Photos by Lori Sky Twohy
I arrived at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida on a perfect spring day for Wanee Music Festival. Stirring with anticipation and a little angst because I was later than I had intended, I calmed down as everything at the gate seemed to be running smoothly. The entrance was organized, traffic well managed, and ticket lines were fairly short and moving quickly. I picked up my ticket with no problem and grabbed the festival guide. Inside were the liner notes to the upcoming release of 40: The Allman Brothers Band 40th Anniversary Show and an interview with Butch Trucks. Fantastic! I would read that later. I flipped through the advertisements to the schedule. How much time would I have to set up camp before running to the festival grounds to see…? I wasn’t even sure. This was definitely need-to-know, especially since the schedule hadn’t been posted on the web site as of two days before the festival. But here too, there were no stage times listed, only lineup by day, and a note that said “Subject to change. Check the information boards regularly.” I started to get some a bad feeling … would this be a sign of how the weekend would go?
My angst quelled driving through the campgrounds. My friends had scored a camp site by the picture perfect winding river with its overhanging live oaks draped in Spanish moss that hung down to dance with the lazy current. A little piece of heaven on earth populated by hippies chillin’ amongst their tapestries, the scent of the fresh spring air mingling sporadically with burgers cooked over a fire, and the sweet earthy hints of herbs and patchouli.
The talk was all music, which bands to see, what might be played. But when were they playing? What times? My friends informed me that the schedule was on the app, but mine would not update with lack of cell service from my provider. This only bothers me when I really need something important. Otherwise, who cares? Lack of cell service means the outside world disappears, for me and everyone around me, adding to the whole slow-down-tune-out vibe of the festival. But getting the schedule…that was important! Calm down, I told myself. You are close to the Grand Hall. There is Wi-Fi. You can update the app. It will all be ok. It took a little doing, but it worked! There it was! Yay! And by the time I got back to camp and prepared myself for the night, festival staff had delivered schedules! Some scheduling issues with the bands had been the problem, it was rumored, but it was all good now. This set the tone for the festival. This was not the only hiccup of the weekend, but whatever issues arose seemed to be dealt with swiftly by Live Nation and SOSMP staff, and the “go-with-the-flow” festies were quick to forgive and forget, as well as help each other out, especially once the party got rolling and jamming commenced.
This year’s Wanee Music Festival marked the 10th Anniversary at SOSMP, as well as hosts’ The Allman Brothers Band’s 45th Anniversary, so there was much to celebrate, though tinged with a touch of sadness. The band’s recent announcement that this would be their last year together, that Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks would be leaving the band, added a sense of historical and sentimental significance particularly to the two ABB sets. The overall attendance seemed on par with the past festivals to me, at around 20,000, but it was ABB that had the Peach Stage, in the sunken, starlit meadow, filled with devotees. Yet there was plenty of room to dance, or hoop, or run about. And both sets were killer. Friday night got off to a late start. But when the band took the stage, it was plain to see, for those close to the stage (since there are no big screens at Wanee), that Gregg Allman was in a cast. He had broken his wrist that afternoon in a golf cart incident and had to be taken to the hospital in Jacksonville. Even in a cast, with his voice still recovering from his recent bout with bronchitis, he thankfully was able to perform both sets. And of course he had a little help from his friends. Kofi Burbridge played keys, along with Allman, both nights, and Warren Haynes was right on the vocals when Gregg’s voice faltered slightly and needed a rest. But the crowd could not have been more appreciative of Gregg’s tenacity, so pleased to hear him at all, and the smoking hot performances from the band, especially Derek Trucks who was on fire all weekend, left nothing wanting.
