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. Read on for our review of this years incredible festival!
Two Nights, Three Concerts: Furthur, Radio City Music Hall – The Allman Brothers, The Beacon Theatre – Hubert Sumlin, Iridium Jazz Club
After deciding to ignore that little voice in my head, and go ahead and hit the road for a concert binge with a friend who luckily saw the show dates and arranged it all, I hit New York City for three concerts in two nights with three friends – and one hotel room. This trip was meant to be a flurry of shows on the run: hit town, eat, hit the first show, Furthur, (at the legendary Radio City Music Hall), get back to the room and crash, get up, hit the Amsterdam Ale House (and maybe have a beer or two; if you go, try the Aventinus), then hit the Allman Brothers‘ 200th show at the Beacon Theatre. Follow The Allman Brothers with a midnight show at the Iridium Jazz Club (Les Paul’s legendary hangout) to see Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s lead guitarist of almost 20 years, who was a key influence on many English bluesmen (such as little-knowns like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards).
So, as this was very much a jam-band concert-binge trip, I knew I was in for what is always an incredible professionally-delivered music experience. I love seeing new bands early on in their careers, the music is usually raw, more experimental, and you never know what you will see. For Furthur (which is a variation on the continuing touring by Grateful Dead members since Jerry passed away, featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir) at Radio City Music Hall, Lesh and Weir have been doing this for right around 45 years now, and from a musicianship perspective you know what you are going to get every time – a brilliant musical performance. Grateful Dead classics, classic covers (Train in Vain from the Clash and Dear Prudence from the Beatles White Album were highlights this night; both were brilliant, especially Dear Prudence) sometimes extensive 10-15 minute plus jams with intricately interlaced guitar riffs, dead on bass lines, and the near dead-on Jerry vocals and guitar playing from John Kadlecik.
According to Lesh and Weir, Kadlecik, who has taken Jerry Garcia’s parts for Furthur tours, is “spooky” in his ability to play and sing in Jerry’s place. The purists might disagree to some extent, but Kadlecik has to be commended on his stand-in performance; filling Jerry’s shoes is no easy task. Kadlecik was plucked right from The Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead “tribute band”, to go play with what must have been his absolute idols. These guys are all dedicated professionals, and they execute to perfection almost every night (well, maybe there was a stumble in the Dear Prudence lyrics, but the fans don’t care). Joining Lesh, Weir, and Kadlecik on stage was Jeff Chimenti, keyboardist extraordinaire, who also plays with The Dead, Joe Russo on drums, and Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson on backing vocals.
You also see all kinds of things at a Furthur show; the people watching is great. One guy ran up the stairs shouting “I love you!” sort of generally to all the people in the venue. “I love you too!” he yelled out to me as he ran by, in case I was jealous. Overall the crowd was great, lots of friendly people enjoying the show. Don’t plan to sit down at a Furthur show though; people stand and dance for almost the entire performance. This night, the band brought out many classics: “Jack Straw”, “Eyes of The World”, “Birdsong”, “I Know You Rider” leading into “China Cat Sunflower”, and the relatively rarely heard “Dark Hollow”.
This incredible professional musicianship is also delivered with every Allman Brothers performance – at least every one I’ve ever seen. Gregg Allman, keyboardist and band leader, kicked Dicky Betts out of the band in the 90s, because Dicky was partying too much, showing up late for rehearsals and even shows (or getting thrown in jail right before shows, which made him very late), all of which the band felt was compromising his guitar playing onstage, and Greg was determined that the Allman Brothers were not going to relive their mid-late 70s darker days or fade away, as so many other bands had done, but regain the southern rock dominance they had at their start. Allman had brought in Warren Haynes back in the ’80s (also of Govt. Mule fame now) and then Derek Trucks, nephew of longtime Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks. Haynes and Trucks (No’s 23 and 81 respectively on the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists list) are two of the premier guitarists on the planet, and they’re on stage together. Trucks wielding his slide-guitar mastery and playing off of Haynes rapid-fire blistering licks totally obliterates the standard lead/rhythm guitar roles and is some of the most mind-blowing guitar dueling you can ask to see anywhere.
The Allman Brothers have been performing at the beautifully restored Beacon Theatre off and on since 1985, and have had legendary runs of shows. I was lucky enough to see them there two years ago for their 40th Anniversary run of 15 shows; Bruce Hornsby was the special guest and Eric Clapton played just the night before. These days they regularly sell out ten straight shows or more, and have a revolving lineup of legendary guests for their Beacon shows – you never know who you may see. Or what songs from the huge catalog – just a week earlier the Allman Brothers reprised the entire set list of their famous double live album “At Fillmore East”.
Speaking of Right Place, Right Time, our special guests for this show were Dr. John, the New Orleans R&B/Zydeco great, and Hubert Sumlin (on Smokestack Lightning and Key to the Highway; his show at the Iridium was the “official” Allman Brothers aftershow), along with Susan Tedeschi and Nigel Hall on backing vocals for Dr. John’s 1973 classic “Right Place, Wrong Time.” Fluid guitar riffs and two drummers and one percussionist (Original drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, and multi-percussionist Marc Quinones), joined by bassist Oteil Burbridge, filled out the huge sound that filled the theatre.
Classic jams that went somewhere between five minutes and 15 included “Hot `Lanta”, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, “Midnight Rider”, “Dreams”, “Black Hearted Woman” and a medley featuring “One Way Out”, “Jessica” and “Mountain Jam.” A “Little Martha/Whipping Post” encore wound down the evening (for this show at least) and another stellar Allman Brothers show.
While the idea of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers may conjure up the idea of old fogeys (they are, but they rock longer than most of the young bands today, and the both bands have a mix of young and old members) and stoner fans (well, there may have been a puff of smoke or two rising from the Furthur audience), what most fans of jam bands like Phish, Widespread Panic, Moe, etc., know is that they owe a great debt to the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, as they both were instrumental in defining the blues/rock based jam-band model that so many bands emulate today.
Hubert Sumlin is listed at number 65 on Rolling Stones’ 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Sumlin, who, at ten years old, crashed through a window after standing on a stack of Coca-Cola crates to sneak a peek at a Howlin’ Wolf concert, just to see his hero, was a key influence on Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmy Page and really “an entire generation of English Bluesmen,” according to his biography. Howlin’ Wolf supposedly took Sumlin back to his “mama” after the show and asked that he not be punished.
Hubert Sumlin’s show was a midnight show (11:55pm tickets) just a few miles, or a ten-minute cab-ride away from the Beacon. The Iridium was Les Paul’s favorite hangout for many years before he passed away in 2009, where he played every Monday night. Sumlin, who is still pretty busy for 80, came out about 12:20, oxygen tank and all. But, for 80 years old, he can still crank out some serious blues riffs…which is what he did, waiting in the pocket for his spaces, and playing off the young, but excellent lead guitarist for Stringbean, the house band he played with that night. Old blues standards were dusted off and brought roaring back to life, with the help from the piano/squeezbox player, a steady drummer, stand-up bass, and rhythm guitarist/lead singer. The show lasted just under an hour, and a few people helped Sumlin as he shuffled offstage. Two shows in one night for Sumlin, Radio City Music Hall and the Iridium. Not bad. Three shows in two nights for us. Not too bad either.
Sunday morning came way too early.