Live Review

Suwannee Spring Reunion 2023: 10 Best Acts

Spring is finally upon us! Flocking to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park & Campground in Live Oak, Florida, thousands of music lovers kicked off their festival season at the Suwannee Spring Reunion this past weekend.

Suwannee Spring Reunion 2023 by Jay Strausser
March 29, 2023 11:46 am GMT
Last Edited April 21, 2023 2:10 pm GMT

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Spring is finally upon us! Flocking to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park & Campground in Live Oak, Florida, thousands of music lovers kicked off their festival season at the Suwannee Spring Reunion this past weekend.

With performances from artists like Molly Tuttle, The Infamous Stringdusters and Sam Bush, amongst Suwannee regulars like Jim Lauderdale, Verlon Thompson, Donna the Buffalo and the Jon Stickley Trio, the event acted as a reunion for fans and artists alike.

For Lyndsay Pruett, fiddler for the Jon Stickley Trio, the Spirit of the Suwannee literally runs through her and her family’s veins. Pruett began coming to the park over 20 years ago as a teenager to watch her father perform with Vassar Clements, among others.

During that time, her mother worked on the festival’s staff and her sister in hospitality, while Pruett picked around at campfires and became immersed in a world of music completely different from the classical compositions she’d focused on prior.

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Photography by Jay Strausser

Now over 15 years since first performing at the park herself with Futureman & The Black Mozart Ensemble, Pruett described the special aura surrounding the park and attending festivals here as a borderline religious experience.

“Once you’ve been here, it’s hard to imagine not coming back again and again,” says Pruett. “Whenever you enter the park, it feels like the rest of your life just melts away. This weekend is always a working vacation for me. Most festivals we play feel very much like a gig, but when I’m here I always need to camp in the woods and be around my picking buddies. It’s a very cathartic experience that I need to repeat, almost like a ritual, any time I can.”

The weekend was a memorable one for us here at Holler as well, so much so that we’ve gathered our 10 favorite moments from the North Florida hootenanny.

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Leftover Salmon are The Life of the Party

In typical fashion, Leftover Salmon was the life of the party both on the stage and off throughout the first two days of the Spring Reunion. The band lit up the Amphitheater stage with late-night sets on Thursday and Friday that included Sierra Hull, Sam Bush, Jon Stickley and others as special guests.

Members of the band could also be found picking at various campsite picking parties, such as a Friday night jam that saw banjoist Andy Thorn and mandolinist Drew Emmitt sit in with others on a fireside cover of The Stanley Brothers’ ‘How Mountain Girls Can Love’.

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Shawn Camp and Verlon Thompson sing Guy Clark

The Earls of Leicester's Shawn Camp and longtime Guy Clark guitarist Verlon Thompson teamed up on Friday afternoon to honor the late legend with a set full of stories, laughs and occasionally, music.

The songs showcased not only Clark’s songwriting prowess, but also the imprint he’s had on the music of others like Johnny Cash and Jerry Jeff Walker, who recorded his songs ‘Texas 1947’ and ‘Desperados Waiting For A Train’, respectively.

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Sam Bush's Energetic and Entertaining Act

Despite his longevity at the peak of the bluegrass music scene, Sam Bush, 70, remains as youthful and spry as ever. Fans were eating out of the palm of his hand throughout his headlining performance on Friday night, which featured several John Hartford covers he recently released as Radio John: Songs of John Hartford, including ‘Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana’ and ‘Radio John’.

Bush also brought out Drew Emmitt for a mandolin duel on ‘Circles Around Me’ before covering Jeff Black’s ‘Same Old River’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘When You Gonna Wake Up’, lighting up the Suwannee stage in the process.

Joe & Hattie Craven Deliver A Quirky and Upbeat Set

The father-daughter team of Joe and Hattie Craven lit up the Amphitheater stage on Saturday morning with a quirky four-piece set featuring John Mailander on fiddle and Jordan Feinstein on keys. Together, the Craven’s conquered everything from originals like ‘Cat Food Sandwiches’ to the traditional ‘In the Pines’ and a cover of Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’, making for one of the weekend’s most cheerful and upbeat sets.

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A Flawless Moment For Big Richard

There was nothing little about Big Richard’s breakout performance at Suwannee. Over the Colorado foursome’s three sets, the group navigated flawlessly between bluegrass staples like ‘Wind and Rain’ and ‘Reuben’s Train’, pop hits like Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ and more, exemplifying how to take a song and make it your own in the process.

Steep Canyon Rangers Bring the Rain To Suwannee

Western North Carolina-based bluegrassers Steep Canyon Rangers didn’t skip a beat in their first Suwannee performance since Aaron Burdett joined the group last summer. The band opened their Saturday evening show with 'One Drop of Rain' right before the skies briefly opened up, leading many of those staked out in front of the stage to spontaneously dance in the rain as the band played on to 'Honey on My Tongue'.

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The Infamous Stringdusters and Molly Tuttle Steal The Show

Molly Tuttle and The Infamous Stringdusters each reinforced why they’re two of the most sought-after acts in bluegrass with a joint headlining set on Saturday night. Throughout the two-hour show, the Grammy award-winning acts continually swapped songs like 'Dooley’s Farm' and 'Pearl of Carolina' amidst steamy interludes that brought the worlds of traditional bluegrass and jam bands together. Read more about the set here.

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The Ain't Sisters Rock The Festival

Atlanta-based indie rock group The Ain’t Sisters brought a jolt of energy to the festival’s Dance Tent stage during an early Sunday afternoon. Much like Big Richard and the Cravens before them, vocalists Arrie Bozeman and Barb Carbon navigated the band through their own heartfelt rockers like 'Heart', 'One Track Mind' and 'Shine', while also finding time to reimagine songs like Railroad Earth’s 'Bird in the House'.

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Jim Lauderdale Welcomes the Songs From The Road Band

Always dressed more dapper than anyone, Jim Lauderdale dazzled during a trio of weekend shows performed alongside Verlon Thompson and Donna the Buffalo. However, the most surprising moment came during a set from the Jim Lauderdale Band on Sunday afternoon, where the Songs from the Road Band made an unannounced appearance. The Asheville-based collective backed Lauderdale for most of the set, including on 'Headed for the Hills' and the traditional 'Zacchaeus'.

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Donna the Buffalo Closes With A Bang

A longtime Suwannee tradition, Donna the Buffalo closed out the Spring Reunion with one of their own, welcoming guests and longtime Suwannee performers Jim Lauderdale, Verlon Thompson and former Hot Buttered Rum fiddler Zebulon Bowles to the stage to assist in capping off the memorable weekend.

Another highlight from the finale set included a performance of Donna original 'I Love My Tribe', a mantra very emblematic of the tight-knit community and feeling of togetherness held by those in attendance during the splendid weekend.

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Photography by Jay Strausser

For more coverage on Suwannee Spring Reunion 2023, and for all information on Suwannee Spring Reunion 2024 so far, see below:

Written by Matt Wickstrom
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