Suwannee Springfest—Spirit of Suwannee Music Park—Live Oak, FL—March 21-23, 2013

The sacred trees throughout The Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak Florida seemed to be awaiting the 17th annual Suwannee Springfest.  Mother Nature even tried to do her necessary work around all the wonderful music that was to be played over the spiritual weekend. Some of the world’s best bluegrass musicians graced the stage, and we learned that the music played outside of the schedule during midnight campfire sessions can be just as powerful as the festival’s scheduled acts. You’d be hard pressed to find better hospitality and generosity at a festival than by those that proudly weather whatever Mother Nature has in store at Suwannee.

Suwannee Music Park is like Disney World for adults. In today’s fast paced society it is common to attract friends together by sending out text messages or emails, but at Suwannee if you want people to gather around all you have to do is build a great fire. The venue has so much to offer it is hard to catch all the music you want and check out all the grounds in just one weekend. Once you attend Suwannee Springfest, if you are like me, you will want to try and catch every festival that takes place on the Suwannee Music Park grounds.

Dangermuffin was the first band I caught at Suwannee Springfest 2013. The Folly Beach, North Carolina band has a strong stage presence that is unmatched in today’s Americana bands. Lyrically speaking they are helping carry the torch for the art of songwriting in the scene today, with so much depth in their lyrics. Their song “Walk into the Wind” is a great example of their craft, with their song “Consumin’ Me” showing their depth.  Just when you thought their set could not get any better, up walks Tony Furtado with his banjo, assisting Dangermuffin in a most astounding version of Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower”. As if that was not enough Keller Williams joined Dangermuffin a few songs after Tony left the stage and had everyone who could hear the speakers dancing ferociously to “Jump in the line (shake, senora)”. Check out the interview I did with Dangermuffin’s own Mike Sivilli in our interview section.

Folks, I cannot express how much I love the band Elephant Revival, and at Springfest they did not disappoint. Elephant Revival is one of the most talented and humble bands in the scene today. The band showed appreciation for the response they received after playing the Springfest of 2012, and the demand for them to return in 2013. Jams Plus Media’s own Keith Griner was lucky enough to interview the band; they were nice enough to take time out of their busy weekend to sit down with us. You can listen to this interview in our interview section of the website. It was a treat to catch them while they were on stage, and those who were able to get to the venue in time to catch their evening set Friday appeared to be as happy as a kid on Christmas.

There is nothing that compares to Vince Herman, and when you put him leading a group of talented musicians that make up Leftover Salmon it is a recipe for jubilee. Those in attendance tried to match his energy and catchy wit, but nobody holds a candle to Vince. Vince has an uncanny way of showing off each band member’s best attribute, and “Aquatic Hitchhiker” gave Andy Thorn a great opportunity to not only get the crowd stomping their feet but also a chance for him to shine Friday night. Crowd interaction is encouraged during a Leftover Salmon show and one cannot help but yell “FESTIVAL” at least once before a Salmon set is over.

Friday’s set was a nice appetizer for the Stanky Suwannee Jam that Leftover Salmon held Saturday night. Four fiddles may seem excessive but not when such wonderful musicians are playing them. Members from Cornmeal, Elephant Revival, Donna the Buffalo, and Darol Anger joined the legendary Salmon for what was a special stanky treat.  The Stanky Jam helped show what the weekend was all about, sharing their passion for music with the masses and doing it with other musicians that they would normally not be able to share a stage with.

Tony Furtado is the MacGyver of banjo players, known to be able to turn common objects into a banjo, and he and his band showed up at Suwannee Springfest ready to showcase their talent. Tony made those in the crowd feel like they have been friends for years by interacting with them in between songs. It was a bit chilly during Tony’s set but the “Peggy-O” he covered by the Grateful Dead had everyone who knew the words singing along and huddled up tight with their close ones. Tony’s rich history in bluegrass can been heard   and seen while he is performing; if you have not had a chance please look him up soon.

Keller Williams is known as a one man band, but when the husband and wife power duo Larry and Jenny Keel join forces with Keller it is pure bliss. Keller and the Keels have a lot of fun when they are on stage together and that flows into the audience; one cannot help but smile and frolic around when they are playing. Keller and the Keels had their own all-star jam with the Travelin’ McCourys and the great Peter Rowan making appearances on stage. Keller seemed to be having a ball during the jam covering Cracker’s song “Teen Angst”.

Cornmeal has spent since last October rearranging their lineup without rearranging their dominance. At Springfest they showed up doing what they do best, setting the energy to high and breaking off a bit of Cornmeal to everyone in attendance. I was lucky enough to talk to Chris Gangi and Wavy Dave Burlingame from Cormeal, and they were excited how fast the newbies, guitarist Scott Tipping and drummer Drew Littell, had picked up the great material Cormeal has created over the thirteen years of their existence. Whether you are an old fan or have yet to hear Cornmeal, embrace change or accept growth, and enjoy the gift that is Cornmeal.

