Suwannee Hulaween Created A Time Warp of Creativity, Music, and Community

Suwanee Hulaween has established itself as one of the most magical places on Earth and once again took us into a time warp.

Taking place in Live Oak, FL at The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Suwannee Hulaween just had its ninth year of bringing its own beautiful world to life. In the swamps of Hulaween, you’ll not only find an amazing lineup of diverse music artists, but also mind-bending projection mapping, art installations, endless shops and vendors, character actors, interactive structures, and a camping community full of love, creativity, and endless positive energy. 

Photo: Tara Gracer

The Environment: 

One of the main things that sets Suwannee Hulaween apart from other festivals is the environment that they’re able to create. As you wander through the trees, you can truly never be sure what you’ll encounter. Houses with lit-up sand, tables with sequins that could be moved to create pictures, monkey bars with swings set up inside them, huts with pyrotechnics in the ceilings, and a dinner table with a full spread of props and chairs around it to sit in and converse are just a few of the many wonders we encountered.

“The Oasis” is a small tent located near the Amphitheater which provides a soothing environment with different activities, meditation, and downtempo relaxation. Once all the music had ended for the night, we enjoyed a breathing and synchronized deep-dub yoga class with a collection of strangers.  A lot of these spaces felt like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland and encouraged participation and interaction with those around us. We had so many fun interactions with people, and the dinner setting even felt like an improv stage where we were all in character, discussing whatever came to mind at that moment. Most people wear a fun costume each day to celebrate Halloween, and this adds to the feeling of being in a dream world where nothing is quite as it seems and all is far removed from the “real” world.

The projection mapping throughout the venue is truly a mind-bending spectacle. There were projections on each of the stages, on the large installations (like a giant wooden witch or a skeleton the size of a house that’s rowing a canoe), on the sand structures, and on the lake. The lake projections are a true cornerstone of the unique elements found at Hulaween and are created with a water fountain and multiple projectors that create 3D images above the water. In addition to the projections, there are lasers, spotlights, and a speaker system that plays in a sequence to create “shows” where aliens and witches come down to speak in foreign tongues and whisper enchantments across the lake.

This magic comes to life with the help of Dustin Rudzinski, Justin Casey, James Erasmus, and a team of incredible visual artists that create a visual/audio experience like nothing you’ve seen before. In all the time spent wandering those woods, you’re given a distinct sense that no matter how much you’ve seen, you’ve not discovered all the secrets that they have to offer. 

Photo: Josh Skolnik

The Stages:

During the daytime, most of the stages look fairly standard, although a closer look reveals some careful attention to detail. At night, the projection mapping and intricate light designs spectacularly bring the stages to life. There are two main stages: “The Meadow” and “The Hallows”, which face each other across a giant field. It’s impressive that they do not have any sound overlap since the festival carefully schedules the artists to take turns playing each main stage. This makes it very easy to practically just turn around and be ready for the next set to begin.

Within the trees, you’ll find “The Amphitheater”, which is built into a hill with a large viewing area where hammocks can be set up and tree cover surrounds the tiered standing areas. Also within the trees is the “Spirit Lake” stage, which is designed to look like a haunted house and has some of the best projection mapping. It creates an environment around the stage that makes it difficult to tell where the physical stage ends and the shadows and lighting begins.

You can also find great music at some very small and somewhat hidden stages like the Campground Stage or the Incendia Stage where secret sets and afterparties occur. The festival is also very good about allowing renegade afterparties in the campgrounds, and you can find yourself surrounded by live music of all varieties until the wee hours of the morning.

We were able to see at least one set at each of the stages and were always impressed with the visual designs, sound qualities, and comfortable viewing areas. The stages are spaced throughout the venue, but the space is somewhat circular so you’re never walking far to get to the next stage, vendor, bathroom, water refill, or campgrounds. 

Photo: Josh Skolnik

The Music

There was an incredible amount of phenomenal music on this year’s lineup and it was truly impossible to see everything. Each set we were able to catch was absolutely stellar. It is very evident that artists bring their A-game to Hulaween to curate the Halloween vibe and also align with the meticulous attention to detail that the festival promotes. Whenever leaving a fest, I attempt to break up the artists I’ve seen based on a few key categories:

Best Overall Set

Winner: Clozee

Runner Up: Of The Trees

Clozee was coming straight from her headlining Red Rocks show which I had just seen, so I was curious to see how similar her set would be. Once again, she established herself as one of the queens of electronic music and curated an almost completely new set for Hulaween. A fog surrounded the amphitheater as the first notes of her signature tribal bass began rumbling through the crowd. With stunning visual effects, lasers, spotlights, and backdrops, she seamlessly stitched together “IDs” as well as older favorites to create a flow of music that had the crowd engaged and electrified. She ended her set with Boogie T’s “MaryWana” which had the entire crowd in motion. Clozee has a stage presence and a way of bringing the entire stage and visual effects to life, making it feel as if she herself is orchestrating and directing the stage production in real-time. There is a life and presence to her music that is impossible to look away from.  

