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An Introspective View on Suwannee’s Purple Hatters Ball

Words by Taylor Cleary


This year’s Purple Hatter’s Ball was unlike any I’ve seen. Although tinged with more sadness than we anticipated, the annual festival’s growing popularity was obvious last weekend, and I was lucky to be a part of it.

I worked the merch tent all weekend, and that gave me the opportunity to dance on both sides of the Ball: the production side, full of excellent volunteers and dedicated organizers who worked tirelessly to make the fest the best one yet — and the crowd side, a raging group of charitable heads who were themselves as much a work of art as the paintings we were selling.

The Purple Hatter’s Ball is always underscored by a hint of loss — it’s held in honor of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, a festie family member who was unfairly killed in a 2008 police sting gone wrong. This loss, and the celebration of Rachel’s life, are what brings the crowd together every year. But there was an extra layer of sadness laid over this weekend.


Derek Corner, known as DC, was a festival organizer and well-known face at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. His long battle with a complex form of cancer ended on Thursday, and the word quickly spread that the festival had lost another long-standing family member. But with the unexpected weight of this news, we saw an impressive outpouring of support.

Almost immediately, we honored DC by selling button pins of his grinning face; the proceeds from which went directly to his family. The pins were seen all over, and the powerful show of empathy for this man and his family turned a tragedy into a glowing example of Suwannee love. DC still ended up putting a smile on all of our faces.

Emotions were high, but outlets were many, and this year saw some of the coolest constructions that PHB has ever hosted. Toward the entrance to the stages, tucked back from the road, stood a gigantic complex of lit tunnels and trippy decorations, leading to the massive C4 Dome in the center. Built by C4 Collective (“Co-creation + CommUNITY + Commitment = Change”), the dome was filled with campers attending lectures, workshops, yoga sessions, drum circles with members of The Nth Power, and other activities all weekend. It was the centerpiece of the campgrounds, only rivaled by a gigantic slip-n-slide near the farm fields.


I’m sure I’ll get some feedback on this, but I have to say The New Mastersounds swept the festival. The Emancipator Ensemble was, of course, totally on point, and funk masters The Fritz were a constant request at the merch tent. However when The New Mastersounds brought out some brass and absolutely wrecked a cover of “Treasure” by Bruno Mars, I knew I was in the middle of the best set of the weekend. I was left reeling so hard that someone asked me if I was okay after the encore. I definitely was.

I said it up top and I’ll say it again: Purple Hatter’s Ball 2014 was the best yet. And despite bad news and cloudy weather, we pulled it off. See you all at Blackwater!



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