13th Annual Wanee Music Festival 2017
Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, Florida
Photographer/Writer: Tyler Muir
This year’s Wanee Music Festival, located at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in North Central Florida, delivered one of the more solid lineups of the 2017 festival season. Though it takes place in the spring, it set the bar for what a schedule should look like.
An important factor all these years for setting the bar high for Wanee was Butch Trucks. The untimely passing of Trucks in January brought the Wanee community together in an unprecedented way, to honor his life and say thanks for impacting so many over the course of his life. There was an extra sense of camaraderie – both on and off stage – the entire weekend because of the tragedy. Everyone truly realized how fortunate they were to be able to experience this year’s festival.
Wanee Wednesday was set for remembering the legacy of Butch Trucks. For those able to show up to the festival a day early, it was an honor to share in the grooves like he would have wanted. The main event for Wednesday was billed as “Cody and Luther Dickinson with the Freight Train and special guests.” Everyone knew that it was going to be an emotional and passionate set, and they were correct. Butch’s daughter Melody joined Wanee’s very own M.C “Big Mike” before the band started their set to thank everyone and show her entire family’s appreciation. If a tear was not in everyone’s eye from Melody’s speech, one formed along with a lump in the throat when she sung the line, “My poppa died and left me” from Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” a song that the Allmans made their own.
What started out as a family affair on stage, brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson alongside Trucks’ children Vaylor and Melody, had everyone feeling like kinfolk, the audience and musicians lucky enough to share such a heartfelt moment. The evening concluded, radiating love and memories of a great man.
Thursday saw a stacked lineup on the Mushroom Stage. Two well-established Florida bands, Crazy Fingers and Brothers & Sisters, kicked off the warm sunny day. Having taken the stage the day before with two inspiring, soul-lifting sets, they continued to lift spirits with their Thursday sets.
The Wanee magic continued by welcoming the multi talented funk-cajun-bluegrass band, Leftover Salmon, featuring the festival king himself, Vince Herman. In some circles it technically isn’t a festival without Vince shouting to the heavens, “FESTIVAL!” What made Salmon’s set so special was the dedication to, Neil Young. It is always a treat when musicians you respect and love take the music of those they respect and love and put their very own touch on it. It is hard not to sing along to Neil when he comes on the radio; add beautiful bluegrass versions of those tunes and it is even harder. It was poetic when Vince sang, “420 Long Year” at 4:20 p.m on April 20th in the middle of his Neil Young set. Before Leftover took the stage “Big Mike” announced in a booming voice that Leftover has created many memorable sets over the years at Suwanee Music Park, and that this set was going to be no different. He was right.
Dark Star Orchestra made sure to pull out all the tricks and play a set people would be talking about the rest of the weekend. Ask any Deadhead and the vast majority of those Deadheads will tell you the most legendary Grateful Dead live performance took place on May 8, 1977 Cornell University’s Barton Hall. This was the show DSO chose to capture, and as if that wasn’t enough to get everyone’s attention the hair on the back of your next standing, the tribute band busted out Jefferson Airplane’s, “White Rabbit” and ended their set with Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” As everyone sang along with the lyrics, “we would not feel so alone, everybody must get stoned,” it seemed to be the last reminder of the day that it was April 20th.
If the DSO Cornell University set did not make you want to retire your boogie shoes for the day, DJ Logic provided the late night opportunity to set your feet on fire. To show the level of class DJ Logic has as a producer and DJ, he chose to start his set off with the studio version of the Grateful Dead’s “The Music Never Stopped,” with the smoothest transition into Kool & The Gang’s, “Spirit of the Boogie.” The late night set answered the age old question, “What on earth could make Kool & the Gang any cooler?” The answer? Lasers!
It felt like everyone woke on Friday morning with the same train of thought, and that was to not miss The Marcus King Band’s rise and shine 11 a.m set. It was easy to see that Southern Rock is still alive and has a very strong pulse at Wanee. If King’s repertoire of music, produced by long time Southern rocker Warren Haynes, doesn’t convince you he has the taste for music rooted deep in jams of the South, his playing and the clear influence of his idol Duane Allman will.
When the Marcus King Band took the stage, the crowd that had gathered was astonishing. They were ready to eat up every guitar riff, lyric, or anything else King had to dish out. Though King was performing original tunes, his chords and lyrics give you the warm feeling of being at Grandma’s house as a kid. Brought up in a blues family, writing songs everyone can relate to comes naturally for him. The 21-year-old did not disappoint those who made the pilgrimage to his early set.
Devon Allman’s take on Southern Rock stems from his roots. Allman and his band puts a spin on classics with style and grace. Devon brought out Ben Sparaco for his own Southern rock twist on Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry, and delivered a perfect musical blend – mostly instrumental, with only the vocals added that the audience could not help but chant.
A JJ Grey and Mofro set never lets up. It’s showmanship at its finest, and their Wanee set was no different. With a strong sense of pride Grey started out by letting those just tuning in know that he is from just down the road from Suwanee Music Park. To him the place is his own personal slice of empyrean. Known for always being on stage in his Sunday best, it did not take long for JJ to take off his suit jacket and note that if you thought the day was hot, come back in a couple of months when the temperatures goes from the high 80s into the high 90s with 100% humidity. JJ and Mofro’s set was like being at the grand church of Southern rock, brimming in the sermon of slide guitar.