Of The Trees was a close second for the best set of the weekend, again taking over the amphitheater stage (actually amongst the trees) and delivering a larger-than-life set that left the crowd in awe. With strange complex sound production and unique vocal edits, everything Tyler brought to his set left me in wonder. It was a truly magical experience within the trees and showed the potential for big things on the horizon. 

Photo: Jay Strausser

Most Creative Set

Winner: The String Cheese Incident

Runner Up: Louis The Child

It would be nearly impossible to outdo The String Cheese Incident in creativity, particularly within their Saturday night set which was themed to celebrate a “Horror Disco Party”. Playing covers of songs like “Psycho Killer”, “Time Warp”, “Highway to Hell”, “Superfreak”, and “I Will Survive”, they threw a party for the ages. Some of the best moments were during the time warp when they would create swirling vortexes, “Highway to Hell” which had dancing skeletons on motorcycles and pyrotechnics, or the Michael Meyers Theme song played as a classic rock cover complete with silhouettes of Michael himself appearing as if he would cut through the screens.

Giant parade balloons, confetti, acrobats, and a conga line of dancing balloon characters were also part of the pandemonium that ensued. As dramatic and even spooky as it got, The String Cheese Incident is always able to still infuse a wholesome element that makes their sets feel like an intimate house party with all your best friends and family.

Louis The Child opened their set with an edit from “Back to the Future” in an intro that promoted the “campy” elements of this year’s Rocky Horror theme. They successfully brought the main stage to life with an eye-popping visual production and flow of music that was both high energy and emotionally connective.

Most Surprising Set

Photo: Patrick Hughs

Winner: Tape B

Runner Up: Zingara

Tape B got Thursday started and came in with a very high-energy set complete with complex bass music that ranged from downtempo to remixes of popular songs like “Lights” by Ellie Goulding and “Eyes on Fire” by Blue Foundation. Flowing through highs and lows, he was able to successfully draw a large crowd of very engaged audience members who showed great enthusiasm for his mix. Fun crowd reaction moments, exciting drops, and complex edits made for a very engaging set of music from an artist that’s still on his way up. 

Zingara, who was also part of the Wakaan Takeover, had a similarly impressive set right at the beginning of the day. Her sound is reminiscent of LSDream for its alien and meditative nature, but she establishes herself as something different with her booming bass lines and unique flow. Zingara was one of the artists I had not heard of but made a mental note to look further into when I returned home.

Photo: Josh Skolnik

The Community

Any festival is only as good as the community it builds around itself, and Hulaween brings a truly special community of people to it. Creativity, kindness, and enthusiasm are the words that come to mind when I think of the interactions I had throughout the weekend. Successfully mixing the jam band community with the EDM crowds has been a particular specialty for the organizers of Hulaween and Electric Forest. This combination has demonstrated a union of generations of music lovers and shows where these genres came from and where they’re going.

The range of people involved is extremely diverse but remains intimate and accepting. Everyone is unified by their enthusiasm for the music and shared sense of wonder, creativity, and expression. Whether I was dancing to live music, sitting at a dinner table with strangers, asking my camp neighbors to borrow tape, talking to a wizard about what spells they planned to cast, or doing late-night bass yoga I consistently felt an overwhelming sense of belonging.

One of the special things about Hulaween is that in addition to the music, there is an emphasis placed on socializing, exploring, creating, and bettering oneself. Yoga classes, workshops, compliment bars, and group activities are just a few of the ways this festival is showing a dedication to inspiring people to improve. At Hulaween, “different” is not something we are just trying to gain acceptance for; it’s what is celebrated and encouraged.

People are not on their phones or walking around with noise-canceling headphones. Their minds are in the present moment focused on the people and things going on directly around them. In these ways, it encourages participants to do a healthy check-in on their bodies, minds, fellow humans, beliefs, and passions. I left Hulaween with not only a deeper enthusiasm for the music I saw, but with an inspiration to put more time into strengthening myself and the people around me. I wanted to exercise my creativity more, explore more yoga and meditation, and check in on the community around me. In a world that sometimes feels so divided, Hulaween has reserved a small slice of it for people to feel embraced for all that they have to offer.

Photo: Josh Skolnik

With a consistently great music lineup, impeccable attention to detail and creativity, and a community that bonds together and celebrates the things that make us unique and exciting, it’s hard to imagine celebrating Halloween weekend anywhere else. Hulaween has cast its spell once again and like the timewarp, it’s something we plan to do again and again.

Author: shadedan

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