Blackwater Music Festival

by Kellie Abrahamson
Just west of here, down I-10 for a little under 80 miles, is the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, a lush, 500+ acre property that boasts everything an outdoorsy type could want: cabins and camping, swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, hiking trails. It’s also home to some of Florida’s most popular musical gatherings: Wanee Festival, Suwannee River Jam, Springfest, Magnolia Fest, Bear Creek Music & Art Festival. This year we can add one more to the list. The Blackwater Music Festival, named after the river that the park is situated on, is one Spirit of Suwannee event you do not want to miss. The three-day musical extravaganza takes place from Thursday, August 26th to Saturday the 28th.
You might recall a similarly named music fest that took place in St. Augustine not long ago. That’s no accident. “Originally we had planned to take the [JJ Grey &] Mofro Blackwater Sol Revue over there as a two or three day festival,” Judy Van Zant, owner of Freebird Live and co-organizer of this event, explained. “When we started booking bands it sort of took on its own life and went in a different direction than the Blackwater Sol Revue had been going, so we talked with Mofro and just decided to do our own festival.”
Together with Bear Creek Fest’s Lyle Williams, Van Zant has pieced together an all-star lineup including STS9, G Love, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Slightly Stoopid, Toubab Krewe, Matt Grondin Band and many more. Local favorites like Greenhouse Lounge, Son of a Bad Man, JJ Grey & Mofro and Fusebox Funk will also be performing. Most of the acts scheduled have played the Freebird before and all of them have Judy’s seal of approval.
“I like all the bands, which is a good thing,” she said. “Michael Franti & Spearhead are one of my favorite bands. I’ve had Slightly Stoopid many times at the Freebird, I really like them. Rebelution. Mofro, of course, is one of my favorites. The Lee Boys. Really, everybody [playing] are bands that I like and that Lyle likes also.”
Those who have attended multi-day festivals know that listening to killer tunes is just half the fun. If you truly want an unforgettable experience you need to camp. Thankfully, primitive camping is included in the three-day fest passes, lightening the financial load a bit. Campers are encouraged to bring their own gear (but leave the illegal substances, weapons, pets and fireworks at home) and will have access to restrooms, ice, water, showering facilities and the park’s general store. If you don’t feel like roughing it the park itself offers upgraded accommodations like RV sites and cabins. You can contact the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park office at (386) 364-1683 for reservations or for more info.
Tickets to the Blackwater Music Fest aren’t cheap, but with all of the fantastic bands performing it’s sure to be well worth raiding your piggy bank for. Still, if you’re looking to save a few bucks you might consider joining the Work Exchange Team. Marketing firm Shimon Presents offers fans a chance to catch all of their favorite bands for free in exchange for working three 5-hour shifts before, during or after the festival. In addition to free entrance into the event, volunteers will also receive a festival t-shirt for all their hard work. Not a bad deal. Visit for all the details.
Thanks to a stellar lineup and an unparallel location, the Blackwater Music Festival is sure to be a great way for music lovers to wrap up their summer.
Blackwater Music Festival Schedule
The Malah, Greenhouse Lounge, Perpetual Groove, STS9
Cope, Tea Leaf Green, Toubab Krewe, JJ Grey, Disco Biscuits, G Love, Rebelution, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Saltwater Grass, Boombox, Thomas Wynn & the Believers, Son of a Bad Man
Groundation, Zach Deputy, Lee Boys, The Beautiful Girls, Galactic with special guest Cyril Neville, Particle featuring Michael Kang, JJ Grey & Mofro, Slightly Stoopid, Darryl Hance, Snarky Puppy, Fusebox Funk, Matt Grondin Band
If you go…
3 Day Festival with Camping- Advance: $160, Gate: $175
Thursday Day (No Camping)- Advance: $50, Gate: $60
Friday or Saturday Day (No Camping)- Advance: $75, Gate: $90
VIP Access- $300 (includes admission to the 3-day festival, camping, VIP parking, a VIP laminate, artist-involved activities and access to the VIP tent with restrooms, cash bar and festival merchandise)