Words by: Scott T. Horowitz | Images by: Phil Sunkel
Wanee Festival :: 04.14.11-04.16.11 :: Spirit of the Suwannee Park :: Live Oak, FL
|Wanee 2011 by Phil Sunkel|
The mushroom stage, decorated in 3-D by artist Bean Spence and resting within a natural amphitheater among trees tied together by lights and hammocks, was host to the Wednesday pre-party. Afternoon saw the singer-songwriter talents of Griffin Anthony followed by the technically precise but soul pounding power of the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio. Hearts opened, bodies moved and dance muscles warmed up during Melvin Seals & JGB. After Melvin Seals’ uplifting runs down and up his Hammond B3 organ elevated the crowd with JGB Classics like “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” and “Sugaree,” the set culminated with the sermons “My Sisters and Brothers” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
Love for Jerry Garcia continued as The Radiators brought their patented fish-head music to the stage with an empowering and intense version of the apocalyptic Grateful Dead staple “Morning Dew.”
Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk paid tribute to the godfather of soul, James Brown. “James Brown could only play keys,” Ivan Neville teased, “in one key…barely.” “Sex Machine” gave all the warmed up bodies their cue to get down as the weekend’s first of many truly selfless dance parties sprawled out across the natural amphitheater’s foliage. Band and audience became one as the chorus to “I Feel Good” echoed through the trees.
Crisp morning air soon turned to warm spring day as Dangermuffin shared a plate of their organic folk music with a glass of soul in the shade of the Mushroom Stage, while DJ Logic served up beats for breakfast under the sun on the Peach Stage surrounded by oak trees decorated with Spanish moss. The sleep shattering, almost absurdly loud bass shooed away the older and judgmental people, and once they were gone, the young and ready-to-start-the-day proper were blessed with perfectly cooked eggs and bacon in the form of Notorious B.I.G.’s “It Was All A Dream” and Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” Dead Confederate slowed down and heated up the Peach Stage with eerie slides on top of heavy, animalistic grooves. Hardy Morris’ vocals on “Run From The Garden” were hauntingly beautiful and, more importantly, genuine.
|Hot Tuna by Phil Sunkel|
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Wanda Jackson, at 73 years of age, wore a pink tasseled jacket, and her band of Nashville studio musicians strutted into the mid-afternoon heat to perform for a small but very attentive, respectful audience at the Peach Stage. “I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Jackson said, “most of them good. But I just saw something I’ve never seen before – that couple on stilts,” pointing at a young couple on stilts wearing rainbow overalls dancing to Jackson’s first rock and roll recording from 1956, “I Gotta Know.” Jackson dated Elvis Presley for a year and a half while she toured with him, and years later recorded an album of the Elvis songs she watched him perform during that time including “Heartbreak Hotel,” which Jackson shared her murky, soulful version of at Wanee.
The North Mississippi Allstars Duo brought their brotherly love to a healthy congregation gathered in the field. Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson were casual onstage, hanging out, doing what they’ve done for years. Cody smiled at his brother. Luther faced the assemblage, and as his slide moved so did the breeze. Clouds rolled in for shade. Chanting life’s eternal truths, he went into the trance of a southern shaman. Their set concluded with a swamp stomping, triumphant version of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.”
|Stephen Marley by Phil Sunkel|
The clouds dissipated as the son of another famous Bob took the stage. Stephen Marley was the catalyst for smiles and hugs shared throughout the crowd. The powerful, hypnotic reggae basslines bled over to the Mushroom Stage, where Hot Tuna sat pickin’, providing a soundtrack suitable for sitting on Heaven’s front porch. As sundown paled the sky, one was treated to the sight of half a million bats pouring out of the largest known bat house in the United States - organic mosquito repellent at its finest.
