09 Nov Suwannee Hulaween An Unrivaled Fairytale [Festival Review]
I’m excited to share my event review for Suwannee Hulaween with you. Having attended four music festivals and dozens of concerts prior to Halloween weekend, I thought I knew what to expect. I went to Rolling Loud during my senior year of high school. Throughout college, I experienced Ultra in Miami once and Electric Daisy Carnival Orlando twice. When putting Suwannee Hulaween in the same league as these festivals, I have never been more wrong in my life.
Hulaween was my first camping festival so in that aspect I predicted a different overall vibe. It was not only the camping that made the four-day event superior to the rest. From the amazing lineup to the spectacular staff, Hulaween is the epitome of a perfectly executed music festival.
Music fans from around the globe journeyed to Live Oak, Florida for the annual Halloween weekend event. Like many festivals, Suwannee Hulaween was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 crisis. This year’s festival was quick to sell out with an attendance of 20,000 people.
Suwannee Hulaween Lineup
The four-day event (or three, depending on which ticket package you purchased) for Suwannee Hulaween was hosted by The String Cheese Incident. This renowned bluegrass band is based out of Colorado and has been headlining the festival since its beginning in 2013. Other headliners for this year were Skrillex, Leon Bridges, and gifted-musical trio Khruangbin. The monumental lineup featured around 100 artists from a wide variety of genres.
Each day of the festival, the starting sets took place around 2:00 pm. On Thursday and Sunday, the last set ended relatively early, ranging from 11:15 pm (Sunday) to 12:30 am (Thursday). On the days in between, there were memorable late-night sets that ran until 4:00 am.
Thursday featured a Deadbeats Takeover at The Hallows stage, headlined by Zeds Dead. While on Saturday, an assortment of house artists, specifically members of the Dirtybird label, mixed at the Spirit Lake stage. Every day had coinflip decisions between which talented artist to see. For example, on Sunday, attendees chose whether to listen to Khruangbin, Lane 8, or Mersiv close out the weekend.
The Parking and Camping
Parking was fairly easy during the opening day of Hulaween. The line of cars was somewhat lengthy but the parking staff ushered us through the lot and into the camping area quickly. To park inside the venue, you had to purchase a primitive car add-on. This cost $100 after taxes and fees at the time I purchased it.
Additionally, there was an add-on to park in VIP spaces, an early camping add-on, an RV and VIP RV add-on, and a golf cart add-on. The golf cart add-on was expensive but justified by the fast transportation around the camping grounds and spacious parking at the festival.
Pets were not allowed on the camping premises, however, service animals with the necessary documentation were welcome to stay. Some of the camping areas were accompanied by generators. Along with outdoor camping, a “glamping package” came with a packed cooler and other benefits, starting at $3,500. The most expensive package was for a VIP cabin with its own showers, costing $7,500.
Festival Entry and COVID-19 Protocol
Entry to the festival was well organized and filled with plenty of staff to direct cars and answer any questions if needed. The line to receive my primitive car pass took 10 minutes at most and I got to strike up a conversation with other concertgoers. Waiting for my wristband at the media check-in was around the same amount of time.
All ticket holders had to show proof of a negative test taken within the past 72 hours before their arrival. The test was required to be from a pharmacy or lab, with a printed copy of the test results as sent from the pharmacy/lab, which must include your name and a statement of the date and time the test was taken. Results from at-home test kits were not accepted.
If you chose to show proof of full vaccination (your properly completed CDC card or a photo of it) you did not need to show proof of a negative test. In order to be considered fully vaccinated, at least two weeks had to pass from your final dose.
To expedite this process, Hulaween partnered with the app Bindle. Bindle is an app that securely stores COVID-19 test and vaccination records and turns them into entry passes. It does not store personal information. Every attendee was advised to download Bindle, upload their documents, and create an entry pass. The entry pass is what was checked by their box office team upon entry.
The Hula 2021 Mobile App
The mobile app for this year’s Hulaween was a great tool to navigate the festival. All of the information found on the Hulaween website could also be viewed in the app, such as COVID-19 regulations, passes, camping information, and more. There was a map that showed symbols for where everything was located, from the stages to the vendors to the EMS tent.
