AURA Music & Arts Festival kicks off UpstateLIVE’s 2013 Festival Season

For most festival goers to AURA Music and Arts Festival, the event is a three day affair.  For UpstateLIVE, it was more like a five day adventure.  A 21-hour straight car ride down to Northern Florida got us there a couple hours before New York’s own Consider the Source took the Porch Stage to kick off this incredible festival in an even more amazing setting.

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As you enter the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park it becomes hard not to notice the beautiful surroundings.  Trees covered in Spanish moss, ponds, horse barns, canoe rentals, well-kept cabins, all leading you down a road to the white sandy beach nestled next to the dark water of the Suwanee River.  The giant oaks left you feeling humble and the open field left you feeling free.  The sun beating on this snowbird’s face in the middle of February was a welcome reminder of the festival season ahead.  Yes, 2013 was going to be a great year for music and it was starting here and now, in Live Oak, Florida.

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There could not be a better way to kick off a musical event than hearing Gabriel Marin jam away on his double-necked custom fretless guitar, known as a chaturangui.  Consider the Source is typically found later in the night on a Friday or Saturday evening, but as a newcomer to the AURA line-up they were placed as the festival opener.  For the dedicated fans that got their early enough to see them, the band put on a great show and it was no coincidence that the sun shone brighter and the air was warmer than the rest of the weekend.  The positive vibes from CTS were also found midday Saturday in the middle of the campgrounds.

After CTS melted face on the Porch Stage, the southeast’s own Stokeswood dusted off the Amphitheater and got things warmed up on the main stage.  The band seemingly switched instruments after every songs, but the combination of who was playing what did not seem to matter.  Vocalist Adam Patterson kept the growing crowd enticed as the campers were setting up just beyond the fence and vendors were beginning to peddle their wares.

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As Friday went on and the shadows got longer, festival goers heard the funk stylings of Chicago-based The Main Squeeze, before heading back to the main stage for the return of RAQ, back together for the first time live since July 2011 at The Big Up Festival in Upstate New York.  The jam band that were on the forefront of a new sound brought their fans back when they started the set with “Shirley Be a Drooler” and then over a 10-minute version of “Botz”.  The set went on to include “BFAM”, “Comin’ Home”, a 13 minute “Walking In Circles” followed by an incredible jam of “Late Night” > “Sweet Cream Butter” > “Late Night”.  The festival crowd loved to see the band back together and pleaded for an encore.  When Todd Stoops, Jay Burwick, Chris Michetti and new (and permanent) drummer Adrian Tramontano came out to play “Tumblin’ Down” things at the Porch Stage with Break Science just had to wait a little while longer, because RAQ was back and the fans were enjoying their return.  UpstateLIVE also got to sit down briefly with Stoops on Saturday and we can expect more from RAQ this year.  With confirmed dates to play in Boston, NYC and Philly you can also expect RAQ at 2013 festivals whenever Conspirator and Kung Fu are in the line-up.

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The very popular electronic music explorers, Conspirator, were the next up on the main stage playing the only back-to-back sets of the festival.  As temperatures were beginning to drop in Northern Florida, the crowd became thankful that Conspirator was there to warm things up.  It’s impossible to sit still when the band takes the stage and spreads their energetic sounds over the masses.  AURA festival goers got to hear a lot of the new tracks from the recently released EP, Unleashed.  Their AURA version of “Retrograde” was amazing and the lit hula hoops, lit umbrellas, lit signs and lit anything else you can add an LED light to, added to an amazing performance.  Conspirator is offering up a much more refined sound that has been developing over the past couple years with a earth-shaking dupstep rhythms and a light show that left many picking their jaws up off the ground.

After Conspirator’s two sets the crowd literally ran over to the Porch Stage so they did not miss a beat of Kung Fu‘s Friday night performance.  Dressed in their traditional ‘Gi’ outfits, the band could see their breath as the cold air overtook the Suwannee Music Park.  Many of the southern festies hadn’t seen the northeast-based band before and their reactions were nothing but positive.  It there was funk stage at the festival Kung Fu would have been the headliner, because if it was funk you were after they were sure to deliver it.  Guitarist Tim Palmieri went off on solos that you weren’t quite sure would ever stop and to be honest nobody cared if they did.  After talking to him the next day, you would never had known that his fingers were a little numb because on stage they seemed to be on fire.  Dressed in layers and wearing gloves between the sound check and the performance helped the band who played their coldest outdoor set ever.  Temperatures were now below freezing.

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After Kung Fu’s mind altering set it was back to the amphitheater for a bittersweet performance from Perpetual Groove.  P Groove’s front man Brock Butler is reportedly leaving the band to pursue other music interests, and for P Groove fans this festival set was a must see, for those that weren’t fans before, they are now and felt the impact of knowing the band will soon no longer be around.  Fans got to hear some great extended jams like “Great Tea” > “Out Here” > “Green Tea”.  That led into a masterful “Macumba” > “Walking in Place” and back to “Green Tea”.  The set closed out with “Two Shores” > “Speed Queen”.  Friday night’s encore was “Mr. Transistor” > “Echo” > “Mr. Transistor”. The band will be playing consistently in March until their final performance on April 5th at the Georgia Theatre.

