Suwannee Hulaween 10.25 - 10.28.18

Spirit of Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL

Words by Charla Harvey
Photos by Derek Miles (Miles Photography)

Hulaween is a festival that words just can’t do justice. (But I’m going to try). This is only their sixth year, and they sold out! First of all, Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, is absolutely beautiful. The 800-acre park is open year-round, and Hulaween only uses about eight acres of it for the festival! We were surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oak and cypress trees. The ground was mostly sand, which helped absorb some of the rainwater better than mud would have. It rained the first two days, but then it was mostly sunny in the day. It got cold at night, but most campsites had fire pits that were well-utilized. Hulaween advises people to pack for all types of weather, and thank goodness for that!

Spirit of Suwanee had amazing art installations that are only put in for this festival. There are giant wooden creatures like trolls and tree people. There was a wooden spider that you could crawl into from the backside. Spirit Lake has affectionately and aptly been referred to as a “psychedelic playground.” And though it’s fun to look at in the day, at night the art literally lights up, and it is mesmerizing. The lake has glass lotus flowers on lily pads that are lit up, and there is a hologram displayed in the middle of the lake that mostly said “Hula 2018,” but sometimes had other messages. There was a fox that breathed fire from its mouth and a gigantic flower that lit up. Someone hooked a keyboard up to the flower, and it started emitting electric waves from the top.

Also by the main stage, there were huge letters spelling “HULA.” They were solid yellow during the day but at night they displayed videos. Sometimes it just showed moving designs but other times it showed a skeleton ripping another skeleton’s head off.

Onto the main attraction! Hulaween graced us with four days of music (including the pre-party on Thursday). The impressive and generous lineup had a good variety of music genres. They had Vulfpeck, Jamiroquai, Janelle Monae, Mavis Staples, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Lettuce, Turkuaz, Garaj Mahal, Wood Brothers, Galactic, Medeski, Martin, and Wood, Knower, Trevor Hall, The Revivalists, and of course String Cheese Incident (who had seven sets!), just to name a few! This lineup was genuinely a gift.

Turkuaz dressed up as each other for their set. Shira Elias, who usually wears yellow, wore red. Josh Schwartz, who usually wears purple, dressed up as yellow. He even dyed his hair for this!

Of course Jamiroquai was a main attraction, seeing as they are from London and rarely play in the US. All day Saturday you could hear festival-goers saying “Happy Jamiroquai Day!” to their friends and anyone who passed by. One person even had Jamiroquai’s lead singer Jay Kay’s face as their totem! Jamiroquai is an acid-jazz band that formed in 1992. The name Jamiroquai stems from the lead singer’s passion for the Iroquois tribe and Jam music. He changed the spelling of Iroquois then combined the two names. Jamiroquai’s set was definitely unique. Jay Kay wore his iconic Automaton helmet, which fit well with the Halloween theme of this weekend. You can get your own here! Psymbionic and Clozee both had sets during Jamiroquai, but it seemed like the entire festival was at the main stage for Jamiroquai.

String Cheese’s sets were all different. They had a Halloween-themed one, and they had one set that focused on female empowerment. They brought out multiple different female singers to help sing covers.

Janelle Monae’s set left the entire audience speechless. That woman is a powerhouse. She exudes confidence and appreciation for the feminine. She also took the time to encourage and plead for the audience to vote in the upcoming election.

Trevor Hall brought a loving vibe. The audience was hugging each other throughout the set.

Vulfpeck brought their usual energy and sense of humor. They played at the same time as Tipper, but they still had quite a big audience. Cory Wong and Antwuan Stanley also graced the stage, lucky for us!

Members of Lettuce made guest appearances on multiple stages throughout the weekend. They played with Galactic, Vulfpeck, Break Science, and more!

Besides music, there were opportunities to do yoga, guided meditations, receive sound healing from gongs, pick from multiple silent discos, engage in conscious breathwork, etc. Kyle Hollingsworth also had his very own craft beer tent called “Kyle’s Craft Beer Corner.” They had over thirty different beer and cider options! They had multiple tastings and jam sessions. There was even an ENO station set up where people could just lay in hammocks. There was also a Ferris wheel by the main stage. Like most festivals, of course, there were plenty of shops and places to get food.

Being so close to Halloween, most people dressed up in costumes. What a joy to have four days to wear costumes! I even heard some people say, “I already had my Halloween,” when being asked what they were doing for October 31. Many people obviously put a lot of effort into their costumes. There was a girl dressed up as Marvin the Martian. One man wore a Mr. Peanut costume that he’d handmade out of cardboard. There was a group of friends who wore “Vote for Pedro” shirts, and one of them dressed as Pedro and one was Napoleon Dynamite! They busted out their dance moves when Jamiroquai played "Canned Heat" (featured in Napoleon Dynamite). There was also a group of friends who dressed up as the toy aliens from Toy Story, and they had the claw as their totem! Countless people donned onesies, many of which came from the seemingly mandatory pre-festival trip to the nearby Walmart.

Hulaween advises on their website: “If you are planning to celebrate by dressing up in a costume at this year’s Hulaween, consider the impact your decision might have on others. If your costume is racially, ethnically, or culturally based, ask yourself why you are choosing to wear that costume. What message are you sending? What is your intent by wearing that costume, and what might the impact be? If you do not belong to that group of people, we strongly encourage you to pick a different costume so as to respect and be inclusive toward all festival attendees." For the most part, it seemed that people heeded this message!

The security ran like a well-oiled machine. When entering the festival grounds (from the campgrounds), everyone had to have their bags checked and had to scan their wristband against a reader that lit up green to show it was valid. Security was very vigilant in making sure each person scanned their wristband. They were also always available to help when needed. Hulaween even had their own radio station you could tune to in order to facilitate smooth entry to the grounds. Also, the Hulaween app was very helpful. You could pick which sets you wanted to go to, and the app would alert you fifteen minutes before the set. You could also see which of your friends were planning on going to that set too. They also send notifications to changes, like alerting us that Action Bronson canceled his set!

There were ample spots to camp. Many people decorated their campsites or their RVs with unique decorations—often Halloween-themed. The decorations and lights helped people know they were in the right spot. It would have been helpful if there were more signs indicating where the different stages were and where the various camping sections were (A-J).

As for the environmental impact, I do wish they had better options. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to compost, and most drinks came in plastic cups. Many venues have switched to compostable cups, and I hope such a huge festival as Hulaween will follow suit soon. The trash receptacles seemed to be constantly overflowing, and there were not ample opportunities to recycle.

Overall, Hulaween is an outstanding festival. There is enough variety that each person can find something they will enjoy. The music, environment, people, art, and costumes make this festival one of the best!

Derek's Photo Gallery


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