Photos by Lori Sky Twohy
Let’s start with what you want to know. Last Saturday’s Allman Brothers Band show was better than last Friday’s Allman Brothers Band show. Both shows were great, but the boys really stepped it up a notch on the final evening of the five-day Wanee Festival at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL.
Saturday’s 2 ½ hour show was hotter than a full-bearded Wanee redneck dressed in leather. The band opened with keys player Gregg Allman’s “Don’t Keep Me Wondering,” off their breakthrough album Idlewild South (’70). Then they jumped into a straightforward “Ain’t Wasting Time No More.” The band never stepped out of the box on this one, just played it straight. Fans who haven’t seen ABB in a while should note that lead guitar player Derrick Trucks has switched over to Gregg’s side of the stage (on the left of your viewpoint). That leaves Derrick looking to Gregg for cues more than ever. It’s nice.
I think Elmore James wrote “Done Somebody Wrong” in 1960 just for the Allman Brothers. It may not be true – Greg was only 13 then – but it sounds true, huh? Just like they did on James’s “One Way Out” for Friday’s encore, the Brothers nail it. But that was just a set-up for the next tune. “Rockin’ Horse” is time for guitar player and vocalist Warren Haynes to shine. Warren wrote the song for his band Gov’t Mule back in ’95, and the Brothers recorded it for Hittin’ the Note (‘03). “Hard living be the death of me,” he sings. Warren’s guitar solo here is complete and well-designed, and he flourishes it with a nice pause to wipe his fret hand. “Off the wagon, under the wheel again,” he sings. Derrick jams, too, but this is definitely Warren’s tune.
Guitar player Junior Mack, from Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, joins the Brothers for the next tune, “Southbound.” Written by Dickie Betts, it’s off the first album the band made without Duane Allman, Brothers and Sisters (’73). Interesting that they would pull a guest to play Dickie’s lead, isn’t it? Next up is the Allman Brothers blues tribute section. The band gradually introduces the members of Taj Mahal’s band, which played earlier that day, into the mix over the next five songs. But first they cover “Blind Willie McTell,” a Bob Dylan song that was left off Infidels (’83) because it wasn’t complete. Willie was a lifelong Georgia bluesman who wrote “Statesboro Blues,” the tune that concludes this blues run, back in 1928.
For most of the show, the video screens behind the band have been flashing detailed and vibrant mushroom graphics. The screen shots for “Blind Willie McTell” switch to black-and-white alternating images of the only known photo of famous bluesman Robert Johnson and the gravestone of Blind Willie McTell. Pretty cool. Guests start to filter on-stage for the next song, “You Don’t Love Me.” Trumpet player Maurice Brown, from the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, joins on stage right, and keys player Bruce Katz takes a seat at Gregg’s piano while Pappy catches a break. Then Gregg steps back in for “No One Left To Run With Anymore,” off Note, while drummer James van der Bogen, from Taj Mahal’s Blues Band, settles into Jaimoe’s percussion spot.
The screen shots for this segment are cool as shit. They’ve blended old black-and-white footage of Duane playing on stage with new color footage of Derrick and Warren jamming. The effect is to see all three playing on-screen at the same time. Gradually you see Allen Woody and Berry Oakley included into the backscreen video mix. It’s a wonderful tribute to fallen members during a wonderful song. Taj Mahal steps up for “Statesboro Blues” next, which brings the blues tribute to a perfect conclusion. It’s just Taj and the Brothers now, and it’s wonderful. You can check it out here on UTube: http://bit.ly/ey2YIT.
All that, and you ain’t heard nothing yet. The band pulls out four amazing tunes to conclude its contribution to this year’s festival: “Dreams,” Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic,” “Mountain Jam” and the ferocious final encore of “Whipping Post.” Are you kidding me? Pappy Gregg steps up for “Dreams,” which he once said was the first tune ABB learned all the way through. He wrote the song while floundering in Los Angeles in ’69, right before he moved back to Macon, Ga., to start the band with Duane. Warren just tears up the lead, while percussionist Marc Quinones pounds out counterpoints to the jam. Awesome.
Like last year, the band pulls out “Into the Mystic,” off ‘70’s Moondance, as a palate cleanser between courses. Originally 3 ½ minutes, the band jams it out for a good eight. Guitar player Scott Muranski, in town with the Mike Gordon Band, and sax player Kebi Williams, from Tedeschi-Trucks Band, join the fun for the instrumental “Mountain Jam.” Muranski, from the band Max Creek, also sat in with ABB at Wanee last year when he was touring with BK3. Quinones jumps on the tom-toms, and it is on. Warren and Derrick swap leads back and forth, and it starts to sink in that the show is coming to a close.
