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The Woodlands Festival Brings Local and National Acts to Charleston Woodlands (Photos + Review)

Umphrey’s McGee. Photo: Caroline Bell

This past weekend, Friends with Benefits Productions alongside Umphrey’s McGee hosted a festival as the first of its kind at a property called Charleston Woodlands. While riding out of Downtown Charleston 30 minutes, festival goers arrive at The Woodlands Music and Arts Festival.

The most recent home of Charleston Pour House’s Into The Woods Music Festival and the Halloween themed Skinful, Charleston Woodlands brought out all the stops for its final highly-promoted music festival of the year. With an all out funkified pre party, 4 sets of Umphrey’s McGee, and bountiful late night sets including those from Charleston synth-wave sextet Doom Flamingo and Justin Osborne of SUSTO, The Woodlands Music & Arts Festival should be solidified for years to come.

On Thursday, the much anticipated Pre Party was already pregamed by campers early to the scene. Campers arrived to their choice of lakefront camping and vendors from around the Lowcountry including Chicken Fats, Poppy’s Lemonade, and Charleston Hemp Company with plenty of free samples.

Music on Thursday began with an onslaught of Charleston heavyweights taking on the music of Huey Lewis as a funk faction titled The Fake News. The Mike Quinn (Doom Flamingo) led group worked through a couple classics before leading into the entire Huey Lewis album Sports, which Quinn named as his favorite album of all time. After the group took the stage, the much-anticipated set from Turkuaz took over with their Brooklyn-based power funk monster before giving way to The Omega Moos made up of members of Umphrey’s McGee, The New Deal, and more. The Omega Moos led through their rare set of 80’s funk by wrapping up early with the crowd erupting over their rendition of “Girls on Film” that they’d used to close out their shows in the earlier part of this decade.

Friday at The Woodlands started off slow as many campers were reluctant to get up after a long night of hard rain, but once the ground dried out, the music kicked off. The main event of The Woodlands started with Heather Gillis, The Movement, and an incredibly loud Spafford set to wake up any late risers. ROBOTRIO with special guest Cody Wright were the first local hitters to warm up the grounds for the first UM sets of the weekend. For those unaware, Cody Wright is a bass virtuoso, playing with The New Deal and appearing on the cover of Bass Musician Magazine.

After ROBOTRIO’s 45 minute set including instrumental versions of CCR’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and their debut hit single “Space Cadet”, Umphrey’s McGee hit the ground running for their first two sets in their four set weekend. Throughout their set, in plain view of the stage, the families of UM took to the photo pit to dance, including the youngest of the Umphrey’s clan. Since the Stasik family moved to Charleston a few years back, they have made it clear this is where they want to raise their children, and The Woodlands Festival was certainly an incredible introduction for them.

Opposite of the stage, the fire spinning contingent Brushfire Collective put on an entire performance synced with the music of UM, while during set break the Charleston based dance group, Dance Lab took on the entertainment. For 30 minutes the talented dancers of Dance Lab put on a spectacle teamed with their own music.

The first late night experience introduced patrons to “The Weirdlands”. The Weirdlands were the entire back half of the festival grounds about a half mile walk toward the late night stage named, The Woods Stage. From front to back, The Weirdlands held lights and lasers casting shadows throughout the woods reminiscent of Electric Forest. Sounds at the beginning of The Weirdlands were of a growling beast along with jungle psychedelia full of forest noises and bongos. This portion of the grounds also included a 50 foot wide projected “eye in the sky” along with disco ball lighting being hung in the trees.

Once arriving to the late night venue dubbed The Woods Stage, aerialists, fire spinning, and more kept the festivities running into the night. Late night music Friday was led by Manic Focus, The New Deal, and Runaway Gin – A Tribute to Phish. The Gin set, while short, had some incredible highlights including the song “Wilson”, whose echoing introductory lyrics were changed to “Woodlands” throughout the song. The group continued to go through some of the more technical Phish songs for a cold night including “Foam”, “Also Sprach Zarathusa”, and more before ending on an explosive “You Enjoy Myself” complete with an extended vocal jam.

