Wanee Festival | 06.05 - 06.06 | Florida

Words by: Frank Etheridge | Images by: Michael Saba

Wanee Music Festival :: 06.05.09 – 06.06.09 :: Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park :: Live Oak, FL

Thank goodness for Bill.

Wanee 2009
A big ol' bear of a man, Bill – decked out in a black boots, jeans, black tees with the sleeves cut off, a barbed-wire tat across a massive right bicep and a salt-and-pepper pony tail – had set up his camp, complete with grills, fire pits and two Harleys, among the oaks along a bluff overlooking the beautiful black water of the Suwanee River. Bill brought a nifty trick from his central Florida swamp town: douse the campsite with Listerine from a spray bottle and you'll have no mosquitoes.

But this massive mechanic meant more than bug-free camping, because he represented much of the beauty of the annual Allman Brothers family reunion known as Wanee. This festival is a celebration that cuts across generations and fashion statements, where the good ol' boys and counter-culture mesh perfectly, a feat that seemingly only the timeless tunes of the Allmans can accomplish.

Moved from its typical April weekend to June, Wanee 2009 was simply incredible, from the sound logistics and attention to detail, with Live Nation now handling its affairs, to wet but mercifully temperate weather to, most importantly, Gregg Allman returning from an absence from Wanee 2008 due to recovery from Hepatitis C and serving as the grizzly godfather to the scene he established. He was in fine form as he led his band through two solid headlining shows, another exclamation point on the legendary band's 40th anniversary year.

Friday :: 06.05.09

Col. Bruce Hampton :: Wanee 2009
Wanee was hassle-free, and inside it was fan-friendly in terms of ample and line-free vendors and bathrooms and easy access from the smaller Mushroom Stage - serenely set amongst towering oaks hung with DayGlo streamers and spooky Spanish moss - to the large, open field of the larger Peach Stage.

At the Mushroom Stage Friday afternoon, Col. Bruce Hampton, himself genesis to much great Southern music like the Allmans, was all smiles and looking great, pushing Zambi jams with The Quark Alliance, turning tight corners through classics such as "Time Is Free." Next at the Peach Stage, blues legend Buddy Guy held the audience captive with his raw guitar licks and soulful singing on such covers as The Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy," though he did admonish some weak crowd sing-along, saying, "I'm not gonna let y'all fuck up this song like that," in a joking tone.

Keller Williams was on fire at the Mushroom Stage with expert playing and crazed effects on originals such as "Kidney in a Cooler," perfect for its environs with jokes of double-wides and perpendicular teeth. He did justice to an up-tempo cover of "Scarlet Begonias," fitting for a performer who once explained the progression of his musical influences as starting with the bluegrass of his native Virginia before moving into the Grateful Dead, which "kinda consumed me for a while." Certainly many in the bouncing audience could relate to that. Showcasing his remarkable dexterity, Williams then sailed through a solid cover of Pearl Jam's "Evenflow."

As Gov't Mule was cranking "Brand New Angel" on the Peach Stage a bit later, it was time for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Despite Potter and her band's amazing power, it's difficult to leave Warren Haynes and his re-vamped band no matter how many times you've seen them. It was one of those difficult "who to see?" decisions of such quality festivals, which is unfortunate after hearing A-plus reviews of Potter's show. However, the Mule didn't disappoint at all in a set that moved from the touching "Beautifully Broken" into the monstrous segue of Temple of the Dog's "Hunger Strike" into Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" back into "Hunger Strike." The always-appreciated Mule staple "Thorazine Shuffle" closed their set.

Gregg Allman - ABB :: Friday :: Wanee 2009
The Allman Brothers Band's Friday night set was slower and more out-of-this-world than their Saturday night show. Crowd favorites such as "Statesboro Blues" and "Midnight Rider" highlighted the early portion of the set, though it wasn't until the jam coming out of "Nobody to Run With" that the band truly caught fire. Next, the thumping bass intro by Oteil Burbridge into an incredible rendition of "Whipping Post" coupled with "Dreams" immediately reached amazing heights propelled by the swirling slide of Derek Trucks, was proof positive that the current incarnation of the ABB is casting old tunes in new light and playing as strong as ever at age 40. "One Way Out" proved perfect in the encore slot.

The Derek Trucks Band's late night set at Wanee, a gig that created the Soul Stew Revival project, is considered by many the perennial musical highlight of the festival, and this year was certainly no exception. Starting with an extended, trippy guitar warm-up that alone was a pristine example of Trucks' genius and indelible tone, the set featured a rotating cast of guests and the band just didn't stop jamming for two straight hours. Trucks was in the zone, his unassuming grin just a bit too humble for his rock-star abilities. Does he ever miss even a single note? Performances like this are strong evidence for the case that Trucks is perhaps the greatest guitarist performing today.

"Sweet Inspiration" really had the late night crowd locked in with the band's infectious energy early in the set. Some serious shredding came with Haynes and Butch Trucks joining the band for a cover of "Get Out of My Life Woman" with a Jimi Hendrix "Machine Gun" tease tossed in. Next came The Beatles' "I've Got a Feeling" with Kofi Burbridge and Susan Tedeschi trading vocals on the chorus. Its refrain, "Everybody had a good year/ Everybody let their hair down/ Everybody pulled their socks up/ Everybody put their foot down/ Oh yeah!" was pure bliss and perfect for the once-a-year retrospection that can come only with annual gatherings such as Wanee.

Wanee 2009
Continue reading for Saturday's coverage...

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