But not before they throw out a sparkling “Whipping Post” encore. Hadn’t heard it all weekend, so you knew it was coming. One last dance session with your friends, hugs and smiles all around, while the boys go crazy on stage. Finish up that beer. You did it, you made it through another marathon session — featuring the Allman Brothers Band — at Wanee. You survived the heat, the dust, the bathrooms and the wookies. You can’t wait to do it again next year.
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park is a national treasure. Early Saturday morning, our diligent camping neighbors from New Jersey loaded up the canoe and hit the Suwannee River. They were back before the party folk started climbing from their tents. The Park is a great combination of primitive and reserved-spot camping. A generous portion of the primitive spots are scattered around and within the reserved spots, so you can camp close to the action if you want. The Park covers more than 800 acres too, meaning you can camp as far away from the clutter as you want.
Weather was great, mid-80s with only brief rain Saturday afternoon. At night, when the temps dip into the 50s, there’s a quiet side and a loud side to the campground. The quiet side runs past the Peach stage on the Wanee meadow, along River Road and Loop Road. Most of the RV reserved spots are on the quiet side. We like to camp behind the row of rental cabins on the quiet side in a scattered grove of oak trees. It offers quick access to the main Peach stage, and it’s close to the bath house on the Loop Road. There are plenty of RV spots around for us to bum power, too.
The loud side of the camp contains more primitive camping spots. The centerpiece of the loud side is Rees Lake, a small man-made affair about a quarter-mile in diameter. There’s a chapel on the lake, and a small stage that goes unused during Wanee. Venture out further past the lake, which is just above the Amphitheater along Rees Lake Road, bear left and you get to the Far Meadow. Open air primitive spots are plentiful in the Far Meadow, where the Bat House and the Drum Circle Pavilion are located. People are streaming in and out of the camps along the roads, on foot or bicycle or golf cart, all day and all night.
You gotta take your chair, post it by the road, and watch the freaks parade by for at least half an hour. No telling what you’ll see: stilt walkers, guys wearing empty half watermelons as hats, body-painted bikini girls, No-Weed Lee, fire jugglers, glass-bowl sellers, a guy completely covered in Spanish moss, hula-hoop girls, guys wearing capes, girls wearing glitter, our friend Space, hustlers beside cattle rustlers. Heck, the transgender couple who sat in front of us Saturday night barely drew a notice.
The cops were cool. There are lots of stories about cops sneaking up to bust people partying at their campsites at night, but it doesn’t seem to stop the lighting and burning. I saw the cops marching out a guy who was launching fire-propelled paper lanterns into the air from the crowd on Friday night. After consulting with event staff, the guy (who acted calm and polite throughout) was given back his remaining lanterns and told to take them back to his camp. No ejection, no rough handling. I complimented the staff guy on resolving the incident peacefully, and he told me there had been very few serious incidents so far.
Still, there’s no telling what people will do when you let them loose. My buddy and I were walking around the Loop Road camp area late Friday morning looking for a friend’s campsite. At the back of the Loop, we ran into a zip-line that patrons had strung between two large oak trees. The line began about 20 feet in the air, where you reached it by climbing a ladder propped up against a tree. It ended about 30 yards away where it was fastened to another tree at about five feet high. Crazies were grabbing the zip handle and taking the ride.
My buddy elbows me in the ribs and points at the zip line. “You know the last thing a redneck says before he dies?” he asks while we watch a guy hold on for dear life as he zips above the asphalt tarmac that runs below the length of the line.
The big news at Wanee this year was the festival debut of two new “Allman family” bands, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band and the Warren Haynes Band. It appears to me that the Brothers are setting the stage for a transition. Drummer Butch Trucks has talked about taking it easy in the South of France within a few years, and both Gregg and Jaimoe, like Butchie, are well into their 60s. The Tedeschi-Trucks Band and the Warren Haynes Band look like the heirs apparent.
“Where’d you hear that?” says Luther Dickinson, guitar player for North Mississippi All-Stars, when I tell him over the phone I thought some sort of transition was beginning. “I’m not sure I believe it. I think it was Bob Dylan who said that retirement doesn’t really exist for musicians.”
