Photos by Brett Thomas
The 10th annual Allman Brothers Band-hosted festival at SOSMP Live Oak, FL, April 18-20, 2013 brought out an impressive line-up of bands featuring some of the best guitar players on the scene right now and who also are part of the ABB extended family both literally and musically, including Widespread Panic with Jimmy Herring, Tedeschi Trucks Band with Derek Trucks, Royal Southern Brotherhood with Devon Allman, and of course Gov’t Mule with Warren Haynes. Some of the other bands in the line-up included, Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, Greyboy All-Stars, and North Mississippi All-Stars. And there were plenty more all-star bands, even without that in their name: Royal Southern Brotherhood, Electric Hot Tuna, Tower of Power.
You would think with the number of all-stars that this would be the most packed out Wanee yet. And, though I heard this was the largest, with numbers being reported as high as 60,000 which would be more than double last year’s attendance, that didn’t seem the case to me. During the bands that played day shows, like Gov’t Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Michael Franti and Spearhead (who was not their last year), there did seem to be a lot more people, however I attributed that partly to the festival “scaling back” again to just the two main stages, the Peach Stage set in the large meadow and the Mushroom stage — the natural Amphitheater that everyone loves so much. But the size of the crowds during the headliners and at the camp sites, especially primitive, seemed comparable to last year, if not even a bit smaller. I had little problem finding a site and there definitely seemed to be a bit more space between tents. No waking in the morning to find someone’s tent almost on top of mine.
With the exceptions of the Allman Brothers Band and Widespread Panic, I also never had a problem finding a spot where I could see the bands at either stage, no small task for a petite woman, often getting right up to the rail. I even managed that for Panic for a few songs, but ultimately chose instead to stay farther back where there was plenty of room to dance and hoop with my friends. As much as I also love to watch the musicians, love watching Haynes’ fingers as he scrolls up and down the neck of the guitar, love seeing Herrings’ facial expressions (you gotta get close for that), and just plain love seeing Derek Trucks, being farther back offered a chance to take in the light shows and the screen show during ABB that alternated between psychedelia and a photo homage to days past. I could also get a wide view of the party with the L.E.D.s and lanterns and fireworks and … what was that ball with the projections on the side of the meadow? … the fish bowl was oddly serene but still very cool, the lava lamp was appropriately groovy, and the eyeball was, well, just plain creepy.
The energy of the crowd in the middle and the back was just as vibrant as being in the thick of it and the sound was not compromised at with speakers placed mid-meadow, even if I could barely see anything happening on the stage. There are no big side screens at any of the festivals at SOSMP. Some would see this as a drawback but the lack of screens along with the lack of commercial sponsorship (with one, unnecessary in my opinion, exception), along with minimal lighting, adds to the atmosphere of the venue. Beyond the streams of blue and purple and white lights streaming across the crowd, all you can see are the tall pines and Spanish moss draping the limbs of the live oaks and the moon and the stars. And dotted around the stages and the grounds are gnomes and fairies — the fantastic artwork of Bean Spence. The whole atmosphere is one of a party with thousands of friends — a natural celebration of music and life — rather than a contrived event geared towards parting you from your money. Most people even give up on their cell phones, at least talking on them, because getting a signal, cell or WiFi, is sketchy at best. Though not ideal in case of emergencies, it adds to the energy and intimacy with a feeling that everyone is actually “here” and the vibes are certainly more positive without people having to give looks that say “STFU.”
Of course the energy of the crowd, the mix of people and their attitudes, can really set the tone of a festival, and it’s hard not to compare festivals at the same venue or that you’ve attended year after year. Each of the big four festivals at SOSMP has its own character, its own unique crowd, even though many people do attend all. Even to compare it to last year’s festival seems a bit fruitless to me. Furthur, who headlined last year, and WSP are different bands each with their own following, even with the number of people like me who like both. But I have to admit that there were a few moments I was not feeling the love so much as I did the year before. I’m sure it had something to do with the cold rain. Or maybe it was because “Safety Girl” wasn’t camped as close to me this year. (If you’ve been to Wanee, you know who I mean: “Safety First”!) That dissipated, however, as Widespread Panic turned up the heat with a crazy good set Friday evening that included “Disco,” “Space Wrangler,” “Pilgrims,” and ended with sit-ins from Danny Louis and Warren Haynes with “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “Maggot Brain” and the “Chilly Water” everyone seemed to be waiting for and that had nearly everyone splashing around in the puddles.