The same could be said for the rest of the festival which started with pre-festival sets on Wednesday night for early arrivals that included Florida’s Cope, Juke, The Heavy Pets and New Orleans’ Honey Island Swamp Band. But things really kicked off on Thursday with set after set after set of spectacular music and all around good times. Choosing highlights is almost impossible as there we too many sets where I just want to say “the whole dang thing!” So, in the order it went down, more or less …
Highlights – Musical and Otherwise
Royal Southern Brotherhood – “Could Get Dangerous”
No doubt Mike Zito’s “Gone To Texas” was a fan favorite, but it was a mind-blowing “Could Get Dangerous” that had mouths agape. Devon Allman electrified with a short but intense solo before “one of the most bad-ass bass players on the planet” as Cyril Neville said, Charlie Wooton, took over and then segued into a kick ass drum feature from Yonrico Scott and Cyril Neville. This has already gone into heavy rotation on my music player.
Wanee has a great vibe to it. Part of it has to do with setting. Once you enter the park, you are in another world. The whole set up makes it easy to get from the campsites to the stages. The stages are set in close enough proximity that you don’t have to miss complete sets when the ones you want to see overlap, and the whole park is just serene. Though I saw some police and security, they were not overbearing and certainly not out to wreck anyone’s fun. The park staff is cheerful and chilled. Of course, the near perfect weather and a great lineup of music with performers as stoked to be there as the festival goers is key. Hot Tuna Electric, among other bands not currently on tour or promoting a new album, make the trip to Florida just to perform at this festival.
Hot Tuna Electric – “99 Year Blues”/ “Rock Me Baby”
These two songs were played back-to-back. The “99 Year Blues” drew me down to the rail, or at least as close as I could get, and the “Rock Me Baby” kept me there with my eyes glued on Jorma Kaukonen , Jack Casady and Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin, trying to take in every note. The juxtaposition of these two songs, the folksy blues tune with its meticulous solos and Jorma’s vocal phrasings into the dirty blues with searing electric guitar riffs and teases, including “The Sky is Crying,” displayed the dexterity and vigor of these legends… and of course, why they are legends. On a night that saw Jack turn 70, Jorma thanked the crowd and said that it was great being here, and at their ages, it was great being anywhere. With that they launched into a “Funky #7 which was fairly spectacular too.
Wanee always seems to draw a cool crowd. This year seemed even more relaxed to me than the past few years though I couldn’t really explain why. But as always, there were new friends made from all over the country as well as plenty of Wanee-buds that return year after year. The largest of the Suwannee festivals, I always forget just how many people are there, and I was surprised at how packed the Mushroom stage was Thursday. But when I wandered down the slope of the Amphitheater, maneuvering to take a photo or get a closer view of some of my favorite musicians, people were pleasant, making room for me or even inviting me to come up with them. One guy, one very tall guy, who was also making his way through the crowd, stopped in front of me, but then, amazingly, he turned around and said to me, “Don’t worry. I’m not staying here. I know I’m tall. I won’t block your view.” It’s a small thing, but I think it speaks volumes about the people at Wanee. And of course, there are the kind folks who share what they have, that is, if you are in passing vicinity.
I’ve heard Soulive play these songs before but on this night it was particularly powerful. Coming about midway through a funky set, the band turned down the heat and Eric Krasno turned up the cool, playing jazz licks with such precision and emotion I can only describe it as exquisite. The elegance of his playing was intensified by the lighting, particularly the green lasers which broke apart as they hit the trees, glistening and dancing through the natural canopy and creating an ambiance that was simply magical.
The Travelin’ Stage – Bobby Lee Rodgers, Pink Talking Fish
The incredible jazz and blues guitarist Bobby Lee Rodgers, one of the youngest professors at the prestigious Berklee School of Music, opens the Peach stage every afternoon, but for so many of the campers just eating breakfast or taking advantage of all the park has to offer, like swimming in the river or biking the trails, this might be the only chance to hear him. The carnivalesque traveling stage meanders through the park bringing the music to the camp sites. This year’s traveling bands also included Juke and Pink Talking Fish .
