Photos by Lori Sky Twohy
When you drive into The Spirit of Suwannee Campgrounds in Live Oak, Florida, it’s like entering a time capsule leaving the world, as you know it, at the gate.
During the four-day weekend – cameras and phones (which by the way do not get reception half the time) are the only modern-day frills. But – that’s part of the charm for people coming to the park and it’s five hundred acres of pristine land on the Suwannee River. There is swimming, disc golf, and even the largest bat sanctuary in the country (eek.) It’s a beautiful place. People will tell you there’s magic here.
The magic was here during The Allman Brothers: 8th Annual Wanee Music Festival, especially when Bob Weir joined the Allman Brothers Band and performed “The Weight” for a moving tribute to Levon Helm, (singer/guitarist with “The Band”), who passed away the day before (Thursday 4/19/12).
Head-lining Wanee were festival veterans: The Allman Brothers Band, along with Furthur and Gov’t mule. Acts of all genres were there, such as Bruce Hornsby, Mickey Hart, the Tedeschi -Trucks Band, Particle, Trigger Hippy, EOTO, North Mississippi Allstars and more.
Throughout the festival, each band contributed a distinct style and energy to 20,000- 25,000 festivalians, the largest yet! In addition, this year, Wanee hosted one of the premier musical workshops in the country; The Fur-Peace Ranch, created by rock & roll hall of famer: Jorma Kaukonen who calls it, “A ranch that grows guitar players.
Workshops were held during the festival by: Jack Cassidy, Mickey Hart, Oteil Burbreidge, Warren Haynes and more.
The Allman Brothers have incredible genes; musical talent runs in the family. Devon Allman and his band Honeytribe , were there to represent and keep the family name alive. With Butch Trucks as your uncle and Derek your brother, Duane Trucks of Flannel Church, is bound to be big and was proving it well. They injected a shot of jazzy funk and southern ‘R &B’ on the Mushroom Stage, Thursday just before COPE.
I wasn’t able to make it to COPE, but I had seen them a few times at a packed house at Skippers in Tampa, Fl. They are another set of talented brothers: Dennis and Kenny Stadelman, who compliment each other and create a funky southern blend of roots, rock, and reggae. On Thursday, Ray Manzarek played a solo on piano that he wrote in memory of Jim Morrison.
The Tedeschi -Trucks Band began their set in the heat of mid-day Friday. Susan, with her bluesy, soulful voice, captured the crowd. The chemistry between the duo was felt as the emotion poured from Derek’s guitar, sending his soulful reply back to his wife. Together they both clearly and passionately compliment each other’s style.
Across the green, playing on the Mushroom Stage, we caught the familiar sounds of Zach Deputy. I’ve seen and acknowledged him a few times before in Asheville. His ability to perform and record numerous sounds in multiple contexts, always amazes me.
The energy shot through the roof as former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of “Furthur,” jammed together on an eight minute long version of “Not Fade Away.” A cloud of smoke shrouded the shows both nights … (and I remembered wondering if all the children sitting on parent’s shoulders caught a high from the distinct haze drifting around them.
To see these guys bantering on stage, recreating both unbelievable and unforgettably great music, was an incredible experience. The man beside me said, “Is this a Dead scene or what? Look around, it’s everywhere!” They played and the crowd sang along to favorites like “Fire on the Mountain,” “Eyes of the World” and were surprised with “Ripple” which was played for the first time on this tour.
“It’s astounding that the continuity of the Grateful Dead music transcends multiple generations and brings people together,” says Jeff, a 45 year Charlotte,NC resident. This statement is true, as my father’s cousin Derek and his buddy Al (from NY) attended, along with all the other first and second generation ‘Deadheads’ as they relive their concert experience and pass it down to their children.
I then left Furthur for a few minutes to hear Dumpstaphunk. The vocals, horns and the echo of Bernie on keys brought all the elements of the P-funk movement together and while walking past the porta-potties, a man exiting the “john,” received a large applause, after singing: “Who’s got the funk, I got the funk.”
Friday evening, all were anxiously awaiting The Allman Brothers Band to begin their set on the Peach Stage. (Speaking of peaches, the band recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the album, “Eat a Peach.”) Band members included: Gregg Allman (who sat in for select songs both nights) Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Oteil Burbridge and Marc Quinones.
They opened with high energy, the instrumental upbeat “Don’t want you no more.” Thousands watched Warren after wiping the sweat from his fingertips, as he takes the lead from Gregg on “It’s not my Cross to Bear.”
Next, with a little relief from Haynes and others, we sing along to the familiar favorite, yet appropriate: “Midnight Rider.” This is Gregg’s song describing how he continues along his path filled with obstacles. The band demonstrated their cohesiveness, when they played a tribute to Levon Helm.
Susan Tedeschi, Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, TTB Horns, Danny Lewis, Bob Weir and James van de Bougert all joined on stage for a few heavy heart-felt songs including: “The Weight” and “It makes no difference.” It was powerful. We were all gripped with the energy delivered.
The audience responded with a grand ovation as the band paused for a moment before breaking into one of my all-time favorites: “Dreams.” Then ending their two and a half hour performance, encoring with “No one to Run With.” It was classic, by living legends.
After the double dose of legendary rockers, there was a mass movement to see what was happening over on the Mushroom Stage. Particle was powerful and ready to take us to another level with the intensity of their sets and captivating stage dynamics. Fan’s were tangled in light sticks and creatively designed glowing totem poles pumped to the beat high into the air for our visual pleasure.
