Happy Hula: A Festival Review of Suwannee Hulaween 2016

Whatever your expectations are, abandon them. If you have a comfort zone, leave it. I could use many words to describe Hulaween; “disappointing” is not one of them.

Officially, Hulaween is a Halloween themed festival. Unofficially, Hulaween is a festival that focuses on total and complete sensory overload filled with great music and positive vibes. Although you cannot get to the festival grounds without first going through campgrounds, there’s plenty to do and see here. Passing each campsite, you immerse yourself in tapestries, teepees, and lights. In addition to the decked out campgrounds, the overwhelmingly friendly people greet you with a “happy Hula,” becoming the unofficial motto of the weekend.

In terms of music, it is seemingly impossible to have a bad time at Hula. If you somehow did have a bad time, well, that’s your own damn fault. They had five stages that never went dry. In terms of coordination, every set I attended was respectfully on time. Granted, concert time means five to ten minutes late, but that’s to be expected anywhere. There were two main stages with three minor ones. The largest stage, The Meadow Stage, was situated in the back of a very large field. Massive “HULA” letters and a light-up ferris wheel beckoned its entrance. On this stage, I saw performances by The String Cheese Incident, My Morning Jacket, Disclosure, and Big Gigantic. Without a doubt, the Meadow Stage was well suited for headliners. The audience stood united in this massive field, further testifying the grandiose performances.

Leaving The Meadow Stage through a small colony of artists and food vendors (both commercial and independent), The Amphitheatre offered shade and an opportunity to sit while listening to the likes of Umphrey’s McGee, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Come Back Alice, Lettuce, Logic, Rebelution, and The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Each one of these performances left the stage absolutely stacked in shoulder-to-shoulder foot traffic. Despite the opportunity to sit, many people still danced their asses off, making it difficult for seated people to view the show and rather easy to stare at some shaking booties.

Artists of truly local, experimental, and unorthodox musical performances were given the pleasure to play at one of the three smaller stages surrounding Spirit Lake. The Patch hosted artists like Post Pluto, Gramatik, Boys Noize, Snarky Puppy and STS9. Found next to a beautiful lake, the aptly named Spirit Lake Stage hosted many intricate art exhibits and dance performers, including fire dancers and aerialists. The Spirit Lake Stage paired its beauty with Slow Magic, Claude VonStroke, Washed Out and Bob Moses. Separated from the Meadow and Amphitheatre Stages by a large inflatable spooky worm tunnel, the Campground Stage showcased some Gainesville local artists with the likes of Locochino, Savants of Soul, and Bells and Robes. Impossible to quantify all of the things found in this territory, this half of the festival grounds had games, slack-lining, heat rooms, ball pits and countless artistic instillations, some politically charged.

While each of the artists I saw were amazing in their own rite, some stood out amongst the rest. Playing in front of a full field at The Meadow Stage, My Morning Jacket was ethereal as ever. They created mellow and evocative atmospheres with spacious and pulsating drum beats. When they covered Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” though, the crowd and I lost our collective shit. Lettuce put people into a trance through their synthesizing live jazz and hypnotically, groovy funk sounds. Not all can sound glorious though. The crowd was underwhelmed by Disclosure’s DJ set that lacked a “flair” that his live sets include.

While the music sounded marvelous, people experienced a sensory overload that made the festival standout over most festivals. Given that the festival is Halloween themed, each person went overboard with their costumes. I played it safe with a tie-dye t-shirt and shorts, but some more adventurous people wore group costumes of bloodied family members (with make-up skills that were nauseatingly impressive). Other people simply painted their bodies to look like the stars. I saw women dragging men on leashes. Hell, I saw men dragging men on leashes. It’s Hula, where anything goes and no judgement is passed. If that wasn’t enough to get your eyes wandering from the stages, the aforementioned artistic instillations were enough.

In terms of taste, the food trucks were phenomenal. Food trucks are perhaps the food industries most experimental pursuit in terms of mixing cultures, flavors, and culinary expectation. Moreover, food trucks and vendors were littered everywhere on the festival grounds. While pricey, they provided attendees an opportunity to expand their taste horizons and sample such amazing dishes like outback style bourbon chicken, exotic kombucha, jungle juice, pork belly wonton tacos, and my personal favorite, Humpty Dumplings. While I didn’t sample any of the many vegan or vegetarian options, people I talked to claim they were fantastic. Naturally with taste though, comes questions of smell.

It’s a camping festival. So by Sunday, you should know what to expect. While the festival itself smelled of incense, pot, and other curious plants, everyone put their body odors on display by Sunday. We took showers of course, but you can only put so many band-aids on gunshot wounds.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out, all your senses blend together at Hula. Although you hear the music and see the lights, you remain unsure of which one is going on when. You process each aspect of the festival with a curious delay. That’s why, dear reader, I told you to abandon your expectations and leave your comfort zone. Go into Hula with a totally blank slate. When you leave, it will look all sorts of colors, mixed in totally unfamiliar patterns. You’ll not only find beauty in this unfamiliarity but also solace in the unknown.

I hope you had a happy Hula. I’ll see you there next year.

-Zachary Lee

Editor’s Note: A pre-festival coverage piece by The Florida Basement was written here.

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment