Day 1 (Friday):
Autumn is making its way into our presence as the windows are down with the breezy air wisping across our faces. We have a car full of snacks, camp gear, and a playlist of the lineup. My baby sister is sitting passenger and sketching along to the trance beats as we make the four hour trek from Jacksonville to the top of Florida. Clouds fill the sky as if they are greeting us along our adventure. The journey into a part of Florida we have never endeavored before, our stress turning into an imaginary void, buried at the pits of our worries. Just as this thought settles into our minds, it’s as if we are sincerely in a new world, the time zone is an hour behind, we are making it on time to Lucky Costello’s set. The car ahead of us is strapped down with supplies, inside and out, traveling to the same destination, such a warm feeling.
As we first arrive to slide our fest bracelets on there are people meeting and greeting from all over Florida, as the festival volunteers are getting the job done and walking around making sure everyone is taken care of. My sister and I make our way to a nice secluded spot right across from the spring and three of the stages. Just two girls setting a whole camp up by themselves while holding the excitement of butterflies down from the echoes of music echoing from throughout the forest.
Lucky Costello brings in a decent sized crowd as they play their own rendition of The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” at Area 51’s stage. As I gaze all around in wonderment, at the springs edge there is a group of shadows spinning light up hula hoops. We walk around and check out the placement of the other stages. Thazdope stage offers the most interactive of designs, built around it are geodesic domes, inside are red upholstered seats, acrobatic iron rings, magnifying kaleidoscope glasses that are hanging by a string. One dome has fire that drifts all along the top and another dome has water spritzing all around the inside. The stage itself has fire that burns along to the beat of the music, along with fire that spurts out from the domes. From a distance this whole stage set up looks as if it’s one magnificent bonfire with people dancing inside of it.
The campground stage presented even more trippy installations and stage design. All over playgrounds can be found with little surprises inside. The playground by campground stage has a disco ball inside and tie dye tiles held inside the wood outline the side, by the slide there are glow in the dark mushrooms with string lights all around them. Right in front of this playground is a geometric installation of a moving square that is projecting shadows and rainbows onto the surrounding sheets. On the campground stage there is wooden cut outs of peace signs and silhouettes.
Area 51 hosts a wedding after Didges Christ Sdrum finishes their set, where the groom grabs the mic and excitingly shouts out, “I thought love was fake like hallmark and shit, we asked God for a unicorn in our wedding and no shit there is one here!” Then he points at a woman dressed as a unicorn. I walk back to Thazdope stage as TANKMAN begins his set. He was literally bumping through our systems as fire erupts from in front of his control system.
Walking past the scuba diving area, a stream of water with a connected projector system is playing visuals, gathering individuals and sparking the mind. Out of a group of hypnotized male and female gamers a guy comments, “Think we could play our 64’ on that?” as the group contemplates, the guy replies to his own question, “Yeah, you could totally play Mario Kart on the water.”
As the crowd starts to disperse from the water projected visuals, Telekinetic Walrus makes their way to the Area 51 stage. Time-Zoo Keeper (vocalist) parades out and roars, “Where ya’ll at?!” Can’t see ya’ll!” All while leaning against the fence that separates the crowd from the band. He then asks, “How are ya’ll feeling tonight? Good? That’s what’s up!” The majority sing along to their song, "All about that Mantra!” Komakozie is rocking a jacket with “Don’t shoot” imprinted on the back and bulls eyes on the elbows. The whole jam reminds me very much of Run The Jewels.
Day 2 (Saturday):
Waking up to the sunlight crawling through the tent mesh after music playing all throughout the night and the stars hanging from above. I awake to my camp neighbor couple adorable cuddled up on their air mattress, outside of their tent. As most festivals the only moment of silence is when the early risers appear like zombies or the ones who are arriving back to tent to nap before afternoon sets. What little mass of awake zombies there are make their way to the spring as the sun hangs higher. The spring is a jungle gym itself with all sorts of obstacles set up to jump off of. I watch as several different young guys try to outdo the other in the amount of flips they can achieve before landing into the water.
Dino Brawl is whats for breakfast, as he enters onto the fire dome at 11 a.m. He plays Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” that melts into Ray Charles “I’ve Got A Woman." I observe a girl in her twenties, wearing a tight black bathing suit, dancing to this super funky mix on top of a wooden floating square of wood. Groups of people cheer her on from the sides. Dino Brawl kindly expresses, “It’s hot as shit, take care of each other, drink lots of water. Thank you for being in the hot sun with me!” His mix dissolves into Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger," breaking it down with a version of Black Crowes “Hard To Handle," and then hit us with a strong bass breakdown.
