Suwannee Springfest, Live Oak, FL (concert review)

(recently published in Relix; direct link)

Suwannee Springfest, March 22-25, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL

Hippies and hillbillies, and plenty of other folks who wouldn’t fit anyone’s stereotype of a fan of non-commercial music, gathered in the north Florida woods for the 16th annual Springfest, held on a sprawling, scenic campground near the Suwannee River. On tap: another laidback weekend of acoustic music and bluegrass, with strains of rock, blues, jazz, jamband, and even a novelty act (the manic Tornado Rider, with his strap-on electric cello).

A steady rain on much of Saturday dampened spirits a bit, but the fest nevertheless presented untold hours of music on a half-dozen stages over four days. Hardcore pickers were out in force, with much instrumental virtuosity on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, and upright bass demonstrated by multiple musicians, including a large contingent from Colorado. The Emmitt-Nershi Band, one such act, turned in favorites including “Restless Wind,” “Wait Until Tomorrow,” and “Colorado Bluebird Sky.”

Also plying multiple strains of music via traditional instruments were Greensky Bluegrass, who worked Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” into their set; the Infamous Stringdusters, with such tunes as the hard-stomping “Get It While You Can”; and fiddle man Darol Anger & the Republic of Strings, who capped their lively performance with a version of “Uncle John’s Band” begun a cappella. Similarly, headliners Yonder Mountain String Band turned in infectious versions of “Rag Doll,” “Blue Collar Blues” and “Southern Flavor”; and during their superjam, with as many as 19 on stage at once, they slipped into the Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better.”

The plugged-in bands, including fest regulars Donna the Buffalo, were impressive, too. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s rootsy rock crunch fueled originals and memorable covers of New Orleans staple “Hey Pocky Way,” Hendrix’s “Stone Free,” and Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.” Concertgoers were particularly keen on Great American Taxi, led by singer and guitarist/mandolin player Vince Herman. The quintet, its sound and vibe on “Poor House,” “Fuzzy Little Hippie Girl” and other tunes referencing such influences as the Dead, the Band, and Bob Dylan, welcomed Atlanta singer-guitarist Donna Hopkins on stage for a rousing “Everything Money Can’t Buy.” Her voice — bluesy, soulful, and raspy — was among the most powerful and memorable heard at the fest.

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