Envy Yourself” and not a soul was still. The energy they had and stage prescience made their set that much more enjoyable. As they said their final words and the house lights came on, someone had announced that there was going to be late nights going on in primitive camping; I was pleased to hear it.

The mad hatter’s were up high and ready for more. Rebel yells and laughter filled the dark woods of the Suwannee Music Park, I was truly happy to be back at the place that feels like a second home. Everything was wet and muggy. Bugs were multiplying as the rain showers had come to an end but the night was just getting started. For our benefit the late night pavilion was just a hop, skip and jump away from our site. I watched the people drift towards the lights and dubby sounds that were blaring from the speakers. Fog filled the tent as excess escaped from the sides. I squeezed in and found a spot next to the speaker behind Uprise Dub. It was really nice to have a late night at the park that wasn’t getting shut down by the five-oh. The Uprise was supplying sick dubstep with a nasty side of samples. I enjoyed myself for a good hour before hopping back over to my site, to see what the kids were up to. Everyone was wide-eyed and bushy tailed, so me and Jordan my boogie down sister from another mister headed out for a walk. The wee hours have always been my favorite time to wonder around the park. We stumbled down a dark path as we stared up at the vast space that was above us. Time slipped past us as we enjoyed the dark beginning hours of morning and we decided to head back to camp. I could hear the late night tent still raging as hard as it was when I left. I was fading fast and needed much rest for the full day and night of music that was waiting for me. I could still hear the mechanical sonorous sounds thumping from across the street as I slipped into sleep and dreamed of faces I did not want to meet.

I awoke 4 hours later due to the extreme heat in my tent and I decided it was time to start my day. I headed to the showers near the main stage and was shocked there was no one in sight. There was actually hot water waiting for me and I could take my time as I didn’t feel necessary to rush due to the nonexistent line. This was definitely another first for me, one of many of the perks I had the privilege of experiencing. Feeling refreshed I headed back to my tent. Unlike other music festivals, the music was not starting till 1:30 in the afternoon, which gave me enough time to take it easy and explore the park. The Four of us had decided to play some disc golf and hoped we would have first dibs on the course being the early birds that we are. I had never played at SOSMP, so when we finally found the trial through the woods I was thrilled to see that the parts of the course were marked by Grateful Dead songs. I was enjoying the game though overgrown plant life made it a bit of a struggle when searching for my disc. We got half way through the course before a combination of bugs and heat had become too much. Ready to cool down we headed back to the campsite for some much need nourishment. Grilled some veggie ka-bobs and had a drink or two before we got the coolers ready for a trip down to the river. Due to the amount of people spread out around the park, the vehicles were allowed to go through the festival grounds to get to the other side of the park. This was a true luxury because the river bed was extremely far from our site. We ended up sharing the wealth and picked up a group of 6 or so that was also headed that way. When we reached the river I was feeling extremely relaxed and calm, as my feet sunk into the white sand. The river was the afternoon chill spot; brews were being open as sports were being played up and down the river bed. Kayaks were paddling down the Cypress colored river water, as some adventure types were jumping from a rope swing that hung above steep rocks. I was ready to take a dip as the Sun had reached the highest point of the day. I slipped in and let the cool water consume my warm body. My friends chilled on the sand as I floated around letting the current choose my direction and watched parents play in the sand with their young ones. It was a beautiful afternoon and this was exactly what I needed before I sent my body into overdrive.

We headed back to the campsite to get ourselves prepared for a day of music mayhem, though I don't think we could have prepared for what this Saturday had in store for us. Tallahassee locals, Pepper Drive was starting out the afternoon of music at the Campground Stage. I had never seen the band before but from what I heard they were not to be missed. As I stepped out of my tent and grabbed a nice stiff drink I could hear a familiar guitar riff being carried over by the lake. They were covering Hendrix's Manic Depression and I decided to put some pep in my step. This quintet was bringing the raw soulful groove that Jimi was known so well for. They had just the right amount of funk, blues, and soul pouring out if their set. I was pleased as the sun shined through the trees and warmed my skin. Their lead vocals were rough and rugged, which was a perfect blend with the fervid chords that the guitarist plucked out. The organist who also played the blues harp made sure that you were feeling the connection to the sultry sadness that so many blues artists share when telling their dismal stories. Steady rhythm and grooves were being laid down by the drummer and the bassist of the band created an ample sound with guitar feedback that caught your ear. I love discovering new music and I was extremely pleased with this find. The band had then asked Rachel's mother Margie to come on stage. She spoke about the laws needing to be changed and as well had a beautiful gift to share. She had told of how she had raised these larvae into butterflies and handed the crowd bags. They were all released at the same time as Pepper Drive played a song that they had written for Rachel. The butterflies lingered around the people in the crowd while they played their dedication. It was a special moment where some described feelings of an enraptured connection during that moment. It was touching and beautiful that she had wanted to share this with all of us; you could feel the love coming from every direction.

