Story by: Thandiwe Ogbonna
Photos by: Ryan Patrick (White Rhino Photographics)
Though it is certainly not an electronic music festival, AURA Music and Arts Festival did feature a strong array of EDM and livetronica artists over its three days, March 6-8, at The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Fla.
Between the Lotus Lounge (a lotus flower shaped structure that supports 12 ENO hammocks and houses a DJ booth at its center) and the Silent Disco (held in the Vibe Tent on Friday and Saturday nights from 2 to 5 am), there were plenty of dance music acts and DJs to see.
On Friday, DJ Scotty Solomon warmed up the Lotus Lounge and those perusing the wares of nearby merchandise vendors with a variety of deep and tech house beats. (He also performed later that night in the silent disco.) Vlad the Inhaler, who was the organizer, the host, and a performer at the silent disco, brought in the evening in the lounge with some ghettotech.
Monarch and Ackdaddy took the afternoon spots on Saturday; on Sunday, K Slat and Blassafrass did the same. DJ Craig Heneveld, AKA UDNTPRTY and another silent disco performer, dropped some drum and bass on an early evening crowd.
In the Silent Disco, which followed a similar setup as last year when it was presented by The Untz, listeners wearing flashing headphones could choose between two channels sending the sounds of the current DJs straight into their ears. There was a bit of competition involved: different colors on the headphones indicated the different channels, so the performers knew how popular they were with the crowd at any point.
I enjoyed a set by Weazildust (Jimakata’s drummer Packy Lunn) on Friday night, and the duo Bedside on Saturday night that incorporated improvisational trumpet into its dancey vibe. I couldn’t hold out for the really late night shows, but I heard great things about the ambient sound of Bells and Robes and the performance by ZwangBang (Dopapod’s drummer Scotty Zwang) and Chewie (lighting and sound manager for Dopapod).
Bedside also provided the soundtrack for a Saturday afternoon “Shake Your Asana” yoga session, led by Joaquin de Teresa, the director of AURA’s yoga and healing arts program, in the same Vibe Tent.
On the Amphitheater Stage, Jimkata impressed me with a fiercely energetic set late Friday afternoon. Papadosio, a long time favorite at AURA, drew a large crowd late night, and played favorites like “Find Your Cloud,” “Direction Song,” and “Method of Control.”
Covers and sit-ins were a common treat throughout the weekend. A little earlier that night on the Porch Stage, Dopapod covered No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” and Roosevelt Collier laid down some “sacred steel” on “8 Years Ended.” Just before that in the Music Hall, Turbo Suit won us over with its insanely fun cover of Escort’s “Cocaine Blues” and a skillful cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.”
On Saturday night, Papadosio was back for another set in the amphitheater, with Mike Dillon sitting in on “Ear to Ear.” Then The Disco Biscuits began gearing up for close to three hours of jam between their two back-to-back sets.
It was a kind of meeting of worlds: those who were seeing their first Disco Biscuits show (a surprising number) and enthusiastic, long-time fans settling in for a cold (but cozy) night. Both sets favored extended jams over long setlists, highlighting the band’s improvisational skill.
The amphitheater was alive with laser lights illuminating faces, trees, hammocks, and flow toys of all kinds and creating waves of light in the sky. I stole away to catch some TAUK in the Music Hall, and was blown away by the performance by the rock fusion quartet from New York.
Sunday for me was all about the Amphitheater Stage, with another set from TAUK followed by a Michael Jackson tribute by The Main Squeeze. There couldn’t have been anything more perfect for a sunny Sunday afternoon, and many are calling it the best set of the weekend.
Covers ranged from hits like “Beat It,” “Thriller,” and “Smooth Criminal” to slower jams like “Remember the Time” and a “Man in the Mirror” closer, with help along the way from The Shady Horns (Ryan Zoidis and Eric “Benny” Bloom of Lettuce), Isaac Teele (percussion), and Jamar Woods (keys).
Break Science Live Band closed out the night and the festival, and the addition of four of Deitch’s Lettuce bandmates brought a funky edge to the duo’s hip-hop inspired beats. Together they captivated the amphitheater, which was full to the brim with excited fans, live painters, and fellow musicians (they could be spotted admiring each other’s talent the entire fest).
Overall, the caliber of musicianship at AURA was second to none. Each artist had something significant to offer the experience, and artists at large made for many pleasant surprises during the sets of some of my favorite bands.
No one can stop talking about the incredible atmosphere that permeated the venue and the campground. If you’ve never been to AURA (or Suwannee) you might think this is just something everyone says about every festival and AURA really isn’t any different. But you would be wrong. AURA is different and it shows in the way you feel when you’re there and the way you’re still buzzing after you leave.
Friendly people, incredible musicians, talented artists, a picturesque setting, and a dedicated staff and crew made this an outstanding weekend that I’ll probably be comparing others to for some time. I can’t wait to make it back to AURA (or another festival at Suwannee) and create some more beautiful memories.
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