By Tracy Block
AURA Music & Arts Festival is the brainchild of two South Florida musicians who became hugely successful event curators. The hard work and dedication of Daryl Wolff and Cameron Ferguson attracted a record-breaking crowd of 5K to the grounds of the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida last weekend.
Diehards of AURA ditched delayed flights due to icy weather and instead carpooled and caravanned down from the north. Musical headliners like the Disco Biscuits and moe. escalated the affair to greater heights, while fanboys, fangirls and newbies gathered to digest another multi-genre smorgasbord of progressive music. Campfires ignited to bring experienced festival families together and birth new ones while braving temperatures that dipped into the 30s. Yoga classes offered a chance to stretch danced-out limbs and spread positive energy. Friends excitedly participated in dress-up themes, sporting colorful fashions and sparkly attire.
What was once an intimate gathering on a ranch in middle-of-nowhere Florida has now spawned into a yearly, three-day festival at one of the most beautiful music venues in the country. Here are ten highlights that made AURA 6 the most memorable edition yet.
10. Brother Bean's return to AURA
Original headliners of AURA 1 in 2010, Melbourne-based trio Brother Bean threw down a memorable reunion set inside the Music Hall Friday afternoon. As temperatures rapidly dropped, AURA-goers sought a warm place to dance it out, and the Brother Bean escape was the perfect refuge. Florida fans from up and down the peninsula gathered to commemorate the return of the threesome which served up seamless jams with balanced synergy. Loyal fans sang along to "Yo Mamma," and noteworthy covers like old fan fave "Scooby Snacks" and a tastily funky drop of Jack White's hit "Lazaretto."
9. Moe.'s 23-minute "Meat" jam
"Meat" with its two-tone rage flavor and most catchy bassline, thanks to Rob Derhak, got the crowd in a frenzy. But, it was scene favorite Mike Dillon, known for his killer skills on the vibraphones, that made this moment truly shine. The timing of the jam was on point, from Amico's flawless drumming to speedy and rhythmic treats that fed off each other, compliments of Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey. Jim Loughlin rounded out the musical feast via well-thought out accents on percussion.
8. Dopapod's "Just a Girl" cover
Moe.'s first set Friday night left everyone in dance mode searching for their next spot to break it down. This made Dopapod the ideal choice over at the Porch Stage. The Northeast natives delivered crowd selects like "Trapper Keeper" and "8 Years Ended" with local steel pedal guitar star Roosevelt Collier guesting on his custom axe. But the stellar musical highpoint was when Rob Compa channeled Gwen Stefani to deliver a rockin' cover of "Just a Girl" with drummer Scotty Zwang giving 1995 Tom Dumont a serious run for his money. The unexpected treat left Tragic Kingdom fans yearning for more, no doubt.
7. Hammocks galore, thanks to Eno
Partners in keeping AURA as chill as possible, the Eno Lotus Lounge was located smack in the middle of Shakedown Street. Wanderers were encouraged to shop and grub, then reserve a hammock while DJs oozed euphoric tunes from atop a raised, center structure. This offered a much-needed shelter and was the only outpost of its kind.
Spinners like DJ Craig Heneveld, AckDaddy, Scotty Solomon and Vlad the Inhaler contributed to the nook's relaxed ambiance. Eno hammocks were also spread throughout the Amphitheatre Stage grounds for loungers looking for a more natural scene with some live grooves to accompany.
6. Bedside's Boom Shake Your Asana yoga set
New on the scene in 2014, Travis Acker and Trace Barfield of Bedside have already proven their brand of uplifting dance music is a refreshing addition to the local South Florida lounge circuit.
With Acker's mixing magic and Barfield's forte for the trumpet, the duo has a special style that fuses feel-good melodies with blissful brass. The pair took on a new endeavor when DJing a Saturday noon yoga class. Their set featured samples by Tycho and the Malah, along with live chants and vocal vibrations that made for smooth sequences and full-bodied meditation. A surprise sit-in on sax from Devon Heinrichs from the Resolvers added even more brassy depth to the unique, healing composition.
5. The crowd of millennial circus entertainers
Eye candy at the festival was at an all-time high, thanks to the impressive practices of LED hoopers, glowing jugglers, ribbon dancers and even tight rope walkers. Everywhere you turned, day or night, performers enhanced the grounds. Escaping daily life to frolic like artists in the forest, if you weren't joining in on the action, you were addictively mesmerized on the sidelines.
4. Laser destruction and brain-blowing highs from the Disco Biscuits
Jamtronica headliners out of Philly threw down a nasty set of mind-melting jams paired with intense lighting and laser programming via visual artist Andrew Cass.
A shoeless, Bombas-sporting Jon "the Barber" Gutwillig laid down epic peaks, while a mix of robotic and flawless drum patterns from Allen Aucoin left heads in a whirl. Extra spacey effects and classical runs by Aron Magner on keys and pluck-happy vibes from bassist Marc Brownstein made the band's return to Suwannee (last performed at Blackwater 2010) a memorable, all-out dance extravaganza.
It had some major highs, from untzy anthem "Great Abyss" to the Latin spice of "Little Shimmy in a Conga Line." Jams bled power, color, and cacophonous glory, as the band fed off the palpable energy of all surrounding auras.
3. Daily bouts of nature appreciation
Many daydreams emerged from staring up into the aged oak, curly cypress, and endless Spanish moss. Introspective pit stops took place at the signature lake by primitive camping. Nature walks through the grounds to visit emus and bat houses brought on deep meditation. A chilling dip in the black waters of the famed Suwannee River cleansed body and soul.
Even if you tried to avoid the gorgeous surroundings, you couldn't. A trip to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is always a gift. Many of us can't take much time to appreciate outdoor beauty, and AURA weekend was a chance to reconnect with a natural landscape in its unscathed state.
2. An afternoon croon with Emily Carroll Ensemble
This Pompano-based songstress lit up the park with her artistry. A Sunday afternoon visit with the sensitive serenader was moving and enchanting. Carroll's touching lyrics were delicately raw, paired with earthy melodies and rhythmic twangs.
"Please, Please" and "The Waltz" were set highlights from her recent EP release Please, attracting eager ears and passersbys in search of something pure and real. Stars cover "Calendar Girl" brought a familiar flavor into the intimate tent. Members of the ensemble, Jim Wuest, Jeff Lloyd (the Heavy Pets), Billy Gilmore, Jerry Weber (Crazy Fingers), and Rolando Willimann (Uproot Hootenanny) breathed life into Carroll's vulnerable lullabies.
1. The Main Squeeze Michael Jackson Tribute Set to close out Sunday
Imagine one band with the power to recreate a 25-song catalog of Michael Jackson, from Jackson Five classics to '90s MJ hits.
Chicago-based quintet the Main Squeeze released a musical beast that spanned ages all audiophiles ate up. The collective brought the festival together on its final day for some delicious soul candy.
Frontman Frye was able to embody all eras of MJ, with his soprano on tracks like "ABC" and "Rockin' Robin" and also belting iconic ballads like "Man in the Mirror," "Remember the Time," and "Human Nature." Up-tempo hits like "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal, "Beat It," and "Black or White" brought fest-goers into a nostalgic state, while everyone banded together in perfect harmony. As a finale for many late Sunday afternoon, the tribute set was the storybook ending to a musical fairytale weekend in the woods.
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