To close out the Meadow stage for the year, Big Gigantic welcomed The Motet to a collaborative set that saw both bands melding into something much more than the sum of their parts. It was a perfect encapsulation of the events of the festival itself. Joining their Colorado based hosts on the bill were jamtronica stalwarts STS9, who played one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend and helped to usher in the newly added second main stage, known simply as “The Patch.” Keeping them company near the park’s horse barns were some of the nation’s hottest acts, including Snarky Puppy, Gramatik, Marvel Years and Louis The Child. Mixing live acts with EDM artists provided not only a pleasing dichotomy of music experiences, but also facilitated a quick change over that had the stage running on time all weekend long. Culminating with confetti blasts and towering infernos, the band literally Burned down the house, Talking Heads style, with help from guest vocalists Rhonda Thomas and Tony White. Coming back out to survey the devastation, the band added one last set of mayhem before calling it a night and turning things over to the block rocking beats of Disclosure. Sunday saw Cheese in a much more mellow mood, rocking out with the aforementioned bluegrass set and a fun daytime set of sunshine drenched happy songs, including an always welcome sing-a-long rendition of “Way Back Home.” Taking their final bows of the weekend, the crowd begged for more, as sure a sign as any of success that after close to ten hours of music their fans still weren’t satiated. Luckily there is always next year. Whether it was Rebelution and their American reggae style or the dense psychedelic wall of sound by the Claypool Lennon Delirium, the music was some of the finest heard anywhere in the world. Out in The Meadow, the hosts with the most, String Cheese, saw their stage graced by some of music’s finest, including one of America’s true pioneer rock bands, My Morning Jacket. Larry Keel reunited with his old Natural Bridge bandmate Andy Thorn, who brought along the mandolin playing hero of his new band, Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon, for a set of flat picking mountain music that featured an intricate reworking of the Janis Joplin hit “Piece Of My Heart.” Antibalas fit right in on a sweltering Saturday as the heat in the air barely matched the pure fire the afrobeat band was laying down. The all star duo of Joe Russo and his frequent collaborator Marco Benevento were joined by bass wunderkind Oteil Burbridge for an exploratory instrumental set that was clearly being sent to them from a higher mental plane of pure sonic madness. All of this wonderful music was just a precursor to the main event… seven big sets from the founders and the heart and soul of Hulaween, The String Cheese Incident.No band has managed to maintain a more positive spirit among themselves and the scene better than Cheese. Their “Incidents” are legendary, and this year’s Hulaween was no exception. Though the centerpiece was sure to be the Saturday night 80’s themed “Stringier Things” set, the band had more than enough time to explore all of their many facets. Friday saw them visiting “Dudley’s Kitchen” and feeling the “Lonesome Fiddle Blues,” while Saturday saw the band prime the pump with fan favorites like “Rhum ‘N’ Zouc” and “Joyful Sound” before disappearing off stage to don a series of comical 80’s era costumes. Another Halloween has come and gone, and once again The String Cheese Incident‘s famed Suwannee Hulaween has set the standard for how a music festival should work. While children are playing tricks and devouring treats, music hungry fans are dining on a smorgasbord of savory sonic confections at the beloved Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park. With a carefully curated lineup and art installations of the famed Spirit Lake, the attention to detail and crowd pleasing intent was evident in every facet of the experience. Visitors to the event were given a golden ticket to an art filled fantasy world of sights and sounds designed for the sole purpose of creating a moment in time like no other place on Earth. Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals had the packed, tree filled arena rocking front to back with their singular brand of high-energy love-infused rock and hip hop. Another hip hop hit machine, Logic, showed mad flow skills, dropping rhymes faster and more complex than could be believed. Once again, music that might not have made sense sharing the same bill on a conceptual level worked perfectly in practice, showing a deep understanding of a festival’s flow by the organizers. Jim James and company have moved into elder statesmen roles in the alt-rock world, and deservedly so. Having played career defining sets at festivals like Bonnaroo and this year’s rave reviewed Lockn’, MMJ is no stranger to the opportunities presented performing in front of a sea of faces, primed and ready to go. Building on the energy already in place, MMJ found a perfect simpatico wavelength with the crowd and used that connection to deliver a focused beam of dream-like rock and roll energy that mixed theatrical pining with thrashing jams. Mixing in band staples like “Evil Urges” and “Victory” with fun covers from The Commodores and Pink Floyd showed once again why MMJ has earned its place on modern rock’s Mt.Rushmore. We named Hulaween the festival of the year in 2015, a feat they truly earned. With the spectacle they put on this year, they are a strong contender for that title again. The positive energy flowing between artist, fan and location was of such magnitude that the reverberations will last long beyond the festival itself. The love shared by all those in attendance was written on their very hearts and souls, and will be carried to each and every one of their final days. The sheer size of the crowd made the most iconic land mark of the Spirit Of The Suwannee, the Amphitheater stage, less of a focal point than usual, but it still had some of the heaviest hitters trod the boards. Festival faves Umphrey’s McGee played a pair of earth rattling shows, anchoring the Thursday pre-party and rocking out with singular style and aggression in Friday. From there, the Amphitheater fare took the sharpest turn towards the eclectic of any over the weekend. Even park veterans were dumbfounded by the art installations that filled seemingly every nook and cranny of the venerable venue this year. The famous Spirit Lake installation returned, bigger and better than ever. While some elements of previous years were evident, they served as a skeletal structure for the visual feast that was erected by an inspired but exhausted team under the watchful eye of art director Andy Carroll.Carroll, a long time partner in the visual art side of String Cheese productions, personally curated a collection of wonderful, fever dream inspired designs that bent light in incredible new ways, destroyed conventional concepts of form and function, and even brought great gusts of living flame to the heavens. In honor of the host band’s roots, the festival saw a plethora of top notch bluegrass entertainers, including the leading acts in the progressive string scene like Greensky Bluegrass, The Travelin’ McCourys, Fruition and Larry Keel. String Cheese continued their tradition of bringing out special guests for a slightly less destructive set of bluegrass tunes to help relax and rebuild the often drained Sunday crowd. This year saw the entirety of The Travelin’ McCourys join their hosts for a special three song jam that hit all the right notes and had fans from their earliest days smiling at memories of picks on the mountain side. With the Antibalas horns and a parade of guest vocalists, aerialists, giant inflatable Rubik’s Cubes, fire dancers and yes…the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the air was filled with more than incredible homages to the music of the MTV generation. Older music fans might even have remembered all the selections the band chose from a mythic single day of programming from the mighty music giant. Songs like “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” from The Clash kept the Stranger Things connection alive and kicking, while tunes from The Eurthymics, The Talking Heads and Billy Idol kept the spandex dance party going in full swing. Not content to let the front line have all the fun, Jason Hann and Michael Travis took the opportunity to come out from behind their kits and play front man, including a hilarious turn by Travis on the Thomas Dolby hit “She Blinded Me With Science.” As patrons wandered the grounds of the Suwannee, wide-eyed at the visual splendor surrounding them, the soundtrack to their movements was just as carefully curated. There are many approaches to selecting bands for a weekend of music, but the care shown by Hulaween in creating a consistent, positive, yet decidedly off kilter sonic showcase is unmatched. The String Cheese Incident themselves were born through humble bluegrass roots, before evolving into the top tier jam/electronica/Americana band that they are today.