By Phillip Sunkel IV | email@example.com
Photos by Phillip Sunkel IV
On Thursday, August 26, I found myself on the way to one of my favorite places in the state of Florida.
This night would be the last festival of Summer 2010, The Blackwater Music Festival at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak.
Spirit of the Suwannee is by far the best place in this state to view live music outdoors. Suwannee Music Park is located just about an hour and a half from Flagler College, an hour from Florida State University and an hour from University of Florida.
Guests to the park are welcome to rent cabins, bring their own RVs, or camp in primitive camping (which is basically a swampy campground.) For anyone who has ever been to the Suwannee Music Park, you know that primitive camping is where the after party is every single night. The stages are located just a short walk down the road from the campgrounds.
Suwannee Music Park is pretty large, but for this festival only a few stages were used and no band’s sets overlapped each other.
The first stage is the amphitheater, which looks like it belongs in the Louisiana bayou. Next is the porch, a small stage, and then the largest stage was placed in the meadow for the bigger crowds.
Thursday night’s highlights all played on the meadow stage to a crowd of about 1,500 people in 95-degree weather.
Every band that played that night leaned more toward the dance genre with influence from funk, soul, bass and dub-step.
At around 10 p.m. Perpetual Groove hit the stage to an anxious crowd. Halfway through P. Groove’s set, the sky opened up and the crowd went wild. P. Groove built off this hype and the rain and played a truly amazing show.
About an hour after Perpetual Groove played, it was time for co-headliner Sound Tribe Sector 9 to take the stage. The rain was still falling, but the crowd only grew larger and more out of control. Sound Tribe kept the party going with an unbelievable light/multimedia show that was timed to their music.
I constantly found myself staring at the lights and images literally transfixed to the spot. As I looked behind me all I could see was a sea of glow sticks bobbing in the wake of the crowd.
Sound Tribe played for around two hours, even coming back out to the audience’s delight for an encore after their set.
Flagler College junior Cooper Neil said, “STS9 was amazing and walking the campgrounds was a really good time.”
One thing I have always loved about Suwannee is that almost every festival they have has late-night shows for those of us who do not have a curfew.
Thursday night’s late night show was another off-the-wall dance party held in the campgrounds in a tent at the “field.” The electronic band Flight Risk played from 2 a.m. until early morning leaving everyone who attended exhausted for the next day.
Friday morning was not good. The rain persisted throughout the night until daylight the next morning.
Unfortunately, my luck would have it, my tent leaked. When I say leaked, I mean I had a small lake in my tent, to which I dubbed ‘Reservoir Sunkel.’
Oddly enough, what cheered me up the most in the morning was getting wet again, however this time by choice in the black water of the Suwannee River.
Every morning, before the bands start to play, it is a festival tradition to dip in the river at Suwannee. Trust me, you will hear many bands mention swimming the river.
Honestly, I missed many of the smaller bands in the early afternoon due to an issue with my press pass. I was, however, able to catch the tail end of G Love’s performance.
Armed with his acoustic guitar, slide and harmonica, G Love played an amazingly southern acoustic set, perfect for the swampy atmosphere of the park.
Of course, towards the end of G Love, the rain once again began to fall from the heavens. I plodded my way back up to the camp to gear myself up for the next set.
This time I was prepared. Outfitted with my rain jacket, a rain cover over my camera and a body covered in glow sticks, I traveled the road from the campground back to the meadow.
As I walked down the road, I could hear the echo of Rebelution’s dubbed-out reggae jams. As I trudged down towards the meadow I became more and more excited to get my groove on to Rebelution.
The final set of the night on the meadow stage was another headliner, Michael Franti & Spearhead. I am going to be straight with you. Before this festival the only song I knew by Franti was the song “Ganja Babe” and I only knew that from the show “Weeds.” So believe me when I tell you he blew me away.
The energy and talent this man and his band showed on stage was truly impressive for someone who is still pretty much underground.
Of course the crowd loved it. I spent about half my time towards the front of the crowd dancing away. The other half of the set, I decided to sit on a small hill that overlooks the meadow stage. From where I was I could see Franti giving one hell of a show, from bringing a birthday girl on stage, to bringing fans up to play guitar and even going into the crowd himself to play with his fans. This man was born to be a performer.
The next set was funk, dance, electronic band Disco Biscuits in the amphitheater. The amphitheater is amazing because it is in this little dugout pit with trees all around. On all the hills surrounding the amphitheater there are hammocks which people have set up to watch the show.
The amphitheater was packed. They hit the stage hard and got the crowd really moving.
Flagler College junior Erin Murray said, “the Disco Biscuits light show was unreal, I love the way the lights played off the trees.”
Disco Biscuits’ light show was as Murray put it: unreal. The lights were a color that my brain almost could not comprehend; looking away from them is something that is just not possible.
The last day of the festival was probably my quickest day in Live Oak.
At noon in the amphitheater, one of my favorite Reggae bands, Groundation, played one of the rawest and jammiest sets at Blackwater.
Groundation has been around for about 10 years and are still making amazingly-dubbed-out reggae music. A couple hours later, the Reggae group The Beautiful Girls from Sydney, Australia hit the stage. The Girls played a super chilled-out set to a crowd of about 100 people.
Of course, the two biggest sets of the night would have to be JJ Grey & Mofro and Slightly Stoopid.
For JJ Grey & Mofro, this was a pretty important festival. Not only did JJ Grey create and set up the Blackwater Music Festival, but this was also the first time JJ Grey & Mofro have played together since their new album dropped.
Slightly Stoopid played an action-packed, two-hour-long set in the meadow on Saturday. The guys played every one of their hits and even some of my favorites that rarely get played like: “Girl U So Fine Pt. 2” and “Bandelero.”
The crowd really started to get down when Slightly jammed to the tune “Baby I like It” at the beginning of their set.
As I look back now on those three crazy days, I can’t even believe they happened.
All the dance parties, Glow sticks and light shows seem like some sort of crazy dream. I feel like Alice eating the magic mushroom and falling down the rabbit hole only to come back out to ask myself “Did all of that really happen?”