Purple Hatter’s Ball | Bigger and Better than Ever

The magnificent Spirit of Suwannee Music Park plays host annually to a dozen music festivals and one hundred plus other events. The festivals in particular have their own focus, vibe, aura. You can find weekends full of country, bluegrass, rock, jam, funk and more. Each has its own feel and story.

None is more diverse nor has a more remarkable story than the Purple Hatter’s Ball, with the 2015 edition scheduled for May 8-10. The musical diversity is amazing, from jamtronic rock to funk to bluegrass to performance art to jazz to soul to… But it’s the story of the Purple Hatter’s Ball that makes it unique, truly in a class of its own.

Rachel Morningstar Hoffman loved going to festivals at SoSMP such as Bear Creek. She was easily identifiable with her big fluffy purple hat, loving life, music and the festival vibe. You might not know her name, but you do know her story. For a minor drug offense, she was conscripted by the Tallahassee police to work as a confidential informant. During the course of a blown drug sting that would have embarrassed the Keystone Kops, she was brutally murdered.

In the process of trying to establish a law that would prevent future misfeasance on the part of police, her parents set up a festival to raise funds and to celebrate Rachel’s far-too-short 23-year life. Thus the Purple Hatter’s Ball was born, and it continues to fund the Morningstar Foundation, which is why you see her name at the top of the festival website. Rachel’s Law did come into being, and now festival organizers such as Paul Levine hope that the law will be adopted throughout the nation and be strengthened here in Florida.

So we celebrate her life in music, art, performance, brotherhood/sisterhood and good times. This year’s collection of talent will certainly be a wonderful celebration. The aforementioned musical diversity can be examined most easily by looking at the top of the bill: Lotus and Nahko and Medicine for the People.

Lotus is a rock band, jam band, electronic band or post-rock band (whatever that means). They have evolved over the course of the past dozen years, playing many major festivals, including Wanee, Bear Creek and AURA, all at the park. Their incredibly clean sound allows the guitar and keyboard work to stand out. The quintet plans a new studio release in the summer to follow last year’s Build. They also have a dozen albums and hundreds of shows available for download on bandcamp. And they are killer!

About 179 degrees in the other direction, Nahko and Medicine for the People melds the sensibilities of Bob Marley, Michael Franti and Ben Harper in the band’s attempt to bring energy, healing and spiritual freedom to those who listen. They call their music acoustic thump-hop, and that’s probably as good a description as any. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Nahko brings his uplifting and envigorating band to PHB. Most recent album Dark as Night is a great window into the soul of the band.

No matter what you’re looking for, you are likely to find it at PHB. If Afropop multirhythms are your thing, four outstanding exponents of the genre will thrill you. Toubab Krewe bring their Mali influences and surf punk sounds from North Carolina, no strangers to the park. Raja Kassis comes from New York with similar influences – plus horns, playing as Raja’s Humanbeing. The Super Mandé Jam is an explosion of African percussion, and Benyoro also delights in the West African sounds. The possibilities for collaboration are endless!

Dubconscious (Athens GA) and Trial by Stone (Tallahassee) blend reggae, world, ska and dub for those so inclined.

A lot of jazz and jazz fusion will fill the park. Atlanta’s Cadillac Jones is pure dynamite, and Empire Strikes Brass is a New Orleans-style brass band from Asheville. Tambor, a sextet from Jacksonville, is about to release an album, and the tracks posted so far sound great in their “minimalist/jazz fusion” approach. Guitarist Aaron Lebos brings his quartet Reality from Miami to jam, and Adrian Crutchfield plays funk, fusion, and neo-soul on his saxophones.

Also performing will be Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. Although Bradley has been involved in music, he didn’t really hit stride until he turned 60, and now he and the boys are playing their soul and RnB at festivals everywhere. Be sure to catch the Parker Urban Band from Jacksonville. Leader and guitarist John Parkerurban leads a tremendous sextet fronted by two spectacular ladies: Juanita Parkerurban and Myrna Stallworth. Don’t miss them!

