Music pulsed in my ears. The stage connected to the crowd as I danced among many to keep warm as bright green floating ducks bobbed overhead. What an incredible weekend AURA Music & Arts Festival was! From the ease at the ticket gate to the energy from the stages, this was the best AURA yet. This year’s festival took place at the beautiful Suwannee River Music Park—home of big name festivals such as Wanee Music Festival, Springfest, Purple Hatters Ball, Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival and many others. Some frequent Suwannee attendees were a little disoriented by the lack of the enormous stages that Suwannee is normally known for, but nothing was missing from this wonderful set up.
The three days of music took place at two beautiful stages. First, there was the Amphitheater Stage, built right into the woods. Standing in front of the stage, the ground dips low like a shallow bowl. Wooden steps lead down to the center, through the hammock strung trees, to a clearing where hundreds dance as lights illuminate the forest and music bounces off the trees. Then, the Porch Stage, a moderate-size raised stage which doubled as the silent disco stage from 2 to 5 o’clock a.m. The team at AURA arranged for the two stages to play back to back; when a band ended at one stage, another would start at the other stage momentarily. These smooth transitions allowed for a very natural, never-ending feel to the music, one where nothing would be missed and music would be playing non-stop from when they started until the end. The two stages were in close proximity to the camping areas, so no long walks were necessary to arrive at the music. Vendors of food and arts-and-crafts were located right along the stages, so taking a quick look around the shops or fueling up at one of the lovely eateries didn’t mean a patron would have to give up seeing an artist they enjoyed. Having two sets for Papadosio, Conspirator, Perpetual Groove, The Heavy Pets and Dopapod certainly wasn’t too shabby either. There was also a stage called Club Bujak located to the right of the Amphitheater Stage just inside the campgrounds where Jeff Bujak, an experimental music producer from Massachusetts who creates live instrumental songs centered around classical composition, progressive rock and dance music, was busting it out till 4:30 in the morning, as well as an unofficial silent disco held in the woods by the very talented south Florida hailing band, the Funky Nuggets.
It is clear that what this festival is really about is music, art, love and food. The food was marvelous, producing an enticing aroma that traveled through the crisp air. What a lovely selection of tasty treats to munch on! Ranging from Thai noodles to wonderful burritos from the good folks at the Free Lovin’ Foodery, any palate could be satisfied. There was also a fine selection of heady brews form the Dunedin Brewing Company. Their medium bodied Red Ale definitely quenched my thirst; so much so that I found myself grabbing a couple tasty pizzas quite a few times during the weekend.
Something that should never be forgotten when going to a festival is a trusty “rage stick.” Not only is it fun to dance with, but it serves as a beacon to guide wandering friends back to your side. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what this tradition spawned from, though I would like to believe it is to designate where the “party” is or where to find a group of people you are with, or maybe even just to be weird. This year, I made a collection of glowing ducks and attached them to mop handles to build rage sticks for my group of friends. It allowed me to find all of my friends at a moment’s notice. On top of that, seeing ducks gather to one point was very nice; they made quite a splash, if you will.
A live band at the silent disco is something that some of you may have seen, but this Dropper sure hasn’t. When I first walked up to the Porch stage for the silent disco on Friday night, my jaw nearly dropped to the ground when I saw a full band set up beside a DJ. Thinking to myself, “this can’t be; one of the bands must just be tearing down,” I put on my head phones and was tossed into a swirl of heavy jams and sweet lines from Arpetrio. With the simple flip of a switch, I was transported to a whole other spectrum by My Boy Elroy, who was pumping out some future bass jams like I have never heard.
Sadly, no amount of dancing could keep me warm enough in the bitter February air, so I retired to my little orange tent before the very end of the music. Many stayed and danced the night away for the rest of the disco, but being a full-blooded Floridian led to some interesting situations during the weekend. Never having seeing snow or experiencing any sort of cold climate, I was ill prepared for the depths that the temperature would reach over weekend. I found myself hopping from fire to fire and into the crowd to ward off the chill. Luckily, the bands did an amazing job keeping the music lively enough for everyone to keep the warmth.
For those of you that have never been out to the Bat House, I recommend it next time you visit the Suwannee River Music Park. It was my first time going there at dusk, and seeing the hundreds upon hundreds of bats pour from this small wooden box like some sort of clown car gag was incredible.
A very dazzling component to AURA Music & Arts Festival was the large amount of artists surrounding the stages during performances. Many spectators stood in amazement at the spectacle of the dancing, painting, individuals wrapped in light, and smoke, who turned plain canvases into breathtaking original designs. They left observers, and myself alike, perplexed how one can paint while dancing. At one point during Dopapod my friend and I took notice of one dancing, painting man, who moved with fervent motions, seemingly possessed by the music. At this point there was merely a canvas of blue with white splotches, but I reassured my confused friend that if we came back after the set it would be so fantastic. And indeed it was; that canvas of smeared blue and white turned into a true expression of art merged with music. It was a beautifully done AURA logo, complete with the different chakras. Highlighting the key element that brings AURA Music & Arts Festival together every year; these artists that come and display their talents and live alongside the crowd and music that inspires them truly show the link between art and music.
