The sixteenth festival produced by Randy and Beth Judy was held at the Suwannee
Music Park in Live Oak, Florida on March 25-28. Having attended several
other festivals at this venue, we anxiously packed our camping gear and prepared for several days of non-stop music and less than normal sleep.
The music was presented on four stages: the Main Stage, in
the beautiful amphitheater area; the Dance Stage, in the wide open play
field; the Old Florida Stage, located in a tent along the roadway; and the
Music Hall, a quieter indoor venue. The performances began on Thursday, and
included sets by Sloppy Joe, Redheaded Stepchild, The New Traditionals, The Duhks, The Gourds, and the evening's highlight, Donna the Buffalo.
Kids at Springfest
Newtimers seeing Red Headed Stepchild commented on the wide range of the vocals, from
blues to rock, similar in ability to Janis Joplin. Meanwhile at the Music
Hall, the Suwannee Springfest Songwriting Contest Finals were in full swing,
including a performance by 2003 winner Gary Doles. The Duhks, a young
Canadian group with a kick-ass blend of contemporary and traditional acoustic
music playing French Canadian reels and original tunes, were "primo"
according to fans.
Although starting about half an hour late, herd members in attendance at
Donna the Buffalo's opening show Thursday night decreed it to be the second
best show they had ever seen. This hot show included "Way Back
When," "Tides of Time," "These Are Better Days," "Blue Skies," "Ancient Arms," "Fee Black," "40 Days & 40 Nights," "Life's a Ride," "Family Picture," "Rocking Horse," "Story of the Ages," "Went Down to the River,"
"Voice in My Head," and "Tell Me Why," with a hot ending of "Sailing."
When we arrived Friday morning, the campgrounds were already starting to
swell with assorted festivarians. The
music had already begun at 10:00 a.m., and as we hurried to set up camp, we were pleasantly surprised to
discover the festival arrangers were broadcasting the performances live
from the Main Stage on a low frequency radio network. This was to become
especially appreciated throughout the ensuing weekend since we no longer had to
choose between libations and performances.
Delayed slightly by the Bloody Marys and grilled shrimp, we made our way
down to the Dance Stage, past the vending area where approximately fifty or
so vendors were hawking their wares, including the expected tie-dye clothing
and stone jewelry. Tearing our way past the magical enticements, we caught
a few tunes of the Almost Acoustic Band, a newer group (around since 2002)
that creates a not-so-traditional fusion of reggae, jazz, and bluegrass with
Meanwhile at the Main Stage the Larry Keel Experience began.
They played songs both old and new, including one off the new album entitled
Journey. Billing himself as a "progressive interpretation of traditional
acoustic flat-picked music from the heart of the Appalachian Mountains,"
Larry's throaty voice crooned the words to "Mountain Song," a composition
about mountain living. Special guest Steve "Big Daddy" from Acoustic Syndicate--a not entirely
acoustic band blending folk, bluegrass, and funk with Latin
influences--joined the band for the entire set. A cover of Dire Straits "Water
of Love" was one of many tributes throughout the weekend to the nearby Suwannee River. There truly was the "sound of music playing" as Larry sang, and "everything was definitely alright," as we were melting into the magic of the weekend.
We wandered a bit to discover what other excitement was in the making and found
every seat filled in the quiet coolness of the Music Hall. Darrell Scott,
a creative musician and songwriter who seamlessly blends rock, folk, country,
and jazz in a soulful meld, was performing tunes with his band, including
those from his resurrected and reinterpreted first album recently released,
titled Theater of the Unheard. The music of this prolific songwriter was
beautiful, but the sound was a bit too quiet for our energy level, and
with a plentitude of music happenings to choose from, we traveled on.
On the Main Stage, the Two High String Band, an acoustic folk-bluegrass
group, played crowd favorites, including "Alabama Blues" off their new CD
Insofarasmuch, (their first album as a quartet, adding guitarist Geoff
Union) which includes guest appearances by David Grisman and Vassar
Next on the Main Stage, Phillips, Grier & Flinner (Todd Phillips, David
Grier, and Matt Flinner) played "Tennessee Blues," a song written in the 1840s
and the first song on their new CD Looking Back, to the medium-sized
crowd. Each wrote a few songs for this album, which also includes a cover of
Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." After a few sprinkles of rain that the music wisped away, Darol Anger appeared to guest with his fiddle for a
few songs. With Darol yawning quite a bit (maybe he was up playing music too late the
night before) the group's energy level built until Matt seemed to catch fire. A fifteen-minute encore ensued after they jokingly announced that
they had checked online and found out that their set wasn't over yet.
Included was an old traditional song "In The Pines," featuring Todd Phillips on bass,
who rearranged and wrote a new bridge for the tune. The group has
an album titled True Life Blues - The Songs of Bill Monroe. Monroe,
the father of bluegrass music, was honored by this group, and frequently by
other performers throughout the festival.
Darol Anger & Vassar Clements