Trial By Stone was scheduled to play the Purple Hat Amphitheater minutes after Pepper Drive had ended. I had seen them play recently at a smaller festival outside of Orlando where I had enjoyed the band instrumentally. The trombone player, drummer, bassist and guitarist are all great musicians. Sufficiently dubbing out the tracks and adding the familiar echo and reverb that you hear in most reggae music was all adequate but it is the vocals and lack of lyric ingenuity that I did not enjoy. I checked out their set once again to see if maybe something might change my opinion but I would have to say I would enjoy the band far more if it was purely instrumental with maybe some vocal sampling here and there. I decided to head back to the campsite before venturing out to the next stage for Catfish Alliance the heat was beating down on me and I was feeling very exhausted. I ended lying down in my tent to get some shade and to take a breather. Before I knew it I was being woken up by harsh piercing house music that the neighbors across the way were enjoying on their downtime. I had then realized I missed Catfish Alliances set. I had heard that these Tallahassee natives were a strange enjoyable mix of psychedelic southern rock with lyrics that can have a smidge of hip hop influence. A bunch that likes to dibble and dabble in their influences and that mixture intrigued me.

The gang ended up meeting me back by the time I got up and got myself situated. I had changed into my funky funk threads and I was ready to get down. I figured it was going to be a long night but I really had NO IDEA of the crazed journey we were going to embark on. The sun was still beaming down and we weren't going to get a break from the heat till it started to set. The Burnin Smyrnans were on the amphitheater at six; so the we strolled on up to the stage and anticipated the arrival of dusk. It was nice to see so many familiar faces in the crowd as I smiled to myself and felt content sharing this weekend with good friends. It had been a while since I had seen The Smyrnans play and I wouldn't have picked a better place or time. This multifarious musical ensemble has something for everyone. Influenced by many different realms of the music spectrum, they have a completely original sound. They straddle the lines of jam, funk, and psychedelia with a touch of latin semblance. Jeff White lays out vivacious bass grooves and adds an essence of soul in his vocals. Upholding the backbone of the rhythm was Anthony Diaz, with an exuberant drum technique that created a solid rhythm section with the bass guitar. Jason Rogers shreds meticulous licks as lead guitarist. His solo’s advance into spacey jams that are saturated and enhanced with exceptional pedals and effect units. Jason Wigley adds adamant riffs, as well as incorporating the keys and synth into their set; giving an electric progression through their tone. Intertwining sounds from the woodwind family, Eric Christian constructs an effervescent touch with his saxophone and flute. The set was filled with energy from beginning to end. Playing lively tunes and some favorites like “Dirty White T” and “Dennis Conner”. The sound had an ambitious and natural flow; I was very pleased with the set and overall performance.

