Spirit of the Suwannee
My eyes are just now coming into focus and my motor skills starting to click back into action. I’ve just returned from a trippy little trip to Florida for ‘Springfest’ – a three day music festival held at The Spirit of the Suwannee campgrounds.
I suppose the best way to describe the music at Springfest is folksy, jammin’ bluegrass. But like a newly branded and re-launched Oldsmobile, this is not your father’s bluegrass. These musicians rocked the sap from the trees and rattled the fillings in your teeth.
Hot Buttered Rum earned their title leaving me feeling giddy and full like I’d had a big country breakfast and too many hot toddies. They were adorable and had the crowd hoppin’. The Infamous Stringdusters were a great afternoon toe-tapping show. And you could feel the energy shift when David Grisman came out. The fun got serious with this living legend. He took his mandolin to war (friendly fire of course) with a teenage mandolin prodigy and together they made some magic.
We saw Donna The Buffalo the first afternoon, but we were wilting in the sun a bit, and truth be told we were more consumed with rating the dancing hippie girls and their hula hoops. I am so getting a hula hoop. I don’t care how long it takes I am going to learn to dance with a hula hoop. Check back with me, I may have to set up a unique website just to chart my progress.
But we saw Donna The Buffalo the next night and loved them. The crowd was lit-up and the musicians really delivered. It’s always a good time when the accordions and the washboards come out to play.
Of course I came to the festival with my natural draw toward Texas and Tennesee tunes, and my bands represented well. I’ve been listening to Guy Clark since I was about five years old but have never seen him play. So it was damn cool to hear him croon Texas 1947 and LA Freeway right before my very own eyes.
Jim Lauderdale wins my Hillbilly Sex Symbol award for the festival. He had this kind of 70s-style pompadour hair, royal blue tuxedo pants, and the cuffs on his shirt were open – not rolled up mind you – just the pearl snaps were undone and the sleeves hanging loose at his wrists. Ooh la la.
Oh yeah, and his music was great.
I saw him by the merchandise table that night, and he totally busted me ogling him. He came my way and I probably could have shared a little repartee, but I got shy, panicked like a schoolgirl, and turned the other way.
Amy LaVere was out of sight. She’s a pocket sized little beauty who plays the standup bass and bounces between a super-sweet baby voice and belting out southern-fried ballads with the power of Ethel Merman. Boys’ hearts fluttered her way, while I was dreamy for her guitar player.
Now Seth Walker plays his fresh style of electric blues in my Austin neighborhood on a weekly basis. But after two airplane rides and five-hours in the car, I felt so incredibly lucky to see him in this setting. A rustic, woodsy amphitheater surrounded by tall live oaks that were covered in Spanish moss.
There was so much Spanish moss dripping from the trees that everything began to look like a Salvador Dali painting. (Admittedly, the exorbitant volumes of Sweetwater beer may have played a hand in this.) I love Spanish moss, and it was a badass backdrop for all this delicious music. I’ve always said I could never be a spy because if caught, all they’d have to do is dangle some Spanish moss in front of me and I’d sing like a drunk dizzy bird.
Speaking of being a drunk dizzy bird…I know we loved loved loved Railroad Earth, but I can’t tell you why. They played late on Friday and that show is a bit hazy.
Of course the music was sublime, but it was the people that made the trip so special for me. Lounging around our campfire, we laughed at our own recycled stories until our cheeks hurt. And out among the crowds, tie-dyed hospitality was everywhere. It was all peace love & brotherhood. Everyone was warm and open and just so grateful to be there.
As we followed the breadcrumbs back to our tents each night, we made a point of walking up to visit random campsites – you know just to introduce ourselves, check out their fire, see what bands they’d enjoyed. In the real world our drunken pop-ins might not have been well received, but in this hippie utopia we were greeted with genuine enthusiasm — and quite often a beer.
It was a magical weekend and I can honestly say that the Spirit of the Suwannee is highly contagious. I just hope they never find a cure.