Purple Hatter's Ball Honors Rachel Morningstar Hoffman for the Seventh Year at Suwannee Music Park

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Claire Nelson

This weekend at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL, is shaping up nicely. The seventh annual Purple Hatter's Ball is taking over for three days filled with live music by notable national acts, workshops -- from yoga to juicing -- and tons of love and appreciation.

Unlike most festivals in the same vein, Purple Hatter's Ball is dedicated in memory to Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, a young woman who's life was tragically cut short over seven years ago. But, in this case, from tragedy arose togetherness. Her spirit lives on each year in Live Oak, through the music and the environment -- one usually reserved for partying only.


"Purple Hatter's was founded in the memory of Rachel Hoffman, who was coerced into being confidential informant by police, and was killed in an operation that went wrong," explains Paul Levine, the founder for the fest. He's also involved with Bear Creek Music Festival and Suwanne's Hulaween. He befriended Rachel during the set-up and construction of the first Bear Creek. (An in-depth article on Hoffman can be found on the New Yorker's website.)

As for the creation of Purple Hatter's -- which was named after Hoffman's chapeau of choice -- Levine says, "It just made a lot of sense to bring people together to understand what happened and start the healing process through music. Her friends and myself, her mom Margie Weiss, her stepdad, we worked together over the years to have an event to remember her and who she was and to bring the community together. Now, years down the road, it turned into an event people can come to and really reflect. It has a lot of impact on other people."

It has evolved greatly since its humble beginnings and includes some big names in the jamtronica scene like Beats Antique, Emancipator Ensemble, and the New Mastersounds. Also included are Florida favorites like the Heavy Pets, Catfish Alliance, Greenhouse Lounge, and Apple Butter Express.

"It started off with bands who knew Rachel, and it's grown since then," says Levine. "Now six PHBs later, I've tried to book it in ways that would represent her taste in music." And her preferences were broad. "She liked bluegrass, rock, jam, funk, electronic, reggae, dance music. She loved music in general. Her taste gives us license to have a real eclectic lineup and not be pushed in any direction. I think about who she would be today, judging from where she was and how her taste may have evolved. It's kind of fun to do that to remember her."

Apart from the musical acts, one of the most important aspects of a festival is its sense of community and overall vibe, which is no less important to PHB. "Due to the smaller and intimate nature of this festival, it becomes the first festival for many young Floridians," says Levine, "younger people seem to have less control and go a bit crazy, and it'd be expected of them to do so even more at a festival. We're hoping for an environment where the more experienced Purple Hatter's will take care of or help guide a newbie in the right direction, a learning experience." And as far as the addition of workshops, Levine adds, "We want it to be more than just an excuse to party."

Purple Hatters' Ball with Beats Antique, Emancipator Ensemble, the New Mastersounds, Rising Appalachia, Dubconsious, Space Capone, the Motet, the Heavy Pets, Catfish Alliance, Greenhouse Lounge, and Apple Butter Express. Gates open on Friday May 9, at 8 a.m. Pre-show passes are available for an extra $20 on Thursday May 8, with a handful of live acts to perform. Tickets at the gate will be $125, rain or shine. Visit purplehattersball.com.


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