The app included a tab for food options as well. When an option was clicked, a short description of what kind of food the business offers and where it is was located was provided. Also, there was a page that displayed a schedule of different extracurricular activities during the festival. It also had a tab with all the artists’ names, pictures, and bios, near the top of the menu.
Lastly, users could favorite specific sets by looking through the schedule. These favorites lead to the user’s individualized schedule. This enabled the ticket holders to have a developed plan of the acts they wanted to see, along with where and when they were performing.
The majority of the attendees walked from their campsite to the festival grounds. It was nice to see all the Halloween and festival decorations that campsites had set up along the way. An airport shuttle provided transportation from Jacksonville airport to Suwannee Park. Another group of shuttles transported campers around the park. Finally, there were VIP shuttles that drove to and from Walmart, Publix, and local Live Oak hotels.
As far as the weather goes, the conditions could not have been better. It drizzled a little the first night but the rain was complimentary to Zeds Dead’s set and soothing to the audience. The rest of the days were full of sunshine and warm temperatures up until the sun went down. If you are attending next year, make sure to tie a sweatshirt around your waist and wear pants because each night was around 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The venue for Hulaween was the same as always: The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park campground. Inside the festival and around the campgrounds were conveniently placed rows of portapotties. Additionally, food and beverage vendors were strategically spread throughout the venue.
Across the festival grounds were five official stages and one unofficial one called the fire-themed Incendia stage in Spirit Lake. The Meadow was considered the main stage and placed in front of an immense field. This stage featured sets from The String Cheese Incident and popular acts. The Hallows stage represented its counterpart, often alternating set times and located at the opposite end of the field.
On the way to Spirit Lake, concertgoers walked by The Amphitheatre which was a setup similar to that of a stadium. Spirit Lake encompassed the final two official stages known as the Spirit Lake stage and the Campground stage. The latter was home to entertaining acts during the day and a silent disco to close off Friday and Saturday night.
A huge section around the top of The Amphitheatre stage and between it and the giant field was filled with eccentric shops and food vendors. One of the bigger tents was home to the official Suwannee Hulaween merchandise vendor. Other vendors sold art, festival clothes and accessories, colorful glasses, and other festival-related products. Also, a general store and a lost and found could be discovered right outside the gates.
The VIP areas were simple but a clear separation between price points with the regular tickets. A section directly in front of the Meadow stage was gated in with one pathway entrance and labeled VIP. Another exclusive area was the Canna VIP Lounge and Sweetwater Oasis. I did not get a good look on the inside but it was an open-walled roofed location to the left of the main stage.
The Venue: Spirit Lake
Spirit Lake is the Hulaween hub for intriguing art, smaller shows, and other unique exhibits. The Hulaween website explains its mystical environment perfectly. It describes it as a world where your wildest dreams come to life. A place where the ground comes alive and the trees breathe. This is where fire dances on water and secret surprises await you around every corner. It’s also where music and art meet in an immersive melting pot of sensory overload.
Spirit Lake is the interactive and expertly curated art and music experience at the heart of Suwannee Hulaween. Top-tier artists from around the world descend on this little corner of the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and transform what is usually a quiet little lake into a spectacle for the senses that you won’t forget.
The entrance of Spirit Lake was guarded by two immaculate stone statues. One raver said, “It looked like entering the skulls of the higher above.”
Among this year’s highlights, the lake put on a variety of light and fire shows, some showing giant pixelated faces looming over the water.
Massive statues made of wood, straw, and other natural materials stood proudly in the nighttime sky.
A 3D structure made up of different-sized cubes bent the fabric of reality.
Besides three-dimensional art, the Mural Maze captured artistic insight and raw beauty painted on large wooden boards.
Spirit Lake: Interactive Experiences
There was also a myriad of interactive exhibits; one featured a flat illuminated table covered in sand to draw whatever your creativity can forge.
Another hotspot was a glowing circle tent filled with hanging swings.
