How Hulaween Set the Standard for Camping Music Festivals

Disclaimer: How to turn pure unadulterated bliss into man-made words and descriptions to truly convey what went on those magical days and nights at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is about as easy as defying gravity (which may or may not have happened), so here goes…

Photo by Jamie Seed Photography
Photo by Jamie Seed Photography

Combine arguably the best outdoor venue in the United States with one of the sickest lineups ever concocted and buckle up because the rocket ship is about to take off. Prepare cabin for liftoff.

The third annual Suwannee Hulaween took place from Friday, October 30 through Sunday, November 1 and brought together an absolutely insane group of movers, shakers, and music makers to the sun-soaked Spanish moss covered grounds in Live Oak, Florida.

The String Cheese Incident Hulaween 2015
The String Cheese Incident performs during Hulaween. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography

With 3 nights of The String Cheese Incident, Pretty Lights, Primus, Chance the Rapper, STS9, ODESZA, GRiZ, Manic Science (Manic Focus x Break Science), Slightly Stoopid, Lettuce, Papadosio, The Floozies, the Sam Bush Band, and everyone else under the sun making the pilgrimage to the hallowed Hula grounds – there was no question regarding what to do for Halloween 2015.

Hulaween or bust. Accept no substitutes.

Arriving to the grounds early Friday morning (post the EOTO/Dumpstaphunk/Joe Russo’s Almost Dead pre-party), the grounds were already awash in smiling souls meandering along with enough kind words and comfortable embraces to satisfy anyone crossing their paths.

Hulaween 2015
Hammocks strewn about the trees at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography.

Fires lit up the forest canopy as the not-so-sleepy campground partied its way into the late night, eventually leading the way into the next morning.

With Friday came the great deluge and the open flood of attendees into the campground. All around the visible signs of a road trip hard won peered out from behind dusty car windows, beckoning friends to reunite in heartfelt clasps before kicking the day off in style.

As the sun shone down one could have made their day a little something like this: Big Wild > The Polish Ambassador > Turbo Suit > Railroad Earth > The Floozies > Papadosio > The String Cheese Incident > Primus > Pretty Lights.

One could have also spread out the tunes as such: Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds > Juke > The Heard > Morning Fatty > Eearphunk > Beebs and Her Money Makers > The Nth Power > Bath Salt Zombies > Cheese > S.P.O.R.E. > Dopapod > Jon Stickley & Friends.

Either way, we think you get the point, it was BONKERS.

Hulaween Costumes 2015
The beautiful souls of Suwannee Hulaween. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography

The Polish Ambassador injected the crowd with some mid-afternoon funk with his booty-shaking groovers as Turbo Suit rounded out their set with the trio’s one-of-a-kind sax-laden electronic melodies, only to be followed by The Floozies’ alien-level funktronic experience. Papadosio came on stage in their Halloween garb (The Muppets… epic) and tore through a set like only they can.

Really, though, the big talk of the night was Primus – the experimental/alternative/progressive trio known for bringing the freaky weirdness to the stage in ways that can’t be fathomed unless you were truly there. There was more than one conversation overheard detailing the sheer insanity of their set, and it was the perfect lead-in to the hard-charging progressive rock ‘n’ roll sound of Dopapod.

As things fizzled their way back to the campground, Saturday’s ridiculousness and the true Halloween party still lingered on the horizon.

Hulaween 2015
The crowd comes alive at night. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography.

Whether you traveled by RV or set up camp underneath the hanging Spanish Moss trees, an early-afternoon respite along the black waters of the Suwannee River allowed us to wash away our collective sins with a swim while many attendees made the pilgrimage back to the stage area for the bluegrass and reggae vibes of the Sam Bush Band and Slightly Stoopid.

Relaxing by the river during the day. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography
Relaxing by the river during the day. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography

The true kickoff to the party was String Cheese’s “Ghoul Train” disco party, hosted by GZA. Let’s reiterate that if it already hasn’t sank in: it’s Cheese, playing a disco classics set, narrated by GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, surrounded by nearly 30,000 Halloween garbed-out festie heads. Does life get crazier? No, no it does not.

After “Ghoul Train”, Cheese proceeded to annihilate the entire campground with a set that can only be described as legend. It changed the world and it’s as simple as that.

Hulaween 2015 review
The String Cheese Incident illuminates the Main Stage at Suwannee Hulaween. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography.

Digging back through the backlit campground of Spirit Lake, one became surrounded by art and movement as stages popped out of seemingly everywhere and nowhere. Dance parties ebbed and flowed until ODESZA reared from the depths of musical freedom to absolutely crush their Amphitheater set. Chance the Rapper & The Social Experiment went on to bring a quick-witted hip hop vibe to the main stage, urging us to connect and become closer to ourselves and each other as the night continued.

The late night stages raged late into the early morning hours as friends congregated near the slow-flicker of crackling firewood.

Hulaween 2015 event review
Capturing the moments on Main Stage. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography

Sunday came and passed with a quick fervor as the entire weekend before it. Highlights? Manic Science blew the crowd away with their under-the-canopy freak-nasty set that even saw Lettuce’s Shady Horns come out on stage for some of the funkiest jamtronic tunes that your liable to hear in this solar system. The party was off the hook.

GRiZ followed with his masterful sax-slinging, bringing hands and eyes into the air as thousands of gyrating souls lost their marbles to the explosive-yet-soulful grooves.

Leaving the crowd astounded, Lettuce continued the funk legacy, leading into the festival’s closers: TAUK and STS9. For those wanting a more pure rock/funk experience – TAUK was the answer to their musical questions. For those looking for a more soupy blend of electronic and organic sound, STS9 was the pure choice.

Hulaween 2015 review
The Spanish moss comes alive at night. Photo via Jamie Seed Photography

Though the lineup and preceding lore of Hulaween was enough to draw fest heads from far and wide, it was the all-encompassing experience that left a permanent imprint on those that made the pilgrimage to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.

Throwing a large-scale event is no easy feat, and often there are aspects of the guest experience that fall secondary to the production itself. With Hulaween, that was not the case at all.

An on-site convenient store allowed campers to stock up on necessities, including beer, lighters, and snacks. At no point were lines backed up at restrooms, even when switching between sets, and the event staff was friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to go out of their way to answer questions. Transitions between sets were seamless, and no complaints of overlapping performance times were heard throughout the weekend. These facets of throwing a large scale event require extreme attention to detail, extensive planning, and a passionate desire to provide fans with something they will remember forever.

The main stage illuminates during The String Cheese Incident. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography.
The main stage illuminates during The String Cheese Incident. Photo by Jamie Seed Photography.

Hulaween did just that.

It comes as no surprise that a venue that has been dedicated to throwing musical gatherings for multiple decades was as buttoned up as it could get, and Purple Hatter’s Production, Silver Wrapper, and SoSMP deserve all the credit in the world for manifesting their vision and going above and beyond to deliver.

Leading up the event we wrote that Hulaween was quickly becoming the Electric Forest of the South, but after attending this year’s event, Suwannee Hulaween may have created a class entirely their own.

Be sure to also check out the trippy art installations at Spirit Lake and the funniest and most frightening costumes from Hulaween 2015.

Hulaween 2015 Review
Until next year Hulaween… Photo by Jamie Seed Photography