Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk through a real-life Wonderland? If you’ve never been down to the Suwannee Music Park at Spirit Lake in Live Oak, Florida, take next year’s Hulaween as an excuse, and I promise you will have the most magical weekend of your life.
My second consecutive year attending Hulaween was as magical, surreal and spectacular as the first. The big difference this time around was the jam-packed EDM lineup. Suwannee is known as a groovier venue, and Hulaween is typically packed to the brim with jam bands (in the spirit of the festival staple band, The String Cheese Incident). This year boasted the most jaw-dropping EDM lineup the music park has ever seen, including Bassnectar, GRiZ, RL Grime, Nick Murphy (formerly Chet Faker), The Polish Ambassador, TOKiMONSTA, Keys N Krates, Space Jesus, and the list rolls on and on.
In addition to the banging lineup, Suwannee did something special this year with their pre-party events last Wednesday, turning the turn-up session into an opportunity to give back to those in need as well. The venue hosted a fundraising event for those affected by hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as their Art That Feeds inaugural food drive in support of Love Inc Food Bank in Live Oak, Florida. You can read all about this year’s charitable causes here.
Hulaween is incredible because it combines the magic of music festivals with the creepy fun of Halloween. You know how some people get dressed up for festivals? Multiply that by 10, and you’ve got the Hula crowd. Every single person you see will be decked out in a wild costume, from onesies to full light-up suits, to performers and dancers, to animal masks and glitter pasties, the crowd is almost as fun to watch as the shows. If you’re attending Hulaween, be sure to pack a costume and some glow sticks.
The main event of Hulaween, other than the absolutely mind-boggling Bassnectar set (or Cheese, for you jam band hippies), stays the same whilst getting better every year: Spirit Lake. Spirit Lake contains two smaller stages, the Campground stage and the Spirit Lake stage. The entire area surrounding the lake, itself a-glow with an intricate water and light display, is transformed into a psychedelic, iridescent playground containing tiny worlds of adventure around every corner. Hulaween is the only festival I have ever attended that contains such an elaborate dreamscape area where attendees are free to run around and play together on lit up swing sets, stretch out in yoga tents, post up in yurts near the lake to watch the water display, lay underneath light displays side by side, crawl through holographic art mazes, relax in rope canopies in a hidden away lagoon, with hours and hours worth of new psychedelic places to discover.
From the hidden Poet’s Corner where you’ll find animal skulls, upside down tablesets and warmly lit hideaway booths, to the alien circle with light up statues and a secret DJ laying on the grass, there is somewhere special for everyone to fall in love with. The music from the stages echoes through the woods in this magically lit playground of spectacles. You can spend hours adventuring through Spirit Lake and still not see it all, it’s quite literally Wonderland on Earth. You’ll never find anything like this beautiful place at any other festival on the planet.
At Spirit Lake, the party goes ’til the sun comes up, and keeps going. Even once the main stages wind down around 2 a.m., allowing all the tired campers to get some solid sleep, Spirit Lake stays lit up and alive hosting incredible silent discos that run all the way until 6 a.m. If you’ve ever been to a silent disco at Hulaween, then you know the drill: everyone is decked out in animal onesies, with headphones that switch between the two competing DJs, so you can jam out to hardcore rap while your buddies are all bobbing to groovy tunes. The highlight of my silent disco experience this year was the 3 a.m. set of DJ Jody Litvack. Kid knows how to party, he had nearly every single dancer in the area tuned into his station and kicking it with congo lines, sing-alongs and even crowd surfing. His energy was incredible and his interjections were absolutely hilarious, I was blown away by how happy everyone in the crowd was dancing together to his crazy-fun set. Jody, you killed it.
The most beautiful part about Hulaween isn’t the Heaven-On-Earth playground of Spirit Lake, or the incredible artists they book … in truth, it’s you. The people who attend this festival are the kindest, most open and loving individuals you will ever meet. Every single person I spoke to had lights in their eyes and smiles on their faces, happy to help you find your way to the next show, or share their water, kaleidoscope glasses, lights, toys and smiles with everyone they meet.
Run The Jewels understands this vibe, and every show I’ve seen by them has contained a strong and emotional message for peace and love, equality, feminism, and safety. I was moved to tears by El-P’s speeches about how every member in the crowd is equal, and it is our responsibility to make sure the person standing next to you is safe and comfortable. The entire crowd cheered with El-P’s words: “If you don’t know someone, keep your hands to yourself. If you fight with anyone, if you make a woman uncomfortable, if you touch another person without their consent, you’re getting the f*ck out of here because we are a family and we take care of each other.” I’ve seen RTJ’s impassioned political speeches before, but this one really hit home for everyone. I can say honestly that Hulaween is the only festival that I, as a woman, have never felt harassed or uncomfortable at, not even for a moment. The people here really do feel like a family, when you walk past the campgrounds and see campers cooking for each other and offering free hot dogs and vegan meals to passerbys, free water stands and smiles, it’s like how I imagined Woodstock would have been: happy people taking care of each other.
Of all the beauty that Suwannee Music Park contains, you all are what makes it real magic. Until next year, keep howling at the moon my friends. In the meantime, view all of our photos from Suwannee Hulaween 2017 here.