If you like bluegrass, it don’t get no better than Grandpa’s Cough Medicine (Jacksonville). If you only heard them pick, you’d say they were awesome. But then their song lyrics will stand you on your head! Incredible power from this trio.  Then you get nine guys from Atlantic Beach playing folk and honky-tonk and everything in between: Firewater Tent Revival. Better respect the ‘shine, though!

King Cotton, from Tallahassee, and Tampa’s Grit bring you rock Southern-style. Scott Campbell might remind you of Roger McGuinn in voice and that clean Byrds-like sound. Les Racquet claims to be “jazz-country-rock,” but they can do indie pop just as well. And you can find out for yourself what “electro thunder funk” is when Cure for the Common hits the stage. Catfish Alliance rocks out as well.

Rockers and jammers have plenty to see and hear. The Werks have been at the park often, blending rock, jam and electronic sounds. Lucky Costello has been tearing it up recently at Gov-Fest and AURA. Meanwhile, Kansas Bible Company is a dozen men, including five horns, playing rock. The Galbraith Group from Clearwater plays jazzy rock or rockin’ jazz, take your pick. Brother plays the guitar, and sisters are the rhythm section. New Earth Army is a superb quintet from the Panhandle, presenting funky jams with exquisite vocalist Carly Foster fronting the talented band.

Lotus represents only the tip of the jamtronic iceberg at PHB. The Malah and Greenhouse Lounge have both played festivals at the park often, ranging from ethereal jams to flat-out rockers. Mouth, from Kansas City, calls their music “sci-fi funk.” You’ve gotta love a guy who lists his instruments as bass/math! Bells and Robes is a DJ duo from Gainesville who will get everyone dancing.

Future Vintage is a St. Pete trio that will funk you up. Their electronic dance music and jazzy rhythms are awesome. Keyboard player Matt Giancola and Trevor McDannel on bass have been on a tear of late; be sure to check them out.

It is difficult to describe Daria and the Hip Drops. Her voice might remind you of Kalmia Traver from Rubblebucket, but the group’s songs are all over the map (in a very good way). They funk, they bounce, they play steel pans. Worth hearing AND seeing!

Apparently, Alex Sears of S.P.O.R.E. has another project. Lava comes from Jacksonville, and Sears’ synthesizers and keyboards in tandem with violin and guitar, bass and drums sounds deliciously head-twisting on the internet. This should be mind-blowing!

People at Gov-Fest were hit by a runaway freight train named Flat Land. This remarkable quartet from Gainesville calls their offering “cosmifunkpop.” Whatever you call it, they blew everybody away. The three men are excellent, but it is just impossible not to watch Fae Nageon de Lestang, who sings and plays violin. The magnificent park surroundings will be perfect for them.

Roosevelt Collier, the Doctor, needs no introduction, so this will be short. There is no better pedal steel player on the planet, and he is dangerous when he sits in with his stand-up lap steel! His Suwannee Jam will be tight!

One other band to discuss. This particular band from Orlando worked steadily for years, went on hiatus, and has been playing more dates recently. Shak Nasti is a trio of brilliant players who can do anything. Rion Smith is a superb jazz drummer out of the Elvin Jones school of polyrhythms; he played for years with Sam Rivers and works with Blue Man Group. Matt Lapham is as good a bass player as there is. Anywhere. He has played with Bobby Lee Rodgers and Roosevelt Collier and a variety of other projects, including Brownote. And Tim Turner is a great singer, excellent composer, and drastically underrated guitar player. Their shows upon on archive .org are testament to their prowess as a trio. Perhaps they will be joining Roosevelt!

But wait! There’s more! There is a pre-party on Thursday for early arrivers. Cure for the Common, Dubconscious and Mouth will be performing, and three more bands have been added. The first is a one-man band, looper El Dub, bringing his mix of funk, reggae, blues and jam. Elephant Revival offers a great change of pace, listing themselves as “experimental, folk, Americana.” And then…

Several years ago, few people had any clue who Space Capone was. New Mastersounds’ guitar player said, at the end of their set that first night at Bear Creek, “You know where you’re going, right? You’re going to the Music Hall to hear Space Capone!” What a spectacular show! Capone and his driving band will take you “Over the Top” and “Back to the House” for certain!

What could you possibly have going on that weekend better than this… and for a better cause? That’s what we thought!


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