Suwannee Hulaween unveils another cutting-edge boutique lineup for 2018: String Cheese, ODESZA, Tipper, STS9, Gramatik, REZZ, more

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Suwannee Hulaween is one annual boutique gathering that is developing a devout following with its expert curation and wildly magical grounds. The Halloween weekend festival, running from October 26-28, 2018, hosts an impressive talent roster that brings an exceptional mixture of jamtronica, emergent bass, and deep house to The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida.

Set in the midst of 800-acres of Spanish moss-draped oak and cypress along the black Suwannee River, and complete with the largest bat house in the southeast US, the storied festival grounds have earned a reputation of inexplicable imagination and exploration. 

Sitting atop this year’s festival billing is the longtime host band of the festival The String Cheese Incident, plus a top billing of Grammy award winners and nominees featuring live-electronic front runners ODESZA, a South-East exclusive by modern funk icons Jamiroquai, and very special showing by singer-songwriter Janelle Monae on the wake of her blowout Dirty Computer record.

The star-studded billing continues with the reigning king of west coast bass Tipper, five piece American funk band Vulfpeck, multiple sets by leaders of the post-rock dance movement STS9, the alternative radio chart topping wonder of The Revivalists, dark-electro wunderkind Rezz, plus the unique electronic stylings of Gramatik, NGHTMRE, Troyboi, Snakehips, Emancipator Ensemble, Manic Focus & the MF’n Band, Justin Martin, Kill Frenzy, Eats Everything and many more.

Tickets on sale now.

Newport Folk Festival 2017 Recap

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Every year, folk-lovers from all over the country gather in the beautiful Newport, RI to celebrate the great practitioners of this timeless genre. This year’s lineup included some classics, some newcomers and some newcomers singing the classics, all coming together to make for a weekend that was truly unforgettable.

We started off our Newport weekend with one of our favorite bands, Big Thief. The highlight of their set had to be the extended rendition of their song “Mary.” Halfway through the song, lead singer Adrienne Lenker put down her guitar and asked to restart, this time becoming completely consumed by the song with every ounce of her being, and pulling us all into her lyrical kaleidoscope. The song ended with tears and a standing ovation. If you came to Newport not knowing Big Thief, chances are you left with a new obsession. The next act we caught was Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie playing a strikingly honest acoustic set of songs old and new, from various projects. Aside from the fact that he soundtracked some of the darkest and most important moments of our teenage years, his songwriting rings with a consistent relatability that could get us at any age. Needless to say, Gibbard’s performance of “What Sarah Said” delivered chills through the crowd and was a moment we are still reeling over.

We caught the beginning of Regina Spektor’s set before heading to Fleet Foxes and we wish we could have cloned ourselves to experience both of these simultaneously. Regina’s voice is like butter, and her skill and musicianship shine through in every song. She began her set a bit late, having just run off of the bus and straight onto the stage, yet still delivered flawlessly. We ran over to the Fort Stage after about three songs from Regina to catch Fleet Foxes. The band’s perfect harmonies echoed across the field and reverberated off the waves of the ocean. They played favorites from their self-titled album, Helplessness Blues and new album, Crack-Up. My favorite moment had to be the thousands of voices singing “White Winter Hymnal” as the sun set over the sailboats behind us, ending a perfect first day of the festival.

Our Saturday began with another favorite folk newcomer Julia Jacklin. And even at 11 am, on a cold and rainy morning, the Quad Stage was filled with people eager to hear this new voice. Julia performed so effortlessly, sending her voice to flutter through the air and wrap around us all in what felt like a calming hug from a good friend. She played with a live band and some beautifully blended backup vocals. However, my favorite moment of this performance was her last song “Don’t Let The Kids Win,” which Julia played stripped down by herself with her electric guitar. During this song, you could hear a pin drop, and it was not only because of the beauty of her voice. This song teaches countless lessons about love and life that could allow us all to be better people and to treat the ones we love better. During this song, it felt like Julia was guiding us to a greater understanding, and we were all fully invested in following her word.

The next act that we saw was the great Angel Olsen, who continues to amaze and inspire with every single performance. Angel performed songs from all across her catalog, from early folk number “Acrobat” to recent rock single “Shut Up Kiss Me.” She’s a dynamic musician who can bring in the audience with the intimacy of a whisper, and in the next moment, belt out with a tremendous amount of power. She joked in between songs about the wind (which was going wild during her set), and by her last song, the sun had come out and the wind had calmed, a metaphor for what her music does to our hearts. Jim James came onto stage to perform during “Sister” and “Those Were The Days” and later played his own wonderful set on the Quad Stage.