When the night seemed over and music stopped blaring from the speakers a subculture of festival goers were just getting ready to play.  Silent discos popped up as ragers took over. UpstateLIVE found ourselves up at Club Bujak with Jeff Bujak and Jen Dulong.  Jeff is originally from the Syracuse area and now resides in Boston.  Bujak is known in the northeast for his IDM (intelligent dance music) and light show that includes Jen on the LED hula hoop.  As listeners approached Club Bujak on Friday and Saturday night they didn’t hear a sound but instead were greeted by dozens of dancers with headphones on.  Combine electonic music, a wireless signal and expensive headphones and the Silent Disco is born.

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Waking up on Saturday morning was a catch-22.  The good side was AURA Music and Arts Festival was filled with great musicians, talented artists and the most wonderful staff you could ask for in a festival.  The down side was that it was still in the 30′s and raining.  The dreary weather did not stop the crowd from waking up and getting their coffee from Fair Shot Coffee.  While we shouldn’t pick favorites it’s hard not to when you need hot cups of coffee in the morning, iced Cuban coffee during the day and espressos at night to provide that last bit of energy to get through the night.  AURA offered great food vendors, too with the Free Lovin’ Foodery and Thai BBQ serving up more substantial offerings and Swift Concessions for those with a sweet tooth.  The merch vendors were great as well.  The Cigar Box Music was a popular stop for most AURA festies and the art offered by Sally Can’t Dance was breathtaking.  The Eden’s Rose Foundation was there and they are based out of Albany, NY.  The Foundation work does everything from helping indigenous tribes in the deepest part of the Amazon Rainforest to Tibetan refuge communities in the Himalayas.  It’s namesake, Eden Joseph Roe passed away at 24 years old in 2005, he was a devoted Phish fan who traveled extensively to hear his favorite jam band.

The first act to perform Saturday was Newton Crosby and he did so in the rain.  People braved the cold temps and rain to hear him and his incredible guitar work.  His spirited, funky set started out with “Wonderful” and went into a long jam of “The Telli Jig” > “Saturday People” > “Return to Asbury Park” > “Saturday People”.  Many smiles were brought to the crowd during an vigorous cover of “Sowing the Seeds of Love”.  Just when everyone was feeling the good vibe from Newton, Brock Butler sat in on “Faceless” and the combined energy of these two incredible musicians parted the clouds.  The set couldn’t have ended better as the skies started to clear and the band played “Crispy Friggin Chicken” > “Worst Day Ever”.  Luckily for us it was far from the worst day ever, the music was just starting and The McLovins were about to take the main stage.

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The McLovins played their funky, uptempo mix on the main stage to many new listeners and fans as the sun continuously fought to shine it’s light on AURA.  The McLovins were able to play AURA by winning a contest on the festivals Facebook page.  In order to pay for the trip down they ended up having a successful Kickstarter campaign.  It was a long road for the young band from Connecticut but well worth it as they are set on reaching new heights.

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Next up was the most funkalious, down home blend of rhythm, harmony and attitude that could be found east of New Orleans.  Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band started the set with “True Battle” and “WTF” (With True Feeling) and did not let up until their last two numbers, “Lovin’” and “Trunk Fallin’ Off”.  Things got really funky when Adam Smirnoff from Lettuce joined YMBFBB in the middle of the set for “Lucky”.  Everyone in the audience (and on stage) was shakin’ what their mama gave them.  There was a point that Mama Funk herself (Mary Frances Newcomb) turned her backside to the crowd and shook her badonkadonk.  The crowd went wild and Saturday’s party officially started and nothing could turn it back.

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Over at the Amphitheater the crowd was beginning to gather to see Kung Fu with Nigel Hall performing a tribute to the legendary Stevie Wonder.  Nigel came out on the stage being lead with dark glasses working hard to find his inner Stevie.  Nigel explained “this is an educational set with a lot of songs Stevie Wonder probably wouldn’t perform anymore…the great thing about Stevie is that he has written every song that matters in the world. Whatever songs we choose to do will be fine.”  The set was full of life starting with “Confusion” and “Black Man”, and went on to include crowd favorites like “Higher Ground”, “Do I Do” and closed with a great version of  “I Wish”.  Besides the incredibly talented guys from Kung Fu, Nigel Hall was also joined by Adam Smirnoff, Jim Wuest, Aly Newitt & John Provenzano.  The Stevie Wonder Tribute will be what people at AURA will be talking about for years and we can all thank Daryl Wolff for coming up with the idea and Todd Stoops (Kung Fu) and Nigel Hall for connecting and making it happen.

