By Ryan Buffa email@example.com
Photographs by Phillip C. Sunkel IV
St. Augustine musician Amy Hendrickson went from coffee shop musician to front-woman of her own band.
Hendrickson’s band, Amy Hendrickson and the Prime Directive, played for the first time at the Suwannee Springfest in Live Oak, Fla. “I think festivals feel like home,” Hendrickson said. “I’m grateful to even be playing music, but this is the icing on the cake.”
The band consists of Stephen Pigman on bass, vocals and guitar, Steve Hawkes on drums, Corey Peterson on the saxophone, Jim Johnston on lead guitar, and Hendrickson on guitar and vocals. “I love that the boys let me be me and let me be shiny,” Hendrickson said. “These are my boys, they know me and we are bonded for life.”
Before the Prime Directive, Hendrickson described herself as a coffee shop musician like Phoebe from the sitcom Friends. Once the band formed, her simple songs became amplified. “It’s probably the equivalent of someone that plays piano and having their piano songs turned into an orchestra,” she said. “It’s so full.”
During the interview, Hendrickson gracefully paused the conversation to greet an excited new fan that exclaimed how much she enjoyed the show. After a few pictures were taken, she continued talking to the fan like she was catching up with an old friend.
“When you’re playing your originals and you get a compliment…it’s worth ten cover songs, maybe more,” said Hendrickson.
It is easy to tell that when this front woman is not on stage pouring her heart out into a song, she becomes a little nervous. “The people don’t make me nervous. It’s just that this festival means a lot to me,” said Hendrickson.
But the best compliment for Hendrickson hits a little closer to home. “The biggest compliment to me would to be a good symbol to the city,” said Hendrickson. “I’m really proud of where we live…I’m kind of a St. Augustine junkie actually.”
Amy Hendrickson and the Prime Directive will be playing a new song about the Oldest City for the 450th anniversary. “I think St. Augustine has played a huge part for me…it’s everything,” said Hendrickson.
Hendrickson and her band were not the only act playing at the Springfest this year. Bluegrass no longer consists of the stereotypical heehaw stomp and moonshine. These artists know how to create a new definition of bluegrass while maintaining the familiar idea and roots of the genre.
Camping chairs littered the front stage as the eclectic people began to fill the empty spaces. Farmers’ hats, fedoras, middle-aged men with ivy wrapped in their long salt-and-pepper hair, children in strollers pushed by their barefoot smiling parents and an old man in overalls smiled to show his wooden teeth, ready to play along with the bands lined up for the night.
Donna and the Buffalo played during sunset on Saturday to warm up the crowd. Front woman Tara Nevins alternated between her fiddle and guitar to get people up on their feet, grab a partner and get down to their mountain rock dripping with hints of reggae, country and folk.
Within the minutes before the start time of the Avett Brothers, the crowd packed in.
The stage lights fell and the crowd exploded with excitement as the band that brought folk rock and bluegrass to the mainstream took the stage. Seth and Scott Avett were the first to come out and greet the amicable audience. With a banjo slung over Scott’s shoulder and an acoustic guitar strapped to Seth, the two brothers began to sing in a harmony so sweet and tender that only two people with the same blood flowing through their veins could accomplish.
Their presence was inviting and the first line became a sing along. The people of Springfest and the Avett’s sang the heartfelt lyrics, “Ok so I was wrong about my reasons for us falling out of love I want to fall back in.”
Once the chorus of the song arrived, the stand-up bass player joined in to make the sound whole. They raised the spirit of the bluegrass music encompassing the essence of Springfest into the early hours of the night.
The intensity of the crowd’s connection with the band was like a show at Madison Square Garden. But instead we were standing on the dirt floor shadowed by giant oak trees with Spanish moss hanging all over them, enclosed by the moon and stars.
It was a beautiful chaotic noise that made people either weak in the knees or want to stomp their feet. Each member of the band wore all jean outfits and slicked hair as if they were handsome young men from the Walt Whitman era, here to unleash a barbaric yawp of emotion.
The brothers behaved liked true siblings as they bantered back and forth between lyrics, screaming with power at the top of their lungs, eventually meeting up with each other at the end of the song to harmonize.
The Avett Brothers manipulated all their instruments in a way that stripped away any previous ideas of how these instruments should be used. The instruments were no longer string pieces lost in an orchestra pit; they were each shining in their own way throughout the songs.
Tornado Rider played late night in the Music Hall. Their entertaining performance seemed to be the hit of the festival. Lead singer and cello player Rushad Eggleston came out onto the stage wearing a cheetah toga and a Robin Hood hat as he began to narrate his own version of the evolution of man. Halfway through the show he quickly stripped out of his toga and danced around the stage in neon green and black underwear, throwing his bow around the stage and barking at the audience.
The Southern California based Tornado Riders sound like a garage punk band with a fierce cello as an accessory. The lead singer moved his fingers at lightening speed playing his solos as if Eddie Vanhalen possessed him. He played without boundaries.
As I walked up the old wooden steps out of the amphitheater into the fields, I saw sleeping children cuddled into the hammocks strung between the massive oaks passed out on blankets between their parents who were still swaying to the music. The Suwannee Music Park truly is a place to completely immerse oneself in the togetherness of good music, family and friends.
The night of great music was winding down as I made my way back towards the campsite. Crossing through the barrier between the campsites and the stages is like crossing into another country. Entering the camping grounds I passed through the last of the food stands and happy friends and families with bellies full of beer and hotdogs.
As I Finally made my way back to the camp site, I quickly drifted off to sleep to the distant sound of banjos as I slept under the stars.