Emerging from the music on the second day, I happened to wander toward a big field. Here I found a kind man, embodying the spirit of AURA as he urged strangers to help beautify his once-white van with the buckets of paint and brushes scattered about the grassy floor. I learned that this man goes to different festivals and lets people do anything at all, with no limits but their own creativity, to his van, and even gave me the chance to paint something myself. It was impossible to escape the air of artistry here on the AURA campgrounds. Just to the right of this, where the Field Stage often is at Suwannee events, was the Tribal Council Sanctuary. It took place in and around a beautiful dome and involved everything from a variety of yoga classes to awe-inspiring discussions. There were so many beautiful people sharing ideas as well as helping to shape the body and mind.
The lovely couple from Third-Eye Pinecones graced the fantastic scope of vendors this year. These pinecones are magical. Carl, the man behind the cones, cuts cross-sections of pinecones, fills them with objects such as semi-precious stones or butterfly wings and then covers them with a clear resin. Based out of Santa Cruz, Calif., these are definitely the hottest thing to keep your third eye out for at festivals. They are very beautiful and affordable; it’s not surprising that I had to get one of my own.
This year, festival goers witnessed a special moment, whether they were even aware of it or not. Most are familiar with the jaw-dropping band Perpetual Groove; it’s not a secret that they can leave a crowd standing motionless in awe or exhausted from hours of dance. But unbeknownst to some, the two performances they did at AURA this year were some of their last. While some danced, others almost mourned the inevitable end of a favorite band. Their first set on Friday was absolutely phenomenal. They kicked off this set with Green Tea followed by Paul Revere, and then a Beastie Boys cover. The Perpetual Groove gang really had the crowd on the tip of their guitar strings.
After days and nights of dancing, you could find me swinging around for Perpetual Groove’s second set. When I say swinging, I don’t mean the dance but literally swinging. One of the great things about the Amphitheater Stage is that since it is settled amongst a crowd of big, beautiful oak trees, many patrons choose to hang up hammocks for the weekend, providing a great place to relax while still enjoying the jams. Many hammock owners seem to have a very laid-back attitude in regards to others using their hammocks, which I took full advantage of. I was rocking in a bright orange hammock to their melodies. As some cried and others swung, Perpetual Groove really put their heart into that last set, and the crowd could feel it Perpetual Groove is coming to an end and Ghost Owl is bursting from the flames. I got the chance to speak with Matthew McDonald, Mr. Keys and Vocals on Saturday morning.
He smiled big as I introduced myself, telling him I wanted to ask him some questions. He was a bit surprised that I stared out inquiring about his opinions of ice cream trucks. “If you see an ice cream truck, do you flag them down or chase them?” I asked. “Flag them down”, he said. “The ice cream should come to you.” It’s hard to just say a little about what was discussed, but I’ll give it my best shot. Music is Perpetual Groove’s life. It’s a family affair; “My wife is here with the kids,” he said, “This is what we do.” The ending of Perpetual Groove won’t mean the ending of this life style. With that being said, we got into what the new band, Ghost Owl, is about. “We are leaving the jamming behind, trading it for more rehearsed specific sounds,” he told me. He also said that Ghost Owl isn’t just Perpetual Groove’s new project; it’s a whole new band with different styles and approaches toward writing songs. “Like a new book, not a page in the book?” I asked. “Exactly,” he said. This new band will be taking on a much heavier electronic influence, going with the huge boom in electronic music, mixed with live instrumentation. This Dropper and Perpetual Groove fan is due for some new reading.
I was fortunate enough to also score an interview with the one and only Aron Magner from the bass-dropping face-melting band Conspirator after the festival. “Did you enjoy yourself at AURA? How does it stack up to the many fests and shows you’ve been to?” I asked him as we met. “We had a great time. We have been around friends that were involved with AURA Music & Arts Festival from the beginning, hearing them talk about how great it was and seeing it progress. Getting to be a part of it this year was really great,” he said. Conspirator was the only band that had a double set that was back to back. “Your set at AURA was so heavy and fantastic, was it strange that your set was double?” I asked. “The Conspirator set is typically just the one, but AURA wanted us to play two sets, so we did,” he said. The boys of Conspirator are now being joined by Chris Michetti of RAQ, and KJ Sawka of Pendulum. The crowd was in for quite a surprise when they busted out some of their songs from their newly released album. Titled Unleashed, it is a true testament to just how hard-hitting a live electronic band can be. As most probably know, Aron and Marc from their work in The Disco Biscuits, this new type of sound is something totally different. Aron tells me that although there is still some improvisation in different fills and solos, but this is by no means a jam band. Conspirator is here to hit hard and make you dance. My favorite track from the album, “Powwow,” really gets low and dirty, leading up to a tremendous drop that will send listener’s soaring. The first time I saw Conspirator was at Counter Point Music Festival in Georgia. They were outstanding then, and their set on Friday was no different. Hula hoops spinning, people jumping, hugging, and dancing; I was right at the front boogying the chills away with my handy duck stick.
The kindness and good vibes at the festival were unmatched anywhere else. Even when I was leaving, a kind sir offered me a handful of Sour Patch Kids, a lovely token to end the festival with. The Brotherly Love Production Team and the rest of the AURA community were very involved with helping everyone feel very comfortable and welcomed, and they really lived up to what they set out to do. By providing a family-like atmosphere of support and by nurturing the relationships between artists, venues and fans they helped to fuel the good vibes. Looking forward till next year, this Dropper will be ready with a big heart, an army of ducks and some shoes that are ready for boogying.
Mon Mar 4