Saturday, December 7, 2019

Rockin’, Rollin’ and Explorin’ Music in the Northern Florida Woods

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

Tara from Donna the Buffalo plays many instruments and always gives 100% to her followers.

If you haven’t been to a Florida music festival, you’re missing an experience that will tug at your memory strings forevermore. Along with other music festivals in various states for that matter.

Our most recent musical jaunt was to the 4th Annual Suwanee Roots Revival in Live Oak, Florida in the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. It’s about a five hour drive from our “neck of the woods” and a little longer if you take the more scenic route, which we do often.

The festival is located in ancient oak tree and Spanish moss territory about 90 minutes from Gainesville through the beautiful back roads, flanked with older two-story homes with lots of character, antique stores, and Mom and Pop cafes. There’s a popular destination called High Springs with a great restaurant, reasonable housing and land prices (at least less than prices in Gainesville) and close enough to commute to Gainesville for work or school.

After getting in line to pick up tickets and getting wristbands, we wander through the campground to the designated site, unpack, set up, study the program and plan out the times and groups we want to see. Besides tents and campers, they also have cabins to rent in the park.

The colorful, tie-dyed sheets used to partition camping sites brought creativity to each site. Gatherings and friendly chatter surrounded us. I would have added camp smoke to the list, but due to the drought, campfires were not allowed so no s’mores!

The festival begins on Thursday at 3 PM and continues to 1 AM – yes AM, and the other days vary by starting earlier and ending later to provide more access to all the incredible bands, solo acts, duos, trios and just about every number and flavor of music and magic. Yes, there is even a variety comedian who includes magic in his act so I decided to go watch what new tricks would be stunning the audience. The crowd was thin at that time of the morning, but Jeff Bradley had a humorous patter and some astonishing acts of balance.

The opportunities for families and kids are engaging and fun, including juggling, “craftastic projects,” a clown, percussion and ukulele playshops,(rather than “work”shops), a talent show, carnival and more. If you are a bonafide musician or just learning, there are opportunities for all levels of ability to enhance your knowledge. From creating art, writing and transforming a poem to a song, yoga, an introduction to a new instrument or just sitting around with musicians at all levels to jam as long as your fingers hold out. Drum Circles? Yes, and thankfully far away from our campsite. AA meetings in quiet areas, a General Store, no mosquitoes or no-see-ums and beautiful scenic wooded sites to relax in. The store carries beer, wine, ice, clothes, coffee, power-converters, and other things that campers forget.

The main stage at Spirit of the Suwannee, and there are four other performance stages. | Photo by Jory Westberry

Musicians come from all over the US and Canada to play for the crowds of fans that follow them or experiencing a group for the first time and adding more favorites to their lists.

Here are just some of the single artists or bands that you might recognize in ABC order; Del McCoury Band, Donna the Buffalo, Dread Clampitt, Free Range Strange, Joe Craven and the Sometimers, Peter Rowan, Sam Bush Band, Sloppy Joe, The Grass is Dead, The Walkers and many more talents including some teens who amazed the crowds with their musical proficiency at such a young age.

There are venders of baubles, rocks/minerals, tie-dyed everything, CDs of your favorite bands, artwork, T shirts, a wide-variety of food, beverages and characters galore if you’re into people-watching. Friendliness and fun are in full swing at music festivals and that’s just one of the reasons there are music lovers that never miss this festival every year. Characters of all shapes, sizes abound. I had a long talk with a man accompanied by his service dog. He had worked on training him to the point that he could say, “Don’t blink” and the dog would hold his eyes open – really! His particular dog alerted when his heart rate was low.

There are rentals of bikes and golf carts and since the venue is large, that’s probably a good idea if walking is a challenge. There is regular garbage pick-up so the biggest effort is walking your trash over to the trash can. Showers/bathrooms are spaced at decent intervals, but at peak usage times, they can get crowded and a bit messy because the cleanup crews are in more demand.

Although there are free hammocks tied to trees in the amphitheater area, most spectators bring beach chairs You can place them in the morning and leave them there all day. Others can use the chairs IF they are empty, and you use them the rest of the time. Great strategy! You take them back to your camp at the end of the day and bring them back the next morning, or use chairs already there and not being used.



For this festival, we rented a “camper” called a Gypsy Wagon, which was designed by a woman in Gainesville. It turned many heads as we towed it to Suwanee and there were even more inquiries in the campground. There was a built-in outdoor kitchen which was convenient and since the camper was wired for power, most anything you wanted to fix or eat was manageable. It also had a fridge, lots of storage both inside and outside. For $100 a day, it was a great discovery. There was a wide variety of campers as you can see.

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Music lovers, this is an adventure you’ll want to enjoy again and again. Pass it on!

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!

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