Umphrey’s McGee wasted no time and unleashed a first set loaded with classic cuts and rarities that had to satisfy at least some of the jaded Umphreaks out there chasing songs. Highlights included “Rocker 2,” “Blue Echo,” “Resolution,” “Robot World” and “Wife Soup.” Fruition, the almost acoustic and always soulful grass band, and Florida jam favorites The Heavy Pets kept the people dancing and/or otherwise raging before Umphrey’s returned for a second set of face melting funkmetal. The whole set flowed seamlessly, beginning with the dance track “Bad Friday” which transitioned into the headbanging anthem “Mulche’s Odyssey” that was followed by a raucous rendition of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” As the show progressed, people continued to stream in, joining the growing ranks at the Amphitheatre and filling the tightening space with an edgy, intense energy that seemed to feed into the band’s playing which took on a sinister tone and ferocious tenacity. Jake Cinninger’s ninjaesque guitarwork was on full display on “Nothing Too Fancy” which segued into “Speak Up.” Another fan favorite, “Ocean Billy,” allowed Brendan Bayliss to show off his vocal prowess and then went back into the end of “Nothing Too Fancy.” Umphrey’s then wowed fans with the encore by dropping a breakneck version of “Slacker” which went on to segue back into the finish of “Ocean Billy,” leaving fans awestruck, impressed and primed for the weekend. Check out fan shot footage below.
Greensky Bluegrass brought Thursday’s live action to a close with yet another genre-bending set of tunes, twice fitting a “Back Dat Ass Up” jam into their set which also featured a cover of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” as well as fan favorites “Train Junkie” and “Windshield.”
Friday was easily the busiest day of the festival, offering attendees a more-than-you-can-eat buffet of performances collected from every corner of the musical universe. J4CK D4NK led off the afternoon with a DJ set, the first performance at the Patch stage, then Orlando locals Kaleigh Baker and the Groove Orient broke in the Meadow, Hulaween’s main stage, by effortlessly weaving rootsy grooves and soaring vocals into the placid breeze and pleasant afternoon vibes. Next up on the Meadow stage was the reunion of superband Russo, Benevento and Burbridge, featuring three of the tastiest players on the circuit, all of whom were coming together following deep water dives in the Grateful Dead tank with JRAD and Dead and Company, respectively. The set was essentially a master-level workshop of raw improvisation and complex musical expression.
Friday’s schedule was stacked high with major national touring acts, but organizers left plenty of room for a number of the up-and-coming groups that are well on the way to becoming household names in the near future. Mungion, a guitar-driven band hailing from Chicago, and their Windy City cohorts, the electronic rock group Future Rock, both impressed with sets at the Amphitheatre. The ascendant jamtronica trio Sunsquabi played a highly anticipated set to a packed house at the Spirit Lake stage which then went on to host the futuristic soundscape artist Slow Magic. And while Hulaween gave a plethora of new artists the chance to attract new fans, they had to earn it as many of them were in conflicting time slots. Live hip-hop/RnB group Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, master beatmaker and dance engineer Boys Noize and progressive jammers The Fritz all had to compete for their share of the audience in the 11 PM timeslot. But there’s nothing wrong with a little competition, especially since festivalgoers were free to navigate Hulaween’s choose your own adventure-style throwdown with relative ease and a little light walking.