SAVORING THE SPIRIT OF SUWANNEE

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.


Kids at Springfest
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.

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 traditional instruments.


Larry Keel
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.


Darol Anger & Vassar Clements
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 Clements. 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.


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