2015 Ghoul Train Hulaween
Spirit of the Suwannee
Live Oaks, Florida
Photographer: Brad Kuntz
Writer: James Kastriches
If your Halloween wasn’t spent at Suwannee this year, you really missed out, the third annual Hulaween, in Live Oak, Florida was by far the best Hulaween to date, a complete success in every way. This year the festival topped all other festival attendance at the park to date breaching 21,000 freaky people!
The weather was breathtaking, compared to last year’s bone chilling nights, cloudy but in the upper 70’s for the duration of the weekend. It actually was a bit too humid during the day the 2nd half of the weekend but bearable.
The art installations, live paintings and decorations that are scattered throughout the park seem to get better each year, the creativity is unsurpassable. Spirit Lake is a treat in itself with the spectacular light show that lasts all night long, casting patterns of color onto the tall cypress trees and the long tangles of dangling Spanish moss and the adult playground in a Spirit lake area with its own stage, fire dancers, fire statures, swing sets, moving lights, mazes and mouths to sit in and pose with, landscape art and much more.
This year’s lineup was stacked, capable to suit all. Bluegrass, EDM, Jam rock, whatever you wanted, was only a stage away, at most times. With headliners String Cheese Incident (of course..7 sets), Railroad Earth, Pretty Lights, Primus, STS9, Slightly Stoopid, Lettuce, Elephant Revival, Papadosio, etc.
The Thursday night pre-party included 5 bands on the amphitheater stage. A relatively light crowd compared to the weekend, making a slightly more intimate setting. EOTO really got the party started, the duo made up of Jason Hann and Michael Travis of SCI, the dynamic drummer/percussion duo, paying their version of electronic jam.
Dumpstaphunk donned costumes and had an epic cover of Ramble On. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, arguably the best touring Grateful Dead “cover band” with an all-star cast super group of musicians, playing their own twist of Dead tunes, belted out a spectacular Estimated Prophet (SM) -> Eyes Of The World (TH) -> The Music Never Stopped -> Jam # -> The Music Never Stopped Reprise +-> Jam $ -> Help On The Way (TH) -> Myxomatosis Jam %+ -> Slipknot! -> China Cat Sunflower Jam +-> Jam ^ -> China Cat Sunflower to end the evening around camp fires, guitars and Spirit lake and stars.
Friday got started on the Main stage with Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds followed by Railroad Earth and then The String Cheese Incident. After just finishing up fall tour, The String Cheese Incident are absolutely on top of their game, pulling out rare treats, musicianship is top notch. Cheese started off Friday with ‘Song in my head’, followed by ‘Can’t wait another day’. Tim Carbone and Todd Sheaffer of Railroad Earth sat in for ‘Sometimes a River’, a song Keith Moseley and Todd Sheaffer co-wrote in 2005 in Colorado. It was clear the barefoot boys wanted to get those songs out of the way and get straight to the jam. The rarely played ‘Indian Creek’ had an appearance, as well as Kang’s rendition of the old tune, ‘red haired boy’: ‘Valley of the Jig’. ‘Round the wheel’ had some really psychedelic elements in the middle of the song that were really unique, as a huge fan, it’s most definitely my favorite version that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. ‘On the road’ also had some killer jams added to its usual sound.
The second set started out strong with a funky ‘Colliding’. This set was packed full of fan favorites such as, ‘Restless Wind’, Joyful Sound, Mouna Bowa. Shantytown was a favorite of the night, for obvious reasons, it’s such a fitting song for Suwannee. We got a Zeppelin cover for the encore, ‘Ramble On’, an excellent way to end the first incident.
Primus and Pretty Lights closed out the night at the Amphitheater and Main stages, the grounds were peaking out, it was nearly overflowing onto the pavement at Primus and hard to see much if you didn’t get there early. Likewise at Pretty lights the field was completely packed like never before at this venue from stage to vendors and very difficult to traverse once it packed it. Both sets were amazing and full of energy. Primus played classics including Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver, American Life, My Name is Mud and Jerry was a Racecar Driver. Pretty Lights had a lot of very nice lights and tons of energy from the crowd. There was no stopping the tall flags and polls in the crowd at this show even though they were supposedly banned at this years festival. Jon Stickley and Friends played on the Spirit lake Stage until 4am, a great performance to close out the live music
Bluegrass started the day off at the main stage, first with the Jon Stickley trio beginning the dat as it had ended the night before. The the Sam Bush Band. With a Slightly Stupid detour to the Amphitheater Stage, it was SCI again for an epic Hulaween three set stand at the main stage. ‘Dudleys Kitchen’ (classic cheese instrumental) started things off and got everyone moving! The favorite from the first set was “XAI”, formerly known as “Skat”, another instrumental jam, with Kang heavy on the fiddle. Only the 3rd time played all tour, and only the 3rd time played in the last 10 years! Such a welcomed appearance. A first set ‘Rivertrance’ was also a nice Halloween treat. Michael Kang told us before walking off stage for a brief intermission, “I hope yall are wearing your fucking bell bottoms!”
Set 2, (the Halloween set), was a straight up disco, it was simply incredible. The boys came out dressed in their late 70’s-early 80’s attire, Afros and all. Along with a horn section and people professional dancers dancing on each side of the stage with RZA (from Wutang) as emcee. The crowd went nuts as the 1977 classic ‘Brick House’ began. The whole set was all songs from the disco era, that everyone whose anyone is familiar with, ‘Carwash’, ‘Dance to the music’, ‘Got to be real’, ‘I’m your boogie man’ a much different Halloween set than we’re used to seeing.
Set 3 began with the fiddle tune “Bollymunster”, waking everyone back up from the set break and it was all Gouda from there, ‘Desert Dawn’, ‘Best feeling’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Rosie’ this set was a heater. The encore was special, a ‘Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours’ followed by ‘We are family’
We closed the night with a set from the New Mastersounds at the Spirit lake Stage.
Sunday Last Day
Following a main stage opener Sunday morning from Elephant Revival, Billy Nershi announced to us that they were feeling “A little rough around the edges” as they took the stage on Sunday afternoon, and that this was the “hangover set.” But it was in every way one of the favorite parts of the festival, since it was a bluegrass hoedown! With guests Sam Bush, Railroad Earth, Elephant revival on nearly every song on the first set. The set list was out of this world, for a die-hard cheeser. Opening with a stellar version of a Flatt & Scruggs cover ‘Blue Ridge Cabin Home’.
‘Lester had a Coconut’ was dusted off, and it sounded great. It’s been years since they’ve pulled that one out of the bag. The hangover set was literally full of bluegrass favorites, ‘Catfish John’, 9 pound hammer’, ‘Will the circle be unbroken’.
They wrapped up their last set with a smaller but killer set, ‘Little Hands’, ‘Outside and Inside’, followed by ‘Windy Mountain’, ‘Bumpin Reel’ and ‘Colorado Bluebird Sky’, with a Bob Marley cover/encore ‘Could you be loved’. A perfect way to close their final act.
Lettuce played an stellar set at the amphitheater stage with some new songs off their latest album.
STS9 closed out the main stage as they had a the first Suwanee Hulaween three years before. With a new female bass player Alana Rocklin and Zach Velmer the drummer (arguably the hardest working band member and musician in general) along with tons of crowd energy and crazy awesome light show, played jam based electronic jam. Starting off with a favorite ‘Vapors’ and ‘Inspire Strikes Back’ and closing with ‘World Go Round’ and ‘Instantly’, the only thing wrong was it was just barely a warm up.
Once again, this was the best festival put on a Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and in a dead heat for best festival on land these days. We will all be back next year!