2 Mar

The Purple Hatter’s Ball Honors The Fallen And Raises Hopes For The Future [Review/Gallery]

first_imgCheck out the full gallery of Rex Thomson’s shots from the Purple Hatter’s Ball, below: Friday, June 17thThe main crowd started rolling into the Park at first light, and by noon tents had been erected. Street clothes had given way to beach wear for the opening sets of the day from Vlad The Inhaler, Stereotype and Funk You on the Beach Stage. Steaming hot sets from Voodoo Visionary and the Corbitt Clampitt Experience rocked the Campground Stage, while Sophistafunk and The Mantras brought funky and organic jamming to the live oak shaded Amphitheater. Former area resident and master of the sacred steel slide guitar, Roosevelt Collier, brought a stellar line up of friends to help him close out the Campground shows in his signature gospel shaded, “Tear Down The House” blues way that saw the packed crowd at its highest point yet and ready for the big close.Returning Purple Hatters veterans Papadosio have shown themselves to be equally about the spirit of peace and love as they are about musical expression and exploding passions, making them a perfect fit to bring the spirit of the fallen heart behind the festival revelry. Seamlessly merging digital sound-scapes and old fashioned jamming, Papadosio are a band that has created and mastered their own sound, walked their own path and made the world a better place for having shared their brand of magic.  The Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park hosts over a dozen concerts and music festivals every year, but the Purple Hatter’s Ball is easily the beloved Florida venue’s most sacred. Held in honor of the late Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, whose life was lost in a tragic shooting, the festival isn’t simply a memorial of a fallen friend, it is a call-to-action for a society plagued by violence. But before her early exit from life’s stage, she was a well known fixture on the music scene and a lover of the North Florida music park that paid host to many of her adventures. Many of the bands she loved, such as Dubconscious and Catfish Alliance, come back each year, joined by acts whose spirit matches what Rachel sought out, such as The Floozies, The Polish Ambassador, Papadosio, and many more to help remind us all that from loss can come growth and joy.As we’ve recently shown you, Rachel’s loss inspired her mother to fight the law and actually win, helping enact reforms on the ways police can use and coerce scared kids into risky confidential informant situations that can, and sadly have, turn what would likely be minor penalties into death sentences. Thanks to the efforts of her mother and promoter Paul Levine, the foundation in her name has been granted full non-profit status, and work is underway to continue policy reforms on a national level. This spirit of activism has branched out in many directions and the love of the local music community has grown so much stronger, all stemming from soil enriched by needlessly spilled blood.Action Day with The Polish AmbassadorDJ The Polish Ambassador has put his media cache to wonderful use, partnering with the non-profit Action Day initiative to sponsor a series of events around the cities on his tours centered on the socio-ecological balancing concept know as Permaculture. At the most base level, Permaculture’s chief precept is realigning local ecosystems through research, planning and teaching and learning through shared doing. Thursday was declared an “Action Day” and dozens of volunteers arrived at 10:00 AM for a series of lectures, workshops, and some old fashioned physical labor to help re-purpose areas of the park.After a brief explanation of the goals for healing the land, the eager volunteers split into groups and sprung into action around the park. Lindsey and Dylan Bradley-Brown have been Suwannee Music Park fixtures for years, helping lead the effort to make the many events held in the scenic venue’s environs stay as ecologically friendly as possible, and were on hand to help lead workshops and direct efforts to areas with the most need. Alongside Action Day leader Danielle Gennety, gardens were planted, wood choking the land was removed, and the mystical park grounds were given a small reflection of the love it has helped build over the years. At the end of the day, a physically tired but emotionally uplifted team gathered to share tales of efforts rewarded and plans for putting their new knowledge to best use.Thursday, June 16thStepping in for GypsyElise, who was dealing with issues regarding the tragic shootings in Orlando, Chapman Stick player Flint Blade brought his amazingly dexterous fingers and multi-layered sound to the Suwannee Music Hall stage to start the Thursday pre-party. Space Kadet and the Savi Fernandez Birthday Band had the early crowd out on the dance floor and grooving steady while outside friends were getting lost in epic moments of reuniting and rejoicing. The jamtronica tinged SunSquabi rocked the steadily filling crowd until 2AM, giving early arrivers an incredible show to reward their commitment to the party. Howls of laughter and squeals of joy filled the air as the crowd filed out of the music hall and made their way back to their temporary homes for a tranquil night under the stars of northern Florida. The BeachFestival planners took full advantage of the park’s beautiful white sand beaches and alkali darkened waters to throw the first of two consecutive days of beach party fun in the sun. Once again erecting a small stage at the top of the half crevasse that overlooks the main beach the surf seeking fans were rewarded with one of the most pleasant outdoor music experiences in the country. Showing the “Anything To Make It A Party” spirit, a group of friends brought massive advertising signs and used them to build a truly EPIC water slide that they manned themselves all day, dutifully hauling coolers of water up the hill to send happy riders young and old slip sliding away down the steep incline. The combination of sunny skies, perfect water temperatures and jamming tunes proved to be an irresistible draw for festival goers. A grill man set up shop