Review & Photos | Wanee Music Festival 2014

Words by: Scott T. Horowitz
Images by: Ian Rawn

Wanee Festival :: 4.10.14 -4.12.14 :: Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park :: Live Oak, FL

For one weekend each year over the last decade, thousands of people have gathered in the magical Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL for the Wanee Music Festival. Each year the Allman Brothers Band headline the festival alongside other great bands. In recent years, Wanee has been promoted by music industry giant Live Nation. There was some stress involved for attendees due to the last-minute posting of the event’s schedule, but for those who approached Wanee like it was 2004, it was business as usual and they received the schedule when they arrived.

Devon Allman seems to be very comfortable within the ensemble of Royal Southern Brotherhood. His guitar work and vocals were featured throughout the group’s set, one of the first of the weekend, especially during “Back To You”, which Allman dedicated to someone he had met earlier that day whose father has recently passed away. Also, it was great to hear Yonrico Scott on the drums at Wanee again. Scott was the longtime drummer for the Derek Trucks Band Soulive’s set later in the evening would feature conversational interplay between all three members and a session of nerding out on The Beatles for runs through “Eleanor Rigby” and a sing-a-long version of “Come Together.”

While Ziggy Marley performed in the hot sun of the Peach Stage, at the ineffable Spirit of The Suwannee Amphitheater, AKA The Mushroom Stage, Athens, GA’s Futurebirds held court. Futurebirds delivered a unique blend of rock and roll and ethereal soundscapes consisting of down-home styled vocal harmonies and the heartbreaking sounds of Dennis Love’s pedal steel guitar. Their set of mostly original music was highlighted by Stevie Nicks’s “Wild Heart” and The Rolling Stones’s “Rocks Off.” The Mushroom Stage would later see Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band run through excursions in blues, jazz, and funk, preceding moe.’s set. Some of moe.’s members were on site a few weeks earlier for SpringFest, and expressed how much they love being at the park no matter if it’s as a performer or as an audience member. The moe. set saw the band deliver a monstrous cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.”

The Lynyrd Skynyrd songbook means as much to as many people in the Southeastern United States as the Allman Brothers Band songbook does, especially in North Florida. So, it was nice to hear Skynyrd tunes performed live on a weather-perfect day, even though the current incarnation of the band is a textbook nostalgia act. Yet when the guitar solos during “Freebird” (a song the band would dedicate to Duane Allman live many times in the mid-’70s) transpired, the crowd did its best to lift up the band and make a magic moment happen, but the actions and sounds on stage exemplified what happens when a group is just going through the motions. Trey Anastasio Band graced the Peach Stage with a set that included a very well executed “Cayman Review.” Before performing “O-o-h Child,” Anastasio mentioned that he felt like he woke up in dreamland because his 15-year-old self could never believe it to be possible that he would play sandwiched between his then two favorite bands: Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band. TAB’s set ebbed and flowed and swelled into a raucous finale that featured Jennifer Hartswick’s vocal prowess during “Clint Eastwood” and “Black Dog”, sandwiching “Push On ‘Til The Day,” which featured Anastasio jumping, juking and spinning in place during the final guitar solo.

Rob Garza’s 60-minute DJ Set at the amphitheater was an excellent dance party for those who can’t stop/won’t stop, and a supreme soundtrack for those walking back and forth to their campsites for a quick recharge before the first night of the Allman Brothers Band. Due to a very recent wrist injury, Gregg Allman would be assisted on keyboards by bassist Oteil Burbridge’s brother, Kofi Burbridge, who manned his own rig to the far right of the stage. The first Allmans set of the weekend featured stellar song selections to start things off with a run of “Statesboro Blues,” “Midnight Rider” and “No One To Run With” before a full-on improvised funk onslaught in the jam between “Feel Like Breakin’ Up Someboady’s Home” and “Jessica.” With Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes set to leave the Allman Brothers Band after this year, every solo and every note they played seemed more poignant than ever. Witnessing Trucks and Haynes lift each other to new heights for an entire set of music is like watching two world-class heavyweight boxers go 15 rounds before each lifts the other’s arm into the air.