The only thing better than short shorts Bobby Weir is cowboy Bobby Weir. Weir’s latest project finds him channeling his inner cowboy and luckily for the people in attendance at Wanee, Bobby decided to take that project on the road with him. Bobby Weir and the Campfire Band is a Weir project from the late 70s. Icing on the cake was seeing Weir and his fellow cowboys take that vibe to those Grateful Dead licks we all love so much.
Widespread Panic made sure the Southern rock torch they carried into Wanee was shining extra bright. From the start the Friday night headliner did not ease up, nor did it seemed they wanted to. Getting “Ain’t Life Grand” right out of the gate should have been the first inclination the boys from Athens, Georgia had a scorcher coming down the pipeline. Marcus King made a special guest appearance and Panic, knowing the talent of the fresh-faced 21-year-old, put him to the test. The first chords of “Mountain Jam” sounded like what one imagines angels sound like when they sing, and as the jam settled in people here and there had to pick their jaws off the ground.
Panic wrapped up just a hair earlier than scheduled so Duane Trucks could make his late night Les Brers set on time. Up until that Les Bres set there was much chatter over who might sit in or what to expect. When you have that many top tier musicians on one stage, Lamar Williams Jr. taking the helm with so much confidence and a voice seemingly created just for those tunes, words do it no justice. As if to test the stage to see if it could hold any more amazing, genuine talent, Marcus King came out for a version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” that there is no doubt people still have chills from. It seemed after that Les Brers late night set, most folks were walking on air back to their home base.
Saturday was the day of having to decide exactly where you needed to be and when. Dr. John and the Nite Trippers brought their New Orleans creole voodoo to the Peach Stage Saturday afternoon to show everyone that magic does still exist. There is so much history in that man; he is a national treasure. At the risk of throwing out a cliché, they just do not make that kind of stage presence and talent like that anymore.
Picking up where Friday left off, Gov’t Mule wove their entire catalog with a sprinkle of surprise to keep their fans on their toes. With a new album due in June, those there got to see the first live performance of “Revolution Come, Revolution Go,” on the forthcoming album of same title. It might not be possible for Mule to make a better sandwich than “When Doves Cry” into “Beautifully Broken” back into “When Doves Cry.” It was so perfect it almost seemed to be originally written like that.
Keller Williams brought the gospel of his Grateful Grass to the Mushroom Stage for those that needed to attend worship. This sermon found Keller backed by Jeff Austin, Andy Hall, Jeremy Garrett, and Danton Boller. It was fascinating seeing Keller and his apostles arrange the music we all know and love in a way none of us ever imagined hearing.
Trey Anastasio was happy to bring his band and infectious smile to Wanee. He also brought with him a very memorable story about the person on everyone’s mind over the weekend, Butch Trucks. Wanee 2014 was memorable to Trey due to him sitting in with The Allman Brothers. While on stage he realized Butch, on drums behind was the sound of the Allman Brothers. He realized Butch drove the “Truck” that was the band. It is a beautiful moment when an artist of Trey’s caliber shows the love and affection the fans do. Those human moments are to be cherished. Music touches all of our souls, and Trey’s story was a prime example of that.
Trey followed his Butch story with a touching version of the Five Stairsteps classic, ”O-o-h Child.” Trey Anastasio and Bob Weir playing back to back created rumors that there was going to be a collaboration during one of their sets. When Weir never joined Trey on stage, all the hope that was left was Trey walking out during Weir’s set. After Weir started his set with an intimate acoustic “Two Dijinn” into “Corrina” and back into “Two Dijinn,” out walks Big Red himself. Trey’s involvement in Weir’s set consisted of five songs including “Deep Elem Blues,” “Friend of the Devil,” and “Bird Song.” All had that Cowboy Weir feel to them, though it was great seeing Trey channel his inner cowboy too. “Miss You” was a pleasant surprise in the set list, but after that though things got weird. After a quick huddle between the two, a song started that it is safe to say very few people in the crowd recognized. Causing much debate, the last song Weir and Trey decided to sing was “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga. After the Gaga tune, Trey made his stage exit and the acoustic half of the first set made way for the electric second half of set one. The Campfire Band accompanied Weir for the rest of the show after Trey made his exit.
Wanee could not have ended the festival any better than it did. Members of Pink Talking Fish, Kung Fu, and Turkuaz joined forces to create an entire set of David Bowie and Prince tunes. Everyone wanted to sing along but at the same time have a dance party. The bands did a great job selecting the songs from the vast libraries of both artists and gave it all they had. Those in the crowd gave away all the energy they had left, dancing to hit after hit. When the set was over it was safe to call the festival a wrap.
Out of the tragedy of Butch Trucks’ passing, a sense of unity and compassion was felt by everyone in attendance at this years Wanee. It is safe to say everyone left with the yearning to keep Butch’s spirit alive.