Ziggy Marley – ‘I see marijuana trees blowin in the breeze y’all!’, “Tomorrow People”
I don’t think this set went quite the way Marley intended. There was a delay in the start of the set, which led to some songs being dropped from the set list, a few continuing equipment issues, some missed cues, and at least once, rather noticeably, Marley forgot lyrics. Nevertheless, this was one of the most fun, joy-filled sets of the weekend. He performed the set with so much love and energy, dancing and laughing as he tossed his long dreads about, you couldn’t help but be happy too. The set was a mix of old favorites and new tunes from his latest album, Fly Rasta. Favorites included “Wild and Free” and “Sunshine.” And of course there were a couple of papa’s songs in the set too. I’m sure a lot of folks would put “Is This Love” at the top of their highlight list. It is uncanny how much he sounds like his father, more so than any other of his siblings I’ve heard. But it was his first hit, “Tomorrow People,” that made the set for me. It was like going home, back to being a carefree teen on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. And it seemed I was not alone. People were jumping up and down right along with me (and Ziggy) despite the hot sun beaming down. As he finished the song he yelled out “how ya doin?’” and the crowd let out a huge roar.
Umphrey’s McGee – The Day Set …
I had never seen a day set from Umphrey’s. Neither had anyone I talked too. I’m sure they have played day sets at other festivals, at other venues, but this was just strange to those of us that have only seen night shows with their incredible light shows. There is no doubt that is part of the overall UM experience. So why is this a highlight? Playing a set of only originals, unless you include the bit of Tchaichovsky in “Thin Air” or the Metallica jam in “All In Time,” UM threw down six amazing jams. They were wide open the whole set. There was no laying back because this was a sunny, pleasant afternoon, not in terms of set list or their playing. Instead they tore it up with a high energy, progrock set. Perhaps one of the best things about the day set with no light show and no fog, was that you could actually see Andy Farag and Kris Myers throwing down those wickedly insane rhythms!
moe. – Freebird
No they didn’t actually play “Freebird,” though they did tease it momentarily between songs in in case anyone felt like they were missing something and, since moe. played opposite of Lynyrd Skynyrd, you could hear it faintly in the background during the drum break in “Mexico.” But with the choice, who do you go to see? For myself, though I’ve never seen Skynyrd, I was not about to miss what I knew would be a great set. moe. always puts together a solid show, so I followed the other moe.rons on over to the Mushroom stage. A bit silly from just returning from two week European tour, the band still put on a high energy show and we were treated to some amazing jams especially a 21-minute, mesmerizing “Silver Sun>Puebla” and a knockout, heartfelt “Mexico.” Delighted to be playing at Suwannee for the second time in a month, Al Schnier looked out at the crowd and said, “Is this the most beautiful sight or what? I love this spot. All the places you play all over the world, this, right here, this is one of the most … this is magic.”
The Wizard of Oz
As moe. was reaching the climax of “Mexico,” the party in full swing, everyone dancing and spinning about to the lively, upbeat rhythms , Al Schnier going crazy on guitar, a group of festies entered the amphitheater in procession, dressed in all kinds of costumes including what I thought was a shower. Until I began to recognize Dorothy, the mayor of Munchkinland, the tin man, a lollipop boy. OH! The shower was “the man behind the curtain!” They paraded all through the amphitheater until they found enough open space for them all and joined in the dance.
Trey Anastasio Band – “Black Dog”
Yes, I’m going to be like many-a “Phish phan” here … I was really, really, REALLY hoping for anything other than a “Black Dog” encore. It’s a fantastic tune, but not only was I sure it would be played that night during the Dumpstaphunk does Zeppelin set, it’s been the encore at EVERY TAB show I’ve seen. (I might be wrong about that, but it feels that way.) But in a set that started a little slow and then gained serious momentum with Trey bouncing all around the stage and getting deeper and more playful with his solos with each song, especially during “Push on til the Day,” this turned out to be a great “Black Dog.” As always, Jen Hartswick opens her mouth and you are immediately blown away, the crowd goes crazy, all singing along “Ah-Ah- Ah-Ah-“ and then Trey and Jen go into an overarching duet with his guitar and her vocals. This time though Trey began toying with her, not just leading, but really pushing her. I held my breath as I watched and listened. She kept up with everything he threw at her even though you could see her shaking her head and trying not to laugh as he egged her on, nodding and grinning, for two solid minutes climaxing in a race up the scale to her highest register and ending in an orgasmic cry.
