Festival 411: Suwannee Hulaween Has Fastest Sellout Yet, With String Cheese, Skrillex, MMJ, Many More For Halloween Escape

Suwannee Hulaween
Aaron Bradley
– Suwannee Hulaween
Suwannee Hulaween, the yearly String Cheese Incident- topped Halloween festival in Live Oak, Fla., had its fastest sellout in history this year.

Pent-up demand from both artists and fans has seen strong onsales for major tours as well as established festivals. Add to the list of established events the mid-sized Suwannee Hulaween – the String Cheese Incident-hosted, Halloween-timed camping extravaganza that takes place in North Florida. The fest has, in its eighth year, sold out in record time with 20,000 weekend campers per day Oct. 28-31. 

Topped by three nights of “host band” jam favorites String Cheese Incident, the event also includes Skrillex, My Morning Jacket, Leon Bridges, Khruangbin, Greensky Bluegrass and still more. Taking place in Live Oak, Fla., about 90 minutes from Tallahassee and Jacksonville in the sprawling, picturesque Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park, the event has grown from a homegrown jam affair with three headliners to a major multi-genre fest with a wide following.

Hulaween is owned and put on by Travis Janovich of eTix, co-founded and still creatively directed by partners and independent promoters Michael Berg and Paul Levine, produced by Saira Anderson and Stephanie Blatt, and Marshall Lowe joined the leadership team when Janovich took over the show in 2019. Berg, also a partner at Chicago-based promoter Collectiv Presents, caught up with Pollstar about putting on major events like North Coast Music Festival, growing festivals during a pandemic and looking to expand in 2022.
Pollstar: With the electronic-heavy North Coast Music Festival Sept. 3-5 at SeatGeek Stadium near Chicago, it’s got to feel good to be doing regular shows again.
Michael Berg: It felt really good and long overdue and well deserved to have a moment like that, where we got back to doing what we actually do. It truly did feel good and a much welcomed win we had for North Coast. It is a complicated time and it felt good to do it. We had a really great response to everything. 
How was Shaq, aka DJ Diesel, who performed at North Coast along with headliners Kaskade, Griz and Zeds Dead?
He was great. According to his agent, he absolutely loves it, and it’s like his favorite thing to do. Out of all the gigs and jobs and places you see him on TV, apparently his favorite is doing these DJ sets.  
It might be easier to take a year off or let others figure out how to operate during COVID. Why put on these events right now?
It’s what we do and who we are. It’s the same reason we did drive-in and pod shows when the shutdown first happened. We have a will and determination to be part of the culture we’re servicing, and provide not only content for the people who we consider our peers but also create the outlet for catharsis. It’s one thing in the pre-COVID to create catharsis for people, it’s another in the post-COVID time. People need it more than ever, it’s not just the fans, it’s the artists, it’s us, it’s the gig workers, the security staff, the production people, the union labor, the vendors. It’s literally everyone from top to bottom. People need this. You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone, and it’s great to be active and having conversations with agents about festivals we want to do in ‘22 and ‘23. It feels almost eerily, slightly normal (laughs).  
You were active with drive-in shows via Collectiv Presents, where you’re a partner. What is most important about doing pandemic-era shows of any kind?
The whole thing we’ve learned, and this dates back to doing drive-ins and pod shows because we were a little ahead of the curve of dealing with shows and events during the pandemic, but it’s really about communicating with fans and expressing in the most clear and concise way possible. “This is what the policy is, this is what our expectations are, this is what happens if the procedures and protocols aren’t followed.” The more you educate people, the less margin of error there is — “I forgot my vaccine card or forgot my COVID test results or lost my results.”  Here, now you need to take a test over here. People need to know what their options are. 
Suwannee Hulaween
Aaron Bradley
– Suwannee Hulaween
Hulaween is known for otherworldly art installations, light shows and the lush scenery at its original home at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park & Campground in Spirit Lake, Fla.
Let’s talk about Hulaween, which is sold out capped at 20,000 people per day. How did it sell out in record time?
It’s a combination of the demand from it being gone for a year and I believe that we put together a really quality, multi-genre lineup, so there were people coming from the jam-band world, people from the electronic and dance world, people from the indie/alternative and soul world. It’s just a really diverse show, so we’re pulling from several pools of people.
To the general public, it might seem easier to do a show in Florida than in Chicago right now.
 It’s not that simple. While there are less rules and regulations statewide, that doesn’t take any level of pressure off of us on our own moral compass on how we want to operate and hold events. It really is wild. Certain acts, teams, and touring crews have different thresholds of intensity when it comes to their safety protocols. 
We’ve implemented a policy we feel is going to keep as many people as safe as possible. We’re in the middle of a pandemic still, you can only do what you can do. If you leave the house you’re taking risks, but we believe the policies we’ve enabled are going to mitigate risk as much as possible and we’ve been handling on a case-by-case basis any additional or supplemental efforts that need to be taken or handled to keep any specific artist – I’m not going to name any names – at their level of comfort. We’re in a relationship business so, especially if it’s something within reason, we’ve done our best to honor every request. 
What I can say is that the five-person producer team and the owner of Hulaween take this very seriously, we obsess over it. We’ve spent a countless amount of hours on the phone, texting, emailing, going back and forth, sharing war stories, talking to industry peers, trading that information to really make sure we feel like our moral compass is pointed in the right direction.