This morning was a bittersweet start to the day. Today was the day that the Wanee wristband was finally snipped, stored among a box full of ticket stubs and plastic bracelets, destined to live only in memories.
The memories, however, are bright and beautiful â€“ as days frolicking among the live oaks should be. The majestic wonderland that is the Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida is difficult to describe in words, especially when it’s filled with brothers and sisters, music lovers, fans and families, and some of the greatest live musicians ever to assemble. Thereâ€™s only one word that can even come close to epitomizing Wanee: Â magic.
Although the festival did not â€œtechnicallyÂ start until Friday, you wouldnâ€™t know it by the throngs of RVs, vending booths, and glow stick-adorned body parts that had already filed in. Early campers were not only treated to the best camping spots nestled amongst towering oaks draped with Spanish moss, they were also rewarded for their promptness with Wednesday sets from Groves, Juke, Beebs and her Moneymakers, Kettle of Fish, local Florida favorites Cope, and a funkalicious Mushroom Stage jam session from New Orleans’ own Ivan Nevilleâ€™s Dumstaphunk.
Thursday brought sunshine and a diverse line-up to the magical Mushrooom Stage, planted firmly amongst the oaks and surrounded by swinging hammocks and neon orbs hanging from the branches. British blues guitarist Oli Brown kicked the afternoon off, followed by psychedelic San Francisco soul outfit,Â Monophonics. Lead singer and keyboardist Kelly Finnegan wasted no time bringing the energy level up and getting the crowd going with choice covers from Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic, sprinkled with tracks from their latest album In Your Brain.
Monophonics was the perfect lead in to Tab Benoitâ€™s supergroup of New Orleans musicians, Voice of the Wetlands Allstars. This group of musicians have made it part of their mission to help preserve the wetlands in their native state by raising awareness and providing education through music. The beautiful tune â€œLouisiana Sunshineâ€ perhaps summed their intent up best, and guest appearances from Florida native Damon Fowler and Starship vocalist Mickey Thomas ensured the Wanee tradition of phenomenal collaborations would be continued in full force, a point hammered home Â after the next group took the stage.
When Royal Southern Brotherhood frontman Devon Allman introduced his father and fans got their first look of the weekend at Gregg Allman, the energy was palpable. He joined his son and fellow RSB members on guitar for a rousing, shredding rendition of â€œOne Way Out,â€ foreshadowing good things to come.
A solid set from electric Hot Tuna bid goodbye to the sunshine, and hello to the late night funk, courtesy of Karl Denson and the Greyboy Allstars. The Mushroom Stage was bouncing and glowing, the power pulsating through the eager crowd, just so ready to get down.
Friday brought the opening of the second stage â€“ the larger and more prominent Peach Stage â€“ and with that came more music and choices to be made by fans. The Peach Stage could have well been dubbed â€œSouthern rock central,â€ as guitar slingers and long haired men in bell bottoms filled in the ranks for most of the day.
Blackberry Smoke carries the Southern rock torch from Atlanta, Georgia, and they gave the crowd a nice dose of their brand of American country/rock, despite their set being cut short due to a creeping rain shower. Their version of Led Zeppelinâ€™s â€œWhen the Levee Breaksâ€ was too much for the clouds, and suddenly they opened wide and spilled their drops, as if on cue.
The Mushroom Stage saw early sets from rockers Flannel Church, New Orleans soulful up-and-comers The Revivalists, Jaimoeâ€™s Jaissez Band, and the Wanee debut of Les Claypoolâ€™s Duo de Twang. Half concert, half comedy skit, Claypoolâ€™s pairing with guitarist and longtime collaborator, Marc Haggard (aka Mirv) kept the crowd laughing and stomping, intertwining jokes and audience haggling with tunes from Primus, Oysterhead, and Johnny Cash, to name a few. Warren Haynes joined the duo onstage for Johnny Hortonâ€™s classic â€œThe Battle of New Orleans,â€ and closed the show with Primus classic â€œJerry was a Racecar Driverâ€ and Flying Frog Brigadeâ€™s â€œDâ€™s Diner.â€
The rain cleared up just enough for Mr. Haynes to find his way back to the Peach Stage in time for his band, Govâ€™t Mule to get things rocking. Kicking off with choice originals â€œOutta Shapeâ€ and â€œThorazine Shuffle,â€ Muleâ€™s set gained momentum throughout, finally culminating in one of the greatest collaborations of the weekend. Members of Widespread Panic â€“ John Bell, JoJo Herman, Dave Schools, and Jimmy Herring â€“ joined and launched into an epic version of Neil Youngâ€™s â€œCortez the Killer.â€ The trading of piercing guitar licks and wailing vocals once again brought the clouds, and the grey thunder rolled in as if brought forth by the music itself.
Widespread Panic was up next, and despite the now soggy conditions, the crowd swelled and was not disappointed. Starting with standard originals like â€œAinâ€™t Life Grand,â€ â€œAll Time Low,â€ and â€œSpace Wrangler,â€ once again the real treats came at the end, when the band was joined by Warren Haynes and Danny Louis for blistering renditions of ZZ Topâ€™s â€œJesus Just Left Chicagoâ€ and Parliamentâ€™s instrumental opus, â€œMaggot Brain.â€ Even though it was raining, the fans didnâ€™t spare their bottled water during the â€œChilly Waterâ€ closer, and it didnâ€™t matter because everyone was already soaking wet.
