The weekend of Halloween is a weekend in which humans from all different backgrounds, all different upbringings, all different mindsets become like-minded for a short special period. The definition of this short special period: Suwanee Hulaween. I would be embarking on an experience in which I had no idea what to expect. An experience in which my mindset consisted of naiveness, anxiousness, and excitement. An experience that would broaden my mind to new heights I never knew existed. An experience that I will forever cherish. Hulaween instilled newfound confidence into me and opened my mind. Hulaween allowed me to be comfortable being my “introverted”, analytical self. So, with this being said, thank you Hulaween, thank you to the spectacular souls of Hula, thank you to Trey Anastasio (My King), thank you jams, thank you to our lovely neighbors, thank you to Kylie from the Bench, and thank you to The String Cheese Incident for making weirdness socially acceptable.

First, let’s talk about thank you Hulaween. I want to articulate my utmost gratitude and thankfulness to everyone involved in Hulaween. From the staff to the artists (few and far between) and all the way to the area. The area is in the Florida panhandle, and you cannot think of a better place to embark on a journey for a weekend. This area is indescribable, but I will do my best to place the setting into your head. Tall beautifully placed trees intertwine the premise creating an aura one cannot describe. Within these trees are stunning murals created by uber talented artists creating a maze of incredible confusion. If you keep walking, you will find yourself surrounded by intelligently designed stages and areas to mingle with people. Benches surrounding a lake establish an area to relax and watch. Once you walk past all this madness you stumble upon a massive field with two gargantuan, industrial stages. Within this field are people participating in games, playing with slinkies, hula hoops, and doing incredibly designed “dance” routines. And while all this scene setting is going one, riffs, wubs, bass, etc. are all pleasing our hearing senses as background music. Now, Hulaween is a camping festival so not only do we have to introduce the festival site but the campground too. The campground is simple. My campground at least was simple. A field with porty potties and an occasional vendor. The setting is not what made my campground special, it was the vibe. Music and good conversation going on till dawn. That is all I got on the campground; it was pretty sweet. Plus, I got to wrap this section up, my brain is telling me to move on.

Thank you to the spectacular souls of Hula. Define souls you may ask. Souls are the staff. Souls are Benton. Souls are the musicians. Souls are the artists. Souls are the neighbors. Souls are the PEOPLE. Souls are the greenery. If I missed a soul I sincerely apologize. Every one of these souls contributed to the magic of Hulaween. Staff were specifically picked to set and keep the vibe. Staff were people who live and breath Hula. They were there to help and participate in the festival. Benton is the compadre who agreed to travel to Live Oak, Florida with me. Benton is one of my great friends, and Hula would not have been the same without him.

The musicians are the only reason why we originally committed to attending Hulaween. We had no idea about the festival culture. Artists such as:  Goose, Trey Anastasio Band, Pretty Lights, String Cheese Incident, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and Les Claypool and the Flying Frog Brigade are why we said, “We must go to Live Oak, Florida the weekend of Halloween.” These artists did not disappoint. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead got the weekend off to a fantastic start on Thursday night. Two sets, two hours each and orgasmic classics such as “Fire on the Mountain”, “Feels like a Stranger”, “Let it Rock”, and other Grateful Dead historics eased our anxiousness and guaranteed our minds that this would be a weekend we would never forget. Friday was the big music day for us. The jam day. Jam juggernauts such as Goose, String Cheese Incident, Trey Anastasio Band, and Les Claypool would all be playing Friday. Benton and I were determined to get rail for all of these artists as they were all playing on the same stage. We arrived three hours early and waiting while anticipation builds in our heads. “Is String Cheese going to get Rosie or Sirens or Valley of the Jig or Texas, will we get an Oysterhead sit in during TAB with Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio, will Goose play a long, overbearing jam set or a classic set with lots of songs.” All these questions would be answered in the few hours. The first wow moment, a Goose sit in during String Cheese Incident’s second set. A second set opener Animals. Goose continued to play with String Cheese on the next tune with Texas. (Yup, there it is the Texas we were all wanting). After Texas, Goose retires backstage to prepare for their solo set later that night. We also were blessed with a Sirens, Rosie, and Valley of the Jig. TAB was next. As a Phish fanatic I was ecstatic. This TAB set was the best of the weekend in my opinion. Tunes such as Cayman Review, Wolfman’s Brother, Oblivion, Ghost, and Simple were all played. Trey displayed his guitar prowess throughout. He was not required to share the spotlight with the likes of Page, Jon, and Mike (other Phish members). This allowed Trey to showcase why he is the one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Goose was next. Remember that Animals I was talking about earlier. Well, Goose brings Animals back out and finishes it during their set. To be honest I was let down from the Goose set. I have seen Goose four times, and all these sets were fantastic. This Hula set was underwhelming. Overbearing jams lost my interest. The set opener Hungersite was not on pitch or rhythm. And people started to leave the set early. Now, I listened to the Hulaween Goose set on to try finding anything I missed from my live experience, and the set was not as atrocious as thought. The Creatures – SOS – Fish In The Sea – Pancakes – Thatch were actually great. I believe our spot in the back did not contribute to the live experience and the acoustics were not the best. The set was well constructed and well performed (after the awful Hungersite of course). Tough to follow up that flawless TAB set as well (even though we did not get an Oysterhead sit in.) Late night sets were not on our minds. Friday was an exhausting day. He went straight back to our camps and prepared for a String Cheese Saturday.

Saturday’s schedule consisted of String Cheese Incident, String Cheese Incident, and String Cheese Incident one more time. Again, we arrived early to get rail of course, and listened to the majesty of the String Cheese Incident. Reggae and bluegrass sets got us off to a great start. Vibes were on the beach in South America. But the highlight of Saturday was the night Halloween themed String Cheese set. No one knew what to expect. The theme. The costumes. The art. But expectations were blown. The night of October 28 was a full moon. What other than werewolves and moon songs. String Cheese came out wearing werewolf costumes and proclaimed to the crowd to howl at the moon. A Werewolves of Hula started the set off. Covers such as Dancing in the Moonlight, Moon Rocks, Spanish Moon, Yellow Moon, and Walking on the Moon set the theme to perfection. A closer Can’t Stop the Feeling climaxed the event with fireworks howling above. This themed Halloween set was constructed to perfection. Thank you, String Cheese Incident, but we were not done yet. Benton and I now had the situation of choosing a Pigeons Playing Ping Pong Pink Floyd, Daft Punk set, or Pretty Lights. Our jam minded selves chose the PPPP set and were not disappointed. Spacey Daft Punk and Pink Floyd classics were played until 1:00 am. We got to catch the second half of the Pretty Lights set as well. Now Pretty Lights is the real deal. This realization came to me during this second half of the late-night set. An absolute creative genies. This one-hour experience of Pretty Lights persuaded me to see him the next weekend at the caverns, so we will get to Pretty Lights later.

Happy Hula everyone, see you guys’ next year! Let’s get some much-needed rest. I am exhausted.

P.S. Kylie from the Bench – Thank you for the incredible late-night conversation on the bench. Thank you for allowing me to be vulnerable and relaxed. You are truly the best!

Photo Creds: Bentonious Ladd (myself)