Luther did agree that Tedeschi-Trucks Band, which carries a full horn section, two drummers and two Burbridges, is the bomb. “When I first saw them they gave me a really intense feeling of an extension of the tradition,” he says. “And that gave me a really wonderful feeling for the future.” When I point out that the Warren Haynes Band is structured along the lines of the Jerry Garcia Band from the ‘80s, with a female vocalist and organ but no piano, Luther agrees again. “Yeah, I like that, I can see it.”
The Warren Haynes Band hit the Peach stage at 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. The band’s debut album Man in Motion comes out next month, so about half of the 90-minute show was devoted to the new disc. The band played six songs before breaking out “Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley,” and five of those are on the new release. My favorite new one is the rocking “River’s Gonna Rise.” Four other songs, including “Power and the Glory” from the pre-Sally portion, are off Warren’s first solo album Tales of Ordinary Madness (’96). They also cranked a Mule tune, “Tear Me Down” off ‘03’s The Deepest End.
Warren’s new band carries superstar Nigel Hall, from Royal Family Records, on organ, and Ruthie Foster on vocals. Ruthie had a schedule conflict for Wanee, so Alfreda Gerald – who sang on Tales – ably filled in. The rhythm section is unbeatable, with NOLA bang-bang Terrence Higgins from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on drums and funky Ron Johnson from KDTU slapping the bass. ABB stalwart Ron Holloway, resplendent at Wanee in a white-cloth, WHAT DESIGN PANTS SUIT, joins the Warren Band on sax. You know Jerry is smiling down on this!
On Saturday, it was Tedeschi-Trucks Band’s turn to take the 4:30 p.m. slot. That might be these bands’ time-slot for the foreseeable future. Wanee does a great job of placing a popular, yet still rocking, iconic artist as the lead-in to the headliner. Everyone participates better when they know the songs. Last year on Saturday, it was the Doobie Brothers, this year, Steve Miller. The formula works well, so I’d anticipate seeing these bands at these times next year. Plus, it gives Warren and Derrick a chance to gather their thoughts before returning with the Brothers.
Tedeschi-Trucks Band also has its first album, Revalator, coming out in June. Where Warren sprinkled his new songs in, even using new tune “Invisible” as the encore, Tedeschi-Trucks played four songs off the new album first and moved on to their roots. Check the lineage on this run of covers: Bobby “Blue” Bland (“That Did It”), Sly and the Family Stone (“Sing A Simple Song”), B.B. King (“Standing On The Edge of Love”) and Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett (“Comin’Home”). Then they had the nerve to wail on “Nobody’s Free,” a new tune that isn’t on the album. Catch that one on UTube here: http://bit.ly/c7d70T. “Uptight,” Stevie Wonder’s ’66 hit single, and “Space Captain,” off Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishman (’70), closed the set.
Tedeschi-Trucks features Susan Tedeschi on vocals and guitar, along with husband Derrick Trucks on lead guitar. ABB’s Oteil Burbridge plays bass, and his brother Kofi handles keys and the flute. The Burbridge brothers jammed it out on “Comin’ Home.” The band has paired two drummers, former John Mayer band member J.J. Johnson and The Falcon. It was great to see The Falcon, also known as former Codetalkers drummer Tyler Greenwell, back in action. Background vocals are anchored by long-time band member Mike Mattison. Horns round out the sound, with new star Maurice Brown on trumpet, Kebi Williams on sax and Saunders Sermons on trombone.
I didn’t get to Wanee music this year until late afternoon on Thursday. I missed Melvin Seals and JGB, The Radiators and Dumpstaphunk on Wednesday night. My boy JK said it was great. I also missed Honeytribe, Devon Allman’s band, and John Popper & the Dusky Troubadors while I was setting up camp. My first Wanee music this year was North Mississippi All-Stars Duo, featuring Luther and Cody Dickinson. Bassist Chris Chew is taking some time off while the Dickinson brothers open for Robert Plant and the Band of Joy over the next month.
Luther says he’s writing some music specifically for the Duo. Cody says playing with just his brother lets him experiment more, which has added to his skill set. He’s tried using plastic tubes, rubber mallets and different size sticks. “It all sounds fresh and new to me,” he says. “Also, it’s a lot of fun.” After starting out with Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile,” the Duo settled into a North Mississippi set without Chewy. I loved the finishing romps of “All Night Long” and “Black Maddie.” After hearing that, I was out of my road funk and ready to roll!