When the sun’s rays no longer reached Live Oak, The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park became illuminated as Widespread Panic opened with a thunderous “Travelin’ Light,” which formed into the freight train of “Who Do You Belong To?” Later, “Party At Your Mama’s House” elegantly transformed into a barn burner when Luther Dickinson emerged for “Stop Breakin’ Down.” Brother Cody Dickinson would later emerge with his washboard for a “Drums” sandwiched inside of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” before those truly ready to boogie headed over to the Mushroom Stage for the weekend’s first mystical midnight set.
|Spirit of Suwannee Park by Phil Sunkel|
“If you read your program, it says we’re from Asheville, NC. Well, that is totally wrong,” Jesse Miller (bass, sampler) said. “A simple Wikipedia or Google search will tell you that we are actually based out of Philadelphia, PA”. Lotus then proceeded to prove that it doesn’t matter where you’re from; what matters is where you’re at. Every dancing soul on hand became impeccably present as Lotus’ bottom heavy layers lifted up Mike Rempel (guitarist), who painted vast sonic landscapes containing all of the twists, turns, peaks and valleys needed to lose oneself in.
The difficult feat of making people dance in the middle of a hot afternoon comes easy to the beacon of funk himself, Karl Denson. Karl Denson's Tiny Universe started the set with Matt Grondin on guitar as Brian Jordan (guitar) made his way to the stage from the airport after playing a gig in St. Louis the night before. Spontaneous, yet seemingly rehearsed, dance moves broke out all over the crowd during “The Bridge.” The Tiny Universe is never too small for great guests like Maurice “Mo’ Betta” Brown (trumpet), who shared in the groove for “Everything.” To make things cool under the shade of the Mushroom Stage, The Lee Boys with guest Oteil Burbridge celebrated the life of Solomon Burke with “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”.
|Karl Denson by Phil Sunkel|
Down by the river, as great people swung from rope swings, bathed in the Suwannee’s black water river and soaked in the sunlight, The North Mississippi Allstars Duo performed on Wanee’s Traveling Stage, which made stops by the river and near the campground lake throughout the festival. Gospel hymn “Down by the Riverside” filled the air as the Mississippi shaman chanted, “Ain’t gon’ study war no more / down by the riverside / Gonna bury the atomic bomb / down by the river side.” The hope is for next year’s Traveling Stage to support live music while it travels.
Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, having missed last year’s Wanee due to volcanic ash grounding their plane in Europe, erupted onto the Peach Stage with soul stirring emotion and a James Brown type fervor. Elsewhere, after announcing this incarnation was their first gig as a band, the Warren Haynes Band dropped into Allen Toussaint’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley.” Ron Holloway (saxophone), dressed in all white, becomes a lion tamer as he went toe-to-toe with the beast, Warren Haynes (guitar, vocals), and Holloway’s saxophone equaled Haynes’ guitar in both precision & intensity. Alfreda Gerald (vocals) stole the show as she and Haynes’ guitar become entwined in a down, dirty and orgasmic bout of melody that made it difficult to tell where Foster’s voice ended and Haynes’ guitar began.
Toubab Krewe’s trance like, West African infused blend of rock and roll melted the Mushroom Stage. Toubab’s music resonates perfectly with the soul of where their homeland, North Carolina, once shared a border with the motherland, Africa, as though the super continent Pangaea never drifted apart.
Robert Plant & The Band of Joy shared a folkie version Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” However, despite the song being obviously different from its original version, most of the audience was expecting the heavy original. The setting sun’s light became distorted as its shine fell behind clouds. The choir of angels sang to a crowd mostly incapable of hearing the gospel before filtering it with preconceived judgments and expectations. Despite the crowd, the band shined as Plant gave bandmates Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott and Patty Griffin a healthy share of the spotlight. In another part of the fest, among the trees, the younger crowd offered undivided attention and loving awareness for Particle, who in turn poured it right back to the audience - Particle grooves selflessly. Their improvisational jams developed patiently, unfolding by their own design, not busy trying to find a way to the peak.
|Derek Trucks w/ABB by Phil Sunkel|
It seemed apparent that the people from LiveNation putting on the festival were not the same great LiveNation staff onsite making the festival happen as the staff was forced to follow corporate rules nobody seemed to understand, such as regular coffee and smoothie vendors not being allowed to sell, or even give away, water (one was forced to buy $3 Coca-Cola brand bottled water instead). Though LiveNation puts on Wanee, there is no question that The Allman Brothers Band are the archangels of its spirit, and they set the night ablaze with opener “Hot’lanta.” Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes played Native American-esque melodies, summoning ancient Florida spirits in the night. Kofi Burbridge came aboard with his flute for “Who’s Been Talkin’,” and Ron Holloway contributed saxophone to “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which had a “Le Brers” tease during an extended intro. Gregg Allman, acoustic guitar in hand, sang the eternal lullaby “Melissa” as though he was putting baby grandchildren peacefully to sleep. The Shaman, Luther Dickinson, and The Doctor, Roosevelt Carter, come out to awaken the hypnotized masses with “One Way Out.”
