Suwannee Hulaween’s future was uncertain after the festival was unable to pay all of its performers immediately following last year’s event. Once organizers announced this year’s event, questions swirled regarding whether this year’s Hula would be scaled down to accommodate a smaller budget. While many repeat attendees noticed some slight differences this year, Hulaween managed to put on a heck of a show.
So what was different this year? Nearly 20,000 people flocked to The Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park in Florida for the seventh annual Suwannee Hulaween, according to Festival Media Coordinator Carla Arguello. That was down a bit from last year. However, Arguello assured that the festival’s future remains secure. While some repeat attendees noticed a difference in the size of the crowds, fewer people also meant fewer traffic jams, particularly after popular sets, and port-a-potties that were never overly gross and always stocked with toilet paper. Many Hula regulars also noticed a difference in the lineup, with fewer big names headlining the festival. But don’t be fooled; there were still plenty of stellar musical performances, and a welcome opportunity for many to discover new musical favorites.
Eoto, Tycho, STS9, Marvel Years, Whipped Cream, Snails, and Space Kadet were among the electronic artists on Thursday’s schedule. CloZee, Jai Wolf, and Break Science were among Friday’s electronic music highlights. Hulaween regular Bassnectar delivered another phenomenal performance on Friday night. Saturday was a day not to miss, with CharlesTheFirst, Pnuma, Manic Focus, and Big Wild keeping attendees glued to the Amphitheater stage. For those who managed to peel themselves away from the Amphitheater on Saturday, Flying Lotus delivered perhaps the most interesting set of the festival, meshing hip-hop, soul, tribal, and multiple other genres into an intricate, electronic sound that lived up to its description as an “astral afro-futurist masterpiece.” Paired with astounding visuals, this set required no psychedelic substances to induce a sometimes-eerie interdimensional trip.
While much of Hula’s electronic lineup was on the slower, psychedelic end, DJ/Producer Mija brought a high-energy, booty-shaking performance. Acts like Future House DJ Tchami, Walker & Royce, and J. Worra kept the energy up on Sunday, the last day of the festival. With music schedules on five stages, plus an Incendiary Stage and House of the Lost hosting surprise sets throughout the weekend, there was always plenty of music on tap.
But Hulaween isn’t an electronic music festival only, so no article would be complete without mention of some of the non-electronic musical surprises. Hulaween’s Arguello said the breakdown was about 50/50 between electronic music and jam bands. Umphrey’s McGee delivered a two-hour performance on Thursday that included “Africa” by Toto. The String Cheese, which hosts the festival, brought The Motet for their first of several sets throughout the festival. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of jam bands, this Colorado band is a staple of Hula culture, constantly bringing surprise guests and visually astounding performances. On Saturday night, The String Cheese played a throwback covers set that included ‘90s classics like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” Wearing black suits and ties and accompanied by dancers in outfits that matched the songs covered, The String Cheese welcomed singers Rhonda Thomas and Tony White on stage for part of their set. For their last set of the weekend, The String Cheese brought Billy Strings and two bandmates on stage. The music didn’t end when the stages closed for the night, with many renegade stages popping up throughout the massive campgrounds and playing music well into the early morning hours.
While Hulaween is a musically diverse festival, the music isn’t the only draw. With art installations big and small in every direction, this festival offered a Halloween-inspired feast for the eyes. From tiny wooden houses with secret doorways leading to surprising locations, to giant green goblins and a witch whose cauldron easily accommodated a handful of people, to a display of larger-than-life visionary art, organizers cut no corners when it came to creating an immersive experience. With artwork and seating, including teepees with comfy couches lining the lake’s edge and lights reflecting off its surface, Spirit Lake offered a beautiful spot to rest, while a meditation area provided some tranquility.
As if the music and art wasn’t enough, a robust workshop schedule featured yoga, breathwork, and talks on environmental activism. With so much to do and see, it’s no wonder that Billboard named Hulaween as one of the 11 best Halloween parties to attend and EverFest named it among it’s Best 300 Festivals in the World in 2018.
As with any festival, Hulaween was not snag-free. One musical act, Memba, did not make it to the festival due to weather. An undercover police operation led to three arrests on Sunday for drug trafficking. An additional 13 people were arrested during the festival, mostly on drug charges. Several arrests included battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. Additionally, charges are pending for one Suwannee County Sheriff’s deputy who hit a bicyclist with a golf cart, sending the bicyclist to the hospital.