After the set had ended I was feeling a little worn out from the sun so I hopped onto a golf cart with my good friend Dave and got a little natural a/c as we cruised around the property. We discussed how strange yet nice it was to not have entrapping law enforces around every corner that we turned. I was wondering if this was pertinent due to the circumstances of Rachel’s death or if they had finally done something about the injustice that goes on at the majority of the festivals at this park. I kicked it with my buddy and lost track of the time. Before I knew it I was rushing back to the other side of the park. The sun was setting and it was getting weird out. Everyone was in full on rage mode and the night was young. I got to my site and met with the crazies and got some supplies before the darkness set in. I was elated for Dubconscious’ set. It was here at SOSMP I had seen them last but I had thought it would be my last due to the change of direction of the band and the members. They are one of my favorite live acts to see, they naturally embody the spirit and positivity that they spread through their music and it’s sad to say but there are not many bands that are on that level. I was grinning as the fog was illuminated by the colorful light rig and created a beautiful atmosphere around the stage. Within the last year Dubconscious’ sound has changed much from when they first immerged in the music scene back in 2002. Still the same spiritual dubbed out feel good music, but now adding a stronger aspect of an electronic influence. They walked up and greeted the crowd as the bodies surrounded the stage. They began their set with a hypnotic guitar lead from Adrian and an energetic cadence of percussion coming from Scott. Jerry following on the keys ever so invitingly as Matt created the clean ample sounds with his kit; hearing that sweet reverb as the hit of his snare imploded in your brain. I was feeling the energy they were spreading and became completely consumed in the music. I raised my head to clear the sweat from my brow and saw a wicked lightening storm behind the trees of the amphitheater, it looked nasty but I had much wishful thinking that it wouldn’t hit us. Combining songs from their latest release as well as songs mixed and performed differently from their original make, the set was fire! I enjoyed their roots reggae vibe they had been known for but I love where they are going with this new sound.Adrian then took a moment to speak about the people that gathered here and our purpose. He spoke of Rachel’s spirit and the way she touched others lives. To the side of the stage you could see her friends there all celebrating together and with the band. It was a profound energy that was being shared during this set and everyone was apart of it. I was consuming mass amounts of water, dancing up a storm as I was sweating faster than I could drink at that point. The set list was filled with re mastered favorites that had a melodic flow which were drenched in reverb and the right blend of electronic and dub. The set was quite large but included Realization, Words of Tomorrow, These Days, War Inna Babylon Dub, Declimal Currency, and Burning Sage. Near the end of the set Adrian spoke of Big Gigantic and how they were one of his current favorites. They began to play a new unrealized song titled “2’r”. Which is an up tempo groove that had the perfect mix of percussion, organ and a powerful guitar riff that got your body moving. About half way through the song Dom from Big Gigantic joined the band. I was pumped because I enjoy Dub with horns, I have been spoiled throughout the years so this was definitely a treat. He added a sound into the mix that I felt was eminent. The people on the side of the stage flooded the stage and danced around the band as they supplied a resonant sound. I was more than pleased with their set and the encore, it was everything I could have asked for and then some.

I was lifted. Elevated on the energy that was all around me I was about to take a dive into the deep end as the sky swirled in the distance and I watched the flashes of lightening slice through the darkness. I was giddy as hell. The Malah was up next and I was more than ready. This South Carolina trio has been a band I have enjoyed over the recent years. Making a couple runs in Florida throughout the year, I have grown very found of the way they stimulate the mind with ample organic and electronic soundscapes. The guitarist, bassist, and drummer all add more mechanically with synth and home made samples as they play live and coat the sound with electronic mayhem. I headed back to my site before their set began and tried collect myself as light drops of rain cooled my body. I caught up with Daniel and we headed over to the campground stage. They had just started and their was a large crowd that surrounded the band. The lights splashed vivid colors over the leaves in the trees and the bodies moved in what looked like unison. I walked towards the stage and squeezed in. They were completely focused on the sound, I walked towards the front right of the stage and saw the live artist that is usually present at most live shows. After watching his impromptu creativity for a bit, I moved back to the side where their was room to breathe and took in all of the melodic abstract sound they were feeding me. Their music is diverse and something you can’t find anyone else produced in the scene today. Mixing remnants of trance and jazz that weave in and out of an ambient stew of a high energy electronic sound . I moved around the crowd to see if I could spot friends but I couldn’t see much of anything and ended up standing next to the soundboard. The Malah was killing their set, it was different from any other set I had seen them play as they were adding heavier sounding elements into the music. I liked it. It felt like their were aliens playing in my brain as they layered the atmospheric soundscapes with heavy bass. I was going crazy and when I say crazy I mean CRAZY. I was dancing nonstop, soaked in sweat as the drops fell from my hair as my body moved in a exuberant way. I was speechless as I found it hard to articulate the correct words to describe my enjoyment of the set to my friends. It was by far my favorite set of the festival.