The Ferris Wheel
The newest addition to the festival fun and adding an panoramic view of the Peach stage and festies!
Allman Brothers Band – “Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home” / “Elizabeth Reed>Drums>Elizabeth Reed”
Yes, there was that Trey sit-in with “Franklin’s Tower.” Yes it was awesome! ABB set. In my opinion, overall, this was the better of the two nights musically. Besides the surprising sit-in and cover, which featured Oteil Burbridge on vocals, the band was just on top of it from start to finish and these two songs were definite standouts. “Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home” went from gritty rock to totally funky with Oteil Burbridge carrying the song and laying down a mean bass line, Kofi Burbridge killing the keys and exchanging grooves with Gregg Allman, and Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks just shredding it. When it was finished, after I let out an ecstatic, uncontainable “Whoo!”,
I looked around and saw everyone else was looking at each other in disbelief and agreement. The set ender “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed>JamaBubu>Elizabeth Reed” was equally a set highlight. The band was just tight. Warren and Derek nailed the early harmonics, playing as one and then broke into scorching alternating leads, and somewhere along the line I realized that the third drum set on stage was occupied. Apparently Duane Trucks, the younger brother of Derek, currently playing with Hard Working Americans, had joined in on the fun during “Soulshine” but I had not noticed. I ran up into the crowd to get a closer look as Duane, Butch and Jaimoe
erupted in a rush of percussive adrenaline.
Clean Up Crew
I’m not sure if the patrons were more conscientious this year in throwing away their garbage or if Live Nation and/or SOSMP hired a new crew, but the festival grounds were much cleaner and much faster than I’ve seen in years past.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood – The Granola Set, “Star or Stone,” “Ride”
Chris Robinson kicked off this early set saying, “Its only 10 am in California so this is our granola set” and it definitely was a crunchy one! As one of my freaky friends said, “it was loaded down with all the essential vitamins and minerals and packed with a wholesome flavor to sustain one for the rest of the day!” Indeed. The set had a great ebb and flow between uptempo songs and mellow ballads with solid structured melodic tunes infused with psychedelic tonal trips. They whetted the appetite opening with songs from their new album Phosphorescent Harvest and then turned to older songs for some extended jams. Stand outs were the soulful “Star or Stone” and the funky, rockin’, thoroughly jammy, “Ride,” both of which really showed them extending and flexing their creative muscles taking the audience on an ecstatic musical trip. Ending with Rosalee, a song which asks “Is the air getting thinner? Are we getting high?” the answer to CRB is “Yes! High on the music!”
The warm weather brought out quite a few bikini tops. But a few beautiful women showed their Wanee love with just a little less, wearing Wanee stickers as pasties. (Ooh those had to hurt coming off!)
Blues Traveler – Derek and Susan are looking up
The Derek and Susan heads showed up at many sets including the Blues Traveler’s which prompted John Popper to say: “I love those giant faces. Those are some adorable faces right there. Point them at the sky for a second. That’s what this song is about!” And the band shot into “Things Are Looking Up” as those heads bopped about. I’ve seen John Popper do sit-ins but I had never seen the band live before. Looking back at the set list, it seems like a greatest hits set, but being there, hearing the nuances, the change ups, and experiencing the emotion with which Popper plays and sings on favorites “But Anyway,” “ Run Around,” and one of my favorites “The Mountains Win Again,” was extremely powerful.
Rusted Root – Everything except “Send Me on My Way”
Before anyone throws stones at me … “Send Me on My Way” is a great song. I like it very much. I, like many people, probably wouldn’t have “found” Rusted Root without it. And I admit, I sang along and jumped around when they played it. But it is only a taste of the originality, talent and depth of this compelling group that just crushed their entire set (as they have been for over 20 years) and turned the Mushroom stage into a spiritual, tribal celebration. I talked to quite a few people afterwards who, like me, had never seen them live – everyone loved “Drum Trip” with the “sticks on the stage” – but many were not familiar with much of their music either. Rusted Root, I’m happy to say, gained quite a few new fans.
