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The Sights, Sounds and Sets of Suwannee Hulaween 2018 Music Festival

Suwannee Hulaween wrapped up its sixth year of musical mayhem, and our recap is in.

The four day camping festival over the Halloween weekend, served up a lineup with something for everybody and transformed the Spirit of Suwannee camping grounds in Live Oak, Florida into something out of a dream.

This was my second Hulaween, and every year, I find that recapping the festival tends to challenge the usefulness of the English dictionary. Words seem to fail to describe the experience itself, and as one festival-goer I met said, “How the hell am I going to describe this to my friends on Monday?”

One of the best parts of Hulaween always seems to be the new music you discover there. I stumbled across acts I never knew I’d like and left with a lengthy new playlist and some newfound favorite artists.

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Rezz; via Collin Taylor

This year, standout performances included the whimsical sounds of ODESZA, the electronic beats by REZZ and masterful mixes by TroyBoi. The pulsating bass of NGHTMRE was also an act to remember, and Gramatik shared sounds that ended the festival on high note.

REZZ and Troyboi had both been flying under my radar, but by the end of the weekend, they were new favorites. As anticipated, ODESZA ended up being my favorite set, bringing out their live drum line and electrifying the crowd from start to finish.

Each year, the minds behind Hulaween seem to make a tradition of outdoing themselves. And this year, the visual effects, attention to detail and breathtaking art installations were upgraded to say the least.

Spirit Lake, located in the heart of the park, served once again as the hub for all things captivating to the eye. Once nightfall came, mist cast over the body of water, and the special effects team projected spooky and artful images and footage over the lake. Along with the stunning visuals, speakers hidden in the towering, moss-draped trees created complimentary sound effects. The end result was a dreamlike scene with hundreds of festival-goers sitting down just to watch the lake in between sets.

10-26-18_Hula_by-Keith-Griner-0D5_9054-Edit-1024x683ODESZA; via Keith Griner

Handmade wooden huts and quirky installations decorated the grounds, creating a fantasy-filled scene right out of a J.K. Rowling novel.

One hut seemed to have a disappearing door; people funneled in and out of an entrance seemingly leading to nowhere. Labeled “the closet for unimportant people,” upon entering, the little door led to another secluded hut, where people relaxed and chatted, marveling at the attention to detail.

The scheduling of sets was also worth commending; there’s nothing worse than having to pick between two artists you’ve been waiting to see because they’re both scheduled at the same time. I tend to notice this at other festivals and often have to choose and miss out on an artist i want to see. But, this wasn’t a problem because shows were scheduled with no overlap, and instead I was pleasantly surprised to find that my most difficult decision of the weekend was forcing myself to leave come the end of the festival Sunday night.

It would be an incomplete review to not mention the crowd that attends Hulaween itself. Capped at 20,000 people, the camping grounds are packed full of all sorts of personalities, each sporting a unique costume and simply enjoying the atmosphere they are immersed in. The eclectic groupings created a unique camaraderie among the festival goers.  

DSC_0154-1024x683Photo by Scene photographer Casey Twist

The interaction with others in attendance is part of the vibe and there is little to no cell service. As someone who can find myself glued to social media, a weekend without access to it is inexplicably refreshing. You’d be hard-pressed to find a festival-goer who wasn’t smiling ear to ear, and instead reveling in every moment Hulaween had to offer.

A mass of specialty food trucks ensured nobody was left hungry, and liquor sponsors (I’m looking at you, Deep Eddy Vodka) curated vintage taste-testing trailers for a little post-set pick me up.

With the future of Florida’s springtime festival Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival on the rocks, Hulaween may become the unrivaled festival of the year in the Sunshine State.

Unlike other music festivals dispersed in campsites across a field, Hulaween has the benefit of hosting the event in one of Florida’s most naturally breathtaking campgrounds. A lake is situated at the center and moss-draped trees surround it. And that brief one hour drive from Gainesville to the grounds make the expedition to Live Oak a short one.

IMG_7436-1024x685Via Mandi Nulph

When you’re working out your yearly festival escapades, Hulaween is a must-have addition to that list (and yes, the Florida Gators will forgive you for missing out on Florida/Georgia weekend). So do yourself the favor, just buy the ticket. After two years of spending Halloween at Suwannee, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

With each festival only getting better, it should take little convincing to be part of next year’s event. Tickets typically go on sale in late March, and start at $199 for three day passes. Tickets have sold out by early October for the past two years, so don’t wait too long or you may find yourself out of luck and with a nasty case of FOMO.

Keep updated on tickets, lineup announcements and more here.

 

Megan Shea is a third year Journalism major at the University of Florida with an affinity for local music, food and culture. She shares her love for both storytelling and Gainesville as a writer for Beyond the Swamp and as Editor-in-Chief at GainesvilleScene.