Since it had just rained, was the Thursday pre-party, and the music hadn't started yet, it was almost empty and allowed me a few minutes to get my bearings and realize just how beautiful the grounds are. Ghost Owl started us off with an interesting 3 piece groove featuring both the guitar and bass players also having the Moog synth to add another layer to the sound. They started to get the crowd to trickle in as the rain had stopped and people had finished setting up. Great upbeat set to start the festival. In keeping with the upbeat, the Motet came to bring the funk. They covered Earth Wind & Fire, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, and Eli from Dopapod sat in with them. Another perfect set for this Thursday night. Dopapod closed out the evening and pre-party by showing why they are blowing up in the festival scene. They played a stellar set and had the Motet come out at the end. This really kicked off the pre-party as all 3 bands left everyone who came early looking forward to seeing these 3 again. Upon returning to camp, I saw a welcome surprise. The small amount of lights around the campsite had morphed into a full blown tower of lighting allowing me to spot the site almost as soon as I stepped out of the concert area and into the camping section. Arriving there amazed me even more!! The tunnels were surrounded with lights also, and they went about 40 feet up in the trees!! This was before I notice the raging campfire which came in handy many times as it was chilly at night for much of the weekend. However the fire wasn't without its perils, as we had a person lose their footing and slip in as they were trying to sit. Thankfully they were pulled out, ended up without so much as a scratch and only their pride was hurt. On a lighter note, twice I managed to just miss dropping my phone directly in and I was able to rescue it from the dust surrounding it.
Friday marked the official start of AURA. Upon waking up I noticed a significant amount of people had arrived in the time I slept. The camp filled in nicely, and as a result I got lost from the bathroom back to camp without the lights to guide my way. While walking around I noticed some of the lake campground and its scenic beauty and found the disc golf course which would have been fun if I had an ability to throw a Frisbee straight at a distance of more than 15 feet. Musically the day started with Fusik. They were a new band to me and I enjoyed their set. From there I made my way to the porch stage for the first time. I had heard the Mantras were on form heading in, and I even broke my own rule on not listening to a band I was going to see before hand by hearing 3 minutes of them the night before, but nothing prepared me for what was going to take place here. My first impression was that they played unique guitars, no standard Strat or Les Paul here. As they were getting ready to play, they were chatting with the front row of the audience, almost like they were getting ready to play a living room set, not a large festival. Once they started I was immediately blown away. Everything everyone had said up to this point had been spot on! My favorite jam was "Water Song" which included teases to "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad", "Song In My Head", and "Maze" all in one. Another highlight was the mashup/combination of "Burning Down the House & Fire on the Mountain". Some friendly advice, Do not miss these guys!! This was my favorite set of the weekend!
After that Jimkata and The Heavy Pets played their usual excellent sets, then it was time for me to head down to moe. They started strong but I had to give the McLovins a quick peek. I timed that perfectly to hear them play a well executed cover of Pink Floyd's Run Like Hell, then back to moe. The second set of Moe for me is what showed their true magic. They started with Billy Goat which has a groove I love, and through the Mike Dillon sit in at the end for meat. The highlight of that song was a xylophone duel! It was an excellent set throughout. Next was Dopapod who played another stellar set, and threw us all for a loop with a surprise and well played cover of "Just a Girl" by No Doubt. It was also 7 years ago to the day that guitarist Rob Compa played his first show with the band. Papadosio put the entire crowd on the cloud high up in the sky of musical bliss. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was one of the sets I was most looking forward to, as they throw down a late night party like few others can do. This was not in the cards for me, as my car battery decided to die. Wouldn't be a problem as it has happened before, probably will happen again, but the timing stunk. I would have left it and dealt with it later but the lights and wipers were going off like strobes, and I had to wait for it to end. I made it to the very end of the set just in time to hear the last section of the set which included Tom Hamilton from American Babies sitting in for FU. Not how I wanted the set to go down but I heard enough to reaffirm my stance on Pigeons. Side note-on Sunday we got the car started right up. Saturday started off with a bang as only Consider the Source can do. Gabriel Marin, John Ferrara, and Jeff Mann are 3 of the most technically proficient musicians you will find anywhere. Together they combine to shred like nobody else at this fest. The combination of mid east metal meets jam is an experience like none other. I overheard someone saying "These guys are so good they make me want to quit playing music!" Ghost Owl and The Motet played their second sets, and much like the first, they kept us on our toes dancing. Again they showed why they were picked for the Thursday pre party.
