With each festival, there is a unique environment and atmosphere that comes with it; The AURA Music & Arts Festival in Live Oak, Florida was no different. Speaking with Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, they told me that there is normally a gap between the audience and the performers. However, AURA seemed to close this gap. I saw members of Perpetual Groove just walking around the festival grounds, Dopapod members watching Consider the Source’s set, Yo Mama watching Kung Fu’s set, etc. There was a real sense of community.
This was a crowd of true music lovers ready to take in every adventure that a music festival presents. There was Tribal Council doing yoga and healing workshops throughout the day, a disc golf competition and artists and vendors of all types swarming the campgrounds. There was no question where the “Arts” Part of “Music and Arts festival” was.
So now lets talk about the music …
First, it was nice to see no overlapping sets. It drives me crazy when I need to pick and choose which acts I’ll see. At AURA, you could watch a set, then walk together with the crowd to the next show. This also gave the bands a chance to play an encore. At other festivals, when one time slot passes, that band needs to clear off the stage. However, with up to an hour and a half layover between shows, the bands were able to lengthen their set for everyone’s enjoyment; “We’re trying to give you more bang for your buck”, Rob Compa (guitarist of Dopapod) said as the crowd chanted for an encore. The directors did a fantastic job choosing bands from different genres with an overall similar musical direction. I got to see jam, electro, funk, “nu funk”, blues, jamtronica, dub, rock, the list goes on. On Friday and Saturday the music stopped at 1:30am with a silent disco going till 5 am; believe me, there were people up at 5. On Saturday, I sat fireside with some friends till about 3am and every 15 minutes or so, we’d hear the crowd explode into cheers.
The location of the venue was beautiful. I have been to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park multiple times so I was so excited to learn that AURA was being held there for the first time this year. Interviewing the bands on their favorite aspects of the festival, the most popular answers were the trees, Spanish moss on the trees, and “Lasers hitting the trees” (Marc Brownstein). Between the river, lake, trees and sand Live Oak really is a surreal environment.
The camping section was organized so you could park close to the stages or go far back into the woods. There was a communal feeling in the campsites with people sharing blankets, food, and drinks. People set their hammocks up by the main stage and left them there for anyone to use throughout the weekend. Only at a festival this intimate would people put enough trust into each other to not steal anything.
The staff was also very accommodating, even letting attendees join and take over their fire at night for warmth. The directors were such a pleasure to meet; you could sincerely tell they wanted to put this festival together for everyone to enjoy. Overall, there wasn’t a single person I met who wasn’t just genuinely happy to be there. With so much art, music and community, how you could you not be?
Overall, the mixture of a stunning location, true music fans, amazing musicians and art wherever you looked made this a truly glorious festival.
Band Reviews & Interviews
Perpetual Groove really gave their final festival appearance their all. Interviewing Matt McDonald, he told me that facing a hiatus, everyone is “leaving it on the floor” and playing “full throttle”; it definitely showed. They performed a masterful rendition of “Walking in Place,” replacing the chorus with lyrics about aura and love. Brock Butler then broke it down and started rapping. They varied up the styles, going from laid-back grooves to hard-driving beats and teasing Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. These guys really made sure both of their sets were festival highlights.
Interview with Matt McDonald:
Q: What was your most exciting moment/ show with P Groove?
A: Bonnaroo 2005 (It was he didn’t have to think about this at all).
Q: Anything special planned for your last show in Athens?
A: They haven’t decided yet. Matt said “It’s tricky because we want to jam, but not too much. And we want to play new stuff, but people are going to want to hear the classics.”
Q: What is your plan after P Groove?
A: Matt McDonald (piano), Albert Suttle (drums) and Adam Perry (bass) are putting together another project called Ghost Owl. They are collaborating with artists in Athens, and not just musicians. They are working on videos as well. Matt said, “When we aren’t working with P Groove, I’m plugging away on this new project.” He said, “I’m 38, I’m not gonna get a real job”.
Q: What is the style/ intention you guys are going for with Ghost Owl?
A: A mixture of “Indie, electro pop”. “This won’t be a jam band by any means.”
Q: Why did you guys relocate to Athens?
A: “We were naturally drawn there”.
Annoyed with the drive from Savannah to Atlanta, they decided they would rather live in a smaller town like Athens than deal with Atlanta. He also talked about how the art scene and the musicians and friendships he’s made in Athens makes it an obvious place to reside.
Boasting such an organic sound, this jamtronica band really has a unique style. Playing on a stage surrounded with mossy trees was the perfect environment for everyone to see them and man, did they deliver. They played songs ranging from new to old and did a great job transitioning between songs, really putting on a performance, not just following one song with another. My personal highlight was first set closer “The Eyes have Eyes.”