Trey Anastasio, much to the crowd’s delight, walked on stage equipped with his Languedoc guitar accompanied by Hartswick on trumpet for “Who’s Been Talkin.” For the first few minutes, Trey hardly played and appeared to have troubles with his amp. Trucks, during his own solo, cued Trey to take over, but it took about six measures for the soundguy to turn Trey’s guitar up to a proper level. Hartswick began to play in between Trey’s notes, and after just one verse through, Derek snuck his slide on and took over, causing Anastasio to do a double take and smile at the guitar wizardry of Trucks. Derek built the energy and handed it off to Hartswick for a soft and seductive trumpet solo. A very brief and very pleasant back and forth between Kofi Burbridge’s flute and Trey’s guitar transpired until Haynes beckoned the end of the song. Hartswick exited and Jaimoe was replaced by his drum tech, Rachel “Stixx” Turner, who would help hold down the groove for “Franklin’s Tower.” Anastasio took initiative briefly after the first verse but soon deferred to Warren before Oteil sang again. Again, Trey donned a smile and his eyes remained fixed on Trucks during his soaring slide solo.

While novelty makes a Trey sit-in with the Allman Brothers Band at Wanee a memory many will cherish forever, it is a bit of a head scratcher as to why the guitar playing wasn’t memorable as well. Usually when the Allmans features a guest guitarist, they will select songs with more of a verse/chorus structure that lay a great foundation for epic guitar solos or something with more improvisation like “Mountain Jam.” The circumstance felt to this writer like a contractually obligated situation, whether it was or not I do not know, but seeing Trey Anastasio timid and playing like he doesn’t want to step on anybody’s toes was drastically different than his performance with TAB earlier in the day, and even more different than when he’s fronting a multidimensional sonic excursions through consciousness with Phish. Within minutes of “Franklin’s Tower” ending, Trey’s tour bus could be seen exiting down River Road while Derek and Warren tore through “The Sky Is Crying” (a song that would’ve been perfect to feature Trey’s guitar skills). A great trio of songs would end the set: “Soulshine,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Southbound.”

Wanee Veterans Dumpstaphunk paid tribute to Led Zeppelin on the Mushroom Stage late night on Friday. There are not enough praises in all the languages of the world to appropriately hail how impressive it was to have Nikki Glaspie emulating the heart and soul of John Bonham. On top of her superior command of the skins, she flexed her vocals as well – witnessing her drum AND sing a song like “Out On The Tiles” was a pleasure. Her love for Bonzo was made even more evident after declaring “He was a whiskey guy. I’m a whiskey girl” and then counting off the Houses of The Holy staple “The Ocean” with the Bonham-authored vocal cadence, “We’ve done four already and now we’re steady…1…2…3…4….” Warren Haynes came on board just before “The Ocean” and he would remain on stage for the remainder of the set. His solo launching the swinging section at the end of “The Ocean” was oozing with jubilation, while Dumpstaphunk absolutely nailed the backing vocals. Earlier in the set, John Popper, whose band Blues Traveler would perform the next day, emerged to stamp his trademark harmonica style on “Custard Pie” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

In between the end of Dumpstaphunk’s performance and the beginning of Saturday’s music were hours of jovial madness and hilarity throughout the campgrounds featuring campfires burning, old friends jamming and new friends finding each other. Also, many props to the “Shortcut Camp,” who set up a movie projector and PA speakers for a viewing of The Wizard of Oz dubbed with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon for anyone to hangout and watch.

Pink Talking Fish was one of the surprises of the festival. They debuted the band with a terrific blend of Phish, Talking Heads and Pink Floyd songs on the Mushroom Stage. While the idea of just playing songs by those three acts may seem cheap, it was so well-executed that one can’t help but have a blast if you’re a fan of any of the bands. Later, they rolled around on the Traveling Stage ushering a hilarious scene outside the main gates. As Pink Talking Fish turned the corner to drive past the Ferris Wheel and Peach Stage en route to the canoe outpost, they settled into the thick, funked-out “2001” groove Phish fans are accustomed to. People paraded alongside and behind the Traveling Stage on foot, on bicycles and on golf carts. As they drove past, Tedeschi Trucks Band began their late afternoon set on the Peach Stage.

TTB’s 11-piece band is a configuration of fierce love and passion. Each of the 11 members are worthy of the spotlight and bandleader Derek Trucks does everything he can to spread that light around. The interplay between his guitar and Susan Tedeschi’s voice is a treasure of the musical world. “Do I Looked Worried” brought Susan’s voice front and center, backed by thunderous horn lines and overwhelming emotional interludes from the band, culminating with a textbook mind-blowing solo from Derek Trucks. Freddie King’s “Palace of The King” featured backup singers Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, who each took turns at singing parts of the verse. Also, Mattison was brought front and center to sing a faster-than-usual version of “I Know,” which was originally a Derek Trucks Band song. After Mattison returned to Mark Rivers’s side behind the horn players, Chris Robinson, whose own band performed earlier that day, ran up to him, grabbed his hands like a child and showered him with praise and adoration.

