Anytime you step foot inside the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park it’s like being transported into an enchanting forest portal where the outside world briefly ceases to exist. This past weekend at Purple Hatter’s Ball was no exception. Although still a relatively small festival with attendance peaking at around 3,000, the camaraderie found here between festival goers coming together for an exceptional cause is something to be marveled.
REMEMBERING RACHEL MORNINGSTAR
Since its inaugural year 10 years ago, Purple Hatter’s Ball celebrates the life of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman whose life was tragically cut too short during a police sting operation gone horribly awry. After being arrested for possession of marijuana while a student at Florida State University, Rachel was given the opportunity by law enforcement to act as an undercover, confidential informant.
With a promise of easing her charges, Rachel chose to cooperate with law enforcement. On May 7th, 2008, twenty-three year old Rachel suited up in wires and headed to a local park in Tallahassee, Florida to purchase 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine, and a handgun from two drug dealers using the $13,000 in cash given to her from the DEA agents leading the operation.
Despite the fact that she had no experience handling a gun nor purchasing a large quantity of hard drugs, law enforcement sent Rachel alone to purchase the items from two known convicted felons. By the end of the operation, everything that could have gone wrong did. Police lost contact with both Rachel and her vehicle. Two days later, her body was found in a ditch in a nearby town fifty miles from Tallahassee. She was shot five times in the head and chest by the people the police had set her up with.
MUSIC WITH A CAUSE
As a music lover and a fellow festival goer, Rachel’s passion proved to live on through her signature purple hat she’d wear that eventually gave the festival its namesake. For the past ten years, Purple Hatter’s Ball has brought crowds of people to the Spirit of Suwanee to celebrate her life and raise awareness for her untimely death at the hands of a butchered sting operation.
Rachel’s Mother, dubbed as “Mama Margie,” takes to the stage each year on Saturday afternoon to lead the ceremony of her daughters rememberance. Twenty three butterflies are released to honor the age when Rachel was taken from the world with one additional butterfly to exemplify that her spirit will always continue to live on in the forest of Suwanee. Standing amongst the crowd of purple hats, you feel a sense of belonging with Rachel’s friends and family whether you personally knew her or not. Her spirit undoubtedly touches all who attend Purple Hatter’s Ball.
While the festival aims to celebrate her life, her family and friends have worked hard to enact changes in legislature to prevent the same tragedy from happening to another victim. Purple Hatter’s Ball directly benefits The Rachel Morningstar Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)3 that sets out to educate those on the benefits of implementing state guidelines for law enforcement in the case of confidential informants. During her speech on Saturday, Rachel’s mother proudly outlined that in 2009 the foundation was able to pass Rachel’s Law. The law set a precedent in the United States as being the first of its kind to establish guidelines that law enforcement cannot breach when dealing with those who elect to be a confidential informant.
MUSIC AND NATURE CONVERGE AT SPIRIT OF SUWANNEE
Each year, Purple Hatter’s Ball brings in a selection of artists that Rachel would be listening to if she were still with us. Each year the festival grows in attendance with headliners like this year’s Portland-based Emancipator who brought the masses to their feet on Friday grooving to his seamless use electronic and violin sounds. After the remembrance ceremony on Saturday, Zach Deputy made you forget that he was the only one on stage and Perpetual Groove had fans singing along to their cover of Cage the Elephants, “In One Ear.” Closing out Saturday night, headliner Dumpstaphunk ended with some bass-heavy New Orleans funk to the park.
During the day, the Suwannee River flowing 3 miles on the northern border of the park get’s populated by festival attendees jamming out to the river stage on white sandy shores of the river bed. Throughout the 3 day festival, spirits run at an all time high. When you take a passion for music and combine it with a purpose, there’s no doubt that Purple Hatter’s Ball will continue to always provide a special outlet to those celebrating the life of fellow music lover.
This article originally appeared on Music Festival Wizard, a music festival resource dedicated to covering the scene, experience and music with news, lineups, reviews and commentary.