While the Jamband Dies in Miami, Hulaween Keeps the Genre Alive

Eric Garcia is a Miami-based talent buyer and lead singer of Juke, which will perform at this year's Hulaween.

Ah, the jamband scene. It's not just for your pothead uncle anymore. The scene is growing and evolving — becoming very organized. It's also a scene that most of Miami isn't as aware of as it should be.

Hulaween is a “jamband” festival that happens on Halloween weekend, and it embodies the evolution of the scene and why it's not going anywhere soon. Hulaween happens up in Northern Florida on the outskirts of a little town called Live Oak. There you will find the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, a 600-acre piece of pristine land on the bank of the Suwannee River. The park attracts all kinds of hikers, campers, kayakers, and also the occasional monster music festival. The biggest one you may know is Wanee, but there's also Aura, the Purple Hatters Ball, Magnolia Fest, the Blackwater Music Festival, and the list goes on.

People come from all over the country and pay hundreds of dollars to get down to their favorite bands, camp out, and do whatever else they goddamn feel like.

However, these people are no longer just aging hippies. These days, you'll find businessmen, students, and people from all walks of life gettin' down in the swamp. 

That's because the jamband world smartened up. The genre no longer consists of old guys in Birkenstocks playing endless, meandering guitar solos (although you can absolutely still get some of that if you want). Now you can get a heavy dose of funk, bluegrass, rock, some hip-hop, and EDM is rapidly making its presence felt in the scene — sometimes just as a DJ and sometimes as an interesting DJ/live music collaboration.

It seems that the jamband subculture has split into sects, and that seems to be a healthy thing. These people are open-minded as long as the musicianship is good, which it most certainly will be at Suwannee's Hulaween.

I asked the director of Hulaween, Paul Levine, to describe the jamband scene for the uninitiated. “I think that the word 'jamband' is a misused term. I consider a good jamband a band that plays music well in a live setting and can move from one genre of music to the next fairly seamlessly," Levine says. "To me, a band that puts out great records but sucks live isn't a band I will support. I love live music, and if you can't move me in the live environment, you've lost me. The jamband scene is based squarely on the music and in the community itself. Folks are brought together by a love for live music. The friendships and relationships that people take from these gatherings created the grassroots community that is the heart of the scene."
The headliner for this year's Hulaween is The String Cheese Incident. They have a monster following and are most certainly what most consider a “jamband." But Hulaween is mixing things up in 2015, throwing in Primus as well as Chance the Rapper, combining high-energy rock with hip-hop. Now add to that STS9, The Pretty Lights, The Polish Ambassador, Griz, Odeza and The Floozies. It's not exactly hippie cuisine, but the statement is clear.

What is really interesting are bands like The Heavy Pets, Greenhouse Lounge, Dopapad, Papadosio and Earphunk, to name a few. These are a new kind of hybrid, upbeat dance jambands that are up-and-coming and right under our noses. These bands and many like them have sniffed around Miami a few times but never really have been allowed to flourish.

Let me credit clubs in Broward like Revolution for continuing to provide quality jambands that draw 800 to 1500 people. They do a great job. Sure, the drive sucks, but it's worth the trip.

The Fillmore also does it right for the heavy hitters. But the problem in Dade County is where and when can those up-and-coming bands put down their roots? They seem to be blowing up everywhere else in the country.

In order for a scene/genre to flourish, people need to get in on the ground floor. They need to play in local clubs so people will go with their friends and then, boom, they get hooked into the movement. They need to get to know these bands on an intimate level and invest in them emotionally. The jamband sound is certainly palatable to the Miami scene, at least a slice of it. So what can we do to get them to drive one more hour or so south to play this major market?

An issue arrises with clubs like the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton. While they do a good job of bringing in quality jambands, the venue, along with others in the area, put what's called a “radius clause” on these bands when they are routed south. 
What that basically means is that they contractually prevent them from playing in Miami. The goal of the radius clause is to try and drive as many South Florida fans to one specific venue, which makes business sense from the perspective of that venue, but let's face it: how many Miamians are really going to make that drive? That is a borderline and arguably unreasonably large radius, from Boca to Miami. Promoters in Miami aren't able to offer these bands as much as they are worth in Broward and Boca anyway. So the shows simply don't happen. They become a tree in the woods that nobody heard.

So what can we do about this as a Miami music community?

Firstly, let's assemble our music lovers and start to further congregate at these special events that happen up at places like Suwannee Music park. Experience these bands in their natural habitat. Worst comes to worst, we get out of town for a couple days and have some fucking fun.

Secondly, research the ones we might be stoked to check out and demand the acts that we like — big and small. We are a big city and when we want to eat, we eat.

By the way, we have some Miami talent that play these things. How about coming up to support them and represent? Bands like the Roosevelt Collier Trio and his band The Lee Boys are also crushing it everywhere across the country.
I spoke with Anders Sherberger, founder of Massive Ideas and the first annual Fractal Beach festival taking place March 11 through the13 in Virginia Key. He's been doing tons for the Miami music scene, especially on the EDM fringe. "In my opinion, Miami and South Florida in general has one of the most vibrant jam scenes in the country," he says. "The University of Miami's Frost School of Music is consistently pushing out incredibly talented and well-trained professional musicians, which creates a huge talent base and creative community unmatched almost anywhere in the country. Bands like Suénalo, The Lee Boys and Roosevelt Collier, The Heavy Pets, Juke, The Resolvers, Locos Por Juana and countless more have become regulars on the national festival circuit, putting Miami on the map with other major-city jam scenes.

"However, the scene is in sort of a weird place right now with so many clubs closing. Some might say it's lack of support from the community. Who wants to pay $10 to see a local band when Bacardi is hosting a free mansion party down the street with Tiesto spinning? But in reality it was gentrification and condo development that did in the clubs. Lack of venues isn't stopping the music though, with more parties moving underground and more festivals popping up, like the recent III Points or the upcoming Fractal Beach, that showcase local live talent right next to national and international acts. New clubs will open soon, and with it will come a new wave of places to party, but it's safe to say that the music will never die."

He seems awfully hopeful. Should we all be? Or should we also do something about it?

Suwannee Hulaween. Friday October 30 to Sunday November 1, at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, 3076 95th Dr., Live Oak; 386-364-1683; Tickets cost $105 to $499 plus fees via
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Eric Garcia