Still, the cold rain did seem to make not only me, but also a few others, edgy at times and throughout the weekend I did see a couple of minor squabbles and hear a few complaints. I even made a few of my own: There was a definite lack of recycling receptacles except around the Mushroom stage, a few of the beer dudes really got carried away with their whistles (Who wants to hear a whistle screaming in your ear every 30 seconds during Devon Allman’s solo? I know you have beer), there were the folks with Sportbrellas and Eazy-ups set up in the middle of the meadow instead of along the edge, and seeing a few people put their lips to the free water spigot at the hydration station, convinced me to buy or bring my own after all. But I think with any large festival, you are bound to find a few things that could be improved upon and a few people who will always be unhappy or just plain not courteous. Overall I heard far more positive, upbeat comments than complaints. Some came from my friends who said SOSMP is their favorite place to see concerts and one who exclaimed “why can’t everyday be like Wanee!” Those sentiments were echoed throughout from chats in the food lines to people chillin’ in the hammocks to ”children” dancing in the mud. Wanee really is everything a festival should be!
You would think that cutting the venue back to 2 stages from the 4 of the previous year would make for a more relaxed festival and less conflict when trying to choose which bands to see. That was true only of Thursday when just the Mushroom stage was active. Starting with Oil Brown at 12:45 PM through Greyboy Allstars til 1:30 AM, band after band took the stage and the crowd continued to grow as more people arrived, or maybe they were just waking up late after a Wednesday night’s pre-festival show featuring Dumpstaphunk. Voice of the Wetland All-stars, which includes Tab Benoit, Cyril Neville, and Johnny Sansone, brought what would be a kind of theme of the Mushroom stage featuring many New Orleans-based bands. From “Louisiana Sunshine” to “Louisiana Funk,” getting the crowd to yell “Ai-EEE,” and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux in his feathered regalia, they had me looking around for the crawfish and gumbo. Their set saw sit-ins from drummers Terence Higgins (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) and Artimus Pyle (Lynyrd Skynyrd), as well as what was perhaps one of the strangest sit-ins: Mickey Thomas singing “Fooled Around And Fell In Love.” One of the corniest songs ever as far as I’m concerned, but the crowd loved it, singing along, and as couples began swirling around me, I began to feel as if it were 1976. They finished with “Little Liza Jane,” a favorite of mine, which set my world right again.
Jumping from one all-star band to the next, Cyril Neville took to the stage once again but this time in different clothes and with a different band — the Royal Southern Brotherhood — another group of all-stars that includes Devon Allman, Mike Zito, Charlie Wooten, and Yonrico Scott. For me, this was one of the hottest sets of the weekend. They did an amazing “Fire on the Mountain” — perhaps the only Grateful Dead cover all weekend — Cyril’s soulful phrasing on vocals and Devon’s guitar singing as the flames, this is one I will be listening to again and again. (I should probably mention too that it is my favorite Grateful Dead song, so I may be a wee biased.) Devon introduced the sensuous, deep southern blues tune, “Pearl River” as “the very first song I ever had the honor of writing with Mr. Cyril Neville.” Of course the highlight of the set was when Gregg Allman joined in on “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and stayed for both “Sweet Jelly Doughnut,” a song Neville dedicated to Grace Potter, and “One Way Out” with Tab Benoit, Johnny Sansone and Artimus Pyle as well. To see, hear, father and son playing together was a special treat, not entirely anticipated, but highly hoped for by the audience.