After that, we caught Grandma’s Hands Band, the Bill Withers tribute band which was star-studded with the likes of Justin Vernon, Natalie Prass, members of Hiss Golden Messenger and more, playing renditions of “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lovely Day,” leading the crowd in a celebration of one of the great songwriters of history. Billy Bragg also played a moving set including a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing.” This one was specifically tailored to our political times, and it was called “The Times They Are A-Changing BACK.” The performance created an empowered moment with the massive audience watching over at the Harbor Stage.

The night ended with Wilco joining forces with Billy Bragg to perform “California Stars,” their song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie, one of the most significant musicians in folk music history.

Soon enough, it was the end of our magical weekend at Newport Folk Festival. The final day began with a tribute to Chuck Berry performed by the Texas Gentlemen, Shakey Graves, Nathaniel Rateliff and more. Nathaniel Rateliff also did a full set at the Harbor Stage as the “unannounced” artist of the weekend.

We got to catch New Jersey alt-country band Pinegrove at the Harbor Stage, whose crowd was not only insanely large but quite loyal, knowing every word to every song they played. This set felt like a big reunion of good friends. Pinegrove’s energy on stage was absolutely infectious, and I now understand what everyone is talking about when they say I “must experience the live thing.” Halfway through this set we ran to the Quad stage to catch Margaret Glaspy whose beautiful voice and quirky songwriting charmed the crowd.

Other highlights of day three included Whitney, Dr. Dog and “Speak Out,” a set of protest songs featuring Sharon Van Etten among others. The night ended with John Prine joined by surprise guests Roger Waters, Lucius, Justin Vernon, Margo Price and Jim James.

We are always amazed to experience the camaraderie of the people and the artists at this festival, as well as everyone’s real devotion to the art of folk music. It is a special space where a two year-old could enjoy the same music as an eighty year-old, who could enjoy the same music as a millennial. The surprises, collaborations and overall memories made at Newport this year felt a lot like magic, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the coming years.

Dr. Dog’s Abandoned Mansion

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Accompanying Dr. Dog’s surprise album release earlier this week was a statement that begins, “Have you ever wondered, ‘Gee, I wonder when we’ll hear some new Dr. Dog tunes?’ No, I don’t think you have. In fact, no one has. We put out more music than the Wolfman and Frankenstein combined.” While this is, indeed, a true statement from one of the most prolific bands of the past 15 years, I, personally, can never get enough of the Dog. I am what one might call a “superfan.” The Philadelphia folk rock troupe has released nine studio albums since their debut in 2002, plus three EPs, three compilations, a Christmas EP in 2013, a live album in 2015, and a speckling of bonus tracks tagged onto deluxe album editions throughout. They graciously satiate their fans, and yet, they always leave us wanting more.

About a year ago, an inside source told me that Dr. Dog had recorded an album that had never seen the light of day. Shortly after learning this, the band released Psychedelic Swamp, a collection of songs written in 2001 that were revisited and reimagined at this later point in their career. While I couldn’t help but feel betrayed by their withholding the mystery album, learning this fact reminded me of one of the reasons why I can confidently call Dr. Dog my favorite band: they play by their own rules. You can hear it in their music — they don’t churn out albums like a record industry machine, just to turn a buck (as if the industry even works that way anymore!). They’re an ideas band, producing concept albums that contain a whole world in a dozen songs. When you step back and look at this collection of sonic worlds, you will see a whole Dr. Dog universe, one that operates on a nonlinear timeline, and we, as fans, get to time travel with them as they open up secret doors to this universe.

“Folk rock” is the easiest label to apply to a band that generally tours the Americana festival circuit, but they always have been, and always will be, so much more. They were pioneers of the lo-fi bedroom indie sound of the early 2000s with Toothbrush and Easy Beat. As they gained success and critical acclaim, the sound evolved slightly, more polished and more poppy, with sing-alongable anthems on We All Belong and Fate, easily their most conceptual and cohesive album which secured the common comparison to The Beatles. The following three albums, Shame, Be The Void, and B-Room, seemed to appear in quick succession, with the band’s sound growing bigger in tandem with bigger crowds. It was sometime in this period, from 2010-2013, that Dr. Dog became known as a jammy, Americana band, with an enormous catalog of music to fill sold-out arena shows. So when Psychedelic Swamp was released earlier this year, following a performance art series in Philly called “The Swamp Is On,” it reminded us that Dr. Dog had, by no means, plateaued. The Swamp is a world we hadn’t seen yet: murky, electric, and treacherous, perhaps, and yet, these are the songs that the whole Dog universe was founded upon.