Off on the side stage DrFameus, or as he is better known as, Allen Aucoin of the Disco Biscuits, became a one-man beat machine.  While the winter storm seemed to bypass Suwannee Music Park, a whirlwind of arms, feets, sticks were hitting everything in sight on the Porch Stage in the early evening on Saturday.  While DrFameus is perhaps Allens’ alterego, in this side project you can see the full range of his diversity.  Whether it is electronica, dubstep, techno/house to breakbeats – he delivers.

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Back on the main stage was Dopapod, a favorite among the Upstate New York scene and a band that will be on many festival line-ups this summer.  Their Saturday night set at AURA was intense and the highlight could have been “Present Ghosts” or “French Bowling”.  There job was to bring that notorious Saturday night party vibe, and bring it hard enough to get everyone out of their tents, away from the food and into the music.  Dopapod did just that and in the midst of energizing the crowd they were able to get in some tunes like “Trapper Keeper” into their set from the newest Dopapod release, Redivider, that was released just this past December.

The Florida-based electronic trio Greenhouse Lounge did a great job of tying things together and keeping the party going over on the Porch Stage.  P Groove was prepping for their final festival set, perhaps forever.  Brock Butler poured his soul out to the crowd Saturday night in an emotional evening.  After playing for so many years together, personalities and musical goals begin to diverge.  However on Saturday night things came together, whether they were pouring their hearts out with the Talking Heads cover “This Must Be the Place” or they were breaking the hearts of their fans with the set closing, “It Starts Where It Ends”.

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As the The Heavy Pets did their sound check, you could begin to tell how cold everyone was at AURA.  Blankets, knitted hats and the crazy outfits were infused with warmer items, like leggings or tights, mittens, scarves.  Even the hula hoopers were trying to get by with the thickest coast they could get away with while still dancing the night away.  Luckily the Saturday party was going strong and sub-freezing temperatures were not going to deter this crowd of very thick-skinned southerners.  The Heavy Pets did their job of getting people moving and grooving and shaking and twirling very well. The Heavy Pets are a yearly favorite at AURA and why not, with a great sound, incredible vocals and songs that seem to span multiple genres.  The side stage was rockin’ Saturday night and the AURA fans still had one more incredible band to go before it was Silent Disco time again, or hangout by the campfire with your friends time.

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Papadosio took the main stage and it seemed like all 3000 AURA Festival goers were there to see it.  The band has been touring extensively around the country and building up a sizable fanbase.  They have even graduated to a tour bus and a LED wall.  The LED wall was rented until their New Years run and they bit the bullet and bought it.  It is an amazing addition to an already incredible show.  Papadosio’s sound can be described a hundred different ways and everyone of them would be correct, I think of it as the next progression in psychedelic rock.  They are a rock band, they play their instruments and they play them well.  They have also adapted modern technology to enhance the sound, the mood and the composition of their work.  Long trippy jams, explosive solos and crowds yearning for more.  It’s an amazing time and the light show against the Spanish moss dominating the oak trees around the amphitheater is one of those things that will go down as breathtaking and frustrating as a photographer.  I could take a 1000 pictures of the scene and it wouldn’t do it justice.  There was just something in the air.

So when the night ended and everyone climbed into their sleeping bags, Sunday morning came too early.  The coffee line was long and everyone was talking about how Papadosio melted their face or how sad it is to see P Groove splitting up.  Some were talking about the Stevie Wonder tribute or how Greenhouse Lounge brought it.  First time listeners to various bands were looking up the next time the Big Booty Band or the McLovins were going to play their neck of the woods.  It was a community centered around music and art.

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AURA was more about the music, there was the Tribal Council that offered healing and yoga classes throughout the event.  The artists set up a tent and displayed their incredible pieces and during each performance you could see rows of artists painting away as the bands played.  Music inspires art and art inspires music.  Together through creativity and love you can build a community, a scene of like minded individuals that are better together; and what color was the community’s AURA that weekend? Purple, of course.

It was Sunday morning and with a 21-hour car ride looming ahead it was sadly time to go.  Driving through the campsite you could see people stirring and stretching and preparing for another great day of music.  Whether it was Brock Butler’s acoustic set on the main stage or Lingo and Former Champions offering up some Sunday jams on the Porch stage.  The Lee Boys took time to offer some spiritual words and festival goers were greeted by Sunday sets from Dopapod, Papadosio and The Heavy Pets.

AURA’s 4th year and the first one at Suwannee Music Park was coming to an end and Daryl, Destiny, and all of the people that made the festival possible were incredibly happy with the response.  From Friday morning until Sunday night the festival offered up something for everyone.  It was a harmonious experience and one that UpstateLIVE can’t wait to do again next year.

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Jim Gilbert

I am a digital product manager by day and I turn into a photographer at night. Photographing bands, landscapes, sports, and people.

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About Jim Gilbert

I am a digital product manager by day and I turn into a photographer at night. Photographing bands, landscapes, sports, and people.