The Food – Shady Grove Wraps, The Sunshine Cafe
I caught an interesting conversation during one of trips to the food vendors. There was a customer grilling the food vendor about his business. What I found most interesting is that this vendor is at several other festivals I attend. When writing about one of these festivals, I had heavily criticized the vendors. How could the same vendor be great at one festival and terrible at another? I’m sure there are many, many reasons. I don’t care. I’m at a festival and I need sustenance. What I do know is the food vendors at Wanee are great. Not only is there variety, but also the food is fresh, the portions are plentiful, and, well, not cheap, but competitively priced. Moreover, I have yet to patronize one that won’t accommodate my special dietary needs even if that means coming up with a custom item. Two of my favorites have consistently been the Sunshine Café and Shady Grove Wraps, who puts everything that goes into a rap over fries instead. What an indulgence!
Melvin Seals and JGB – Melvin Seals and JGB
Another first- time-seeing- live for me, my heart soared seeing Melvin flash his huge smile as he rocked side-to-side letting his fingers float over the keys and listening to the soaring guitar of Dave Hebert. I got my “Cats Under The Stars” right from the top and after that everything else was icing on the cake. “And It Stoned Me” and “Dear Prudence” had gorgeous solos from Seals and Hebert. “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” and “Midnight Moonlight” were spot on. It was the “Johnny Too Bad” with a beautiful jam that surprised me the most. I was completely in my element with many kindred spirits and this turned out to be one of my favorite sets of the weekend.
Tedeschi Trucks Band played opposite Melvin Seal and JGB. Because I have seen TTB many times before, I chose to miss this set. But those who did go really only had one thing to say… Derek Trucks blew me away! That seemed to be an ongoing conversation over the weekend. Did Derek have extra Wheaties before coming to this festival? Just when you think he can’t get better, he does. It seemed to me, hearing him with ABB and an incredible sit-in on “Stratus” with Gov’t Mule, that he has reached a new level of maturity and confidence that is allowing him to relax and enjoy and that just shone through in his playing and his stage presence.
Gov’t Mule – “Gameface with Mountain Jam”
This should just be “Meltface” … do I really need to say more?
Allman Brothers Band – The End?
This was just a deeply moving set, especially considering this might be the end. Only time will tell if there will be ABB reunions for the festivals, or even if the festivals will continue, and we can only hope they will, but the fans certainly approached it as if this was it as did the band. Though night one was my preferred set, with the longer jams, this one had amazing level of emotion. Gregg was tremendously soulful on “Don’t Want You No More>It’s Not My Cross to Bear.” On “Dusk Til Dawn” Warren sang with controlled tenderness, Derek’s solo was impeccable and the addition of Kofi Burbridge on flute was divine. The sit-ins during this set were equal to those the night before with Eric Krasno playing “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” and John Popper and Roosevelt Collier joining the brothers for a scintillating “One Way Out” encore. The crowd began to disperse tentatively as the video screen that acts as the back drop, showing old photos and memorabilia, continued to roll and “Little Martha” was was played. Was that it? Was it over? There were no fireworks, no second song encore. Both sets were extraordinary and memorable, yet that was what we would be left with, memories. It was a rather somber, though moving end.
The Covers and the Sit-ins
Here’s a few more of the fun covers and sit-ins from the weekend:
Royal Southern Brotherhood – Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones)
Soulive –Manic Depression (Jimmy Hendrix), Come Together (The Beatles)
Ziggy Marley – Get Up, Stand Up (Bob Marley)
moe. – Godzilla (Blue Oyster Cult)
Trey Anastasio Band – Ooh Child (The Five Stairsteps)
Allman Brothers Band – Night 1 – Who’s Been Talking w/ Trey Anastasio and Jen Hartswick (Howlin’ Wolf), Franklin’s Tower w/ Trey Anastasio and Rachel “Stixx” Turner (Grateful Dead)
Night 2 –, That’s What Love Will Make You Do w/ Eric Krasno (Little Milton), I Walk on Gilded Splinters (Dr. John), One Way Out w/ John Popper and Roosevelt Collier (Elmore James)
Blues Travelers – The Devil Went Down to Wanee (Charlie Daniel’s Band)
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Palace of the King (Freddie King)
Sickest Moment of the Festival!