Nothing would stop The Allman Brothers Band, however, and they turned out a set full of beautiful classic originals, and again, more collaborations galore. â€œBlue Skyâ€ and â€œRainâ€ were the bandâ€™s homage to the tumultuous weather of the day, and the arrival of Widespreadâ€™s John Bell and Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle launched a soulful and lovely rendition of Blind Faithâ€™s â€œCanâ€™t Find My Home.â€Â Jimmy Herring reappeared for â€œIn Memory of Elizabeth Reedâ€, and North Mississippi Allstars brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson made an appearance for a â€œOne Way Outâ€ closer, the second of the weekend for Papa Gregg.
Boombox and a late night set from reggae mainstays Steel Pulse rounded out the night on the Mushroom Stage, and sent fans off into the woods for a little damp rest.
After a long rainy night, the morning finally gave way to some relief, and the skies cleared up in time to provide goers with some much needed sunshine. No one worshipped the rays and the good vibes like Michael Franti and Spearhead, following a solid set from Leon Russell on the Peach Stage. Frantiâ€™s contagious energy and positive message had the crowd enjoying and making merry, complete with an onstage birthday party for the man himself. Birthday hats, beach balls, head stands, and celebratory sing-alongs (some upside down!) ensued, and not one frown was to be found anywhere near that stage. Even the most seasoned Franti fans were overheard whispering about how â€œspecialâ€ this particular show was, and that energy could be felt by everyone.
The Mushroom Stage spent Saturday getting its funk on, with Sacred Steel gospel funk masters The Lee Boys, New Orleans horns The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, funk and soul jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker, and R&B brass masters Tower of PowerÂ keeping it rocking and bopping along all afternoon.
Following Franti on the mainstage, Wanee family favorites Tedeschi Trucks Band felt just right for the moment, with their slinky, silky brand of gospel-flecked soulful blues. They highlighted tunes from their upcoming album, as well as favorites such as â€œMidnight in Harlemâ€ and â€œBound for Glory.â€ It also marked the arrival of new bass player, Bakithi Kumalo, who made his debut as replacement for Oteil Burbridge, who announced earlier this year that he would be taking some much needed time off after years of relentless touring with the Allman Brothers and various other outfits.
As with all the other acts of the weekend, their cover choices were on point and referential. â€œThe Sky is Cryingâ€ by blues guitarist Elmore James, â€œThe King of the Slide Guitar,â€ paid homage to those who came before, and so heavily influenced Trucks and his guitar brethren, including Skydog himself, Duane Allman.
Widespread Panic got another shot to do what they do, and this time, there wasnâ€™t a raindrop in sight. They wasted no time, kicking it off with a loud and dirty â€œImitation Leather Shoes,â€ fan favorite â€œClimb to Safety,â€ and the Robert Johnson blues standard, â€œStop Breaking Down.â€
The real treats, however, came when the band was joined by the lovely Susan Tedeschi on vocals, Derek Trucks on guitar, and Artimus Pyle on drums for a fantastic version of Van Morrisonâ€™s â€œIâ€™ve Been Working.â€ Tedeschi and Bell traded vocal verses, and complimented each other while Trucks laid down the slide and made the sound even bigger. He stayed around for Tom Waitsâ€™ â€œGoinâ€™ Out Westâ€ and the Panic classic, â€œFishwater,â€ which quickly turned into a lick-trading musical cacophony, delighting the listeners and preparing the crowd for a final set from the Allman Brothers Band.
ABB turned in a performance that was nothing short of perfection. Full of fan favorites like â€œMountain Jam,â€ â€œMidnight Rider,â€ and â€œMelissa,â€ Gregg Allman sounded like a man on a musical mission and his fellow bandmates followed suit. Covers such as â€œLong Black Veilâ€ and Albert Kingâ€™s â€œFeel Like Breaking Up Somebodyâ€™s Homeâ€ rounded out a set that ended with epic renditions of â€œWhipping Postâ€ and â€œSouthbound.â€ Brothers fans united in the music and basked in a solid outing from the bandâ€™s ninth Wanee appearance.
Funk soul masters Galactic promised to cap the festival on a wicked note, and boy, did they. The Mushroom Stage swelled as the band, along with some of their famous friends, treated the crowd to one final Wanee throwdown. Dave Shaw, frontman for The Revivalists, took on vocal duties and did not disappoint, killing the crowd with versions of â€œI Am the Walrus,â€ â€œI Am a Ramâ€ and Galacticâ€™s own â€œFrom the Corner to the Block,â€ complete with segue into ODBâ€™s â€œBaby, I Got Your Money.â€ Saxophonist-at-large Skerik brought his horn out to play and his liveliness was felt throughout the crowd, eliciting jumps and screams from excited patrons. â€œWhen the Levee Breaksâ€ appeared yet again, but this time, instead of bringing the rain, it brought the end.
The end of another magical Wanee. It was a gathering of the good, all in one place, that filled the hearts and souls of music lovers and merry makers to the brim for another year. And now, we waitâ€¦â€¦
Click on the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the show byÂ Brad Kuntz