My personal favorite had to be Uncle Charlie’s Red Hot Cock. Two friends would need to use the seesaw to make the chicken spit out flames.
To make the scenic destination even more alluring, there was a small vibrant village that invited the guests to explore.
Spirit Lake: The Casino
Possibly the most captivating attraction in Spirit Lake was the casino. This collection of red-and-white striped tents held shows and games that were centered around gambling through barter instead of using monetary bets and rewards. The way it worked was you would offer something of value on your person in exchange for one of many objects and accessories on the opposing side of the table.
In Frick Frack, a nonmonetary version of Blackjack, I wagered my necklace for the card game Crazy 8s. Looking back, I think I asked for something of lesser value but was happy to play regardless. My cards busted over 21 and I decided to put up my girlfriend’s pashmina scarf that she let me borrow for the weekend. This was a risky move but I wanted my necklace back and had faith in my cards. Luckily, I won and left the table even on the night.
The Hulaween casino game Zoulette is a rendition of roulette, using a wheel filled with zodiac signs instead of numbers. The other categories you can offer a possession on are red and black, yin and yang, elemental (air, earth, fire, water) signs, and the three phases of the moon. I ended up winning a few snacks that I devoured later during one of The String Cheese Instrumental’s sets.
Also in the casino, a showroom for dancers, comedians, and other performers with special talents. This was a great spot to relax and charge up for the next set while being entertained.
Suwannee Hulaween Day 1: Break Science
As I pulled through the arch into the campsite, I gazed at all the Halloween decorations and the abundance of hung-up tapestries. I quickly unpacked my things, set up our tent, and headed to see Break Science with my Suwannee Hulaween squad.
The duo of drummer Adam Deitch and keyboardist (along with being a producer) Borahm Lee electrified the Spirit Lake stage. Break Science has collaborated with fellow experimental bass groups after emerging from the Colorado electronic music explosion. They played a significant amount of these tracks. Some songs were chill and melodic while others were upbeat and heavier.
Day 1: SunSquabi
Following Break Science, we wandered around the festival grounds. We walked past Deathpact throwing down a haymaker of a set. Then we gathered ourselves and headed back to Spirit Lake to watch SunSquabi in action.
The first thing I noticed was the synthesizer of the group, Josh Fairman had a gold glittering jacket. Next to him, guitarist Kevin Donohue wore black cat ears. SunSquabi had created a far-out vibe with a lot of rhythmic repetitive tunes. The drums were heavily present in the set, even while Donohue put his guitar behind his head and shredded.
At one point, blue and pink lasers flashed across the sky like cotton candy. SunSquabi’s set consisted of drum rolls and guitar solos that were extremely synthetic. It felt like they were taking us up a flight of stairs with each step being a different electric note.
Day 1: Zeds Dead
After the outstanding performance by SunSquabi, we trekked to The Hallows stage to see Zeds Dead close out the DeadbeatsTakeover. One of the first tracks the two DJs played was “Rude Boy”. This was transformed into a bass-heavy buildup resulting in psytrance music.
A couple of minutes later, Zeds Dead transitioned a dubstep remix of “Where’s Your Head At” by The Pixies into their song “Rescue”, with Dion Timmer and singer Delaney. This led to remixes of their new hit track “Alive” and the famous “Lost You”. “Lost You” was blended into the classic “Stand By Me”, by Ben E. King.
The skilled partners appeased the audiences by playing other classic hits throughout their set. They played a wubz remix of “Get Em High” by Kanye, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, and “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin.
Zeds Dead set included many of their own productions too. The crowd roared when songs like “Stars Tonight” and “Collapse” came on. Towards the end of their set, we heard the grimy bass of “Sound Of The Underground” and their spin on “Eyes On Fire” by Blue Foundation. My body and mind were exhausted from their engaging set.
Suwannee Hulaween Day 2: Daily Bread, Dumpstaphunk, and The Floozies
I made sure to get a good amount of rest to prepare myself for day two of Suwannee Hulaween. My group witnessed Daily Bread’s miraculous melting pot of funk and wubz. There were remarkable synths backed by drums that swayed the crowd back and forth.