After that complete rage out, I found a water spigot and put my head under it’s cool flow. My crew and I headed over to the amphitheater for Big Gigantic. The crowd was excited for the final act that has been blowing up on the electronic music scene with their high energy performances and distinct style of instrumental and electronic fusion. They address the spunions and began their set. Dominic Lalli (the Motet) saxophonist and Jeremy Salken the drummer are a duo with a copious sound that has been grabbing the attention of many in the electronic music scene. Combining the feel of a live band with an essence of a DJ; mixing samples and synth all into an appealing sound. Everyone was getting down, and the band was feeling the energy. They asked for people to join them on stage as they produced sleek sounding funky grooves that incorporated a touch of hip hop. Within minutes you could barely see them as the purple bodies covered the stage. Everyone was enjoying the set and before knowing it they were walking off the stage to have the crowd begging for an encore. Paul Levine one of the many behind the scenes that worked so hard to make this event run successfully, walked on the stage. Reassuring us that was the end of the set, most saw the gag for what it was and Big Gigantic was back on stage giving us nasty sax melodies wrapped in laden drum beats. The night was turning out to be an insane one and far from being over.

It was announced that Green Hit and Greenhouse Lounge would be playing late nights. Good news for the night owls and kids that had much more raging to get out of their system. I decided to head back to my site and get myself together. I was going to meet with a friend that had been working the event and decided to hit up the late night performances later. We chilled for a bit before, where some mutual friends then wanted to check out some music and as well thinking about hitting up the river. I joined them on the ride back to the other side of grounds and got some stuff for the early morning dip later on. Greenhouse Lounge was playing the pavilion where many were enjoying the more so ambient set. We kicked it for a bit and then decided to head back on over to their cabin as we had been too tired to even attempt at going down to the river. I was fading fast and decided to hop in the shower before I got some rest. I was feeling incredible after I had washed the day off of my body and I tried to get some sleep as I could still hear loud noises of heavy bass ringing in my ear.

Woke up Sunday feeling sore as could be due to all the dancing. I walked back to my campsite as the sun beat down on me. I was in daze and not really focused. It was even more apparent as I almost had stepped on a quite lengthy snake. I reached my site and plopped down in a chair. I was in need of some nourishment and found some trail mix that seemed like it would be enough. One by one my friends began awaking and we all talked about our interesting mornings we had. We sat around for a good bit just shooting the shit and relaxing before I headed to the main stage for the first act. I didn’t have much energy but I needed to get to the stage. As I walked towards the amphitheater I could hear a beautiful “Eyes of the World” being plucked out on the guitar. I hurried along to find most people relaxing in the shade and starting out their day the best way by enjoying some Dead tunes. In the world of covers you can only go two ways, which is to reincarnate the music to be exact or to mold it into your own interpretation of the sound. This band was filled with talent and turned select Dead tunes into their own. Including Truckin, Wharf Rat, Little Red Rooster, Shakedown Street and New Speedway Boogie. The vocals were strong, guitar riffs on point and precise, with bass grooves and percussion that made an immense sound. I thought to myself what a treat this was to have on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The heat was getting to me before I knew it and I decided to head back to camp. Everyone was in the same position they were in when I left and I joined them before I decided to take my tent down and pack up.

I relaxed some more with my friends before I could hear Corporal Boil sound checking. This north Florida trio usually has a mix of southern rock and reggae but this afternoon they were covering all Bob Marley originals. Some of my favorites including Soul Rebel, Waiting in Vain, Exodus, Small Axe, We Jammin, and I Shot the Sheriff. Irie folks gathered around the campground stage as they poured out positive vibrations that Marley’s songs are known to express with messages of love, peace and unity of the people. The festival seemed to come full circle with the messages the artists were spreading. We were all here for a reason and had purpose. I was glad to have shared this weekend with such great people. I was sitting in a hammock waiting for the last act, Ralph Roddenbery and his band, former Grapes guitarist Ted Norton, drummer Richie Jones, bassist Tommy Jones and additional vocalist Samantha Alessi-Jones to begin. They are known for creating a grand fusion of roots rock, americana and blues that consist of sharp riffs, captivating lyrics , and a blended blues sound that most find undeniably enjoyable. Before the set had started I began to feel light headed and woozy. I decided to get some water thinking that maybe the heat was wearing me down. I then realized it was a mixture of heat and malnutrition that I had been exposed to throughout the weekend and that I needed to get something in me before I had faded completely. I ended up having to have a good friend take care of me while I could hear the faint polished sounds of the Ralph Roddenbery Band. The music was over long before I even felt like I had regained enough energy to make my drive back to Orlando. I left the park before sunset and reminisced over the wonderful weekend I had experienced with an assortment of amazing people.


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