I speak for many when I say that the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, is a home away from home. It is a chance to escape the peninsula and head south for some amazing live music at the most gorgeous wooded outdoor venue on the East Coast.
Since 2013, Mount Pleasant—home to the best potential music venue around, Patriot’s Point—has banned EDM acts with “high bass,” which, let’s be honest, describes most of today’s popular music. Calling it “manufactured music,” the Holy City has since wanted nothing to do with what the City Paper quoted as “bass-thumping, window-shaking noise.” This forced music fans to search elsewhere to see great music, and conveniently located just five hours away is Suwannee, a magical land awaiting us. Returning to the park for my first time since October's Bear Creek Fest, this was my second time attending Aura Music and Arts Festival. Phew, let me tell you, it gets better every year! The curators of this hugely successful event, Daryl Wolff and Cameron Ferguson, have turned the celebration that was once an intimate gathering in middle-of-nowhere Florida into a yearly three-day rally of over 5,000 people. I am not surprised that this event has grown as much as it has. From the gorgeous and mesmerizing Spanish moss covering the aged oak that shadows primitive camping to the crowd of entertaining millennials dressed like circus performers riding around in decked-out golf carts hollering nonsense, in the end it is truly a place to appreciate outdoor beauty and reconnect with a natural landscape while keeping open ears. The fact that some of the best regional and national touring bands in the underground jam and livetronica scene perform there is just so perfect. The mind-blowing laser and light shows on the main stage from progressive rock quintet Moe and Philly jamtronica act the Disco Biscuits definitely stood out as visual highlights. The best part about it was that the crowd members were performers as well, using anything from LED Hula-Hoops to juggling and tight-rope walking, even ribbon dancing, totems, and live artwork/graffiti—there was always something to see and be amazed at. Also special are all the early morning yoga sessions you can stumble upon. It’s so refreshing to kick your day off right with a good stretch before you get right back to grooving out. Life seems so balanced in this little microcosm of a community. Furthermore, thanks to Eno, there were hammocks galore in case your dancing feet got sore. They even had an Eno lounge in Shakedown Street with its own DJ.
Now, I’ll get to the music. TAUK, the heavy instrumental four-piece rock band from New York, is one of my more recent musical obsessions. Playing on the main stage, they performed an edgy cover of the Zeppelin classic “Immigrant Song,” as well as some original jams. Dopapod, a Boston-born band that started out in their basements but is now constantly on the road performing at festivals nationwide, absolutely rocked their set at the Porch Stage. After seeing them front row, their catchy and diverse sound has forced me to add myself to their ever-growing loyal fan base. They did an incredible cover of the song “Just A Girl,” channeling Gwen Stefani and leaving Tragic Kingdom fans wanting more, no doubt. The Motet, another sick band out of Colorado, really blew me away on day two. I've been loving their funky, soulful music for a while, but never got a chance to catch them live. Man, these talented guys put on a show and spark infectious dance parties wherever they go. Jans Ingber, vocalist and percussionist, stole the show with his impressive dance moves and bongo solos. They also had Eric “Benny” Bloom of Lettuce join them for a dope trumpet solo, the only ones he knows how to put on. Performing separately with the Shady Horns, a duo consisting of Bloom and Ryan Zoidis (sax player for Lettuce), these two also share the stage with the one-and-only Soulive. Horns are most definitely coming back into style, so keep a look out for these two!
One of my favorite current bands, Papadosio, played two very different sets nights one and two. The first night, they played a more mellow set, with songs like “Find Your Cloud.” However, during the second set they got deeper and edgier, bringing some new material into the mix. They never disappoint. Michael Jackson fans went wild when the Main Squeeze took the main stage to help close out Sunday with a tribute to MJ, performing classics like “Beat It,” “Man in the Mirror,” and “ABC.” Bringing a bit of nostalgia to the final hours of the weekend, the Chicago-based quintet brought all ages at the festival together. As if I wasn’t on music overload by the third day, Break Science finished out the weekend, performing with the live band for the first time ever, with the addition of a few members from the band Lettuce. Incorporating their passion for hip-hop, they did a killer version of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” by Kendrick Lamar.
Aura spoils festivalgoers with a variety of musical styles ranging from rock, funk, and jazz to roots reggae, jamtronica, and even house and hip-hop. The vibe at Aura is unlike any other festival I’ve been to, creating a trusting and tolerant community of art, music, culture, and togetherness. I am certainly looking forward to my next chance to escape to Suwannee! Until then, I have Counterpoint Music Festival to look forward to!
Other bands worth checking out:
All photos credited to Big Funk Photography
You can find me in the Faces of Aura video above at 1:05 (I'm dancing with a red beanie on) OR follow me on Instagram @ali_inwondaland