I caught about half the Hot Tuna Electric set at the Mushroom stage in the Amphitheater, and about half the Stephen Marley set at the Peach stage in the Meadow. Here’s how it was: The old people were at Tuna, and the young people (lots of beautiful little ladies at the festival) were all over Marley. The Marley set was a nice lead-in to the night’s headliner, Widespread Panic.
I started my music day Friday at 2:30 p.m. with my first look-ever at Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Can you say female James Brown? I’d heard and read all about Miss Jones and her group, and I still was surprised at the ferocity of her presentation. Two or three times she had to take off her high-heeled shoes so she could get down and dance. Full band, with horns, drummers, keys, back-up singers – the works. I dug “Natural Born Lover.” “He’s a natural born lover and he takes care of business,” Sharon sings. But the highlight of the show was “My Mama Don’t Like My Man.” Sharon says her mother doesn’t like her man’s dress style, the things he says, the company he keeps or the color of his hair. He’s too rough and lazy. Sharon sings, “Lovin’ him should be so easy.” It ain’t, but Sharon says she’ll dance right through it. To prove that, Sharon waves a passel full of young ladies on stage to shake it right along with her. “Come on, room up here for one more,” she says. Ahhh, Waneeeeeeee!
Robert Plant brought a different kind of band than some people expected, and it threw them off. Couple of my friends said they didn’t like it because it didn’t sound “Zepplin enough”. Come on. The rootsy Band of Joy, featuring Buddy Miller and David Scott on guitar and Patti Griffin on vocals, puts on great show. And Plant can still croon-and-scream like he always did. They whaled plenty of Zep: “Black Dog,” “Ramble On,” “Gallows Pole,” “Rock n Roll.” Check ‘em out on UTube, they’re all up there. My favorite was the encore, Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” Peace and love my ass – it’s raining radiation over in Tokyo. I appreciated that little tug at our collective consciousness.
On Saturday at 2:30 p.m., I had to choose between Ween on the Peach stage and Rusted Root on the Mushroom stage. I’ve seen Root, but I didn’t know what Ween had to offer. I decided to check out Ween, and if they blew I was going to hit Root. Never left Ween – it was fucking great. (You must cuss at least once when speaking of Ween.) Peace and love was everywhere at Wanee, and Ween acted like they’d had enough of it. The change of pace to some sarcastic shred-rock was just what I needed. I didn’t know that, but Gene and Dean did. “Bananas and Blow” got me to stand up out of my chair and take notice. “Beacon Light” smoked right after that, and I was hooked. “Mr. Richard Smoker” cracked me up and “Let’s Dance” had me going. These guys really know what they’re doing. I’ll pay to see them next time they’re around.
The Steve Miller band held the lead-in spot for Saturday’s headliner, the Allman Brothers Band. Nice bluesy band, with harpist and vocalist Sonny Charles lending extra oomph. Steve played at least 10 of his ‘70s hits, winding down the show with “Living In the USA,” “Fly Like An Eagle,” “The Joker” and “Jungle Love.” He strummed a solo version of “Wild Mountain Honey” that he dedicated to Norton Buffalo, his longtime-harpist who passed away last year. I got the biggest kick out his phonetic-blues numbers. “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” written by NOLA legend Jessie Hill way back in the day, and “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma,” penned by Stevie himself, really helped put the crowd in a great mood. Reminds me, he played a nice “In The Mood” too.
Widespread Panic headlined the main Peach Stage on Thursday, the first big day of the festival. Crowds were smaller this year compared with last year. My friends and I agreed it was because Panic was scheduled for a three-day festival immediately following Wanee. Result: Very few Panic wookies in attendance. Last year, when Panic played twice before ABB, the place was packed to the hilt.
The looming three-day festival also placed a collar on the band’s song choices, I think. They couldn’t bust everything out when they had to go play three more days in a row. JJ Cales’ “Travelin’ Light” opened the show, and it was on. John Bell, Panic lead vocalist and guitar player, turned 49 that day, but I never heard anyone mention it. Maybe they’re saving the celebration for next year. The band played a half-dozen songs off their best studio album, Till the Medicine Takes (’99). They segued from “Surprise Valley” into Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” into a crazy drum jam with Cody Dickinson on rub board before ending back at “Surprise Valley.” “Dyin’ Man” and “Climb to Safety,” the last songs played before the encore, simply rocked the house.
