Rachel Morningstar Hoffman. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, don’t be surprised. When I was hipped to the upcoming Purple Hatter’s Ball, an annual concert held in her memory, this year May 9-11 at Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park in Live Oak, I had no idea who she was or why she deserved a three-day concert in her honor. And that’s probably the way the authorities like it.
Hoffman is another faceless casualty of the useless and deadly war on drugs the government has been waging since Nixon coined the term in the early ’70s. Hoffman, a recent college graduate when she was stopped for a traffic violation, was busted with a baggie of pot and four ecstasy pills in February 2007 in Tallahassee. The police made her an offer: Become an informant and avoid prison. Hoffman was killed in a botched sting designed to net some big-time players in the North Florida drug scene. She was murdered with the very handgun she was supposed to purchase as part of the sting.
Purple Hatter co-organizer Trey Hebron was a friend of Hoffman’s, and he thought a concert featuring her favorite bands was a way to celebrate her memory and create awareness for a fund set up by her parents. They started it with some of the $2.6 million awarded the family as part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city of Tallahassee. “Rachel’s Law” is now in place to protect others from such coercion by authorities.
“The Purple Hatter’s Ball is held in Rachel’s name because it originated as a celebration of Rachel’s life,” says Hebron. “When we lost Rachel, it was a big hit for a lot of folks. It was a very confusing time for a lot of us, so it sort of made sense for us all to come together and talk about what happened, and more important to let the incident really set in. Paul Levine, who organizes Bear Creek Music Festival at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, came up with the idea for a one-night campout with some of Rachel’s favorite bands, and seven years later, it’s matured into the music festival it is today. She touched a number of lives, and we just tried to deal with it in a way that she would have wanted.”
Though most of the bands are regional, show promoter and graphic designer Grant Neilson has brought in The Elbow collective to sponsor the Jacksonville stage, which will host bands from our ruddy little burg, including Antique Animals, Herd of Watts, Yankee Slickers, JacksonVegas, Squeedlepuss, the Parker Urban Band and this year’s big One Spark winners, Grandpa’s Cough Medicine. From 2-5 a.m. each night, the Jacksonville stage will feature Silent Disco, where concertgoers can don headphones and earbuds, and dance to DJ sets while less-motivated concertgoers catch some Z’s.
“I was a personal friend of Rachel’s and have worked with Paul Levine over the years on a variety of things, including PHB,” says Hebron. “This year, I wanted to get more involved, and it made sense to [us] to showcase the emerging live music scene here in Jacksonville, more specifically Downtown. In recent years, there have been a number of Jacksonville bands on the bill, and the number of Duval attendees continues to rise year after year. By bringing The Elbow on board, we get to continue cultivating our local scene while participating in what is easily my favorite weekend of the year.”
So now that we’ve cleared that up, why the purple hat?
Hoffman, a huge live music fan, would often attend concerts wearing a large purple hat. Rachel’s mom often wears the hat when addressing the crowd at the Hatter’s Ball. It’s a bittersweet legacy, for friends, family members and fans.