Magnolia Fest and the Suwannee Springfest are North Florida traditions now at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak Florida. For many years the festivals brought some great Americana, folk, bluegrass, and similar music to the area, including workshops, camping, horseback riding, biking, swimming in the Suwannee River, and other great activities.
While other festivals try to be bigger than the next festival, these two festivals have always been small, intimate gatherings and proud of it. I went to a couple of days of Magnolia Fest this year to see a few bands in a relaxed atmosphere. The workshops are not as prominent, and the acts included bigger marquee draws like John Prine and Willie Nelson, but it was still fairly intimate and laidback.
There were four stages. The Meadow Stage is the big stage featuring the headliners. There is also an Amphitheatre Stage in the bottom of a natural wooded area with trees and dripping Spanish Moss so the audience and performers are always shaded, a small outdoor Porch Stage for newer acts, and an indoor Music Hall Stage for smaller acts.
The stages are all fairly close to each other. It is easy to get around and there are plenty of craft and food vendors in the main area, including a general store in case you forgot something. The camping surrounds the music area with a variety of shaded areas, some along the Suwannee River. You can also rent a trailer. I live nearby so I just commuted.
I made it out there Friday afternoon and was able to walk right up to the barricade for Dawes even though they had already started. Some fans like to be up front for the music, but many others were comfortably seated nearby in camping chairs or swinging in hammocks strung between the trees. Hippies love the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park so there were plenty of fans dancing and twirling and hula hooping to the music.
I like Dawes so I took a few pictures of the group and then just listened to most of their set. Near the end, I crossed the old dirt road to check out the last minutes of Col. Bruce Hampton & Friends playing a lively jamming set.
I then crossed the meadow to check out a few songs by Keller Williams & The Travelin’ McCourys as they picked out some bluegrass for a fairly large (but not too large, I made it up close with no problem) audience.
I then headed back to the Amphitheatre Stage for a set by Kris Kristofferson. Kris was in a jovial mood. The legendary artist joked about his harmonica skills and told stories, many humorous, about his songs. His daughter Kelly joined him for a few songs and more levity. He had great lighting and I found a comfy camping chair in the third row so I could listen to and watch his entire set.
I then headed back across the meadow for John Prine on the main stage. I always enjoy his music whether he’s telling humorous or serious tales with his guitar. The lighting was a bit dark though and I found it strange that it was not better considering how nice it was at the amphitheatre.
I closed out the evening at the Amphitheatre Stage with some reggae music from Stephen “Ragga” Marley under the stars.
Saturday I started with some great bluegrass/folk/Americana from the Canadian band The Duhks. I had seen them before at Suwannee Springfest and knew I would enjoy their music. I also checked out Grayson Capps, a New Orleans singer/songwriter who sometimes wails on feedback-drenched guitar and sometimes plays tender ballads…in the same set. It was a nice new artist for me.
Mavis Staples belted out some old-time Gospel on the main stage and the music was fine, but the lights were still too dark to enjoy watching her. Instead of coming back to the Meadow Stage for Willie Nelson, I opted to stay at the Amphitheatre Stage with a good spot for Donna the Buffalo and The Drive-By Truckers to end my night.
Donna the Buffalo is another tradition for the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and their set was as lively a mix of Cajun, folk, and other styles thrown in to the mix as ever. It is one band that never fails to get people dancing. The Drive-By Truckers are, of course, legendary in the South and they put on a raucous show that was a very satisfying end to the evening.
I enjoyed my two days at this year’s Magnolia Fest, even though I could not make it to every due to work commitments. I think the best part of the festival is that it is so laid-back, which is a nice change from the Mega-Monster Festivals. That’s just how we roll down here. I wish I could have camped and enjoyed more of the natural attractions but working on photos and text is easier at home. Maybe next time.
Next month at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park is the