Purple Hatters Ball | 05.09 – 11.2014 | Suwanne Park | Live Oak, FL

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Purple Hatters Ball | 05.09 – 11.2014 | The Spirit of the Suwanne Music Park | Live Oak, FL

 

Photos By: Tiffany Harris

Words By: Charlie Spooner

 

Purple Hatter’s Ball is the annual festival held in memorial of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, a young lady whose life tragically came to an early end during a botched police operation where she was improperly used as an undercover informant. Her death became the catalyst for Rachel’s Law—a law requiring police to be properly trained in the use of undercover assets—and the money her parents won in settlements from the State was put towards holding a festival in her honor. As a regular in the Florida festival scene, her parents thought this is what she would have wanted. The festival takes place on The Spirit of the Suwannee campgrounds down in Live Oak, Florida.

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THURSDAY –

After arriving at the festival and setting up camp, we headed down to the music hall and were greeted with the music of Moon Hooch. Everyone in the music hall was hanging on every note this Brooklyn based trio was playing, and it looked like a dance party on stage. Moon Hooch is two parts saxophone, one part drums, and three parts raw energy. The baritone saxophone was used to make bass drops you would think only a DJ could do, and the crowd loved it.IMG_5918_810x960
 
After the boys from Brooklyn left the stage, I went over and checked out the painting that Brian Barnard had been working on during the set. It was straight out of Alice in Wonderland, but it looked like it got Shpongled on its way back up the rabbit hole. The painting depicted a caterpillar with four vertical rows of eyes sitting atop a mushroom all bathed in blue and purple. I knew that this was only the first incredible piece of art I would encounter over the course of the weekend.
 
The Fritz were the next group to play the music hall, and they kept the crowd on their toes and dancing to the rock rhythms throughout their whole set. I had never seen nor heard of the Fritz before this, but after this weekend they are a band I won’t be forgetting. What started out as a rollercoaster rock and roll set led by a high-energy synthesizer and two drummers quickly turned into a funk showcase. One of the highlights was hearing them play one of their newest songs, “Victim of Circumstance,” where the lead singers howling blues voice and wailing synthwere on full display.
 
Finally, after a night of jam and funk, the tank-topped, trap slinging duo Monozygotic took the stage, closing out the night with heavy beats, big drops, and hip samples. I never expected to see anyone twerk at a jam festival, but it happened guys and girls alike. The other bands on Thursday entertained the crowds, but Monozygotic proved no one controls a crowd like DJs can. We couldn’t have asked for a more exciting and entertaining pre-party, but we decided we better to get some sleep so we could make it through the weekend. This was only the beginning.
 
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FRIDAY –

No matter how hard you party at a festival, sleeping in is rarely an option. When the music starts, and the sun starts to beat down on your tent, keeping your eyes closed is nearly impossible. Your day generally starts with bloody mary’s and talk of the night before around 10-11am. This is how the day started at our campsite.
 
The search for food took me over by the Jacksonville Stage (a stage dedicated to local Jacksonville based musical acts) where I had my fill thanks to the food truck Funkadelic. Amid the rock and roll and funk, I could hear in the distance a soothing acoustic guitar. Soon after, a slide guitar accentuated the IMG_8092_1277x960vocals and sang a song of its own. This was the sound of Jackson Vegas, and I was hooked. Normally, with seven people on stage, the sound comes at you like a punch, but this was an open hand that pressed itself into mine and pulled me closer. The air was filled with sweet lullabies capped off with the soulful vocals of two backup singers. With my belly full and my soul recharged, I was ready for a day of music, art and workshops.
 
After checking out the yoga tent and listening to Taylor Kimball at the C4 healing dome give a workshop on natural living, we headed down to Uncle Charlie’s Porch stage where Tallahassee favorites Trial By Stone were starting up and a decent sized crowd was gathering around. They mixed the sounds of reggae and ska with a little bit of the fast flying guitar work reminiscent of Bradley Nowell of Sublime when he would drift into solos. In addition, they had a blasting trombone that carried most of the melodies.
 
