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It’s that time of year again, fall in North Central Florida…which means that it’s time for MagnoliaFest! Of all the festivals held at the magnificent Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, MagFest is, without a doubt, my favorite, boasting a very diverse lineup with fun for all ages. This year marks the 15th consecutive running of MagFest and my 10th year in a row attending. Simply put, I love this music park and would recommend to all that it’s worth checking out!
Click through for the Review and check out the Photos!
Although the night time temperatures where predicted to be in the low 40s, with perfect mid-70s during the day, the weekend was sure to be nothing but a blast! My friends and I arrived Thursday afternoon, with plenty of “extra layers” and more firewood than we’ve ever taken to a festival…we were ready to take on the weekend. As we set up our camp, we could hear kLoB jamming in the distance. After setup was complete and the night started to set in, we headed to the Amphitheater Stage, absolutely my favorite place to see bands perform. This stage has a really magical feel to it, built in to the contours of an existing hill, covered by giant oak and pine trees, ambient white lights strung throughout and hammocks galore, filled with people relaxing and children playing.
The first set that I was able to catch was Thomas Wynn and the Believers; this was my first time seeing them so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Their set started off mellow and after a few songs they proved why they were on stage, bringing a very tight musical performance! This group rocked the crowd with their Southern Rock sound and awesome vocals by Thomas with his sister, Olivia, backing him up. Thomas Wynn and The Believers provided a killer set to get my weekend started off right!
Next up was Col. Bruce Hampton and the Pharaoh Gummitt. The Colonel was sure to bring his unique sound to the stage. I’ve seen the Colonel perform many times, but never with the Pharaoh Gummitt. As usual, the Colonel and his crew delivered a killer set with their jazz/blues/jam sound that had everyone dancing around…a definite crowd pleaser!
As much as I hated to miss 7 Walkers, my friends and I were cold, tired and hungry, so we headed back to camp to listen from afar. 7 Walkers played a very solid two-hour set as we built a fire that we cooked over and kept us warm as the temperature dropped to 40°.
Friday’s lineup was looking really sweet with moe. headlining just before midnight. After coffee and breakfast we hopped in the golf cart and cruised around the beautiful 500+ acre park to check out the scene (one of the many great things about this park is that it’s golf cart friendly). Everyone was bundled up and huddled near their fires as the midday air was still quite cold. After a nice, long ride around the park and hitting a few of the many trails, we headed back to camp for the next round of music.
As the day started to warm up, I was off to the Meadow Stage to see Tornado Rider. These guys are crazy and always put on an exciting show, overflowing with energy! The group’s front man, Rushad (who considers himself a hyena/mongoose/lemur/fruit bat/flying fox) is always sure to surprise the crowd with his acrobatics or at the very least an interesting story. The guys brought every ounce of energy with songs like “Mr. B’Nenkyfoof” and “Golden Apple Dance,” to name a couple. The crowd was dancing and bouncing around as the band played on. Rushad delivered, once again as he ate bushes from the front of the stage, climbed up the scaffolding and took a ride on his band mate’s shoulders….all the while playing his cello! This was the first time that I know of that Tornado Rider’s only set was scheduled was in the middle of the afternoon and let me just say that it didn’t slow them down a bit!
Next up was Dread Clampitt on the Amphitheater Stage. Having been a fan of these guys for several years, I was really excited to see them again. The boys from Walton County played a few new songs and some old, including one of my favorites “Redneck Coozie.” Dread Clampitt is a great band to see live. Instrumentally they are extremely tight and their vocal harmonies can give you chills. As much as “Electric Dread” rocks….I sometimes miss their acoustic sets.
Truth and Salvage Company was the next band I wanted to check out. As the only thing I knew of this band was limited and from the internet, I had to see them live. With that being said, they played a really great set, a sort of Country/Rock’n'Roll sound with four singers - that’s right, four singers. It’s no wonder that they gained Chris Robinson’s (The Black Crowes) attention; he signed them and produced their self-titled debut album. I bet that we will be seeing a lot more of Truth and Salvage Company, as I believe that they are sure to gain momentum and popularity in the not so distant future!
It was time to head indoors to the Music Hall, which is basically a good ole southern honky tonk, to see The Corbitt Brothers. I heard about these guys a few years ago and just recently scored a copy of their self-titled album. Honestly, the CD didn’t leave my player for more than two weeks and would likely still be there if a friend of mine hadn’t “borrowed” it. Simply put, The Corbitt Brothers jam. They have a killer, hard-driving, southern rock sound! The crowd was rowdy and dancing at the beginning of the first song and didn’t stop until they got the encore that they literally begged for (as the crowd loudly chanted “One more song, one more song!"). Since I was very familiar with their CD, it was awesome to hear many songs that I knew played live for the first time. The Corbitt Brothers opened their set with Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” which led to two of my favorites, “Lord Have Mercy” and “Carolina Song.” I also got to witness brother Isaac absolutely shred on the harmonica during the appropriately named “Isaac’s Harp Jam!” Being that these guys are from the Jacksonville area (currently in NC) they ended the set properly with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” and an encore of The Grateful Dead’s “Mr. Charlie.” The Corbitt Brothers have recently joined forces with members of the band SeaGreen which is sure to get them the attention that they deserve!
It was time to head back to camp to grab some food and warm up for the late night moe. show!
I haven’t seen moe. in years, so naturally I was stoked to see them two nights in a row. Immediately after tuning, they rocked a twenty-minute “Meat” which led to “Not Coming Down>Wormwood>32 Things.” Near the end of the set, they jammed out on a twenty-minute “Time Ed” and closed the set with “McBain.” As you may or may not know, moe. delivers an audio visual experience like no other band on the scene! Having been together for so long, they are, arguably, the tightest band around. While on stage jamming, it seems effortless, like they can read each other’s minds and that they know exactly what the others are going to do next. As I mentioned…it’s been years and they blew me away, I couldn’t wait for Saturday night’s set!
