Well it’s been a few days since I returned from the annual Wanee Music Festival and I’m almost caught up on some much needed rest after several jam packed days and nights of incredible music and great times that provided a sensory overload. This was my first multi-day music festival so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I’ve learned over the past few years while attending some of the Allman Brothers Band (ABB) residency shows at The Beacon Theater in NYC that when the Allman Brothers Band are throwing a party it’s a damn good idea to show up and party down with my fellow Peachheads. So this year when I saw the Wanee line-up included two days each of the Allman Brothers Band and Furthur; the latest incarnation of the greatest jam band of all time and the original inspiration for the traveling musical festival and 31 other great bands I knew it was time to make some Southbound plans to get way down upon the Suwannee River.
The Wanee festival, now in its eighth year, is an annual get together of preeminent jam, blues and rock bands held in Live Oak, Florida, hosted by the Allman Brothers just off the banks of the historic Suwanee River. Before I try and describe some of the amazing music, wonderful times and lasting memories that were created at this once in a lifetime convergence of the two preeminent classic rock/jam band founding institutions, I first wanted to give you a little overview of the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park where land, water and music meld together to fill the air and feed the soul. Amazing music certainly defines a festival but something that seems to be overlooked many times when I read about festivals are the intangibles of a given venue. Sure, you need a big field, a stage, good sound system, lights, concessions, bathrooms, etc. to handle the 20,000 plus crowds that showed up at this psychedelic party but equally as important are the little things that help create a great time for everyone. The Suwannee Park is a naturally beautiful place with unspoiled woods adorned with trippy Spanish moss dripping down from the countless Oak andCypress trees that dot the 500 plus acres. The tannin-rich colored Suwannee River is a wonderful diversion as is the lake, boat house and countless other outdoor activities to keep a wandering soul occupied.
To borrow a familiar Hunter/Weir lyric you can say the Suwannee Music Park has got everything you need, a breeze in the pines in the summer night, moonlight, crazy in the sunlight, yes indeed. The park also boasts a café and store that sells all the camping supplies you might need and at very reasonable prices; an example was 20 lb. bags of ice for $4.00 delivered to your site if you want – that is service! I imagine they could have jacked up the prices since they are the only game in town but they didn’t and that just reemphasizes how cool this place really is.
The other crucial ingredient for a good time in my cookbook is a chilled environment sprinkled with nice people and Wanee cooked up the perfect combination. The people working the event, the vendors and those in attendance were the friendliest, most helpful, caring folks I have encountered in a long, long time. During our entire time we did not see a single nefarious act. No mean or rude people, no sketchy characters, no bad vibes and thankfully not even a single peep from a nasty N2O tank. I’d also like to give a big thank you to Juice of Juice and the Panty Droppers (local FL band- check them out if you can) for picking us up in his golf cart while we were way out in the primitive camping area and then delivering us to the venue right after Saturdays downpour just in time for the next musical act, hats off to southern hospitality!
This year’s Wanee festival was somewhat overshadowed by the death of Levon Helm, drummer and singer of The Band who died Thursday after a battle with cancer. Many of the musicians in attendance were good friends with Levon and had played with him at one time or another over the years. This friendship, admiration and musical bond was evident in the outpouring of affection channeled through the music throughout this event. Some of the many artists who played a tribute to Levon included Hot Tuna, Bruce Hornsby, The Allman Brothers w/Bob Weir, The North Mississippi Allstars and Govt. Mule whose “The Shape I’m In” was cut short Saturday when the sky began to cry for Levon and a torrential downpour ensued.
Unfortunately since Wanee is 800 miles from my home and I have a pretty hectic work/family schedule I was only able to make it down by early Friday afternoon so forgive me as I can’t accurately cover some of the bands who started this party earlier in the week. I also want to apologize for not meeting everyone I had planned to but with the amount of music I wanted to see, the distance between places and the two other people I had to coordinate schedules with I did the best I could do. I did hear that I missed a great set with Duane Trucks’ new band, Flannel Church. They are a new blues/funk band featuring a bunch of musicians from various Col. Bruce Hampton projects. Some other acts that I really wished I could have seen were Ray Manzarek, Hot Tuna and Bruce Hornsby, just to name a few.
On Friday we first caught Buddy Guy, who was great, then The Mickey Hart Band followed by the Tedeschi Trucks Band - all leading up to the main courses of Furthur and the Allman Brothers Band. My highlights for Friday include Furthur’s Alligator>Ripple, Scarlet->Fire and their encore of Touch of Gray that had a rainbow full of sound and all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn. Normally after three hours plus Furthur show I would call it a night but that is the beauty of a festival; the music never stops! So, after a longer than expected break (due to Gregg’s seeming declining health) following Furthur, the headlining Allman Brothers Band finally took the Peach Stage late Friday night. I had seen ABB less than a month ago at the Beacon and was quite shocked by Gregg’s health and lack of mobility. From what I have read, it seems like Gregg had three hernias repaired in the nine days leading up to Wanee and has been taking medicine to help with the pain. That combination certainly explains things and I’m sure many lesser artists wouldn’t have even considered performing in this condition, but we all know Gregg is a warrior. So I hope that with the help of God and true friends he’ll still have two strong legs to stand on because we know he is bound to keep on riding and playing beautiful music for his loyal fans. The Allman Brothers set included a three-song tribute to Levon Helm starting with “It Makes No Difference” then Blind Willie McTell followed with The Weight along with Susan Tedeschi and Bob Weir, to name a few of the many people cluttered on stage. After the Allman’s set ended we headed over to catch the end of Particle’s set and enjoyed the sounds and vibe coming from the woods around the Mushroom stage and the festival people who inhabited this smurf village area.