Beach stage is the place to be as the sun rages on. Ancient Deep stay cool under a dome shaded in tarps. Drums beat along in sync with the ripples in the spring water, giving us mermaid lagoon vibes. A lady with big bangs, oval sunglasses, and two braids hanging down her shoulders is spinning a white hula hoop along in the shallow edge. The hoop matches her white one piece and she is grooving to Ancient Deep. There are two young dudes in nothing but swimming trunks, slowly paddling on the spring, to the beat. A young girl in a floral bikini is hanging beside them, while bobbing on an alligator float and sipping from a bottle of wine.
Exit 9 brings us back to life, beating down as the brutal sun beats down. A$AP Rocky’s “F**ckin’ Problems” thumps out of the speakers and makes us say “aww lawd!" Hitting us with a Missy Elliot remix of “Lose Control” that makes us shake what our mommas gave us with her “rump shaking” and “double take” lyrics on repeat, then a bass drop. What ooey goodness!
Treehouse! band is what’s next on our playlist. Area 51 stage recruits a reggae troupe with this group from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “Look Into The Stars” is the first song they strum off of their new ep Lifted. Jeremy Anderson (vocalist) sends out an invite by saying, “Find us in the campgrounds we’ll be partying all night long!” The mass gets riled up with this invitation. Everyone is swaying to the jamming as a trumpet is viciously played and we are left with a, “Thank you for joining us! I hope you will join us all the time!” and then “Blessings” is performed.
Thirty minutes later we are getting our reggae on with Jacksonville Florida’s very own Cloud9 Vibes. A banging mix featuring the songs of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk," Dj Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat," MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This," Rick James' “Super Freak," and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby." Every member singing “Cloud9 vibes going give it to you!” and “Cloud9 vibe it up!” Boogie (vocalist) bounces off of the stage and gives his fans high fives, telling them they are awesome. Their song “Beautiful Day” blasts and sends us on a goodbye as the sun and clouds surround the set, and the air around starts to cool off. They end their set with one final song, “Rearview."
As I take a break from sets, I watch in amusement as two bros on a golf cart with sunglasses on and slick demeanors are rolling around with a sign that advertises, “$3.00 tallboys." The two make their way around again and look at me and say, “How about you? You look like you like tall boys!” I couldn’t help but laugh at the pun. I make my way into the dive shop, my sister dying for her soda fix, as a heady walks in with no shoes or shirt on. He turns to the couple in front of him as the dive shop cashier is on the phone. He asks them desperately, in a need of a fix, “Do you think they sell cigarettes in here?” The couple reply, “I don’t think so!" as the heady sadly slumps over and walks out.
Free Lovin Foodery has the ultimate jokes of the weekend. One of the cooks is holding a barbie fishing pole that has a small baggie of flour fastened to a fishing line. In between orders he throws it out to see if any young and desperate fest goers try to pick it up. Later on he hands out small bags of salt and sees if anyone falls for that too. If anything it brings up a good laugh and conversation amidst people later as the night goes on.
I glide my way back to the music. Beach stage is hosting SEJVA with spacey house music and hazy disco. There is thick vibes and people are moving their feet. Atlanta’s very own Space Kadet is on next at Area 51’s stage. Spacey feelings abrupt from projections of light on cubes hanging from the stage set. A couple has placed their deluxe air mattress right by a live artist and the stage. The duo are bundled under a fuzzy blanket with spaced out vibes. Space Kadet play a new one called “Need The Love." A girl in her early twenties is walking up to random crowd folk asking people to join her mustache party as she plants mustaches on multiple faces.
Campground stage hosts Live Animals, as he shares his Drizzy remix of “Over” that has us soaring and shaking our spirit animal rumps. Disco balls hanging above the stage make the grassy dance floor alit with colorful circles moving to the beat. There is a group of young people that have the sweet setup sitting on a couch raft directly in front of the stage. They are putting the pep in everyone’s step. Live Animals gives us the juiciest remix of Dre’s “Still D.R.E.”
Our last, but not least, indulgence of the weekend is another one of Jacksonville’s very own: S.P.O.R.E., who we last had the pleasure of watching at Purple Hatter’s Ball. The mushies really evoke once the jam progresses harder. Live artists are spray painting an abstract scene with “pass the good” and “live free” written in the midst. Meanwhile another live painter is set up at Area 51, with a scene of skulls combusting from the back and a what looks to be a moon in the background. There is no doubt this is the ultimate rock jam session of the night.
At 5 a.m. on Sunday, as the night flowers into day, I hear a secret set directly across my tent, a DJ is crushing beats. All of his equipment, lighting, etc. is arranged on a mobile home porch in a field. It was such a magical experience to be camping in this area, hearing the spinner yell, “C’mon Pass The Good, I know ya’ll out there!" It was as if a personal party was thrown all night until morning, as the stars gathered around and passed the good vibes.
Photos by Annabel Shettel for Bullet Music