Following the psychedelic rock and roll revival of Tedeschi Trucks Band in the hot sun, Melvin Seals & JGB opened up the revered Garcia songbook for an ultimate cool-down under the shade of the Mushroom Stage. “Gomorrah” showcased Dave Hebert’s tender vocals. Whilst nobody can match the magic Garcia emitted regularly, Hebert’s playing is top notch and his guitar tone possessed a full and floaty quality that fills all our favorite vintage Jerry Garcia Band recordings. “Dear Prudence” was beautiful and hard-hitting while “Sisters & Brothers” was infused with full-on “Throw out the lifeline” teases before the fast-paced “Mighty High” closed the set.

Gov’t Mule’s set would usher the sunset and featured “Goin’ Out West”, which was played on the same stage last year during Widespread Panic’s set. Mule’s performance also featured Derek Trucks for an outstanding take on Billy Cobham’s “Stratus.” The two guitarists would return to the stage together later on Saturday for one last outing with the Allman Brothers Band at Wanee. In between, though, Break Science would throw down a 60-minute powerhouse set of electronic music. In perhaps the most surprising guest sit-in of the weekend, Susan Tedeschi joined Break Science just to jam on guitar. She was flanked by Eric Krasno and the TTB Horns. Maurice “Mo’ Betta” Brown mostly dominated horn-blowing duty during the set.

The audience was more relaxed and loose for the final night of the current incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band at Wanee. After the tandem “Don’t Want You No More” > “It’s Not My Cross To Bear,” the band juxtaposed the opening frame’s anguish with the exaltation of “Revival.” Oteil would take vocal duties for the Dickey Betts song “Seven Turns,” which was followed by another song from the Seven Turns album, “True Gravity.” Later, Eric Krasno sat in for “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” To announce Kraz’s solo, Warren belted into the microphone “Eric Krasno on the guitar” and even gave encouraging hoots and hollers while the guitarist ripped it up through two whole verses, at which point Kraz and Haynes traded measures until Warren, equipped with his slide, took over all of the lead guitar duties. Dr. John’s “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” was great to hear so late in the set and “Whipping Post” whipped the crowd into a frenzy before the “One Way Out” encore featuring Roosevelt Collier and John Popper. Following the final song, the usual video tribute to the history of the band was shown on the projection screen accompanied by Duane Allman’s heavenly composition “Little Martha.” While normally, this would go mostly unrecognized and the crowd would hurry to the Mushroom Stage for one last set, a massive majority of those in attendance remained silent and attentive to the images on screen and the music in the air. It was like watching a film in a packed theater and having everyone stay for the credits -it was spooky and sad and beautiful and heartwarming. After the final picture of the band was displayed, a roaring applause and cheer came from the crowd in hopes of a true encore for this great lineup of musicians who has brought so much joy to so many people at Wanee over the last decade, but to no avail.

As midnight struck, Umphrey’s McGee became the world’s greatest jukebox with what’s dubbed as “All Night Wrong.” Umphrey’s performed a jaw-dropping, heavy hitting, rocking set on Friday and this late-night Saturday set was much more digestible. If there is one thing UM does at the highest level, it is play difficult music with the execution of a well=oiled machine and they wasted no time by opening the set with a mash-up of Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” the Talking Heads’s “Life During Wartime” and Frank Zappa’s “City Of Tiny Lights.” John Popper emerged for “Miss You” before the very well-received Steely Dan song “Hey Nineteen.” Eric Krasno and Adam Deitch, the delegates from Lettuce, sat in for Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood’s “A Go Go” and Warren Haynes threw down for “Immigrant Song” and “Black Water,” which was a great ode to the currently very high and very fast moving Suwannee, a Blackwater river itself. Their encore would be preceded by band members throwing gluten-free cheese balls into the crowd. A fist pumping and skull rocking “Running With The Devil” and The Beatles’ “I Want You,” the latter featuring Eric Krasno again, would close the set.

While the future is uncertain for the Allman Brothers Band, one would hope that Wanee will forge on regardless. Until then, Wanee leaves us with memories to cherish, recordings of amazing sets of music to listen back to and forged friendships to enjoy for many years to come.

View Ian’s full Wanee 2014 gallery here.

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