Abandoned Mansion is the antidote to the abstract constellation created on Psychedelic Swamp. The songs feel incredibly direct and personal, telling stories of relatable human experiences rather than the poetic fables I had previously extracted from their lyrics. As always, Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman trade off songs, each with their own distinct songwriting style, Leaman blazing the gruff, raw end of the emotional spectrum, and McMicken, the dominant voice on this record, offering softer, contemplative musings. The opening track, “Casual Freefall,” fades in on McMicken singing “I’m what I am/Instead of whatever I’m not.” It creates an interesting effect, almost as if to suggest that the album is a continuation of a previous thought, while the opening line also establishes McMicken’s artistic identity, at least on this album. It’s a relaxed introductory track, with minimal percussive backbone, floating out after three minutes as gently as it floated in. Leaman takes the lead on the next track, his voice firmer than McMicken’s but still relatively tender for him, sitting back on the beat, the musical body filling out with their characteristic vocal harmonies and arpeggiated piano tones throughout.

Someone once told me a personal theory that the best song on every album is track #3. I resisted this theory by naming a specific counterexample (“True Affection,” on Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear). While I stand by the impossibility of applying this theory to every album, “Jim Song” is certainly the standout track on Abandoned Mansion for me. I have combed through Dr. Dog’s entire discography, and have yet to find another instance of McMicken singing so candidly about love or, specifically, heartbreak. The song addresses several phases of the grief that accompany lost love, sentiments that are quite familiar to anyone who has loved (“There’s a weight on my back and a thorn in my side/There’s a stone in my chest where my heart should reside”), but the hook of the song addresses a less-discussed symptom of heartbreak, that of wounded pride. On paper, it sounds selfish, implying that the lost lover in question matters less as an individual than they do as a manifestation of this personal pride. But it’s true — speaking from experience, love is a selfish force, and ultimately, we seek it out to make ourselves feel better about our meager collective existence. Pride is what wakes us up in the morning, it’s what gets us through the day, it motivates us to create, to feel. McMicken certainly understands this concept, and isn’t afraid to say it: “I don’t really need her like I need my pride.”

Leaman bounces us back with another playful number, halfway between spoken word and crooning, a foil to “Jim Song” aptly titled “Survive,” the chorus ebulliently chiming “Remember! Take care of your heart!” But McMicken hasn’t quite finished the saga of this epic romance, replacing harmonica with a string quartet in another ballad, “I Saw Her For The First Time,” this time illustrating the relationship’s origin, rather than demise. “Peace of Mind” takes us out of any specific narrative, into the eternal struggle to find balance, reminiscent of Lennon in his politically-bent Plastic Ono Band phase. The next few songs sound like true vintage Dr. Dog: the familiar laid-back rambling on Leaman’s “Could’ve Happened to Me” and McMicken’s simultaneously cryptic and poignant use of metaphor on “Both Sides of the Line” and “I Know.”

We close out Abandoned Mansion with the eponymous track, a sprawling, five minute long farewell to the album. Though the phrase seems to refer to a specific person in the song, there’s no doubt that it succinctly sums up the album as a whole: a forgotten space, full of precious artifacts and antiquities, only made more valuable by the passage of time. The two elapsed years since recording seem to have provided some reflectiveness for the band, too, who recognize the wholesomeness of the album in their statement as follows: “Thematically, this is Dr. Dog meat and potatoes. Our proverbial wheelhouse. Songs of the oldest questions. Songs as tools to finding oneself. And most importantly, songs of acceptance. Acceptance of yourself and acceptance of the others around you.” Abandoned Mansion captures the essence of a band who consistently gives back to their community — emotionally, artistically, and not for the first time, charitably: all proceeds of Abandoned Mansion go to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, seeking justice for society’s most vulnerable citizens for over 40 years. Find it on Bandcamp for just $10; treat yourself, or gift it to a friend, and enjoy this musical medicine as you close out your 2016.