Next came one of the best moments of the entire weekend. At The Amphitheater, which was the biggest and prettiest stage of the weekend—it was ringed with beautiful Spanish moss that the lights from the stage play off of—we were treated to a moment of true love and happiness as there was a proposal on stage just before the Heavy Pets were set to go on. Of course, in such a magical environment, the answer was yes, and the crowd rejoiced in a roar of approval and applause. The energy of the crowd transferred to the band as they kicked off their set with a bouncing bass, spacey keys and a whole lot of fun. In front of the first real crowd of the day, the Heavy Pets showed why they have been garnishing so much attention lately. This was definitely my favorite all-around set of the night.
 
Playing for the second time in two days, The Fritz proved that they don’t tire easily as they rocked out at The Porch Stage in a sea of lights and fog. This time they played a little less funk and a little more jam and everyone was digging it. Musically, one of my highlights of the entire weekend came at the encore. Everyone in the crowd knew by the first two strokes of the guitar what was in store for them, and we all belted out the first verse of “War Pigs” in unison. In that moment, the Fritz immediately went from jam funk all stars to a serious rock and roll band. Being one who was brought up on heavy metal, my weekend was made even if I didn’t hear a single song after that.IMG_7504_1162x960
 
After the last note of War Pigs, the crowd rushed over to find their places at The Amphitheater as the Emancipator Ensemble kicked off their set with their signature chill melodies. This is the sound that one grooves to.The amphitheater looked like reeds blowing lightly back and forth in the wind as the crowd moved to the music. The only things breaking the pattern were the LED hoops and poi that could be seen whipping up and down in the distance.
 
Possibly even more excited to play then the crowd was to hear them(and that’s difficult to say about this fan favorite), the trio Greenhouse Lounge took the stage and combined already mixed tracks with live guitar, bass and drums to everyone’s delight. At the end of a whirlwind set there was a chant of “one more song,” and we were all granted just that. In addition, the guys from Greenhouse Lounge were so enthusiastic about their set that they took a “family photo” with the crowd. After this, we headed back to the campsite to sit by the fire, wind down and talk about the amazing music we saw.

 

SATURDAY –

Festivals are about more than just music, they are the best of the culture that spawned from the Grateful Dead tours. They are a collective of artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, healers, and party people that come together to celebrate their unique culture, and everyone brings a piece of themselves to the table. Purple Hatter’s Ball was no exception. Walking through the campgrounds on Saturday morning we found multiple festival posters and prints being sold that were made by the fans themselves. There was wire-wrapped jewelry, flower crowns, tie-dye shirts and all sorts of handmade goods being sold by people just trying to get a little money they spent on the festival back and maybe some money to finance their next one. They were trying to express themselves through their art and spread their wonderful energies to anyone who was interested. This is perhaps the greatest and most beautiful aspect of festival culture.

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“Festivals are about more than just music, they are the best of the culture that spawned from the Grateful Dead tours. They are a collective of artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, healers, and party people that come together to celebrate their unique culture, and everyone brings a piece of themselves to the table”

 
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After checking out what everyone was selling and buying a few things, we got some food and checked out the workshops that Purple Hatter’s presented us with. I was very excited to see that a member of one of my favorite bands, Toubab Krewe, was hosting a drum workshop, so we headed over to it.
 
Next up was one of the most touching moments of the entire weekend, and it was a reflection of the very reason the festival happens in the first place. Mama Margie got up before everyone to talk about the success of the Rachel Morningstar Hoffman Foundation and also to release 24 butterflies into the air. The first 23 signified the age Rachel was when she left this good Earth, and the last one was meant to symbolize her spirit and how it still lived on. It was a beautiful sight, and there weren’t many dry eyes at the amphitheater stage after that.
 
IMG_9018_640x960After donating some money to a charity and getting a much needed foot massage in return, it was time to go check out some more music. Space Capone was next, and we could hear the lead singer’s falsetto long before we got to the stage. There were eight people on stage and instead of it being cacophonous, they were able to blend the notes harmoniously and still leave some empty space for the vocals to float on top. This however was just a warm up for what we were in store for next. The most anticipated act of the entire weekend was about to take the stage.
 