at the top of the hill selling burgers and the smell of the beach and burgers, combined with the music and the playful chatter of happy friends, made this a timeless memory of a life at ease. The clean spirit and green nature saw people cheerfully cleaning up after themselves and and being game enough to follow the exhortations of an inexplicably growing mass for the annual beach group photo!Saturday, June 18thDown at the beach, S.P.O.R.E. with Zahira and Dubconscious gave the revellers a backdrop for the shenanigans in the sand, while Heather Gillis and her band showed a forceful side of the blues that got the sun addled fans focused up and ready for the night to come up on the main stage. The acts ping-ponged back and forth between the Campground Stage and the Ampitheater for the rest of the day, with the crowd dancing from Post Pluto and Herd Of Watts back to The Hip Abduction and The Polish Ambassador set. The Ambassador whipped the crowd into a frothy dance party frenzy with his musical selections and his onstage antics, drawing incredible cheers for his wardrobe changes and freestyle boogie moves.The meteoric rise that The Floozies are currently enjoying was shown to be well deserved through their mastery of sonic crowd control. Slipping from iconic cover tunes to funky originals and jammed transitions in-between. The brothers Matt and Mark Hill created a wall of sound that the crowd barreled into at perilous mental speeds, and the resulting crash was spectacular. Walking away through the sandy stage fans were dazed and mentally scrambled and on the prowl for late night silliness that, fortunately, abounded throughout the park. Sunday, June 19thThe combination of lilting beauty and naked aggression that is  music got the last day at the Campground Stage up and running with a fierce set to tweak the groggy crowd into “Ready-To-Rock” mode. Scott Campbell & The Avis Berry Band brought people to their feet and to tears with their remarkably expressive mixture of blues and soul. Bands Dubconscious and Catfish Alliance kept their perfect attendance streak alive, showing up to do their part and to make manifest their love. Dubconscious chose the path of world music jamming, while Catfish viewers alternated between enjoying the jamming of Casey Rychick and being entranced by the bizarre antics of singer/hypeman Big E The Sexual Manatee. While their sets might have been polar opposites in style and presentation, the hearts behind the mayhem were beating in harmony.To close out the weekend, Melvin Seals & The JGB came out and promptly brought the hardy last souls standing to the edge of tears with his big gospel organ sound on “My Sisters And Brothers,” as fitting a song to close out this festival as possible. With the crowd singing along, the lyrical imagery and spirit of the tune seemed to lift the spirits the highest they’ve been all weekend, which is truly saying something. Those remaining few left to share that moment were, indeed, a few steps closer to the promised land thanks to the fellowship and love all were sharing.The CeremonyAs it has become a much honored tradition, the crowd gathered at the Amphitheater Stage to take some time to stand together and remember the sad why of the weekend and the hopeful lessons to be learned as a result. After passing out several captive, dormant butterflies, festival promoter and friend to Rachel, Paul Levine and Mama Margie shared their thoughts and perspectives on the meanings to be gleaned from the situation. Concluding with the hope for a world without senseless laws and the eventual fifty butterflies out into the park, their fluttering invoked the memory of another dancing ball of color: a smiling young girl in a comically large purple fuzzy hat who just wanted to be among her people and jam. Whether she simply rests in peace or is actively looking down and smiling from above, the love she left in her wake has grown with each day since her departure, and that’s the best anyone can hope for.The Crew“At this point I’d like to take a rare step outside of the third person for a quick personal note about a side of the Purple Hatters Ball, and festivals in general, that rarely gets any attention. It’s the cadre of sleep deprived festival ninjas that make up the backstage crew, who make the whole thing happen as quietly as possible. Their job depends on never being seen. There is a core group of regulars there, dedicated builders and tireless workers who just want to see things go right, all day and all night, every day and every night. They shuttle artists and food, keep the stages and gates safe, make sure everyone gets healthy food to work the round-the-clock shifts; they haul lights and adjust levels and match pulsing strobe lights to the beat to take the party to another level. They clean the grounds, patch the fallen, and dance for your smiling eyes in mysterious robes and body paint. They massage the cramps and sign the checks and without them the music would stop.And some of them might just ask you to smile for the camera and take your picture, like the one below. It is one of a series, and one I hope to never be in. This year’s staff photo, taken as the stage was being speedily dismantled after the last notes of JGB had rung out. The reason I hope to never be in these kinds of pictures is that I always want to be the one taking it. It’s not that I don’t trust other shooters to get the image, they’d more than likely do better.  But…honestly, I just love seeing all the wonderful people that I am so happy to be a part of, gathered in one spot and toasting a job well done. The Purple Hatter’s Ball always seems to run smoothly and bring out the best in those swarming on tasks behind the curtains. I like to think it’s all because of why we gathered that weekend, even if it wasn’t something we were actively pondering. We were there to honor not just a fallen friend, but all of the fallen, and to try and use that unpleasant reminder of what is really important in life. The crew at Suwannee is a family I am proud to be part of and they all spent the weekend making it look easy. So CHEERS! Can’t wait to see you all again!” ~ Rex Thomson Load remaining imageslast_img read more