June 05, 2018

Rain couldn't dampen spirits at Spirit of the Suwannee's Purple Hatter's Ball

Early last month marked the 10th year since the death of Rachel Morning Star Hoffman, who was killed while working as a confidential informant in a drug sting gone awry. Rachel, known for her signature fuzzy purple hat, was a big fan of festivals and a regular at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park from the time she was seven years old. In a fitting tribute, Purple Hatters Ball (PHB) has happened every year since her death to honor her memory and shed light on the dangers and evils of confidential informant programs. 

The festival has seen many incarnations throughout the years, ranging anywhere from being a single-day event to three full days and nights of music. This year’s was a two-day event, with the first day having just one stage while the second featured two. Due to both inclement weather and high river levels, acts scheduled to play at the beach stage were moved to the porch stage, located between the sunken amphitheater and legendary Jam Field.  

Trial By Stone performing on the Porch Stage at PHB '18. - KAYLEE LOPRESTO
Kaylee LoPresto
Trial By Stone performing on the Porch Stage at PHB '18.


As always, PHB was filled with some of Rachel’s favorite local bands. Acts that returned this year included Dubconcious, MZG, Catfish Alliance, Roosevelt Collier Band (this year listed as Roosevelt Collier Trio), Trial By Stone, and Vlad The Inhaler. Vlad put on a great show and is honestly one of my favorite smaller DJs to see at Suwannee after he killed it at the silent disco at Hula last year. Vlad’s set, along with the annual butterfly release, were delayed due to torrential rain and possible hail. In classic Florida fashion, the rain came down hard but only for about two hours; as it began to let up, fans poured back into the venue to dance in the rain.  

The butterfly release is always a powerful moment at PHB, a solemn reminder that the reason for the gathering is not just the music, but also to remember the life and legacy of a fallen fellow music fan. Mother Margie, Rachel’s mom, gave an impassioned speech about how much her daughter meant to her and how unregulated and unchecked confidential informant programs can be, with police keeping no record of interactions and instructions given to those used as informants in these programs. In most states, confidential informants are given no legal counsel, nor the ability to obtain one.

Mama Margie speaking before the butterfly release Saturday afternoon. - KAYLEE LOPRESTO
Kaylee LoPresto
Mama Margie speaking before the butterfly release Saturday afternoon.


The Rachel Morning Star Foundation, set up after Rachel’s death, has been instrumental in passing legislation that protects confidential informants and holds police accountable for their safety. In 2009, one year after Rachel’s death, Florida passed HB 914.28, known as “Rachel’s Law,” that sets up regulations and protections for informants used by police. So far, only one other state has followed suit. North Dakota passed “Andrew’s Law” in 2014, named for another confidential informant who was killed in an operation for a multi-jurisdictional task force while trying to get a reduction on a drug sentence. Several other states are considering similar legislation, but it's horrible to think that laws like this only come about after someone gets killed doing what should be the police’s job. 

Usually, 24 butterflies are released, one for each year Rachel was alive and one for her spirit that lives on. This year, on the tenth anniversary of her death, 34 butterflies were released; many of them landed on the heads of attendees. After the butterflies were released, one landed on Mother Margie’s nose and she said, “That butterfly just kissed my nose. That was Rachel.” It was a powerful moment, bringing me to tears then and watering my eyes now every time I think of it. 

After the butterfly release, Roosevelt Collier Trio played an incredible set, immediately followed by Breaking Biscuits (a combination of members from Break Science and Disco Biscuits), then legendary jam band Lettuce. Sadly though, Zoogma did not make its speculated return to PHB this year — for now, Zoogma is no more. 

But all in all, it was a fantastic weekend of fun and great music, and I think that's what Rachel would have wanted. 

Check out the full gallery here.

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Once the butterflies were released, they flew into the crowd to greet their new friends who attended PHB '18.
Kaylee LoPresto

Once the butterflies were released, they flew into the crowd to greet their new friends who attended PHB '18.

Kreaturez emerged from the woods to perform a varierty of flow arts during PHB '18 at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park June 1-2.
Kaylee LoPresto

Kreaturez emerged from the woods to perform a varierty of flow arts during PHB '18 at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park June 1-2.

A sign immortalizing Rachel's fuzzy purple hat at PHB '18 held at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, June 1-2.
Kaylee LoPresto

A sign immortalizing Rachel's fuzzy purple hat at PHB '18 held at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, June 1-2.

Breaking Biscuits performs at Purple Hatters Ball '18 at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.
Kaylee LoPresto

Breaking Biscuits performs at Purple Hatters Ball '18 at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.

Kaylee LoPresto

Progress shot of a live painting being worked on next to the Amphitheater Stage at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.