’s Hulaween 2023 Preview – Part 1

Suwannee Hulaween is a music fan’s fantasy festival. This year marks the 10th-year anniversary and will be my eighth consecutive year. The music is always super diverse, this year with more than 90 sets, and there’s something for everyone. It’s a String Cheese Incident festival where they typically play 6 or more sets and bring in some heavy hitter headliners as well including TAB, Goose, JRAD and Pretty Lights.

But Hulaween has so much more to offer than the main stage called The Meadows. It’s full of magical displays, artwork, sculptures, performers and tons of very happy people scattered around a forest surrounding the magical Spirit Lake.

Of course, my tastes favor funk, soul and jamtronic especially with any band with horns so my time tends to be spent split among the second largest stages, Hallows and Amphitheater and the two smaller stages of Spirit Lake and Campground.

In total, I have an ambitious list of 27 sets I want to see over the four day event. I’ll try to record as many as I can depending on scheduling and potential conflicts.  This year, I’m splitting my preview into two parts with the first 14 acts covered in this piece.  Once the actual schedules come out, I’ll reissue according to the days for each act. Let’s dig in.

The Sets

Lettuce is one of my all-time favorite bands and there’s no place I like to see them more than Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. It’s where I caught them live for the first time at Bear Creek 2010 and I’m hoping they return to the Amphitheater stage, perhaps midnight on Friday? They’ve been killin’ it since last year’s Hula including gigs with Steel Pulse and several symphony orchestras. Their latest album Unify is a masterpiece (check out my review here) and they’re simply the funkiest band on the planet right now. Always a can’t miss recommendation.

Electric Kif is a Miami-based, multinational funk-fusion band that are a sleeper favorite. If you like classic bands like Weather Report, Chick Corea and Return to Forever and Herbie Hancock (who they frequently cover), then you’ve gotta catch their set. Their latest album, Dreamland (reviewed here), is definitely something to whet your appetite.

Lespecial, for me, brokeout at their Hulaween ’21 show, shot by me and shown here. It was an unbelievable lineup on Spirit Lake stage that Thursday including Sunsquabi, Break Science, and Lotus. I’d seen them a couple of times prior in Atlanta but this set following the release of their Ancient Homies album blew everyone away and made me a huge fan. Their dark prog funk and dynamic performance gets the crowd super hyped up and I’m looking forward to this big time.

Funk You are a personal favorite, a horn-driven funk band out of Augusta, home of James Brown. Now mostly based in Atlanta, these cats broke out at their first Hula in 2018 and have been touring regularly ever since. Their tunes are catchy and danceable and their sets always are high octance. Watch out for some late night shenanigans from this crew as well.

Cosmic Collective is gonna shock a lot of people — they’re a tight jazz-funk fusion trio out of Asheville, NC. I caught them once at a Lettuce afterparty and they had the joint jumping all night. They’re high on my list and I’m hoping for a couple of surprise sit-ins as well.

DOMI & JD Beck are a young, super-talented jazz-funk duo. DOMi from France on keyboards and JD Beck on drums have garnered tremendous accolades and were nominated for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album and Best New Artist for their album Not Tight this year. JD Beck grew up in Dallas and jammed at a young age with Robert “Sput” Searight and Snarky Puppy, a band that ultimately won the Grammy. On my one chance to see them in Atlanta, I had a conflict, but I heard they kicked ass. I won’t miss them again.

The Jauntee is a “new” band for me to check out. They’ve been around for a while and just released their latest album Anything. Their press release says they, “engage fans through nightly explorations in risk-taking and expansive setlists chock full of improvisational moments that embrace living in the element of the live performance setting…. the band crafts every show as a well-rounded concoction of shared experiences, bust-outs, and refined improvisation giving their fans a reason to continue to come back and spread the word.” I’m spreading the word in advance!

Apashe & Live Brass Ensemble gonna take me outside of my zone. If you’ve seen any of my past Hula coverage or even this version, you know I generally don’t hit the DJ sets, but throwing in a large brass ensemble and some heady visuals and I’m all the way down. I haven’t seen much footage available but what I see I like. Gonna be a blast.

SNEEZY is another new band for me — apparently they’ve known each other since the 1st grade and been jamming ever since. They’re funk, soul grooves include some classic covers and originals. Coming down from Chicago, I think they’re another under the radar group that will wake up some new fans.

Yam Yam is a jam, funk, soul and more band out of Harrisburg, PA with their own tunes and some classic covers. I particularly dig the Less McCann Compared to What cover and the Lettuce cover of Good Morning Mr. Shmink! You know they got the chop with that! Don’t miss them if you wanna get your booty shakin!

Chachuba plays some excellent, spacey, jamtronica as this set from Peach Fest shows. Fans of bands like Biscuits, Lotus and STS9 are likely to get down to Chacuba. I expect their show to be exotic especially on a stage in the Spirit lake area.

Melt is a seven-piece band out of New York featuring multiple vocalists, catchy tunes, and a fine two-piece horn section. They’ve been around for about 5 years but I first got to catch them at the North Beach Music Festival in Miami last December. They’re likely to take off even faster after their Hula gig!

Rohan Solo is another act that will take me out of my zone partly because Rohan Prakesh, the talent behind it is a good friend, but mainly because he puts on an incredible show. He’s part of the band, Hive Mind, a bustout jam act here in Atlanta but has also been in several other successful bands, Higher Learning and Space Kadet. I was fortunate to see him perform with Lotus at the benefit shows for Chuck and Charley Morris in Denver. The videos that he’s put together are solid and I’m so looking forward to his Hula slot.

Tand is one group I expect to catch for the first time.  I’ve heard some good things about them and the video from last year’s Hula is convincing. The South Florida band is more than just rock with some very funky jams, excellent vocals and eminently danceable tunes.