Saturday promised a warmer day chock full of tasty tunes, and I was ready to make the best of it! I chilled at camp with friends while we waited for the last of our crew to arrive. The rest of the gang arrived just in time…to catch the last portion Jim Lauderdale’s set! Jim has always been one of my favorites. The guy can tell a story like no other, with such ease and the perfect amount of color. He brings a special pizzazz to the stage and is the kind of guy that you want to hang out with around a campfire and listen to him sing and tell stories all night long. He writes songs and has worked with some of the biggest names in the biz (Robert Hunter and Ralph Stanley, just to name a couple), let’s just say he’s been around the block more than a time or two! Bummed that I was only able to catch his last two songs, I couldn’t wait for his Sunday performance!
Between bands I wandered around the vendors for my first time this weekend. The vendors are always a treat: you can buy everything from a tapestry to wind chimes and even some tie-dye or a hippie skirt (imagine that!). The folks who come to sell their goods are always a treat to chat with and some of the most interesting people you will ever meet.
After the vendors, it was time to check out Papa Grows Funk, a band that I was excited to finally see live. I knew that they were going to be funky….but I had no idea! Hailing from NOLA, they brought the FUNK! PGF is centered around the groovy Hammond B3 work of John Gros, a fella who, had I passed him on the street, I would think played the banjo. This funky powerhouse is rounded out with some of New Orleans’ “finest musicians and funkiest characters.” They didn’t stop until all in attendance were shaking it down and confirmed that all were “feeling the funk.” My first PGF experience was a very positive one and I can’t wait to see them again.
I headed over to the Meadow stage to see Infamous Krewe, which is comprised of two bands, The Infamous Stringdusters and Toubab Krewe. Being that The Stringdusters are one of the hottest newgrass acts around and Toubab Krewe is…well…Toubab Krewe, this was sure to be nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience! The Infamous Krewe set was broken into two parts, the first being labeled “Toubab” and the second labeled as “Stringdusters,” which I took to mean that that’s who would lead each portion. The show opened with “I’ve Been All Around This World” in which all of the members from both groups provided an interesting and appealing mix of genres. Shortly thereafter, the Stringdusters left the stage so TK could unleash their talents and breakout the “out of this world” sound that they’re known for. Guest appearances by Earl Walker (The Lee Boys) on drums and Dave McCraken (Donna the Buffalo) on keys were sprinkled throughout the set. Lots of good jams and a whole lot more interesting instruments made the first half of Infamous Krewe’s set absolutely incredible!
Now for the second portion of the show…after a short break, the entire gang regrouped for a few more songs. This time around, TK left the stage so that The Stringdusters could get down to business! Without a doubt, it was one of the best Bluegrass performances that I have ever seen. Bursting at the seams with the amazing sounds of the dobro and fiddle, quickly drawing in a rather large crowd from the distance. The Infamous Krewe brought their “A” game as the day turned into night and I was happy to lend them my ear!
Donna the Buffalo was up next, to get the night started off right. “The Herd” came in droves for this weekend highlight as they always do and the craziness of a Saturday night at a festival ensued. “Positive Friction” had the crowd dancing from the get go. Highlights of the set included “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and “Conscience Evolution,” both having really awesome improv jams. The show came to a close with a nice long jam during “Family Picture.” DTB did it again; they packed the house and delivered a fantastic set!
To close out the Saturday night festivities, moe. was on deck. If this was to be anything like Friday’s performance, we were in for one hell of a ride! True to form, moe. came back, in my opinion, even better than the previous night! That might be because they played four of my favorite songs in a row. A mind-bending “Recreational Chemistry">"Capt. America">"Akimbo” and “St. Augustine.” I can die a happy man! Roosevelt Collier (The Lee Boys) sat in and shredded on pedal steel for a few songs. Not to say that I had any expectations…but if I did, they were far exceeded! I said it before and I’ll say it again…moe. delivered an audio/visual spectacular…one for the books!
Usually Sunday at a festival means one thing to me…that it’s time to go home. This year my friends and I decided to camp one more night, enjoy the lazy afternoon while most are packing up and heading home. The Sunday lineup at MagFest is usually a nice mellow one, full of musicians sitting in on each others’ sets, so I was extremely happy to hang out. Historically, Donna the Buffalo closes out the festival and I was finally there to enjoy it. Guest appearances included Rushad of Tornado Rider and Jim Lauderdale. I relaxed in a hammock with my eyes closed as the tunes went on, people dancing and children playing all around me. Jim Lauderdale led the latter part of the set as the growing group played his “Headed For The Hills,” “Upside Down” and “Slow Motion Trouble.” It was an absolutely magical evening, to say the least.
The icing on the cake was this one last night in the woods…a quiet one with some of my favorite people in the world. We sat around the fire, reflected on the weekend, told stories and laughed. The weather had turned out to be so great that we all fell asleep on the ground, near the fire. MAN, what a perfect festival weekend!
The Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park provided me with yet another memory that will surely keep me smiling forever and ever. If you are in this area or up for a road trip, check this place (and one of their many festivals) out. You’ll be glad that you did!
In closing, I would like to say…There is so much great music out there, just waiting for you to find it. If you’ve never been to a festival, go. If you have, go again. Support live music and drag your friends with you. GO HAVE FUN!
Click Band Names Below for Photo Sets from Jim Messer!