This year AURA Music and Arts Festival proved itself a major player in the national festival circuit. Here are a few of my most memorable moments:
5. Thursday Pre-Party
Arriving before the rush is always a plus, but only when you are able to do so and then have the opportunity to rage to some of the best acts of the weekend, that is a definite WIN! Ghost Owl, the Motet, and Dopapod provided a fantastic kickoff for the rest of the AURA festival.
4. Lasers. Lights. LOVE.
The AURA production team really stepped up their game this year with an incredible laser show combined with some of the most talented lighting directors in the industry. Every act had a fantastic visual presence, which added dimension to the live music experience. The lights during moe. and the Disco Biscuits were some of the best visuals I have ever seen during a show. Watching the sheets of lasers and lights dancing in the Spanish moss was breathtaking.
3. The Main Squeeze
These guys have blown up recently, and they deserve it. In a scene where too many bands sound nearly identical, Squeeze has cultivated an original, distinct sound that is impossible not to love. Their first set of the weekend fired on all cylinders, fusing funk, jazz, psychedelic, and rock and roll with elements of rhythm and blues, soul, and gospel, ultimately culminating with a cover of “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly that nearly left me in tears.
2. moe. Biscuits!
With two of the biggest names in the festival circuit, the headlining sets certainly packed a wallop. This being my first moe. show, I had very high expectations, which were certainly met. Both sets on Friday were high-energy fusions of jazz, psychedelia, and rock and roll. The highlights included a stellar “Billy Goat” to open the second set and rocking “Meat” with Mike Dillon sitting in on percussion. Though it took the Biscuits some time to really heat up on Saturday, the “Great Abyss” into “Catalyst” followed by “Little Shimmy in a Congo Line” left the audience pining for more after the first set. The second set was a nonstop, flawless dance party. “I-Man” into “Crickets” was the highlight.
1. American Babies late night
I will admit that I typically try to avoid the Music Hall Stage when at Suwannee, but this was too good to pass up. After seeing Brothers Past play at AURA in 2012, I fell in love with all things Tommy Hamilton (guitar), and I was ecstatic to see his main project, American Babies. The highlight of the set, and the weekend, was “Shakedown Street” by Grateful Dead with Aaron Magner (keyboard) and Marc Brownstein (bass) of the Disco Biscuits joining the band on stage into a scorching “Little Lai” by the Disco Biscuits, where they were joined by Jon “the Barber” Gutwillig (guitar). With less than 100 people in attendance, the ‘Baby Biscuits’ jam was the prfect combination of an intimate setting and incredible music.
Biggest Surprise – Stinky Pockets ft. Emily Carroll
Playing a tough time slot on Saturday night (during RAQ and Mike Dillon Band), this South Florida-based jam-band really showed up, with special guest Emily Carroll on vocals and trumpet. The Vibe Tent had surprisingly great visual production. Although I have seen lots of Stinky Pockets shows during my years in South Florida, this set still pinballed me around the dance floor.
This being my fourth straight AURA, it was a blessing to be able to see how far the festival has come, and I am very curious to see what is next. Although the weekend was packed with great acts, the schedule seemed a bit wonky at times, with bands like TAUK and Consider the Source—very intense, high-energy acts—playing afternoon sets rather than having acoustic acts start the day (think Brock Butler’s set from 2013). I would love to see some new acts at future festivals that add more diversity to the lineup and may not exactly fall into the “jamband” genre. Although the music was great, there were quite a few bands that sounded almost interchangeable. That being said, all in all, I think this year was a wonderful demonstration of how AURA, a grassroots-style festival, has grown into a nationally acclaimed event.