The Blackwater Music and Arts Festival 2011

Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, Fl
September 22nd - 24th

Words & Photos By Joe Davidson & Amy Panaia

The second annual Blackwater Festival successfully built upon last year’s inaugural show to solidify its place in Spirit of the Suwannee’s festival lineup. Thursday was met by strong thunderstorms which transformed the amphitheater into a muddy pond, failing to dampen spirits as fans danced in the swamp to Zach Deputy. The sun was setting as Perpetual Groove set up. P Groove has a long history with the park, always throwing out tremendous performances.

After the high energy show was over, it was time for EOTO to hit the stage. An instant quick jam got the set going, compelling two girls to jump the barricade and hop on stage and dance. After security got them down, the powerful duo raged the entire show, propelling the vibe to cosmic proportions by its completion.

After the set was over, I joined the exodus up the hill to the camping area where a small platform stage had been set up for late night sets, a great highlight throughout the weekend. Zach Deputy was set up playing and kept the party going. His clean vibes always create a sense of joy and love when he plays. The young, rowdy crowd showed itself by someone jumping on stage every minute of so just to be escorted down instantly and by a girl who snuck up behind Zach a snatched his hat right off his head. I get the overwhelming sensory explosion of a first time festival or being new to the scene, but these kids got to the point of being obnoxious. Zach didn’t seem to mind and played until sunrise.

Friday brought dry weather and sunshine to dry up all the mischief of the night before. Early sets included Jacksonville’s Saltwater Grass, Tornado Rider (a festival all in themselves), and Josh Phillips Folk Festival, who brought a calming vibe to the afternoon wookery.

The meadow main stage opened up to add some variety to the festival by having a reggae-dominated line-up. Passafire and Iration played through the blazing sun and Easy Star Allstars played in the welcomed relief of the night’s sky. Closing out the amphitheater stage was Zoogma and crowd favorite Ghostland Observatory, an act I was not familiar with. The stage was covered in strobes which made photos just about impossible but I was able to capture one that seemed to capture the feeling of being in the photo pit…

I stood in awe of the raw energy spewing from the stage and the crowd. The main stage was closed out for the day by Girl Talk. I tried to muster up the energy to make it up to the late night stage but my legs and feet had other plans. They won.

I arose on Saturday and walked around the venue area and once again it felt like a ghost town. Aquaphonics opened the day of music on the amphitheater stage to a crowd of twenty or so. I’m always a bit disappointed when I see early shows a festival practically empty, it seemed the campground party was more important than the music for the majority of attendees. Despite the small numbers, the band still threw down a fast-paced intro and instantly got into an infectious groove.

I walked over for some vendor food and when I came back, I noticed a large group walking down the hill, journeying to the music that summoned them out of the woods. As the set came to end, the two o’clock sun was becoming unbearable so I booked it back to camp for some cold drinks and shade.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about That 1 Guy and decided to brave the heat to check it out. He played an instrument that looked like a piece of art, a steel pipe contraption that was equipped with synthesizers and buttons all over that would make random noise effects.

He played one section like a stand-up bass and another that was more of a pressure sensitive electromagnet piece, absolutely incredible as it was innovative. He is a must see if you ever have the chance.

As the sun went down, more headlining acts began to take the stage. The first headliner of the night was The Flaming Lips. I set out for the main stage early with great anticipation. The start of the show began to run late and lead singer Wayne Coyne came out and walked down the platform spanning the front of the stage to the front of the crowd.

He gave us all a pep talk and warned all the hallucinogenic kids to look away from the lights if they felt overwhelmed, all in good fun. The instant he came out and talked to us, a wave of love poured out of this man which built up through the entire show. The band came out one by one through the giant LED screen used as a backdrop. When the show began, Wayne jumped into his trademark inflatable bubble and rolled off the platform into the crowd.

The look on his face was absolutely priceless. The love flowing out of this man is something I had never seen before out of a performer, so genuine, so incredibly real, as well as the connection generated between him and the crowd. As the music started, the energy became so overwhelming I shot out what felt to be the biggest smile ever, painful almost. As I was shooting, I kept being pummeled by giant balloons, nothing abnormal when up front at a large stage. I looked behind me and noticed that the sky was filled with multi-colored confetti and what seemed to be dozens and dozens of these five foot balloons.

I looked down at the crowd and all the fans in the front row and shared smiles with everyone I made eye contact with. In this beautiful moment, we were truly all one, sharing the exact same feeling, pure love. When security kicked us out of the photo pit I stayed close to the stage for a while, taking it all in. I wandered out to the back of the field and flopped on to the ground, staring at the stars, soaking in the love that was spiraling around. A truly magical experience that left me changed, more like healed.

Lying on the ground, I heard the intro to “Dark Side of the Moon” and propelled myself up and back to the stage. All in all, this was the best set of live music that I had ever been a part of. The visual, the sound, the love, separately they are all intensely stunning. Put together, it gave me a feeling that gives me chills as I write this, reliving the moments. The band finished out the set with “Do You Realize” and quickly departed as the monstrous stage had to be broken down in time for the next set.

I wandered back to the amphitheater, still in a daze, to catch Buckethead. I’ve heard a lot about him and all I can say is wow. His shred-core guitar playing accompanied with foot controlled percussion loops didn’t seem like a fit with the crowd and other bands playing, but these kids loved it, as did I. The stage was packed from beginning to end. As Buckethead ended the set, a giant monsoon of people marched to the main stage for the last set of scheduled music, a stellar set from Sound Tribe Sector 9.

Tribe’s set was powerful and nonstop. It was obvious that they took everything the crowd threw at them and used it as fuel for their fire. I sat back with my family and watched from afar, almost visualizing the energy from the crowd crashing into the stage where it was met by the band’s.

As the parade marched back to the camping area, I was ready to get down. I came with my girl and my six-month old son and played the part of responsible daddy/photographer. This was my night. I went over to my friend’s camp which was directly across from the makeshift stage by the lake. After hanging out and resting my feet he busted out a full size chicken suit that I simply could not resist. I’m somewhat bland when it comes to clothes; I always tend to stick out in the middle of a festival crowd. Once I got in the suit the freak show welcomed me with open arms as Tornado Rider began to set up. For those who aren’t familiar with Tornado Rider, they are a three-piece band consisting of a drummer, bassist, and a front man who plays a distorted cello and does the vocals. They almost have a punk rock type of vibe to them. I got down for a few songs, throwing myself around the crowd. After some fun at the stage, my group walked down to an art display where another makeshift stage was set up for Greenhouse Lounge.

A good crowd started to assemble, as well as a few police vehicles, obviously making their presence known. I booked it back to camp, doing my best to avoid any troubles. When I woke up the next morning, I heard reports that the cops shut down the stage and hauled multiple kids off to jail. Spirit of the Suwannee has a strong reputation for being a police state during festival, which is mildly true. I lived at the park for two years and have been going to the festivals for seven years now. One thing I’ve learned is that it takes a lot to attract attention during festival: complete belligerence. If you are one of the people that get messed with, there is usually just cause. It’s important to let loose and surrender yourself to your surroundings, it’s the true spirit of it all, but it’s just as important to use your head and respect the fact that they have a job to do. I personally don’t agree with festival arrests. We remove ourselves to let the inner-freak out, but blatantly ignoring the fact that there are uniformed officers present is only going to make things worse. Once disrespected, they will engage, period. End rant sequence.

All in all, the second annual Blackwater Music and Arts Festival was a great weekend of great music and great people. The lineup continues to grow and strengthen; I can’t wait to see who will be announced for next year!

Zingara Photography’s Photo Gallery


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