Remembering Rachel: Paul Levine explains Purple Hatter's Ball's philanthropic mission

Here's why Emancipator, Dumpstaphunk and more are taking to the Suwannee

The Scene for Hulaween 2016 at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida. - Nicole Abbett
Nicole Abbett
The Scene for Hulaween 2016 at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida.

Around this time each year, a festival is held to commemorate the life of a passionate festival goer who died while acting as a confidential informant in a police investigation. Due to the signature purple hat she would sport at festivals, her memorial party, held each year at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak Florida, is known as the Purple Hatter's Ball. This year, the festival runs from June 2-4, with a few special events on Thursday.

PURPLE HATTER'S BALL 2017

Headlining this year’s Purple Hatter’s Ball is Portland based producer Emancipator. His seamless use of real instruments and electronic sound sets him apart from many current electronic music producers. Russ Liquid will be there as well, and he uses a similar, trippy instrumentation. Also taking the stage at Purple Hatter’s Ball is New Orleans funk powerhouse, Dumpstaphunk (who we just saw in Tampa last fall). The band's bass heavy funk is sure to make any audience member rise to their feet and groove to the rhythm and the stand only will be expounded upon by Perpetual Groove, a talented jam group from Georgia.

Read: River Rock Festival, Dumpstaphunk turn Tampa's Water Works park into a funky Creole party on the bayou

The concerts are to be held at the Beach, Porch, and Ampitheather stages. Tickets are currently $115 plus taxes and fees, or $130 at the gate. In addition to live music, the Purple Hatter’s Ball this year includes live art installations, yoga lessons, workshops and a silent auction. This year will also feature a charity disc golf tournament benefiting the Rachel Morningstar Foundation. 

click to enlarge With a lineup of bands that Rachel loved and probably would have loved, the Purple Hatter's Ball is a yearly festival of her life and tastes. - Photo Courtesy of The Purple Hatter's Ball
Photo Courtesy of The Purple Hatter's Ball
With a lineup of bands that Rachel loved and probably would have loved, the Purple Hatter's Ball is a yearly festival of her life and tastes.

Florida SB 604, known commonly as “Rachel’s Law,” was passed January 8, 2009, following the untimely death of a young Rachel Morningstar in a police run drug bust. Just before graduating from FSU, Morningstar was caught with a bag of weed in her dorm room. Instead of facing charges, the police told her that she could participate in a large scale drug bust involving the sale of a large quantity of ecstasy, cocaine, and a handgun.

She was robbed and murdered in a transaction, and police were led by the dealers to the body two days after she was murdered. The botched sting operation led to stricter training for police informants, the departure of a negligent police officer and “Rachel’s Law” which helps to define how police informants are trained.

CL talked to the festival’s owner, Paul Levine, and he answered a few questions about this year’s festival:

Why do you do the Purple Hatter’s Ball?

We do the Purple Hatter’s Ball to remember a friend who was murdered during absurd police work. She didn’t deserve that and a lot of people here cared about her and wanted to do something to remember her, and that’s what we’ve been doing for ten years. 

How would you describe the music selection that’s featured at the Purple Hatter’s Ball?

The Purple Hatter’s Ball is representative of Rachel’s tastes. More than half the bands that play Purple Hatter’s Ball actually knew her, and they play here year after year. The rest of them hopefully reflect what she would be listening to today if she was still with us. 

What does the Rachel Morningstar Foundation do now that legislation is passed? 

Margie (Rachel’s mother) keeps working on helping other people pass legislation. She’s working with their cases and now she uses Rachel’s case to nationally highlight problems with using a confidential informant. She talks to victims, she talks to legislatures. She helps to do as much as she can do on a national level, but its not easy. She has to deal with a lot of grievances but she really does the best she can. We’re very active in spreading the message not to work with confidential informants, or at least knowing what your rights are before you’re pushed in a direction where you don’t know what you’re doing. 

What are some exciting aspects of this year’s festival?

Each year, Margie releases 24 butterflies from the amphitheater stage. She talks to the crowd and then we release them. Rachel was 23 years old and the last one if for her spirit, which still lives on in our hearts. And this year for the first time we’re having a festival potluck on Sunday where festival goers can share some food and stories. Rachel was an aspiring chef and we thought to just try to combine as many of her loves and her passions as we can at the festival. That’s just one of the things we do to focus on Rachel, besides just the scope of the music or the yoga program.

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Michael Fritz

Michael Fritz, Jr. is a former intern at Creative Loafing Tampa and a sophomore at the University of Tampa, where he's studying writing and economics.

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