The final day of The Woodlands saw clear skies and little wind. Surrounded by clarity, patrons were able to enjoy massages by local masseuse NERVana as well as kayak and paddle board rentals, and a fishing tournament that benefited American Red Cross, all before the music kicked off.

The Talismen and Empire Strikes Brass kicked things off before Charleston regulars CBDB were up next. Sunsquabi, Zach Deputy, and Big Something were next before The New Deal took the stage for the second time before the final two sets of Umphrey’s McGee. Highlights of the final headlining act included Kanika Moore (Doom Flamingo) striking vocals on the UM Zonkey favorite “Electric Avenue to Hell” to close out the first set.

The final UM set kicked off with “JaJunk” before leading into the fan favorite “Remind Me” that saw Brendan Bayliss getting in on the family fun as he grabbed his youngest daughter on stage to scream “Rock ‘n’ Roll!” before the segment into “Higgins”. The Marshall Tucker Band classic “Can’t You See” where lead guitarist Jake Cinninger changed the words to the ladder verses to “We’re gonna do this fuckin’ festival once again”. After their sing along, UM started “Making Flippy Floppy” before returning back toward “JaJunk” to close out the show. Umphrey’s ended with “The Silent Type” before thanking Charleston for welcoming them with open arms to their community.

Late night, back in The Weirdlands caught possibly the most anticipated sets of the weekend including Cherub, Doom Flamingo, and the All-Star Family Jam. Doom Flamingo easily played their most electric show to date. For a relatively new band on the circuit, Doom Flamingo has found both their vision and swag on stage. Doom Flamingo is creating an experience in their performance that is unique to themselves. Ryan Stasik (Umphrey’s McGee Bassist), alongside Charleston juggernauts Kanika Moore (Vocals), Ross Bogan (Keys), Mike Quinn (Sax/Synth), Thomas Kenney (Guitar), and Stu White (Drums) have developed a show that takes you through all reaches of synth-wave music.

Throughout their show, the driving band takes you on a synth propelled ride from the “Doomed” gates of Hell toward the “Flamingo” feathered cosmos of synth music. In other words, the first half of their show has a theme of Doom, while the next is bubbly synth reminding of a lighthearted group of flamingos. When you see their performance for the first time, it’s only right to listen to the backing of Stasik, Bogan, Quinn, Kenney, and White while Kanika Moore takes the stage for the first part of their show. Moore’s dominant presence takes the energy of her bandmates and projects it toward the crowd with ferocity, taking the show over. She starts out the show in an all black outfit letting the crowd know they are doomed.

During their midnight set on Saturday, they ignited with their favorite opener of late, “Blade”, which was influenced by Blade Runner and penned by keyboardist Ross Bogan. Before heading into “Love On Hold” and “Runaway”, the middle of their performance sees Moore heading off stage while the instrumental jam of “Telepathy” rounded out the former part of this Doom show. Upon closing out the jam, Moore comes back on stage in a fresh new light, and outfit, leading up to their Nine Inch Nails cover of “Closer” to end the show. In the past two years, this group has solidified their identity and are only on the rise. Look out for even more in 2020 including new music and additions to their live performance.

One thing Charleston festivals are no stranger to are late night campfire jams. Each year, Charleston Bluegrass Festival has an incredible campfire jam, Charleston Pour House’s Into The Woods had the same. The Woodlands catered to the Alternative fans at their rendition of a campfire jam. Justin Osborne of SUSTO brought his acoustic, sat down, and started playing for a group of about 50 people nestled up around a campfire. For both musicians and fans alike, this is a treat for any festival, not to mention when one of the biggest names in the Charleston scene is keeping you warm next to the fire.

As Cinninger stated, The Woodlands will certainly be back next year. Be ready for a Save the Date announcement coming soon on their website and socials in the coming weeks. Thanks to Friends with Benefits Productions, Umphrey’s McGee, Visual Artists, Vendors, Volunteers, and more who contributed to this production. Everyone in attendance was left excited for what next year has to offer. 

See a photo gallery from the weekend below. All photos by Caroline Bell (@carolinebellphotography).

All photos by Caroline Bell (@carolinebellphotography).