Electric Hot Tuna, a Wanee favorite, saw the festival begin to turn into a true celebration when between “Hesitation Blues” and “A Little Faster>Bow Legged Woman” it was time for a little cake for Jack Casady’s 69th birthday. Talk about your all-stars, your best guitarists … Jorma Kaukonen … your best bassists … Jack. Even after 50 years, their jams are still fresh and their playing is down and dirty as ever. From one hot set to the next, the Greyboy Allstars took to the stage with a funky, trippy, new song called “Profundo Grosso” that, reminiscent of the Doors, sent the mind flying and set the mood for the psychedelic funk that was to follow. Their full 2-hour set was about half new songs from the album Inland Emperor. The audience loved everything they did but perhaps “Bitch Inside Me” and “Wandering” got the biggest responses. The rest of the set included favorites like “V-neck Sweater,” “Toys R Us,” as well as an insane cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” They ended their set around 2 A.M. but the “Wanee Mushroom People,” as the festival-goers were called by some, were just getting their weekend going.
Friday morning I disappointed myself when I missed FlannelChurch with Duane Trucks. I did think it strange that they played so early and were slotted for so short a set but I guess someone has to get the day started. I did catch a bit of Bobby Lee Rogers, formerly of The Codetalkers and one of the youngest to ever teach at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, opening the Peach Stage. Rogers, along with singer-songwriter Albert Simpson, played every morning of the festival with Rogers electrifying the folks awake at the Peach stage and Simpson bring his acoustic stylings of both original tunes and covers to the café. For those who missed Rogers’ stage sets, though, he could be heard bringing the music to the camp sites on the Traveling Stage. And for those who missed Albert Simpson, he will be playing at the café again at both the Magnolia and Bear Creek Festivals.
If there’s going to be a band to really get you moving, it’s The Revivalists. These guys are definitely my favorite ”new” band, and I made sure to tell anyone who would listen to check them out — yes, even at noon. And they did not disappoint. There was hardly anyone at the Mushroom stage as they started, but by the end the amphitheater had an abundance of enthusiastic fans with everyone on their feet dancing and yelling, even those whose faces still bore the signs of a late night. Their high energy was infectious as lead singer David Shaw covered every part of the stage, only seeming to stop momentarily as he got to the edge and leaned over, seeming to hover above the crowd as bubbles floated around him. Someone handed him a t-shirt that said “Got Orb?” which he didn’t hesitate to put on, much to the delight of many of the women in the crowd. Then, pedal steel guitar player, Ed Williams, climbs onto his guitar stand, cheering the crowd, and then kneels and plays on his knees … on the guitar stand! But this is not a “show” band. These seven guys have the talent to match, never losing control of the rockin’ soul, even as keyboardist, Michael Girardot, picks up a sax. They captivated the audience with a hauntingly beautiful new song “Monster,” and kept the crowd charged up with originals tunes “Catching Fireflies,” and “Criminal”, and especially with Prince cover “Sexy Mother Fucker.”
Still high on The Revivalists, I skipped over to the Peach stage to catch the end of Atlanta-based band Blackberry Smoke. Generally speaking, I’m not a country music fan, even country/rock, but these guys have definitely crossed into the jam band scene. With lyrics that are proudly country, yet wholly identifiable and music that brings together country and rock in an easy blend, unlike some that sound forced, you can hear the influences of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat, and ABB. It’s hard not to like a band that sings, “She gets me higher than Georgia pine, Wild as a muscadine wine, Hotter than the deep south summer time” (“Everybody Knows She’s Mine”) and “Up in smoke, down in flames, Jump on up, rolling like a freight train….Fire it up and we can go all night now, C’mon y’all ain’t no joke, Watch the world go ” (“Up in Smoke”).