Next, we journeyed to The Meadow to chill out to Dumpstaphunk. I was surprised by the raspy feel-good lyrics accompanied by a barrage of instruments. The band played a killer song full of upbuilding instrumentals and melodies to tie up their set.
We hurried over from Dumpstaphunk to the Amphitheatre, so we could see the second half of The Floozies. The two brothers fit into the same genre as Daily Bread and are just as musically inclined. They eagerly proved themselves to be the kings of electro-funk.
Day 2: My First Cheese Set
The older members of our group had ranted to me about The String Cheese Incident since my arrival at Suwannee Park. I had yet to see the band live and was pretty unfamiliar with their music before the festival. That is partly why this Saturday performance is forever ingrained into my brain.
All you have to do is appreciate music as a whole to fall in love with the stunning Hulaween hosts. This set was more mellow than some of their others which allowed my energy levels to replenish. The band has seven members who each contributed a vital element to their overall sound.
Day 2: Manic Focus
Taking a complete 180 from my introduction to “The Cheese” (as my friends called them), Manic Focus delivered a powerful punch of experimental EDM. They were joined by special guests from their genre, like The Floozies.
The standout musicians somehow managed to bring in waves of differing genres into their set like it was nothing. Playing a funky beat with reggae lyrics, they switched to a riddim drop in the blink of an eye. Manic Focus also worked in some drum & bass to keep the crowd on their toes.
Day 2: Bonobo
Bonobo earned his place in my top five favorite sets ever in the opening five minutes of his performance. He brought a one-of-a-kind sound to the lineup. A lot of the tracks he played embodied African tribal sounds.
The subtle and gentle flow from one song to another put both my physical and mental states at peace. It was impossible for me to take out my phone for the entirety of the set. I was in a trance from Bonobo’s soothing current of deep house.
Day 2: Chris Lake
I have been a Chris Lake fan for years, therefore I knew he was capable of following up Bonobo’s magnificent set. His transitions were flawless just as I had predicted. He made sure to shed light on his Anti Up project with Chris Lorenzo by queueing up “Hey Pablo” and “Concentrate”.
Additionally, Chris Lake played “Operator (Ring Ring)” and “Turn Off The Lights”, two of his most beloved songs. My top track from his performance was Chris Lorenzo’s newly released house remix of “California Dreamin'”. For a moment, the song was only acapella and the crowd sang their hearts out in unison.
Day 2: Skrillex
With all the concerts and festivals I had gone to, Skrillex was an artist I still needed to cross off my list. I was so pumped for his set that it felt like my blood was flowing faster than a sports car on a vacant highway.
For starters, the lighting and special effects production were phenomenal. For “In Da Ghetto”, the stage went up in a fiery red fog. Having produced music in so many genres, Skrillex’s set told a story to the audience. For a period of time, he played his older dubstep tracks, then he changed direction into hard bass house remixes.
Totems waved in the air as Skrillex played his 2021 track “Supersonic”. I yelled out the name excitedly after hearing the primary intricate sounds of the track. The drop sent shivers down my spine while I bounced aggressively to the dubstep.
Day 2: The Godly Set: Skrillex b2b Chris Lake b2b Bonobo at Incendia
My night could have easily ended post-Skrillex. Roaming around Spirit Lake, we caught a whiff of a late-night mystery set at the Incendia stage. I was bewildered to find out Bonobo, Chris Lake, and Skrillex were playing together.
Each part-producer part-DJ had a contrasting style to the other two. However, this contrast enabled the trio to build an unbelievable b2b2b (back to back to back) set. The disc jockeys mainly played drum and bass.
Fire burst out from the stage and each side had a warm fire-fueled dome so there was no need to huddle for warmth. To add to the physical heat, the crowd shared an enthusiasm that provided a spiritual glow.
Day 2: Afterparties
The Incendia stage b2b2b had revitalized my stamina. I decided to walk to the free afterparties with some new friends I had met. The coolest thing about the afterparties is that they were set up by attendees who arrived a week or more prior to the festival. One ticket holder said he had been at Suwannee for 12 days preparing their campground.