High energy and explosive sound flooded throughout. The light show was an amazing stimulus, adding to the psychedelic trippy experience felt, long after they completed the set with “Luminiferous Ether.” You begin to wonder if there really were glowing fairies dancing in the Spanish moss swaying in the oak trees above, or could it be the effect of another herb filled breeze drifting by.
A few hundred feet away from my campsite, just past the Wanee wedding tent, there was a large fire pit, a community full liquor bar and a trailer full of kegs…free beer for all.
A buddy from Asheville, John Morrer displayed his paintings for sale that he created while watching live shows. His vibrant, trippy 3-D paintings glowed and came alive under the black lights, while he played DJ for a few hundred fellow campers.
Directly across the way was a great high-energy band, the Bone Dogs from Brevard,Florida. These guys were jamming, enticing and inviting all around, continuing the dance party till almost 4 am.
Saturday morning yoga on the field was accompanied by a sound check and light rain. Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio and SOJA performed before Trigger Hippie took the stage. Appropriately, Joan Osborne opened with a light tease of “I can’t stand the rain” then flowing into a duet with Jackie Green; “Turpentine.” They finished their set with a highly engaging, stomping hot “Tennessee Mud.”
Although I missed Hot Tuna, I caught a little of Leftover Salmon just before Gov’t Mule took over the main stage. Out with a force, they unleashed a handful of songs before the soaked crowd watched the band run off stage.Warren’s gut gripping, soul driven vocals drew our attention away from the storm clouds. They let it rip while they could, with “Un-ring theBell,” “Bad Little Doggie,” and “Inside Outside Woman Blues,” to name a few.
Hard driving rhythms and aggressive runs on guitar wasn’t enough to blow the clouds away. As the rain began, people danced in ponchos and trash bags, while others huddled under trees, to the last song: “Shape I’m in,” a short tribute to Levon Helm. Then it poured, the band stopped and masses scuttled out of the rain for cover.
Later, kicking back in a vacant chair, I watched as the sky turned pink and orange; all before another amazing Furthur set. Saturday night’s performance concluded their spring tour. “Estimated Prophet” into “Ramble on Rose” was perfect, but “Shakedown Street” was special, played with a lot of heart.
That evening the band seemed to channel Jerry for a bit, especially during the end of the last set. It stirred up a haunting familiarity among the crowd. “Viola Lee Blues” was tossed back and forth, weaving, “Bertha,” “Wharf Rat,” “Stella Blue,” then finally ending with a memorable performance of “US Blues.” Their impeccable arrangements shined a new light on good old well-known tunes.
I was disappointed that Joan Osborne didn’t join in for old time’s sake.
With clear skies and spirits high, The Allman Brother’s Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks picked us up with a twin guitar solo that took us on a journey, dancing along the frets to “Jessica,” kicking off Saturday night’s set with this crowd pleaser.
The soulful gut-wrenching vocals, combined with perfect bluesy guitar solos, displayed the level of musicianship of the multi-talented Warren Haynes. A triple slide guitar performance by Derek, Warren and Luther Dickenson rocked the crowd. However, standing out above the set was an intimate performance by the trio, Gregg, Derek and Warren, in what would be Gregg’s last song for the evening: “Needle and the Damage Done.”
Among the highlights were other nostalgic ABB favorites such as: “She caught the Katy,” “Statesboro Blues” and Mountain Jam,” which featured Jimmy Hall on harmonica. Musical guests such as: Roosevelt Collier, (pedal steel) Jackie Green and Danny Lewis add to the fire with an explosive “Southbound,” for their second night’s encore.
Luther Dickenson’s North Mississippi All-stars was a great show to finish out the weekend. Warren Hayne’s sat in and injected a little “Mule,” since his set was cut short, surprising the late night crowd.
During a long walk, Sunday morning I met Pu-Tzu, a geode vendor from California specializing in high quality crystals. While holding a watermelon tourmaline worth $6500, he tells me he’s been to more than 150 Grateful Dead shows and says, “that’s where the whole concept of free lovin,’ groovin’ hippies comes from.”
Further down the vendor path, under a canopy tent in the concert area I met Phil Kutno, a uniquely talented oil painter. He says he holds passion for 90% of the subject matter and sticks to the counter-culture subjects, people who are interesting to him culturally. Using a rubber stylus, he draws a multi-dimensional effect for the backdrop of his musician portraits. Standing next to me were four guys who together bought a one of a kind painting of Levon Helm, with hopes to be hung in Gregg Allman’s “Ramble.”
Scarlet Fire was another vendor that caught my attention. Displayed along other handcrafted, original jewelry was nomadic knot work by Isha Elafi. Isha’s knots together stones, silver, gems and artifacts found on her travels, “a modern interpretation of ancient adornment.”
So, for the second time, I came, I saw and I danced my ass off to 15 hours of nonstop live music each day. It was a ridiculously fun time. Music makes a statement, gives voice to a movement and unites us.
Everyone I met from the security guards, to the campers and vendors were kind, polite and generous. There was an enormous amount of grateful love and exceptional ease resonating throughout this rockin’ music fest. With all the senses stimulated, the feeling of the music, and dancing along with some 20,000 other free spirits, you realize, once you go, you know. Spirit of Suwannee is sacred ground for sure. The magic is real. Music will rise from the woods again and keep the spirit alive and free. I will return.