Robert Randolph and the Family Band has been a favorite of mine for a long time now and there is nothing like hearing him live. It almost doesn’t matter what he plays. Playing originals or covers, this funky man rocks out! He really got the crowd fired up when he played “A March,” a song he says he’s going to do for “the folks up in Boston today … You know I hope they catch those assholes, can I get a witness?!” And hearing his version of “The Way You Make Me Feel” was just as fresh as if I had not heard Greyboy Allstars the night before. Ah, the beauty of jam bands! When he slid into “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” you could see and hear the crowd’s recognition like a wave across the meadow. Knowing The Lee Boys were also playing that weekend, I was hoping for a sit-in from Roosevelt Collier. Can you imagine that dueling pedal steel? Not this weekend but perhaps someday …
Randolph did sit in with another of my favorites: North Mississippi Allstars! with Oteil Burbridge and Butch Trucks joining in as well, it truly was another all-star moment. You can believe this girl, and all the others too, was ‘Shakin’ what her mama gave her.’ Last year NMA played the last set of the evening, actually of the festival, and I remember it being one of the best I had ever heard from them, so I was thinking it was a shame they weren’t playing that night, but as it turned out, with the rain that came later that evening, Steel Pulse, who had that slot, only played a very short set to a small crowd, so I was told, since the rain kept me away as well. The day set also gave an opportunity for Butch Trucks, Oteil Burbridge, and Luther and Cody Dickinson to talk about the upcoming Roots Rock Revival Music Masters Camp (Gosh would I love to jam with them … if only I really played an instrument) while they also graciously signed autographs and took pictures.
Last year it stormed so hard that Gov’t Mule had to stop their set only a song or two in, much to Warren Haynes’ chagrin. This year, again, the rains were forecasted to arrive at the time of the Mule set. But it seemed the music gods were with us; the rains held off. When Mule took the stage, Haynes got things started asking, “Ok, where were we?” The crowd roared and the band dove into a sublime “Outta Shape>Thorazine Shuffle.” The set was filled with favorites and plenty of teases: they played a crazy “Gameface” with “Birdland,”“Mountain Jam,” and almost unrecognizable hard-driving “Norwegian Wood” teases that had the crowd in wild applause and shouts. As dark clouds started rolling in and the wind started picking up a bit during “Banks of the Deep End,” Haynes added extra volume as he sang “hold onto a piece of dry land” and the crowd cheered in defiance of the threatening rain. Another set highlight was “Kind Of Bird” with “Happy Together” and “The Wind Cries Mary Teases” that had Danny Louis playing, um, everything? Keys, trumpet, and did he pick up a guitar? They ended the set with a seriously dirty “I’m A Ram” with “Black Dog” tease. But there was still a very special encore to come. Truly, the highlight of the set, and one of the highlights of the entire festival: “Cortez the Killer” with John Bell, JoJo Hermann and Jimmy Herring. During the song Dave Schools would join them as well. “I don’t know what we’re going to call this?” Haynes mused, “a Widespread Burro? a Mule in Panic?” Call it what you will, Gov’t Panic, Widespread Mule, this was one of the most moving, stunning 18-minutes of bliss that people will talk about for years to come. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVi1fylILH4)
Aside from a bit of a late start, perhaps waiting for the rain to ease, the Allman Brothers Band proved to be the perfect hosts as they kicked off their set with “Hot ‘Lanta” and “Statesboro Blues.” The set included some new songs like “Dusk to Dawn,” but it was the weather appropriate songs that got some of the biggest shouts. “Blue Sky” is always a favorite and Gregg Allman, singing lead, put his unique style on a steamy cover of the Beatles’ “Rain.” “Leave My Blues at Home,” was insane. With a liquid light show behind them, Derek and Warren showed why they are considered among the best guitarists. Seriously sick … for me it was the musical highlight of the set. A close second was when John Bell joined them for “Can’t Find My Way Home,” that had everyone singing along and was perfectly followed up with “Revival.” Despite being cold and wet, I was definitely feeling the love. Jimmy Herring joined them for “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and Luther and Cody Dickinson, along with Artimus Pyle, finished out the evening with them “One Way Out” which included a blistering solo from Luther Dickinson and an explosive bass/drum break that launched into a full on 10-minute percussive assault.