Conspirator was killing the stage for quite some time during their two Friday sets, combining a dubstep backbone with a full band. They started their first set with “Pow Wow,”, a heavy bass song which, paired with their lasers, made for a spectacular visual environment. The intense sounds and sirens really energized the crowd; they even urged us to “make out to this song.” A personal favorite was “So Much More”, a song that really showcased the keys and guitar. They started their second set with “Boom Shanker”; a more tranquil song, letting each other solo and really feel out the groove, audience, and environment. After a build-up they dived into “Right Wrong”, which got everyone going wild. They not only played songs from their new EP (“Hammerdown,” “Accent,” “The Commish,” “Pow Wow”) but also debuted some new ones. They ended with “Velvet Red”, a great, upbeat song featuring hypnotic guitar riffs.
Interview with Marc Brownstein (bassist)
Q: Why did you guys decide to form Conspirator?
A: “We were looking for a new drummer so we had time to kill”. He said they just started to mess around making new music and eventually decided to do something with it. They wanted more of an electronic style and began working with a different producer. They already had the electro feel with the Disco Biscuits; now they wanted to take it farther.
Q: What styles are you trying to blend?
A: “We want it as electronic as possible while still having an organic feel”. “We start with a pulse, and go from there”. They want to incorporate heavy bass sounds and spend days working with their producer for the sounds they want. “We want to incorporate Sirens, popular EDM styles into an actual band.” They also want to experiment with new sounds, pulses, tempos and rhythms.
Q: Who would you say some of your current influences are?
A: “Flux pavilion, Break Science (loved getting to know them while on tour), Big Gigantic, Flosstradamunus, Trap parties on the bus, Baauer and everything”
Q: Why did you decide to use the recording of your Georgia Theatre performance for your live album?
A: The crowd just really loved the set and their performance that night. He said, “When we heard that set, we knew that was the one we should use.” They also liked the “mystique” of the theatre. Marc told me about the process that they use to record … They start by recording the drum and bass; once they have an outline of all their songs, they take them on the road. The guitar, keys, electric bass and acoustic drums (organic elements) get experimented with while on tour. This also allows them to switch up their live performances and find exactly what they want to play. Then at the end of their tour, they go in and record everything.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the Suwannee music park?
A: “Everything – the energy, trees, lasers and the lasers on the trees”
Honestly, I can’t do this band justice trying to explain their style. They mix jazz, new age sounds, and a wide array of other influences. The best way I can describe them is a mostly instrumental Umphrey’s McGee, with jazz and carnival influences. Both of their sets really took the crowd on a journey, and I couldn’t have been happier to experience their sets by watching from the side of the stage. With intricate stops, grooves, wailing guitar solos, all types of funky keyboard and organ riffs, this was definitely one of my favorite acts.
Interview with Neal “Fro” Evans
Q: How did your name come about?
A: “We pulled random letters out of a fish bowl”.
Q: Who are your influences?
A: “Primus, Gwar, Jimmy Herring”
Q: The style you have now, is that what you had in your mind when you guys first started playing together?
A: “No, we started playing funk, like Soulive. Then it got heavier”.
I had never seen nor listened to this band before but I had a lot of people recommend them to me, and I’m glad they did. These guys put on a killer show, mixing funk, blues, jam and rock. It was freezing during their first set, but they got the crowd dancing and at that point, no one cared about the weather. Their intricate rhythms and tight sound resulted in one of my favorite sets the entire weekend. They also played a tribute set to Stevie Wonder, which the crowd was especially excited for. The Spirit of The Suwannee park always gets funky bands to play there and these guys were on point.
Interview with Chris DeAngelis (Bass) and Adrian Tramontano (drums)
Q: How did you guys meet?
A: “We were playing in different bands and eventually got to know each other [from the music community]”. Started playing “Job gigs” and then went into their own sound.
Q: What influences, modern day or not do you have?
A: “Stepkids, Breck Brothers, Herbie Hancock, Flying Lotus, Hip Hop, Scofield, Davis, and songs with different time signatures”
Q: What is your favorite part of AURA?
A: “The moss, the environment, the Aura.”
Q: Why the name Kung Fu?
A: “Were not exactly sure”
Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band:
Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band told me they play “Nu funk” and it definitely fits their style. These guys are funky, with a little hint of everything in their music. This band is all about having a good time and playing some groovy tunes along the way. They started out with a prayer (that was a special moment for anyone there) and had great audience interaction. They really went out of the box with incorporating different genres. They took the old school P Funk style, and vamped it up with a modern twist.
Interview with the entire band
Q: Where did your name come from?
A: “Ancient aliens”. “Booty mama is our leader on a mission to earth to funk and bring people together”. (This couldn’t fit their personality any better!)
Q: What bands/ styles influence you?
A: “Lettuce, P Funk, The Roots, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bonobo”. “If you sit in the car with us for a couple hours you’ll hear some of everything.”
Q: What do you like most about the Suwannee Park?
A: “Trees, environment, everything”. They also told me they have canoed down the Suwannee River multiple times.
