My First Time at Suwannee: Lessons Learned at Aura Music and Arts Festival
It’s been a week since Aura Music and Arts Festival, and I’m just now starting to come down from it.
A music festival at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park is unlike anything else in the world. I’ve been to a number of music festivals all over the country, including Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Ultra, and they are massive monumental productions that annually find the biggest talent in music on their stages.But living in Gainesville grants us easy access to a magical place that every music fan in the state, region and country should experience at some point.
Although the festivals at Suwannee may be a little smaller than the aforementioned monsters, they certainly don’t lack the musical talent. Here are some lessons I learned about Aura and the beautiful things that happen at the music park.
Suwannee is a family.
I traveled to Aura by myself, knowing only a handful of people that would be there. Immediately upon arriving park, those few people I knew immediately took me in and introduced me to countless other wonderful people. A tight community of music fans made up the Aura audience. About 5,000 people made up the festival. To put that in perspective, larger festivals in the states sometimes have more than 100,000 attendees.
The smaller audience at Aura made the experience infinitely more intimate, creating a tight-knit bond between everybody around with the central idea of, “we’ll take care of each other.”
Although that attitude and sentiment rings true in other festivals, the Suwannee family extends beyond the festival grounds, creating a network of good-vibes people all around the Southeast. Suwannee is a place they can all call home.
Damn good music exists outside the mainstream realm.
This is something I’ve been aware of for a while, but even in the world of indie and underground, there are bands that dominate the stream of music on the web. I went to Aura only having heard of a few bands and with a complete open mind. What I found was musical talent, instrumentation and energy in the form of mind-boggling and face-melting jam band music that doesn’t get the respect or attention it deserves.
I’ve seen bands who have a significant pull on the national stage, like Widespread Panic and Dave Matthews Band, but groups like The Main Squeeze, Dopapod and Papadosio, who still maintain a strong and loyal fan bases, don’t seem to always get the love they deserve.
Music becomes communal at Aura.
Part of the allure of jam bands and jam band music is the improvisational, collaborative nature of the music they play, and that approach to making music is on display at Aura. Throughout the festival, members of different groups made a habit of sitting in on various bands’ sets. This led to an absolutely killer xylaphone duet during Moe’s second set Friday night; some lap steel and electric guitar genius during Dopapod; and, perhaps the highlight of the weekend, the funkiest, greatest dance party I’ve yet been to at The Main Squeeze’s Michael Jackson tribute on Sunday.
While other festivals encourage collaboration between musicians, such as Bonnaroo’s Superjams, Aura lives off of collaboration. That collaborative atmosphere extends past the music, going back to the family nature of the park and the festival. Dunedin Brewery brewed up to special beers exclusively for the festival, leading me to think that every festival should be paired with a beer.
Hell, the whole weekend could be considered a superjam, making it a truly unique experience for music fans.
So if you get the chance to make it to Aura next year, or at least to Suwannee, take that chance. There’s a reason all the people who make it out to the music park once make it back multiple times after. We’re lucky here in Gainesville to be located so close to such a beautiful place dedicated to such a beautiful cause: spreading the wonderful joy and love of music.
Only 70 miles away from our little college town, there’s nothing else like it in the world.
Feature photo courtesy of: Marlee Taylor