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For anyone who has had a long, lonely year without the joy of a great but safe live music experience (i.e., most of you are reading this), there is a silver lining to Florida’s festival scene. Or rather, it’s rising – Suwannee Rising, a new, socially distant three-day event that will take place April 8-10 at the famous Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, about six hours northwest of Miami.
Although this spring’s event makes up for the cancellation of last year’s event of the same name in the same location, the repetition of Suwannee Rising in 2021 shouldn’t be called a “festival,” says festival organizer Paul Levine. In fact, from previous successful, massive park festivals like Hulaween and Bear Creek, Levine formed an entirely new advertising company, Suwannee Live, to highlight its safety-focused live show projects amid the dwindling COVID pandemic.
“I honestly wouldn’t compare that to anything else we’ve done,” he says of this year’s Suwannee Rising. “This event will be a socially distant event. It’s not a festival with stages, vendors and art installations. We are not yet able to do all the things that we would normally do at a festival. ”
However, the cast and setting, as well as the simple human pleasure of gathering en masse to dance, will be familiar to anyone who has attended previous shows at Spirit of Suwannee Park. The 800-hectare venue offers a hybrid atmosphere of crispy music playground and shady nature reserve with stages, campsites and even a full-service restaurant that is operated on site.
Attendees can expect the same forest vibe and setting on the nearby banks of the Suwannee River, and most importantly, a range of festival favorites from previous events at the venue. The headliners include the jam circuit titans Umphrey’s McGee as well as the free-flowing, jazz-influenced scene favorites Lettuce and the easy-going, grooving, keyboard-driven Connecticut rockers Goose. Each of these acts will play two sets over the long weekend, while a number of other well-known, melodic names on the racetrack promise heavy rhythms until dark.
“We believe that the audience that comes to these shows is a mature audience that is desperate for music, desperate to see music, you know, just passionate about music, loves each other, loves coming to this park and that missed more than anything. Says Levine. “These people are ready to do what it takes to see music again and do the things they love to do.”
This means that this year’s procedure will not look like it did before COVID. Gone are the stages that are spread out on the trees in the park and were scrapped in favor of two adjacent stages on one of the park’s large, open fields. Instead of forcing the crowd to huddle side by side or to huddle to find their place, the box will contain marked, socially distant pods for pre-registered groups of up to six people. (Primitive on-site campsites are offered by the pod.)
Instead of raving about as usual when festival goers rush from stage to stage, Suwannee Rising attendees can relax in their assigned pods as each artist’s set begins on the next stage. Jumbo video screens with enhanced audio ensure that everyone can see and hear what is happening on each page. Pods are not allowed to mix and masks are required when leaving your own pod to move around the venue.
In addition, the event was cashless. The food is provided by food trucks on site, which only accept orders via the app. An SMS notifies the concert-goers when they should pick up their food. The bar service is also open for the weekend, so Suwannee Rising is BYOB – a perk for music lovers on a budget from those old unprecedented times.
According to Levine, the improved security measures are a small price to pay to bring fans and performers back to their natural habitat – the living community.
“Everyone notices that for [musicians and music-industry workers] In order to get back to work, we have to follow certain rules, ”says Levine. “Seeing people out there doing their thing is emotional!”
In fact, it works so well that Levine and his co-organizers quickly announced a second weekend with the same setup: Suwannee Surprise, April 16-17 in the same park. Notable names from the scene on this bill include Galactic and Karl Denson’s Tiny Orchestra.
Levine and Company say all of this offers a glimpse of better days on the horizon as the tour and festival scenes come back to life after a bleak year.
“It is incredibly gratifying to help these people get back to work and then, of course, see people’s faces when they see, hear, and feel live music,” he says. “It’s wonderful. It’s not necessarily the environment everyone wants forever, but it works for now.”
Suwannee rises. Thursday April 8 through Saturday April 10 at Suwannee Music Park & Campground, 132 9379 County Rd., Live Oak; 800-224-5656; musicliveshere.com. Tickets are sold out.
Suwannee surprise! Friday April 16 through Saturday April 17 at Suwannee Music Park & Campground, 132 9379 County Rd., Live Oak; 800-224-5656; musicliveshere.com. Tickets range from $ 499 to $ 799 per pod at suwanneerising.com.
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