Review & Photos | Wanee Music Festival 2015 | Live Oak

Words by: Scott T. Horowitz
Images by: Paul Haftel

Wanee Festival :: 4.16.15 -4.18.15 :: Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park :: Live Oak, FL

Read Scott’s review after the gallery.

The Wanee Music Festival takes place at the Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park  just north of Live Oak, Florida – a bastion of music and camaraderie. From the open field of the Peach Stage, complete with light shows on the trees and a ferris wheel, to the Mushroom Stage, a natural amphitheater within trees that embodies the natural vibe of the Southeastern United States in the same way places like Red Rocks and The Gorge are musical havens within their local geographic phenomena. This year’s incarnation is the first after The Allman Brothers Band’s final concert, but most members were still on hand to showcase their own projects. Widespread Panic had the honor of headlining Friday and Saturday nights to begin what could be the first installment of a new Wanee tradition.
“Wanee Happy Hour” hosted Florida favorites like Bonnie Blue, Jacksonville’s Parker Urban Band, Tampa Bay’s COPE, South Florida Grateful Dead tribute band Crazy Fingers, along with Melvin Seals & JGB who closed the night. Seals’ solos were few and far between, though when he did step up to the plate, he displayed musical wisdom and presence -well complimented beside the sweet harmonious voices of Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker. However, the show was stolen by guitarist Dave Hebert who fronted nearly every song. His voice is tender, genuine and heartfelt. He serves whatever song is at hand, and while his guitar’s tone may be thinner than one would long for on Garcia tunes, he does them all great justice with his leads and appropriate comping when Seals takes the spotlight.

Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio has been a consistent Wanee favorite through the years. His set Thursday was highlighted by a sit-in from North Florida power couple, John & Juanita Parkerurban, who lent their voices on “Piece,” from Bobby Lee Rodgers’ album Fire Fly

Royal Southern Brotherhood featured the stellar drumming combo of Yonrico Scott on kit and Cyril Neville on percussion. With The Allman Brothers Band absent from this year’s Wanee, all of their tunes were up for grabs and could be heard throughout the entire weekend, with “Revival” by the Brotherhood being one of the first of many. Hot Tuna Electric’s sound seemed to suffer a lack of oomph in the mix, but their energy and musicianship prevailed nonetheless and featured an interpretation of Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”

Pink Talking Fish’s intriguing formula was executed very well. Sewing a common thread between Pink Floyd, Phish and Talking Heads songs can run the risk of appearing to be a gimmick to cash in on other bands’ names, but these players bring fresh raw energy to these tunes and cultivate a fun and rowdy atmosphere. The guitar wizardry of Dave Brunyak particularly makes a set from Pink Talking Fish a fantastic musical experience. Being the last band before the main stage opened Friday morning, Pink Talking Fish was the perfect exclamation point on all of the pre-party festivities.

The Allman Brothers Band biographer, Alan Paul, spoke to early risers at the Mushroom Stage and conversed with Jaimoe, who would later take the stage with his Jasssz Band featuring the divine guitar playing and vocals of Junior Mack

While Reed Mathis’ bass enlivened smiles and trees at the Mushroom Stage with Tea Leaf Green, The Word held service on the Peach Stage. Robert Randolph, coming off surgery three days prior, wore a cast and could only move two of his fingers on his injured right hand. “The doctor said don’t play for two to three weeks, but hell no!” Randolph proclaimed. To help pick up the slack, Roosevelt Collier played pedal steel alongside him for the duration of the set. The juxtaposition between the church-infused playing of Randolph and bassist Chris Chew next to the fire and brimstone of John Medeski’s mad-scientist approach to the keyboards makes The Word a can’t miss happening any time they play. During “I Shall Not Be Moved,” Luther Dickinson unfolded and held up a sheet with “FARMER” embroidered onto it to honor the life and memory of Warren Haynes’ longtime guitar-tech, Brian Farmer.

Zappa Plays Zappa was a no-holds-barred musical display of epic proportions. After first running through most of the tracks on One Size Fits All which seemed to peak during “Po-Jama People,” the band ran down Zappa classics such as “Dancing Fool,” “Cosmik Debris,” “Montana,” and more, leading up to an astounding finale of “Whipping Post” -> “Muffin Man.” Dweezil Zappa handled his father’s legendary guitar parts with fierce definitude while vocalist Ben Thomas not only appropriately and respectfully emulated the voicing of Frank Zappa himself, but also all the great singers that made their way through his band through the years.

Without the usual two nights of The Allman Brothers Band, Wanee was only treated to one strong dose of Warren Haynes, who only performed on stage during Gov’t Mule’s set. Opening with “Railroad Boy” and ending with a medley of “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” and “Will It Go Round in Circles,” the music in between saw the usual ruthless soloing from Warren including spirited takes on “Tell Me Something Good,” “The Joker” and “Tupelo Honey,” which was sandwiched inside “Soulshine.” Haynes encouraged the crowd to “get the energy of the entire crowd and band and everybody here into one nice, greasy, sexy, psychedelic entity,” though the vibe didn’t quite get there -or that is to say, it didn’t happen until sometime the following day…for a different band.

Wasting no time after Widespread Panic’s first headlining set, Dumpstaphunk opened with “Dr. Funkenstein” and ran through 1970s classics like “You Know I Know You Know,” “For the Love of Money,” “Fight the Powa,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Give the People What They Want” for what was a sweaty, skin slapping, butt-shaking dance party.

