Once a year the Spirit of Suwanee Music Park comes alive with musicians and monsters alike for a spectacular spectacle, Suwannee Hulaween. While most music festivals seem to have an element of surrealism, there is something particularly mystical about this Halloween-themed festival. From the hypnotizing light shows on Spirit Lake to the campgrounds veiled with an eerie layer of Spanish moss, there is something mystifying to be found in every corner of Hulaween.
This year Hulaween returned for it’s the fourth installment with headliners including My Morning Jacket, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee and Gramatik. Pre-party tickets were also available for those who were itching to get a head start on the weekend’s festivities. The pre-party lineup was just as impressive as the rest of the festival bill with acts like Greensky Bluegrass, EOTO & Friends, two sets of some UM and Late Night Radio. Ganja White Night closed out the pre-party on the Campground Stage but Silent Disco sets went on until the wee hours of the morning.
While Saturday sets are always a party with The String Cheese Incident, this particular Saturday was Cheese’s three-part Halloween set. The theme for the evening was ‘Stringier things’ and the boys covered 80’s classics like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Love Shack” by the B-52s complete with heart shaped balloons and confetti. The set finished in a fit of flames during a blow-out rendition of “Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads and beautiful female performers quite literally playing with fire.
Hulaween and Electric Forest Festival parallel each other in many ways; from their creative and theatrical patrons to the life-sized artwork and more. However, Hulaween has a one-up on Electric Forest in the sense that you can practically hang your hammock up wherever you please. In fact, The Amphitheatre stage is located at the bottom of the pit and is surrounded by trees that are perfect for setting your hammock up in. The layout of the stage makes it possible to get both a good view and pick up on great sound from the stage. Lettuce, The Motet, and Rebelution were a few set that took place at The Amphitheatre which was great for late afternoon hammock chilling.
Although some pure magic took place at the main stage (less commonly referred to as The Meadow) the Spirit Lake stage took the cake for the most unique and theatrical stage. The Spirit Lake stage took the shape of an ethereal pirate ship and blended in with the other ornate art installations at the festival. Platforms were located on both sides of the Spirit Lake stage where various flow artists, fire performers, and dancers would perform endless attention-grabbing feats in tandem with different musical acts. The grounds surrounding this stage are also where most of the Hulaween art installations are located which caused me to wander astray during multiple sets.
Phil Lewis, known for his detailed lenticular prints and laser cut wood engravings, was one of the top vendors at Hulaween this year. While Lewis himself was not there, his artwork and presence can be found at festivals all across the United States. The best food vendor was Smokin’ Pete’s Barbeque which was a popular food truck which always seemed to have a line of at least seven or eight wide-eyed customers eagerly waiting in line. For $10 you could get a feast on a sizeable, cheese covered order of loaded barbecue pulled pork tater tots. Need we say more?
It’s hard to choose just a few of the highlights from Hulaween this year. On Friday The String Cheese Incident closed out their second set with a fan-favorite “Shine” into another crowd pleaser “Howard” which had everyone up in arms and on their toes. Saturday night STS9 treated the crowd to a particularly uplifting and high-energy set which included a rare performance of their song “2012.” The bluegrass highlight of the weekend was the performance by The Grass is Dead which took place at the Spirit Lake stage complete with pirates and all. And finally, members of Big Gigantic, The Motet, and The String Cheese Incident joined forces to close out Hulaween weekend with a ridiculously fun Big Cheesy Motet Incident set that had everyone promising to return to Hulaween 2017.