Gov’t Mule – Stratus with Derek Trucks ( Billy Cobham)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMYzoJsGC8M Whole Lotta Love
The Tribute/Cover Sets –
Pink Talking Fish
The lastest project from Particle’s Eric Gould is a tribute, if you will, to Pink Floyd, The Talking Heads and Phish. It’s really more of a musical fusing and musing of how the three band’s songs interconnect. You had to get up and get moving early for this set but it was well worth it! Everyone who heard them, whether they caught the early set or the Traveling Stage set, raved about them and everyone who missed them was sorry they had. Though I was in a quite blissful state at Melvin Seals and JGB, I would have loved to have heard the Traveling Stage set. In fact, if there is any complaint here, it’s that this would have made a perfect late night show Thursday after Soulive and made for a late night trifecta! But I did manage to get to their noon set at the Mushroom stage Saturday and raged like it was midnight. In addition to their own stellar delivery, the band brought out vocalist Sunny Trippel for “The Great Gig In The Sky” and she blew everyone away from the very first note she belted out.
Thanks to Jambase for the set lists:
Mushroom Stage Setlist: Run Like Hell > Slippery People > Tweezer, Have A Cigar, Houses In Motion > Mike’s Song, The Great Gig In The Sky > Burning Down The House > Weekapaug Groove > Run Like Hell
Traveling Stage Setlist: 2001> Life During Wartime, In The Flesh > Tube, Another Brick In The Wall > Psycho Killer > Interstellar Overdrive > Psycho Killer > Another Brick In The Wall, Down With Disease > Crosseyed And Painless> Down With Disease > Eclipse > Tweezer Reprise, Cities (Phish version) > Cities (Talking Heads version), Sand > Young Lust > Big Business, Makisupa Policeman/Brain Damage Mashup> Chalkdust Torture , Encore: Making Flippy Floppy > Run Like An Antelope
Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk – Does Zeppelin and Umphrey’s McGee All Night Wrong
The two late night sets, after the ABB sets, were two special raging sets. Friday late night set was a special tribute set to Led Zeppelin from Dumpstaphunk while Saturday late night Umphrey’s McGee did an all-covers set. Both of these sets were at the top of everyone’s favorite set lists and I’m not sure who had a better time, the audience or the bands. Warren Haynes sat in on both sets. Apparently he didn’t want the fun to end after his sit-in with Dumpstaphunk either because the encore for Gov’t Mule the next day included a “Whole Lotta Love” reprise and his UM sit in was “Immigrant Song.”
Rock & Roll, Black Dog, Dancing Days, Custard Pie, Houses Of The Holy, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Misty Mountain Hop, What Is & What Should Never Be, The Wanton Song, Good Times Bad Times, Trampled Underfoot, Out On The Tiles, D’yer Maker, The Ocean *, Fool In The Rain *, Ramble On *, E: Whole Lotta Love *, Immigrant Song *
^ with John Popper, * with Warren Haynes
Life During Exodous/City of Tiny Lights, The Song Remains the Same, Rock the Casbah >Rhiannon, Miss You *, Hey Nineteen > When the World is Running You Down, You Make the Best of What’s Around, Breathe, A Go Go **, Immigrant Song ***, Black Water ***, Baba O’Reilly, Power of Soul, Cheap Sunglasses, Running with the Devil, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) ****
* w/ John Popper,** w/ Eric Krasno and Adam Deitch,*** w/ Warren Haynes,**** w/ Eric Krasno
To say that both of these sets rocked is an understatement. A glance at the set lists kind of says it all. These were once-in-a-lifetime sets that no one who was there will ever forget. Big thanks to Alex Leary for preserving these shows for us!
Hopefully, this will not be the end. Wanee has been a successful festival and really the only one of its kind in the Southeast. Hopefully, there will be an 11th Wanee with an Allman Brothers Band reunion!