Hulaween Makes Halloween History

November 12, 2015 -

Liane Robinson

hula1Photo by Chris Monaghan 

The 3rd annual Suwannee Hulaween went down this past Halloween weekend in Live Oak, Florida and it was even bigger and better than we had imagined! The 3-day music and arts festival hosted by The String Cheese Incident brought over 21,000 festival goers and music lovers alike together from far and wide, nearly tripling the attendance from last year and ranking it among one of largest festivals held at Suwaneee. With a lineup as diverse and impressive as Hulaween's and a reputation for being held at one of the top venues in the US, the influx of attendees was certainly no surprise to us. With major acts such as Pretty Lights, STS9, Primus and Odesza to name a few, it was a must-attend for people of the south and beyond.  Despite the growing crowd, Suwannee's 800-acre property tucked away off the beaten path in north Florida made for quite the cozy setting and resulted in my opinion what I dare to call the best festival of the year.


Photo by Dave Vann

They say 3rd time is a charm and it couldn't have described Hulaween any better. As a 3rd year attendee myself, I am lucky to have seen this festival through its infantile stages with a mere 7,000 attendees and have had the opportunity to grow with it as it morphs and expands into one of the most anticipated events of the year. As we all know, weather can make or break anyone's time and mood at a festival and the past 2 years of Hulaween have been plagued by extreme weather conditions. The first year experienced a constant downpour of rain all night resulting in flooded grounds and cancelled sets and the second year experienced an extreme cold front resulting in frigid temperatures in the 30's all weekend making it tough to enjoy sets. Not to be underprepared for the cold weather again or taken off guard about rain, we packed for every occasion; while it was a bit warmer than we had hoped, we didn't have to live in 5 layers of clothing and no sets were canceled due to rain so I would consider that a major success.


Photo by ATS Photography

What sets Suwannee apart from most festivals is the venue is a state campground and hosts many other festivals and events year round so the people running it are veterans and well informed on how things operate. With permanent stage structures built onsite and multiple fully functioning bathrooms with running showers scattered throughout the venue it is one of the most comfortable places to call home for a few days. If you are up early enough and beat the bathroom crowd you can even enjoy yourself a steaming hot shower, which is virtually unheard of while at a camping festival. With the parks laid-back approach to treating attendees like capable adults instead of criminals, the security is lax and the entry was smooth and painless. Instead of most festivals where staff directs each car into a specific 10x10 camping spot in some god-awful overgrown field with no trees or shade in site, where you are left vulnerable to the elements and have no privacy from your too-close neighbors, Suwannee is the exact opposite. You are welcomed to come early as most people do, as it gets quite crowded by Friday, and section off a nice spot among the Spanish Moss Oak Trees to set up camp right next to your car. With running water faucets everywhere along with outdoor showers, power outlets for twinkling strands of Christmas lights and plenty of hammock trees it is no wonder this is where you will see the most elaborate camp sites you've ever set your eyes on. With the option to rent an electrical site or an onsite cabin as well as bring an RV, Hulaween can cater to even the most comfy camper.


Photo By ATS Photography

There is a reason the state park is named The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, the spirit and vibes at any of the festivals held here are unlike anything you've ever experienced elsewhere. This land has a rich history of festivals and generations attending events here that no wonder the park's 'slogan' is "Music Lives Here". Despite the packed out venue it never felt too overwhelming or rushed, no one ever seemed hurried and if you lost your friends in a crowd their was always a smiling face to hang out with until you ran into them again. A hodgepodge of attendees from children, to an older crowd and a mixture of young folks alike all gather here to share in their love of music and a good time. Diversity is what makes Suwannee festivals and specifically Hulaween such an incredible event; the older crowd needs the younger generations to keep them lively and the younger crowd needs the older folks to show us how to be wise and responsible attendees and the kids just teach us all to not take ourselves too seriously.


Photo by ATS Photography

The excitement of Halloween got everyone in the spirit as crazy, elaborate costumes and all the LED things lit up the night sky over the course of the weekend. One of the biggest highlights of the Hulaween experience is Spirit Lake, "a visual arts extravaganza" which transforms this waterfront area into a another dimension with the help of local artists and Electric Forest's own Art Director, Andrew Carroll, returning again to completely blow our minds. Working with some of the Southeast’s most talented sculptors, fire/metal workers, painters, performance artists and lighting designers Spirit Lake morphed into something out of a dream, making you question reality and opening your senses to something never before experienced. From projection mapping visuals, to Burning Man art cars, to fire dancers, to endless amounts of incredible art and 2 stages for live music and the late night" silent disco, Spirit Lake takes the cake for our favorite place to explore.

Spirit Lake - Hulaween Music Festival 2015 - Spirit of Suwannee Music Park - Live Oak FL - Photo © Dave Vann 2015Photo by Dave Vann

hula 16Photo by Dave Vann

The weekend was nothing short of magical as attendees all came out with their best costumes and dancing shoes and the music was in no short supply. If you have ever seen The String Cheese Incident live then you already know their performances are incredible and over the top and Halloween Cheese even exceeds their normal extravaganza. Over the weekend SCI played a total of 7 sets all ranging in different genres as they are so well known to do and we loved every minute of it! With a crowd favorite Halloween set to the theme of "Goul Train" (think Adams Family meets Soul Train) the Afros and sequins bell bottoms sprinkled throughout the crowd transformed us all back in time with classics such as "Brick House", "Car Wash" and "We Are Family" performed live along with a slew of onstage performers and Wu Tang Clan's own GZA MCing the set.

hula3Photo by Keith Grinner

Although Hulaween is only in it's 3rd year of production it is already the highlight of so many people's year and in our opinion the best event to cap out your festival season. With incredible lineups, top notch production, vivacious attendees and one of the best venues in the country it is no surprise this best kept secret is spreading across the nation and bringing people from all over to experience this little slice of paradise we have down in Florida. We have barely finished unpacking the camping gear and catching up on sleep and we are already looking forward to what next year will bring!


Photo by Josh Timmermans 

To all of those who experienced Suwannee for the first time, welcome home! The fun doesn't have to stop just because Hulaween is over, the park hosts other events and festivals year round, check them out here!

hula 14

Photo By ATS Photography


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