Saturday Butch Trucks’ band of special friends kicked things into high gear just after noon on the Mushroom Stage. Oteil Burbridge held down the bass, and also on stage performing together for the first time was Butch’s son Vaylor Trucks on guitar. Flanked by Marc Quinones, it began an historic day of incredible rhythm on the Mushroom Stage from a trifecta of legendary drummers: Butch Trucks, Nikki Glaspie and Stanton Moore

After three oppressively hot, humid and cloudy days, the rain began to fall the moment The Nth Power jumped into Steely Dan’s “Peg” to kick off their tribute set billed as “Home at Last.” Bodies and trees were dripping wet through the whole set, a scene epitomizing a steamy sexy dance party. Soon after the band segued seamlessly into “Black Cow,” Ivan Neville walked on stage to sing the first verse. “Black Cow” found its way to “Kid Charlemagne,” and through both tunes Nick Cassarino’s guitar and voice selflessly served the songs, every guitar sound oozing with poignancy and intention, and every vibration of his vocal chords stirring the deepest depths of Spirit. Nikki Glaspie’s voice on “The Caves of Altamira” was sultry and hypnotizing -juxtaposed with her axe murdering display of drumming, she is a no-gimmick, self-actualized and open-hearted ambassador of the almighty groove: an archangel of rhythm. “Home At Last” almost boiled over into oblivion, fearlessly adventuring beyond the boundaries of the song and flirting with a “wait…what song is this again?” moment. “Reelin’ in the Years” included a tasteful “Jessica” tease from Cassarino’s guitar. “The Fez” featured a bass solo, during which Nate Edgar busted out basslines with the same finesse and grace as a gorilla swings through treetops – his bass emanating mercilessly menacing bottom-end depravity which whipped the crowd into hip-popping hysterics. Percussionist Weedie Braimah sang lead for “Do It Again” before a set closing “Aja,” that concluded the Steely Dan portion of the set. After removing their ties, The Nth Power returned to play original music – appropriately starting with “Spirits.”

The Nth Power is turning out some of the most original new music to be found today. Lacking typical song structures that rely on choruses or grooves with a bridge or turnaround/head section, their songs contain different states or gears which, when within, allow different aspects of the band to shine. In a scene crowded with emulators and success/fame centered goals, The Nth Power is a light unto the world – the music feels real and full of salvation. 

After Cheap Trick put on their show decked out in over the top outfits, complete with 5-neck guitars, the sun began to set. Gregg Allman played with his new band at Wanee for the first time. He seemed very healthy and strong, relative to Wanees of the past. Poised with swagger, his band of mercenaries devote themselves to his music and the result is a fully fledged, uninhibited all-time great singer within a newly re-discovered comfort zone. The set featured The Allman Brothers Band classics like “Melissa,” “Statesboro Blues,” “Hot’Lanta,” “Midnight Rider,” and was highlighted by a swanky new arrangement of “Whipping Post” which featured slightly more space in the vocal phrasing but somehow packed a punch equal to its massive rocking traditional arrangement. 

Galactic would close out the festival and finally someone had uncovered the iconic handmade “Spirit of The Suwannee” letters on the stage which for some reason were hidden all weekend behind tie-dyed tapestries. Galactic has found a formula for their rocking New Orleans flavored funk, and they stick to it. For the encore they played the “we want the funk” P-Funk phrase three or four times to appease the crowd (which was singing it loud and proud), cut it, and then played a newer slower song that gave the set, and the whole weekend, a bit of an anticlimactic ending. 

But, at that point, Wanee exploded around the Spirit of The Suwannee’s campfires. Old friends are made and new friends are found. People share music with one another. And if you’re lucky, the smells and tastes of home-cooked campsite meals of salmon, shrimp, mussels, and the world’s most delicious oxtail may find you.

During Widespread Panic’s two sets, Jimmy Herring was constantly peeling out mind-blowing runs up and down his guitar neck with fingers as fast as lightning. He was so dialed in to every change of every song that he soared like a bird with wings made for every force of wind. Saturday’s set felt more open and exploratory than the preceding night. Bassist Dave Schools’ bombastic onslaught of low end made staying up close to the front of the stage a feat of bad-assery. Duane Trucks’ drumming with WSP was extremely impressive. He listens and responds most appropriately and at times was steering the entire ship during improvisational explorations. Despite being the new guy in a group that mostly has a history of decades together, Trucks did not just follow the veterans’ lead, and had no problem grabbing the reins when needed. His spacious drumming paved the way for a more dynamic and agile Widespread Panic than usual. Saturday night’s “End of Show” encore brought an intense hush over the crowd, featuring a hauntingly beautiful vocal performance from John Bell, and they said goodnight with Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul.” 

Wanee has always felt like a festival belonging to The Allman Brothers Band. In their absence, Widespread Panic headlined both nights. However, the air of a passing of the torch was not prevalent. All of The Allman Brothers Band side projects (except for Tedeschi Trucks Band) flooded the top of the lineup. And whereas in years past, chances were you could catch a member of the ABB sitting in with another band, and could count on heavy hitters being invited on stage with the Allmans, this year that was far from the situation.  Warren Haynes was on site for less than one day and Derek Trucks was nowhere to be found. Gregg stuck to his stage at his set time, as did Butch, Jaimoe and Oteil. Nobody from Widespread Panic joined in another band’s set, and WSP hosted no guests during their two night stand. 

Maybe the torch has been let go, but as far as the ethos of Wanee is concerned, it certainly has not been handed off to anyone, and this writer is not confident in saying Widespread Panic was interested in grabbing hold of it.

JamBase | Way Down Upon The Suwannee River
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