Words and images by Sarah De Nicolais
The sun was high in the sky as the sound of music began to fill the air. Young and old adults alike danced their way toward the main stage placed at the front of a large, green field lined with food trucks, art vendors and carnival rides.
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is a musical venue that hosts festivals of all genres year round. Located in the heart of Live Oak, the park incorporates the unique beauty of North Florida and park visitors’ undying love for music.
Jenny Heup, a veteran to the Spirit of the Suwannee music festivals, said she’s always excited when a weekend at the park is coming up.
“It’s undeniable that the second you walk onto the park grounds at Suwannee, you are taken away to your happy place. There is something about the combination of the fresh air, the music, the woods,” Heup said. “Everyone is happy and everyone is family. I’ve been to every festival from bluegrass, to reggae, to EDM. It doesn’t matter the genre or the type of people. You are among friends without a care in the world.”
In 1985, the Cornett family out of Lexington, Kentucky stumbled upon the music venue that was then owned by Suwannee County. The family, with an extensive background in bluegrass music festival productions, decided to lease the park. They began hosting bluegrass festivals right away and eventually purchased the park in 1997.
Over the years, the music park has evolved into a venue that hosts all types of genres from southern rock and roll to electric dance music artists. Robin Young has worked alongside of James Cornett, the current owner of the park, since 2000.
“Part of it was James’ exceptional ability to build partnerships within the industry. He was able to get Live Nation to come in and host Wanee Music Festival, which expanded the genres to more southern rock and roll,” Young said. “The Allman Brothers were partners in creating the festival.”
Wanee Music Festival has been among the park’s most popular events since its conception in 2005, but younger festivals like Aura Music Festival and Suwannee Hulaween have also attracted large crowds over the past few years.
“He’s also built partnerships with new, smaller promoters who are getting into the business and helps to mentor them to learn the business,” Young said. “He did that with Magnolia Fest, which was a small promotional company out of Jacksonville.”
In 1997, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park hosted its first ever Magnolia Fest. The festival now runs for three days and has five stages featuring all types of music including bluegrass, folk and alternative country. Last year’s headliners were Jacksonville’s own Tedeschi Truck Band and The Avett Brothers.
“One of my most memorable moments at Suwannee was at Magfest in 2015. My friends and I are big fans of Tedeschi Trucks Band,” said Heup. “For one of their last songs, Susan Tedeschi covered ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ by The Beatles. It was such a nostalgic moment to hear her sing those words while being in my favorite place in the world, surrounded by my best friends. A moment I could re-live forever.”
Young says the main goal of the park is to produce an enjoyable, artistically pleasing outdoor recreational experience for all of Suwannee’s guests, but they also recognize that they can’t do so without the support of their community in Live Oak.
“We’ve made a lot of effort to build good, lasting relationships with the organizations of Suwannee county so that we’re partners in building our community. Our park benefits the community in a lot of ways by bringing people to Live Oak,” Young said. “Our community definitely works with us to help these shows continue as well as to grow.”
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park holds festivals beginning in early March and continue through October each year. With a wide variety of musical genres there’s shows for everyone to enjoy.
Festival tickets are available from day passes around $50 to weekend passes that include camping ranging from $130 to $400. Artists of all different forms attend each festival to display and sell their work, and unique food trucks from all over offer a wide variety of options to keep festival attendees energized for their favorite band’s next set.
The park also offers many different features available when festivals aren’t going on from primitive and horse camping to canoe trips down the Suwannee River. So whether you’re looking for an energetic weekend full of music and arts, or just want to unwind in the quiet tranquility of the woods, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.
Upcoming 2016 Events:
3/3 – 3/5
Aura Music Festival
3/17 – 3/20
4/14 – 4/16
Wanee Music Festival
4/22 – 4/23
Tipper and Friends
4/27 – 4/30
Suwannee River Jam
6/17 – 6/18
Purple Hatter’s Ball
10/13 – 10/16
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park also hosts concerts when festivals aren’t taking place. Additionally, the park has karaoke and live music nights weekly.