Saturday — 4/20 — saw one of the most uplifting sets of the weekend. Michael Franti and Spearhead brought the beach balls and the good vibes as they do for every show. This was a total beach party on the meadow as well as another birthday celebration — this day was Michael’s — complete with cake, party hats and a round of “Happy Birthday” from the crowd. Getting the crowd energized with “I Don’t Wanna Go,” “The Sound of Sunshine, “ which he dedicated to the Boston and West Texas victims and “Yell Fire> Are You Gonna Go My Way.” Franti runs the length of the rail — ON the rail– and then into the crowd yelling, “I wanna see you jump!” Franti always brings the sunshine, his shows are always ‘feel good,’ and even though he has some standards in his show, like the beach balls, he also brings something unique to each show. This day he invited onto stage a truly inspirational couple he met through Twitter with: Hope and Steve. Steve Dezember is living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), but that hasn’t stopped him or his wife, from trying to live and love each moment to the fullest, a message Franti, too, conveys through his music and energy. A reminder when we get mired in the mundane muck of everyday life. Franti sang “Life is Better With You,” for Steve and Hope, and for everyone there. Steve was helped out of his wheelchair so that he and Hope could dance. There was not a dry eye around. (More about this inspirational couple and ALS is at HopeforSteve.com) It almost seemed absurd to have even a hint of a grumble after that but I have to admit I kept waiting for a “Ganga Babe” that never happened. It was 4/20 after all. But we did get some “sticky, icky” when Warren Haynes and Artimus Pyle joined the band for “Long Ride Home” and seeing Michael Franti do a headstand on stage with one of his fans made me soon forget.
Hungry after all that jumping, it was back over to the Mushroom stage for some food at one of my favorite food vendors: Shady Grove Wraps. But I also wanted to hear Maceo Parker for a bit, and though I missed several sets I really wanted to see, I was thrilled to catch this one. There was a very small but appreciative crowd, even when the booming of Michael Franti’s last song overpowered Dennis Rollin’s trombone solo. This was the only time I heard the two stages conflicting. I raced down to the front to hear joining a group that was amazingly attentive, everyone hanging on each note. As he finished, this incredible sound of jazz and funk filled the air as Parker and the rest of the band took to the stage with “Hey Pocky Way.” Their “Stand by Me” blew me away, especially the power-house vocals of Darlene ‘Love’ Parker. You would have thought this was the first time Maceo heard her. As she finished he hollered out, “We’re Related!! She’s a Parker! That’s my niece!!” Definitely one to be proud of! They then took the groove into full-on funk with “Uptown Up” which included a spunky “Simpson’s theme” tease.
By the time I got back to the Meadow, the food had settled in and I realized I was exhausted. I needed to rest; there was more dancing to do! It was the time to enjoy one of the most soulful voices around and one of the best slide guitarists as the Tedeschi Trucks Band took the stage. With the sun out and the cool breeze, “It’s so Heavy” made for a perfect song to plop down in the grass and chill out for a bit. Maybe it was just me, but Susan Tedeschi’s voice sounded a bit raspier than usual, giving her voice more of a Bonnie Raitt-like timber, that I really liked especially on “Roll and Tumble,” when she cut loose on “Nobody’s Free,” and then again on “The Sky is Crying,” which, not surprisingly, Derek Trucks tore up!
I did leave TTB for a few songs mid-set to catch some Tower of Power. If there was one set I truly regretted missing, this was it. Aside from WSP and ABB, this was one of the sets everyone was talking about. I got there in time for “You’ve Got to Funkifize” and to see everyone getting down. If people were chillin’ at the Peach Stage, they were definitely amped at the Mushroom. Another set I was sorry I only heard part of was Primus’ Les Claypool. More reminiscent of Arlo Guthrie than Primus, Claypool really showed his talent as a storyteller. It’s a set to be found in the archives and listened to with your full attention.