The first afterparty had a house DJ and about 70 people dancing at the campsite. I got to talk to one of the Mural Maze artists and was inspired by his work. When that afterparty shut down, we discovered a path lined with trees and lights.
We followed the music and loud talking until we reached the second free afterparty. A tent hung over the DJ who was mixing slow wubz that turned me into a bobblehead. I met another concertgoer and we conversed about our tastes in music and our life experiences. At 5:00 am, I dragged my feet back to my campsite.
Suwannee Hulaween Day 3: Masego
Our group collectively agreed to leave our phones at the campsite (or bring them solely for emergency) for day three of Suwannee Hulaween. We wanted to fully appreciate the music without interruption. Masego was a prime act to be completely present for.
The artist has multiple talents; he can sing incredibly, slay on the saxophone, and produce a beat in minutes. My favorite quality of Masego was how interactive he was with his supporters. The R&B breakout artist told the crowd to sing along throughout the course of his set.
Around halfway through, he announced to the audience that he had an idea. Masego started to create a beat on the spot and sing to it. There is nothing more stimulating than watching a live production of music. The artist did not forget to play his hit song “Tadow”, a track made with instrumentalist and looper named FKJ who is a producer that loops sequences of instrumental music to create a beat.
Day 3: Another Day, Another Cheese Set
For the second time, we returned to The Meadow for a fantastic set by The String Cheese Incident. We shouted out corny remarks like, “It’s all about the cheese!” as we danced to the music. Our squad went all the way up to the front rail and jumped enthusiastically with our bare feet on the grass.
Later that evening, The String Cheese Incident put on a show that drew thousands to their stage. Giant floats glided across the black sky and fireworks shot out during the climax of their set. When they played their own version of “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, it was the icing on the cake.
Day 3: Nala
I felt honored to interview Nala the week before Hulaween. Click here to read my interview with her. There was no scenario where I would not be front and center for her entire set. The Dirtybird newcomer mimicked the crowd’s energy through her bright smile and exotic dance moves. Her combination of house and deep techno was hypnotic.
Cheers rang out when she played both songs off her 2021 EP with Claude VonStroke: “Everything Is Burning” and “Wet State”. In addition to being quite the entertainer, her comments to the crowd were funny, carefree, and full of passion for her music. When her set came to a halt, the audience at the Spirit Lake stage begged for more.
Day 3: Earthgang
After Nala, I hurried over to the Amphitheatre to see the end of Earthgang’s performance. They were the rap group in the upper tier of the lineup. The scene Earthgang constructed looked like a colossal house party. Their strong vocals were destined to line up with their heavy trap beats.
Day 3: LP Giobbi
When Earthgang finished up, I jogged back to the Spirit Lake stage. Waiting for me was the queen of inspiriting house music: LP Giobbi. I am almost certain she was smiling or laughing for the whole set, which was exponentially contagious. The lyrics in the tracks she played incited an aura of positivity. She left the crowd feeling emotional and in awe.
Day 3: Rohan Solo
LP Giobbi’s inspiring message led me to try something sporadic. I rushed over to The Campground stage to see Rohan Solo, an artist I barely knew. It is safe to say I know him now. His set was something out of a fairytale; the optimal balance between hardcore drumming and overlapping heavy dubstep.
He put his heart and soul into that set so much so that you could see steam pouring off his back. Watching him play the drums brought me back to when I played them. The feeling was sentimental. You could tell how hard he had worked to form his own distinct sound. Although, I was shocked when he announced that everything he played in his set was 100% original.
Day 3: Mark Farina and Claude VonStroke
Having spent much of my day at the Spirit Lake stage, I went back once again to see the highly anticipated Claude VonStroke. I was delighted to arrive early enough to listen to Mark Farina display his effortless mixing abilities. The house he produced revolved more around jazz than the norm and was a nice change of pace.
A mob had gathered in closely by the time Claude VonStroke took the stage. I was directly in the middle surrounded by fellow ravers. Even though I had been separated from my group I was unfazed. Claude VonStroke did not disappoint. He is conspicuously a guru when it comes to disc jockeying.