Q: I saw you’re working on a new album. What is more fulfilling, putting together a finished CD or a kick ass show?
A: “It’s a more cerebral process putting an album together but more energy live”. They told me it was like “comparing jumping jacks to poodles”; they’re both awesome!
Q: How’s Asheville/ being a funk band from Asheville?
A: They love it. It’s a very “progressive community” where “artists hang out”. It has everything from tons of bluegrass to electronic (because of the Moog factory). You can hear “gypsy to electro all in the same night”.
The Heavy Pets:
Hailing from Florida, you could tell the crowd was very familiar with and into their music. Being a modern jam band, these guys have a really good blend of great songwriting with psychedelic jams thrown in their sound. They were spot on vocally and each member could really hold down the beat and add their own aspect. They have a great balance of being laid back, but having a groove that makes you want to dance.
I was excited to hear Lingo say they hailed from Atlanta when they began their set. One of my friends said she knew some of the members and went on about how they were really nice; I was not surprised. They had a really down-to-earth style, with both an acoustic and electric guitar. They switched up their tempos from slow exaggerated riffs to in your face jamming. The singers voice was a hint raspy which fit well with their organic sound. Even though their set was early in the day, there was an abundance of people getting down to their jams, myself included. Overall, they’re great songwriters and have a good mix between not being too aggressive and not to boring.
Allen Aucoin (Drfameus) brought a change of pace with a far out blend of electronic music. If I was going to classify this as dubstep, I’d say it definitely has an old-school Skream feel. However, he clearly has his own style outside that realm. He wasn’t in your face, but he totally got everyone hyped up. It was a nice change of pace to have an electronic artist who didn’t rely on a fast beat to get the crowd engaged.
Also hailing from Florida, Greenhouse Lounge is, in my opinion, steering electronic music in the right direction. With a guitarist and vocalist, they definitely retain a natural sound within their electronic genre. They helped bring a solid addition of electronic music to AURA to balance out the jam bands. Playing at night was great planning because with their pulsating beats, it got everyone to dance away the cold.
Consider the Source:
These guys have a very eclectic sound. They are a drum, bass, and guitar trio that sounds like a mix of gypsy, experimental hard rock, and jazz – truly a unique sound and performance. I didn’t get to see them at their scheduled set but luckily for me I got a ride over to a special “campground set” the following day. Riding about 2 minutes from the normal stages, we arrived at a brick porch between some tents where they played a small set. This was definitely the most intimate set, with nothing standing between the members and the audience. The guitar player Gabriel Marin plays a double neck guitar (one is fretless). Watching him switch between necks leads to a very entertaining show.
These guys got the crowd going on Saturday. Their groovy style makes it easy to see why they are called the McLovins. Blending funky guitar with a modern, tight rock sound, these guys were a pleasure to watch.
The Lee Boys:
The Lee Boys brought some soul to their set! Blending blues, rock and soul, these guys had a classic sound that definitely separated them from the other acts. Using a slide guitar really gave it an old school sound, and the vocals went with their music perfectly. Everyone went crazy when they played “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder. After Kung Fu left it out, the crowd was bummed it didn’t get played so everyone was blown away when they ended up hearing it!
- – When everyone at yoga stopped briefly to start making birdcalls to a passing hawk.
- – When a customer at one of the vendor’s shops starting doing back flips and dance moves. After he was done, a few people clapped and cheered him on; he exclaimed “It’s just who I am!”
- – When Kung Fu played some Weather Report and Higher Ground.
- – Afterwards when Kung Fu gave shots to the crowd.
- – When Perpetual Groove teased Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall part 2.”
- – When Matt McDonald (The pianist from P Groove) kept on going on about how much the city of Athens appreciates the arts and how much he enjoys living there.
- – When someone in dinosaur costume explained to me how he didn’t realize he put his pocket underneath his crotch. He went on to show me how difficult it was to get something out. (Much more humorous in person!)
- – Watching some very entertaining people fly a remote control helicopter all around the food court and live art.
- – The breakfast bowl at the Hamburger Stand.
- – When Free Lovin Foodery was about to close and went ham on giving me as much food as they could fit in a bowl for $5.
- – When Brock Butler (Guitarist from P Groove) sat in with Lingo and covered “The Weight” by The Band.
- – Talking to Papadosio’s bassist, then watching him run on stage and get funky with Dopapod. Then, afterwards, listening to both of them talk about how much they’ve enjoyed touring with each other.
- – The generous hospitality of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band.
- – Getting a ride on a golf cart with Papadosio’s manager and Dopapod’s drummer to a special “campground” set of Consider the Source.
- – Staying with some friends who made a glow stick path to the campsite. (Inever had an easier time finding a campsite).
- – When we ended yoga with a group hug and everyone realized how much warmer we’d be if we did that at the show. Someone yelled, “To stage right everyone”.
- – When P. Groove covered “Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place).”
- – Being able to watch most of the shows from a hammock.
By: Matthew Rodder