Suwannee Hulaween is one of the best and largest festivals that I’ve attended every year since 2015 and it’s always ‘jam’-packed, led by its main headliner The String Cheese Incident who typically perform six sets over the festival duration. Here’s how the the organizers describe it –
Since its inception in 2013, the Halloween-themed music, arts and camping festival has evolved into one of the country’s most coveted cross-genre affairs. Curating dynamic lineups that range from electronic, jam, and indie to bluegrass, funk, soul and hip-hop, Suwannee Hulaween’s ability to abolish genre confines is evident year after year.
For me, the cross-genre diversity always has me discovering new artists that I’ll look forward to seeing in years to come. Of course, there’s always a super slate of bullseye bands for me to get funky with and this year is no exception. This is the first of my preview coverage of the fest, highlighting the lineup’s funk royalty. In the next article, I’ll cover more of he rising funk and jam acts I’m following and once the daily schedule is posted, I’ll put out my full itinerary.
Lettuce is the leading funk band of this generation and never forget their roots, paying homage to all their funk forefathers. They’re flying higher than ever right now coming off a multidate gig with the legends Tower of Power. On top of that, their latest album, Unify (read my coverage here) is absolutely white hot funk. I’ve seen them twice since the album release, at Red Rocks with Tower of Power and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and at Sacred Rose Festival in Chicago in August (check out the video). For me, they’re a highlight of every festival I see them at. Can’t wait to hear more of their mystically adventurous music, hopefully around midnight on Saturday on the Amphitheater stage, their customary time slot.
Hulaween organizers pulled of a scheduling coup with this next group. Cory Wong (with his Wongnotes) crew has been tearing it up worldwide with his sizzling stew of funky tunes. Mark Lettieri shreds with his pyrotechnic guitar skills with Snarky Puppy and with his own band making its Hula debut. And, they come together with the incredible talents, Nate Smith and Joe Dart in the Fearless Flyers!
Cory Wong is one of the most prolific and ubiquitous musicians over the last couple of years. After first gaining fame as an adjacent Vulfpeck member, he struck out on his own toured with small combos, horn enhanced bands and of course as a founding member of The Fearless Flyers. During the pandemic he put out something like eight albums in one year! More recently he struck out with with Cory & The Wongnotes with a big band sound – check out my album review and the tune from a recent Atlanta show! On top of it all, he’s a super nice person!
Mark Lettieri Group is one my most anticipated, under-the-radar sets of the festival. Anyone who knows FunkCity.net knows my passion for Snarky Puppy, of which Mark is a long-term member. He’s also been extremely successful with his solo work including “Deep: The Baritone Sessions Vol. 2” a kickass album reviewed here that got widespread acclaim. Mark brings his group that includes Jason “JT” Thomas (Snarky Puppy, FORQ) on drums, Wes Stephensen (Funky Knuckles) on bass and Daniel Porter on keys. The band made their first trip to Live Oak for Suwannee Rising in 2021 (see the video) and so many people got turned on to them for the first time there. I can’t wait to see them turn heads again at Hula. And of course, to complete the triplet, Mark will also be appearing with Fearless Flyers!
Fearless Flyers is at the top of my list for Hula must see acts. FF is a super group comprised of Joe Dart (bass) and Cory Wong (guitar), both of Vulfpeck fame, Mark Lettieri (guitar) and Nate Smith (drums). Each player is a master of their craft – Nate is one of the best pocket drummers on the planet and Joe is recognized as one of the top funk bassists around. Fearless Flyers started as a ‘side’ project but has emerged as a headliner in their own right with three studio albums plus a live recording from their set opening for Vulpeck at Madison Square Garden! Here’s my review of their album Tailwinds. They’ve played relatively few times live due to the heavy touring of members with their other bands – I’ve seen each of them in different projects but this will be my first Fearless Flyers set and I’ll be right up front.
Lawrence and Franc Moody are two bands that I’ve seen this year for the first time and each blew me away. They’re relatively newer groups as well and so excited to see them moving them up the charts.
Lawrence is a pop-soul-funk onslaught led by the brother-sister team, Clyde and Gracie Lawrence. Both have incredible voices and great stage presence with 10,000-watt energy. The tunes have catchy lyrics, punchy horn lines and overall great composition. I caught them in Atlanta at the 420 Fest in April (see video) and they were by far my #1 new band and on my wish list to see again.
Franc Moody is the duo of Ned Franc and Jon Moody out of London but they travel as a six-piece ensemble. I first saw them at Suwannee Rising in April this year with a late night set at the Amphitheater and as expected it was a full on real dance party. They’re similar to Parcels and Jungle also out of the U.K. with a high energy engaging stage show as well. I also caught them subsequently, up close at Terminal West in Atlanta and got a chance to meet and chat with them. They were another wish list band for Hula and I’m so glad they were added to the slate..