Widespread Panic opened their second night with a shaky “Imitation Leather Shoes” but quickly got on track with a kick ass “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues,“ Herring’s immaculate playing on ”Party at your Mama’s House> Blackout Blues” and a set that picked up momentum like a freight train. I really like WSP, but admittedly, I’m no Spreadhead, so it must have been funny to hear me debating about which nights set was better. Maybe it was my mood, maybe the weather, maybe being with my friends, but I honestly thought night 2 they just sounded better. Jojo Hermann keys on fire playing “Cotton is King” and “Little Lily,” one of my favorites, not only had Herring sounding just divine, but also started the ”Good Morning Little School Girl” teases that would carry the momentum straight through to ABB. Favorites “Jack” and ”Love Tractor” had everyone jumping and swirling about as right in the middle John Bell screams “Waaaaaaneeeeee!” Joined by Artimus Pyle, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks on Van Morrison’s “I’ve Been Working,” was another festival highlight, not just set highlight. Tedeschi was wailing! Especially through the “Gloria” call/response tease between her and John Bell. Derek stuck around for a hard-hitting, down-n-dirty cover of Tom Waits’ “Going Out West” and a mind-blowing “Fishwater.” That’s right…Derek Trucks playing “Fishwater!”
The Allman Brothers Band’s second night also proved to be even better than night one and had the band playing loads of favorites. Staring with 1983 and Mountain Jam, the set also included “Midnight Rider” “Long Black Veil, “ a “Melissa” that had Allman right out front on acoustic. Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis joined the Allmans for “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” as well as the song we were all anxiously anticipating a steamy, sultry “Good Morning Little School Girl” to officially end the set. They came back for encore with “No One To Run With,” and the energy was so high, they could have ended right there and the set would have felt complete. But as they continued the jam, they kept hitting us with tease after tease, not even teases, barely hints, building the tension. With a pause between songs, everyone almost breathlessly awaiting the next song, Oteil Burbridge started that familiar bass lick that had the crowd let out a collective, “Whooaa, ” going wild as they dove into a furious 14-minute, melt-your-face “Whipping Post.” This was everything an Allman Brothers Band show should be and more. Try Flying high on the energy of WSP and ABB, no one wanted the party to yet, and the masses migrated to the Mushroom Stage, filling the amphitheater. The MC came out to introduce the next band saying “We got some mushrooms right here!” though I’m certain he was talking about the festies, not the band.
Galactic took to the stage for what would be (and I know this is almost sacrilege) the best set of the weekend. From the second they hit the stage with “Karate” to the very last note, it was magic. Corey Glover, who has been singing with the band the past few years was not there, but David Shaw filled in on vocals on “Hey Na Na,” “Aint No Love,” and “You Don’t Know.” Now I like Corey Glover, but something happens when Shaw joins them. He just clicks with them and if you’ve heard “Hey Na Na” from their latest album, you know what I’m talking about, that’s Shaw on the album. His rugged powerful chops are a perfect fit for the dirty funk of Galactic. But this wasn’t just Galactic; this was Galactic and Friends, which meant closing out Wanee with another group of all-stars. Shaw left the stage and Ben Ellman welcomes Skerik to the stage for a scorching “Baker’s Dozen!” “Skerik! Skerik! Skerik!” The bands friends also included Papa Mali, Corey Henry, Artimus Pyle and Maurice Henry (TTB) and saxophonist Rob Ingraham (The Revivalists). The set included a sick “I Am the Walrus” that pushed right into a “Heart of Steal” with “Roadhouse Blues” teases, “From the Corner to the Block” that segued into ODB’s “Got Your Money,” a remarkable “Oh Nay Nay” with Skerik, Papa Mali, and an unbelievable solo from drummer Stanton Moore. They closed the set, and the festival, with Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.”
Though I say the Galactic set was my favorite, it does stick out in mind as a “best set,” there really weren’t any sets that weren’t great. With this line-up, with all this incredible talent, all these all-stars, it makes me wonder how they will top it next year! Yep, I’m ready!!