The crowd loved “Chainsaw City,” a tune penned by Panic buddy Jerry Joseph. My favorite was “Breakin’ Down Blues” with my man Luther sitting in on slide. It’s a country blues tune recorded by Robert Johnson during his last-ever session back in ’37. All the great bluesmen have played it, and Luther did it justice. Cody was called back up to sit in on drums for the band’s encore of Neil Young’s ’72 classic “Are You Ready for the Country?” Seeing how we were celebrating our first night out under the stars in the wide-open wonder that is Wanee, it was a good question to ask. Yes, I thought, I am ready for the country.
The next night was the Allman Brothers’ turn to headline. Friday night was blues night at Wanee. The Brothers opened up with “Hot Lanta,” a tune that’s only available live. I think it was a quick tribute to Berry Oakley, the former ABB bass player who was born in April and used to solo on this tune. Then they moved into “Midnight Rider” and “Trouble No More,” two songs that need no introduction. We were just getting settled in when a git-tar duel broke out over “Woman across the River.” Derrick, on slide, battled Warren note-for-note to gain the good lady’s pleasure. Hard to tell who won, but both men were left standing.
“Come and Go Blues,” a Gregg song off Brothers and Sisters, and “I Walk On Guilded Splinters,” a Dr. John song off his first album Gris Gris (’68), are both funky, piano-driven tunes. You focus on the squalling guitars, but you have to remember the songs were written by piano men. “Egypt” is an instrumental the band has been playing since the Beacon shows in ’06. I felt that it was the least developed song of the evening. Things picked up significantly with “Statesboro Blues,” the only song the band played twice this weekend. Kofi stepped on stage with his flute for “Who’s Been Talking.” Warren kills the vocals here. Next up is “Preachin’ Blues,” one of my favorite songs of the night. “Gonna get me religion, gonna join me the Baptist church,” Warren sings. “Gonna become a Baptist preacher, so I don’t have to work.”
Let’s check the blues lineage on those three previous tunes: Blind Willie McTell, Howlin’ Wolf and Son House. As if to show they got the blues too, the band kicked it into high gear next for “Black Hearted Woman.” I was running all weekend with my crew from Everglades Adventure Tours (http://bit.ly/hxjKGk), and someone smacked me on the back during this song.” You gotta write about this one,” my boy Jason shouted at me. We staked out a nice spot even with the soundboard for all three days. We made friends for the weekend with Wesley from Georgia, Tim and Lori from Kansas City, and Sandy from Orlando. Sharing with the people is always the key.
The boys have tacked a “Come Around” ending onto the end of “Blackhearted Woman” as a kind of homage to the Dead. It sounds great. Ron Holloway joined the action for the final song before the encore, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” At some point a four-man drum jam broke out, with Oteil dropping the bass to sit in on Butchie’s kit while the grand ole man turned his attention to the tom-tom. Tell you what, Oteil has some serious drum skills. Now, we’d seen the roadies carry Gregg’s black acoustic guitar on-stage during set-up, so we knew we were getting a “Melissa” encore. But we didn’t know we were also getting “One Way Out” with the Dickinson brothers and Roosevelt Collier, the pedal-steal player for the Lee Boys, sitting in.
Duane played guitar on albums by the Dickinson’s father, Jim Dickinson and the Dixie Flyers, in the ‘60s. Luther says his mom used to tell him stories about Duane running around the house naked with all the girls. I ask Luther what’s so special about playing with the Brothers. “It’s the history, man,” he says. “The legacy of the Allman Brothers goes back a generation. I can’t play with Miles or Hendrix, but the Allman Brothers Band is still alive. There’s something special about it.” Luther says Warren has been taking care of him since they met in high school. Now I know why Warren let Luther loose on “One Way Out,” signaling for him to carry it on home.
And it’s not just Warren who extends the hand. Cody says he was watching the final Friday encore backstage when Jaimoe waved him over to step up to his kit. “It was a surprise for me,” he says. “To get that sort of support from people I admire so much, I was just so honored.” So that’s what the Allman Brothers Band does for you. They blend the old – Gregg, Jaimoe and Butch – with the new – Derrick, Warren, Marc and Oteil. And they reach out to incorporate their peers into the family. The result is one of the best festivals in the nation, Wanee. Like Luther said during his time on stage with the Duo: “This is my favorite festival up-and-running right now.” Amen, brother, amen.