It was the first time you could actually see how many people were in attendance at the festival because everyone at the festival was at The Amphitheater for Beats Antique. Beats Antique has a show and sound unlike any other on the festival scene, and we couldn’t wait to see them. Their circus performance is led by the beautiful, belly dancing, costume changing, interpretive dancing Zoe Jakes who mesmerized the crowd from start to finish. At one point, guitarist (among other instruments) David Satori stood up and asked the crowd if we wanted “to go through the tunnel of never-ending discovery into ecstasy,” leading to a resounding “yes!” from us all. Needless to say, Beats Antique is not a show to miss, and if ever they come to your town, buy a ticket and take the ride.
 
There was no need for more music after Beats Antique took the stage, but we watched some more anyway. Next up was The Floozies. These two brothers from Kansas were having as much fun as the crowd and possibly getting drunker than anyone. One brother played the drums while the other operated a mixer, laptop and guitar and was constantly asking for more shots of liquor to be brought to him from behind the stage. One of the highlights for me was their rendition of “Shakedown Street,” because anytime you play a Grateful Dead song at a festival it’s bound to be a winner.
 
There was one more set to go, and then it was time for the silent disco. All the way from England, The New Mastersounds showed that across the pond the jam scene lives on. They played and played and mesmerized those at the amphitheater with solid guitar, keys and very rhythmic drum and bass. The crowd didn’t want them to end, nor did they, leading to them asking the sound guys for one more song at least three different times. Finally to everyone’s dismay, the sound techs had to mute them in order to stop the show.IMG_7993_1228x960
 
With my body exhausted and my ears full, I wanted to go right to my tent and pass out, but that wasn’t what happened. It was time to check out the silent disco and see what everyone was talking about from the night before. If you’ve never been to one, it is quite a spectacle. Everyone is given headphones that play two different stations of music that are being broadcasted by the two DJs at the front, and you can choose which one you prefer or bounce back between the two whenever you feel like it. From the outside, there is almost complete silence and it looks like a confused group of strangers jerking their bodies back and forth with no sense of timing or rhythm. Once you put on the headphones though, you realized that there is a whole party going on that you were missing out on and the reason the dancing seems off rhythm is because they were having two separate parties all at once. After getting mesmerized by the laser show and doing a little dancing, I returned my headphones to the front and went back down the trail to my tent to sleep before the final day of the festival.

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SUNDAY –

Art tents at festivals are a rather new trend, and it is certainly a welcome one! This year my favorites were Emily Kell, Bean Spence, Chance Losher, Brian Barnard and William Randall Bowers. While walking through the two artist tents, our ears picked up a soulful voice being carried across the quiet afternoon and recharging the crowds after a long weekend. The Avis Berry and Scott Campbell Band had a very smooth and light sound that was just right for the time of day. After awhile, we grabbed some food to eat, relaxed and waited for the next big act of the weekend.

IMG_7692_1280x929A compilation super group, The Nth Power brings together some of the best names in music to deliver soothing, conscious lyrics with extended breakdowns that showcase incredible musicianship. All of the pieces, from Nigel Hall (Lettuce), Nate Edgar (John Brown’s Body) and Nick Cassarino (Big Daddy Kane) to WeedieBraimah (ToubabKrewe) and Nikki Glaspie (Dumpstaphunk), fit together to form one big, beautiful cohesive sound. With the threat of rain looming over the Suwannee campgrounds, this quintet didn’t get the crowd they deserved, but those who came out got an amazing show.
 
Soon after The Nth Power got off the stage, it started to rain and most people took that as a sign to go to their campsite and pack away the rest of their belongings before everything got soaked. However, there was still one act to go and some will tell you that it was perhaps the best act (next to Beats Antique). Despite the rain, if you were still at the festival, you were down at the amphitheater for Colorado based funk all stars The Motet. Their set lasted almost three hours, and it was the perfect way to end this fantastic festival.
 
There was certainly a special kind of magic in the air over the course of the weekend. If you had never been to Suwannee or a Purple Hatter’s Ball before, you left with a feeling that you couldn’t not go again. The cause is worthwhile, the people are amazing, the campgrounds are magical and the music is fantastic. Why wouldn’t anyone who has experienced such wonder not come back to live it up again? I certainly will be, and I hope to see all of you there.

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