The Travelin’ McCourys always bring a sense of class and old time style to the stage. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the guys before and know they are as genuine on stage as they are off.  The McCourys are a true gem and the beauty of Springfest is that many of the performers you want to see will be on the schedule more than once, with many of them making unannounced appearances during the weekend as well. The majestic Peter Rowan coming on stage to join them made it a special treat for their Friday late night set.

Bluegrass just cannot grow without a little rain, and at this year’s Suwannee Springfest, Mother Nature was nice enough to hold off until Saturday to do her duty. Though the rain came down fast and heavy, by mid-afternoon it had passed and the only real casualty was the Meadow Stage being shut down due to technical difficulties. Keith Griner and I spent the greater part of the afternoon backstage interviewing Dangermuffin, Elephant Revival, and Cornmeal. We cannot thank these bands enough for taking time out of their schedule to chat with us.

Sol Driven Train was a band I caught after the Saturday interview sessions that I had never heard of, but was so glad I stumbled upon them. Their fun lyrics and catchy tunes have you wanting to share in the groove with everyone around you. Their song “Long Johns” put smiles on all the children’s faces and their cover of “Waterfalls” is still stuck in my head days after hearing it. I had so much fun in the Suwannee Music Hall during their performance and find myself telling folks back home that they need to check out this fun loving, energetic band. Their website soldriventrain.com is a great way to be introduced to the band if they do not tour around your way, yet!

The rain that took place during the day made it great for foot stomping mud action by nightfall, and partway into their set Mother Nature poked her beautiful head out and matched Old Crow Medicine Show’s energy by bringing more rain. Everyone on and off stage seemed to relish in the rain, which gave Old Crow an extra topic or two for their spontaneous stage banter. I love their song “I hear them all” and when they broke into the Woody Guthrie treat “This Land is Your land” during the middle, it made for a truly special treat. Bluegrass fans are seriously some of the most dedicated fans on the planet and with the rain that took place during Old Crow, it proved this fact once again. Tom Petty’s “American Girl” being covered during the latter part of their Saturday night set was the icing on one of the best cakes of the weekend.

Tornado Rider is a trip to say the least. The band has ages 4 to 74 cavorting around as if the energy is being shared by everyone. I felt fortunate to finally catch Tornado Rider and see what all the hype was about. The band is doing something that has never been captured before and their unique stage show, I dare say theatrical stage show, should be witnessed by all. Tornado brings song, poetry, drama, and charisma all wrapped up in one. Check out Tornado Rider on the social networks and find some videos on your favorite sites.

If you make it to Suwannee Springfest, make plans to attend at least one night in Slopryland. The motto in Slopryland is “Somebody wrote it right, welcome to the club, we play it wrong”.  Musicians from your favorite bands can be seen shoulder to shoulder around the fire playing with fans who brought their instruments from home; for me Slopryland is what it’s all about. It was an honor to be part of the magic each night til sun up, watching everyone have so much fun; whether you were playing or simply just a spectator, joy filled the air and kindness could be seen everywhere.

Sunday is always bittersweet at a music festival, but at Springfest they know how to go out in style. Mamajowali started off my Sunday right, throwing African sounds and spirits with improv and jazz. It was such a delight to hear their Sunday gospel that lifted the soul. Jim Lauderdale who followed Mamajowali in the music hall always dresses to impress, and he made sure to wear his Sunday best. Wearing a purple suit, he brought his sense of class and timeless touch to those who caught his set. The music hall was really the only place promoting the website www.musicliveshere.com, check out Suwanee’s website and their social networking pages as well.

Peter Rowan is a living angel, and his Sunday set was tagged “Peter Rowan and friends” building up anticipation to see who would jump at the chance to play with their idol. Though Peter could be seen jumping on stage with many of the acts throughout the entire weekend, the sense that the stage was “his” Sunday afternoon made it a magical affair. Darol Anger , Jeb Puryear, Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, Bonnie Page,  and Bridget Law joined Peter for classics like “Rain Maker” and “Sit alone in the Moonlight”. It was such a treat to finally see Peter Rowan perform.

Donna the Buffalo is a great way to end the official Suwannee Springfest schedule. The kid in everyone comes out once the Buffalo’s start playing on stage. Though they only have one drummer everyone dances to the beat of their own drummer and it is truly a joyous occasion. Jeb Puryear’s voice makes every song seem like he is preaching the most heavenly of gospels. His messages in the songs he sings carry with you after their set is over and you cannot help but get caught up in the emotions being portrayed through the speakers. Donna the Buffalo’s spirit is a true testament to what the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park is all about.

Sunday night when all the stages are bare, and their lights are off, everyone who is left in the park gathers in Hopsville. Ten beer taps are connected on a trailer and given out free to the masses still in attendance. All the remaining musicians, from Jim Lauderdale and Peter Rowan to those who could be seen in Slopryland, could be found around the fire in Hopsville having fun one last time before sun up. I cannot think of a better way to end a spectacular festival such as Suwannee Springfest other than what takes place on the last night in Hopsville. I feel honored to have had the opportunity I was given and encourage all my readers to attend Suwannee Springfest 2014; I seriously hope to be able to make it down in 2014.


Written By: Tyler Muir

Photos By Keith Griner    Full Photo Gallery HERE

Edited By: Rosemary A.W. Roberts


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