From there I headed over to the Main Squeeze. This is a band on the rise! For their original set here they started the usual funk, and midway through guitarist Max Newman basically said "Screw this, I'm taking over" and started showing solos and fills that weren't seen yet in this set. Another testimony of their skill is how well they handled the Michael Jackson tribute set on Sunday. An artist as unique as Michael is hard to handle and they took it from his early days to recent without missing a beat! One of the most entertaining sets of the weekend for sure! Festivals are a great time to discover new bands. The previous night, Mike who is the percussionist for The Fritz wandered by our camp and stopped by to hang out for a while. Since he was a good guy, I decided to check them out where otherwise they might have been bypassed due to scheduling. I am very happy I did as they brought the funk!! This is the second such discovery of the weekend for me. I will be seeing them again in the future. Papadosio's second set of the weekend was enjoyable in the background, but I had other bands to see at the same time as this was a packed slot on the schedule. I saw a few minutes of RAQ before heading over to Stinky Pockets to check them out on a recommendation then head back to RAQ. I never made it back to RAQ. Stinky Pockets was that good! They were the third band new to me at the start of the fest that I left loving! Next up were The Disco Biscuits. They provided a unique jam and incredible laser light show! This scene captured the essence of Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. The trees and area surrounding the stage played a large part in the show. If you only had time to see what this park had to offer as far as atmosphere this festival spared no cost in making it the most scenic and inviting.
I made my way to the Music Hall Stage for TAUK after the Disco Biscuits first set. I intended to stay for a little bit and head over to the Biscuits' second set as I have seen TAUK many times before and I would get to see them again the next day. The boys however had other plans for me. This was the best I have seen them play, edging out Rock N Roll Resort for my favorite set of theirs of all time, including Radiohead covers and a sit in from the Shady Horns. The Disco Biscuits ended the second set much like the first set and it was back to the Music Hall for American Babies. Shortly after a Jerry Garcia Band styled cover of Tangled Up In Blue, the show turned into in the words of our photographer Chason, "An American Biscuits" set as Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner joined in. Jon "The Barber" Gutwillig came on in stealth as he wasn't announced like the others. They played "Shakedown Street>Little Lai" and turned the stage back over to American Babies. Sunday was a lighter day on the schedule to accommodate for travel and exhaustion of those of us who were feeling the effects of it like me. Uproot hootenanny were a relaxing bluegrass start to get myself into the day. TAUK continued from the night before, continuing to show why they are on the rise.
To my dismay, I missed the Mclovins's set to get my car started but due to the perfect placement of Short Cut Camp I was still able to hear them clearly as there was nobody around to distract my ears. It sounded like a good time, as I kicked myself for not being able to being everywhere at the same time, a known downside of most great festivals. After the Main Squeeze did the Michael Jackson Tribuite set, Kung Fu brought the Funk/Fusion as only they can. The highlights were round the horn soloing, and a long pause to "give the drummer some" as they left the stage during Scrabb for an excellent long drum solo from Adrian Taramontano.
Break Science closed out AURA on a high note! This was a very anticipated performance as it included a live band. The members were the shady horns, Adam Smirnoff and Jesus Coombs of Lettuce added to the mix. One highlight was the cover of Me Myself and I. It instantly made me think of friends who are fans of old school hip hop that would love this. For those moments when you want to step away from the music, AURA offers plenty of opportunity. There is a huge site to explore which can take up a lot of time in itself. The mornings offered Yoga, meditation, and there was live painting throughout the weekend. In short, if you haven't been to SOSMP, get there! I look forward to making this trip again next year. Hope to see you at Short Cut Camp.
Words: Mike Geller
Photos: Chason Heins
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