Friday’s midnight set belonged to the soul fueled back alley New Orleans dirges of 7 Walkers. Papa Mali (guitar, vocals) showed his grand skill of telling it like it is with Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and the all-too-true “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”.
Saturday morning, dangerous weather engulfed the southeastern United States. The edge of the massive storm ended exactly where Spirit of Suwannee Park stands. The storm was held at bay except for a few welcome, cooling showers that fell immediately after a free yoga class led by Yogi Nicky Virgin, that primed body and soul for the special, spiritually charged ritual that is a Saturday at Wanee.
|Mike Gordon by Phil Sunkel|
Ween brought their fun, goofy swagger to the Peach Stage much to the crowd’s delight. “Bananas & Blow” provided a fun, healthy atmosphere to the final afternoon of Wanee. Dean Ween’s guitar flashed brilliance to those who initially could not see past their goofiness, showing that their music’s seeming purposeless is actually its purpose – a celebration for the sake of celebration.
While most of society’s conscious attention is directed towards Hollywood couples and musical artists who put more effort into their appearance than their art, there are happy exceptions. The members of the Tedeschi Trucks Band are immersed together in love, and love not as a simply exchange but as a wide body of water. Leaving their annual midnight time slot behind, the band took the late afternoon Peach Stage. All the morning’s clouds were gone and “Bound For Glory,” off of their upcoming album Revelator, laid out their intent. The sun basked in their glow, and as the content of Trucks' solo increased so did the breeze. 20 mile per hour gusts swirled around the stage as the solo peaked. Oteil Burbridge put on a dance and bass clinic simultaneously as he fluently paraded around the stage. The band became a vehicle for Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight.” Hands were in the air, legs jumped, faces smiled, and the people rejoiced. Selfless celebration created a feeling of salvation as distinctions like “they” or “them”dissolved, creating an overwhelming feeling of “us” and “we.”
The Steve Miller Band ran through their hits while the Mike Gordon Band opened up the Mushroom Stage with swanky grooves. Oteil Burbridge joined the party and was all smiles as he and Gordo traded the dirtiest bass licks of the weekend. “Sugar Shack” and “Mound” were welcomed treats in the fun, exploratory set.
When the Allman Brothers Band took the stage Saturday night, most faces throughout the festival seemed familiar and one couldn’t walk ten feet without receiving a compliment or becoming the victim of random kindness. There was a revolving door of guests: Junior Mack was invited up for “Southbound;” Bruce Katz joined on keys and Maurice Brown played trumpet for “You Don’t Love Me;” James van der Bogert sat in on drums for “No One To Run With;” Taj Mahal, who performed earlier in the day, sang “Leavin’ Trunk” and “Statesboro Blues;” “Mountain Jam” welcomed Kebbi Williams on saxophone and Scott Murawski, whose Languedoc guitar elevated the set to its final peak. Staring at the moon, Gregg Allman addressed audience: “Thank you so much. What a great bunch you all are.” Before a monstrous encore of “Whipping Post,” drummer and founding member Jaimoe dedicated the evening’s festivities to the memory of original Allman Brothers Roadie, Lawrence Joseph "Red Dog" Campbell, who passed away earlier this year.
|Gene Ween by Phil Sunkel|
Galactic’s midnight set was a heavy, explosive last chance to dance. Corey Glover (Living Colour) joined the band for a raucous version of Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times.” Afterwards, the spirit of Suwannee came alive as guitars, drums and singers surrounded campfires throughout the festival grounds for the last of the weekend’s communal sing-alongs.
At Wanee, one experiences waves of joy, love, compassion and happiness that seem to arise naturally and without effort. All too often after a music festival, one experiences a “back to reality”feeling. However, following this year’s Wanee, there seemed to be a mass realization that traveling to a music festival is an external catalyst for finding joy, love, compassion and happiness internally. And since this is always within us, we can take it with us and shine Wanee’s light of love and selfless compassion wherever we go.
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