We started Saturday off with a walk along the river and a dip in the Suwannee River to clean off the festival funk from Friday night. As I walked along the sandy trails near the river I could almost hear a sweet lullaby singing to me… don’t fly, mister blue bird, I’m just walking down the road, early morning sunshine tell me all I need to know. Being out and about in the campground visiting with people and seeing all the campsites with their varying degree of decorations was what I envision Halloween might be like in Haight-Ashbury. We also stumbled upon the Traveling Stage cruising down the road with Planet of the Abts on back of this retro fitted truck/stage delivering music right to your campsite, nice way to get the groove out to the people who were still crawling out of their sleeping bags from a long, long night.
We knew we were in for another long day of music Saturday so we didn’t start inside the festival grounds until Trigger Hippy hit the stage early in the afternoon. This fairly new American Rock and Roll super group consists of Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman, singer/songwriter Will Kimbrough, singer Joan Osborne, singer/songwriter Jackie Greene and bassist Nick Govrik. They put on a very inspired show and I would encourage you to check them out if they come to a venue near you. After Trigger Hippy we wandered over to the Mushroom stage where a whole other group of hippies had gathered and watched Leftover Salmon laying down some of their rootsy, bluegrass, cajun, funk and improvisational licks. We then bounced back over to the Peach stage for Gov’t. Mule as Warren was asking the crowd “How you doing Wanee?” to which the crowd answered in unison with some whooping and hollering – but even those good vibes couldn’t keep away the storm that was fast approaching. *Note to self – if you pack rain gear bring it to the venue and don’t leave it in your tent! So during the Mules rendition of “The Shape I’m In” paying tribute to Levon, we had to run for cover and ride out the storm in the car while trying to dry off. After that Box of Rain cleared we made it back (with help from Juice) in time for Furthur to start “Playing in the Band.” I have seen Furthur many times as well as all the other bands that Phil and Bobby have been in over the years since The Grateful Dead and I must say I enjoy the two-set format much better than this one-set format. I definitely have to think that Lesh and Weir enjoy the break as well.
Furthur’s Saturday show included a nice PITB->China Cat Sunflower and a sweet Birdsong into Sugar Magnolia PITB>Help on the way>Slip>Franklins Tower that brought the swirling dancing crowd to a fever pitch. I was somewhat surprised that they broke out U.S. Blues for an encore considering this was Saturday night but maybe it just wasn’t late enough for one more Saturday night. Once Furthur ended we started to squeeze up as close as we could get to the stage, dodging people’s chairs, tarps and taping towers that they had put down hours in advance to secure a prime spot. Maybe it’s just me but I think if you put something down to hold your place then leave for several hours you really shouldn’t expect it to be available for you when you return. The Allman Brothers seemed to want to make some amends for the previous night’s late start and somewhat uncomfortable feel onstage and they proceeded to tear the Spanish moss off the trees with a blistering Jessica, Come and Go Blues then Walk on Gilded Splinters. A very subdued All Along the Watchtower slowed things down a bit then another beautiful cover, Into the Mystic was certainly a highlight. The first encore of the night was a chilling version of Needle and the Damage Done with just Gregg, Derek and Warren on stage; this hushed the crowd noise to the quietest level imaginable. Gregg sat on a stool and sang this song with the conviction that only one who has lived it and been there could pull off (see short, shaky, poor video clip here- sorry) Many people I talked to thought this might be the last time we would ever see Gregg perform, it was just a gut-wrenching give it your all performance that almost seemed to be a fitting farewell to a man who has fought the battles he has fought. Hopefully, everyone is wrong. The final ABB song and encore was Southbound with several extra artists helping out including Roosevelt Collier on pedal steel; Jackie Green on guitar; Danny Louis on keys; Jimmy Hall on harp and James van de Bogert on percussion.
After Southbound ended and Little Martha began coming over the PA system we slowly started to wade out away from the stage through the carnage of a four-day festival that will be remembered for quite some time. The closing act of Wanee this year in the late night slot was the North Mississippi Allstars, back in the woods on the mushroom stage. This place was chocked full of characters in full-blown festie attire grooving to some amazing jams. Roosevelt Collier from the Lee Boys came over and sat in with NMA the whole set and they were just tearing it up like you haven’t seen before, certainly one of the my new favorite bands! They brought out the lasers, the lights, muppets, you name it and it was going on. Before the final song Luther Dickinson came out and dedicated it to former Allman Brothers Band member Dickey Betts, late members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley and to Levon Helm. This jam of all jams seemed to include elements of Blue Sky and Jessica and I sure hope I can find a copy of it to download soon.
This marked the end of another Wanee Music Festival and it left me, and I’m sure everyone else, feeling lucky to be in attendance with memories that will last a lifetime. Check out the photo album below; we hope it will add some visibility and visuals to the otherwise invisible and wonderful music we heard at Wanee.
|Wanee Music Festival 2012 Photos|