I cherished the assault of underground house sounds emitting from the speakers. It did not seem like there were individual tracks. The set represented an hour and a half of nonstop house, each song tieing perfectly into the next. I sweat out the numerous bottles of water I drank that day by the end of his set.
Day 3: Silent Disco
Subsequent to Claude VonStroke’s set, the silent disco from 2:00 am to 4:00 am was definitely a highlight. I noticed that there were two options to choose from: a wubz DJ and a drum & bass DJ. Occasionally, I would click my headphones to the drum & bass set, but I mostly stuck with the wubz.
Rest In Pierce did not hold back with his extraterrestrial sounding tracks. His slowed remixes of rap songs “Palm Trees” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” had me headbanging on the rail. Along with everyone else, I yelled the lyrics and based my movements off the beats that were overflowing with outer space noises. The upcoming producer had a tight-knit group of his friends hyping him up for the full length of the set.
Next up was American Grime, a duo I failed to recognize. I immediately became familiar with them as DJ Timbo Slice spun some of the hardest EDM beats I heard all weekend. Then Jumanji, the MC, began to spit bars over the tracks with a swagger that is unrivaled. The synchronization between the two performers was extraordinary. Both artists were feeding off each other’s energy and the crowd devoured that energy like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Suwannee Hulaween Day 4: VEIL b2b Notlö
I started day four the same way I ended day three of Suwannee Hulaween. Tagging along with a friend I had met, we checked out the bewitching atmosphere of VEIL and Notlö. Their futuristic style of bass was like a parasite spreading through the ears in the audience and causing us to break out in dance. We threw our hands up in the air as the performers shook the Spirit Lake stage and the dirt beneath us.
Day 4: The Final Cheese
In my experience, the final “cheese” set was the best one by a long shot. Most of our camping group was up front at the rail (for the third time) and we danced uncontrollably. The environment consisted of jovial music fans, of all ages, embracing each other’s company as well as The String Cheese Incident’s overwhelming set. We took turns showing off our moves, letting the music take hold of our bodies like a puppetmaster.
Day 4: Jungle
Succeeding the final “cheese” set was Jungle, who played at The Hallows stage. Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland were at the helm of the seven-membered band. Their stage name flashed behind them in a fascinating white font. Jungle played a decent amount of tracks from their new studio album known as Loving in Stereo. They concluded their set with my favorite song by them called “Busy Earnin'”.
Day 4: Khruangbin
Getting the whole group back together to hear Khruangbin’s set was the equivalent of heaven on earth. Since their set, I have listened to them nonstop on Spotify and even rewatched moments from their Suwannee Hulaween performance on YouTube. We embraced one another and reflected on the unforgettable weekend while the Texas trio flooded our senses with bliss.
Rainbow lights and smoke-shrouded the bass player, guitarist, and drummer. The audience was mesmerized. There was a long pause towards the end of their set. A silence fell over the crowd and we whispered our hopes of an encore to each other. Our prayers were answered when Khraungbin strummed their rendition of the Halloween (Michael Myers) theme song.
In the most impressive transition I have witnessed since birth, Khruangbin was suddenly playing “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. My jaw dropped in astonishment as I did the “Thriller” dance with the rest of my group. Impressive, I know. There was no better way to close out a weekend of music than watching Khruangbin in their element.
Day 4: Fire Show at Spirit Lake
Khraungbin may have been the final music act I saw, but I was not done with Suwannee Hulaween yet. Some of our group left while the remaining members traversed to Spirit Lake. We spotted a fire show about to start and sat down in front of the performing ring. The show felt like an endless chain of prodigious talent, each performer delicately twirling their flaming props in the air. The audience broke out in claps and whistles as the performers took a bow.
Final Thoughts on Suwannee Hulaween
As we took one last hike around Spirit Lake, we discussed all the extravagant things we had seen, heard, and done. I truly believe that Suwannee Hulaween is an event that every human should experience at least once in their life, music fan or not.
In 50 years, I will be telling my grandkids about the adventures that Hulaween provided me with. Make sure not to go anywhere Hula, I will see you next year.