Wanee 2010

 

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Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida has been the setting for many music festivals, ranging from country to gospel to funk to rock, and from April 15-17, it was once again home to Wanee Festival, now in its sixth year. 

The park itself is a stunningly beautiful wooded campground with two main music areas; in a wide and sunny field stood the Peach Stage, considered the main stage and capable of blasting sound over the massive crowd – the biggest ever at Spirit of Suwannee. Nestled beneath towering live oak trees and drooping Spanish moss, a natural amphitheater stage, dubbed the Mushroom Stage at this event, offered the most surreal and lovely setting for live music I’ve experienced on the east coast.

An action-packed music schedule set the scene for more than two days of funk-tinged Southern rock. The Allman Brothers Band host the festival every year and invited their friends and recent touring partners, Widespread Panic, to co-headline this year.

Thursday

We drove all night and arrived at the park in the early afternoon on Thursday. As we set up camp near the Mushroom Stage with some SoS regulars, we were greeted by the growling sounds of Devon Allman’s Honeytribe as the trio opened up the weekend. Wanee’s lineup is inundated with ABB family members and side projects, showcasing the talent that exists in that musical clique.

particle.jpgScrapomatic, featuring Derek Trucks Band vocalist Michael Mattison and guitarist Paul Olsen, was up next. Laying down soulful lyrics and simple yet effective blues guitar, Scrapomatic was perfect for a lovely afternoon in the shade.

Col. Bruce Hampton and the Quark Alliance took the late afternoon slot. Founding member of the legendary Aquarium Rescue Unit, Col. Bruce is no stranger to shredding, and this set was no exception. Looking like an old hound dog, the Col. got the crowd hopping.

The next act was the only electronica band on the bill, Los Angeles-based Particle. Keyboardist Steve Molitz was as animated as ever behind his massive array of instruments, bobbing and weaving while bassist Jason Gould thumped away and provoked a full-on dance party at the Mushroom Stage.

The Mothership Connection was about to be unleashed on Live Oak. Multi-dimensional space funk pioneer George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic tore the proverbial roof off the mother while festival attendees poured into the park. {mospagebreak}

Friday

Friday started early with guitar great Bobby Lee Rodgers and his trio on the Peach Stage. Fantastic guitar work and positive vibes got the crowd smiling and ready to groove for the first full day of Wanee. While The Auctioneers warmed up the Mushroom Stage for legendary Chuck Leavell, I settled in for my most anticipated set of the weekend, 7 Walkers featuring Bill Kreuztmann and Papa Mali.

7walkers.jpg7 Walkers is a band that has been developing over the past year or so and is coalescing into what I consider to be the most impressive new band on the scene, even though it‘s full of old players. Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann has teamed up with Louisiana guitarist Papa Mali and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard and recently took on no other than George Porter, Jr., founding member of The Meters, on bass. They jammed through fresh takes on Dead classics “Sugaree” and “Wharf Rat,” while mixing in Papa Mali originals and New Orleans staples, as well as showcasing new songs penned by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

The Peach Stage would be the setting for many more legends over the course of Friday afternoon, including The Wailers, Stephen Stills, and Bob Weir. I was ready for some shade and some refreshments, however, so I headed over to the Mushroom Stage for a bit. Since there was no music Sunday, The Lee Boys with Oteil and Kofi Burbridge took Wanee to church on Friday. They laid down some hand-shaking, foot-stomping soul tunes and showcased the incredible vocal skills of Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge.

Next up was the raw Southern blues sounds of the North Mississippi Allstars. Chris Chew’s driving basslines accentuated Luther Dickinson’s wailing guitar solos while his younger brother Cody held down the rhythm on drums. North Mississippi is a band that has been maturing over the years and are proving themselves show after show.

mofro1.jpgWhile Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman and Jay Lane were Scaring the Children in a trimmed-down version of RatDog, JJ Grey and Mofro kept the air around the Mushroom Stage thick and soupy with staples "Dirtfloorcracker," "Ho Cake," and "Lochloosa."

On the Peach Stage, the main event was about to begin. Widespread Panic has been playing like a band reborn. After the death of guitarist and founding member Mikey Houser, WSP was in transition while trying to find a suitable guitarist to fill the spot.

After some searching, they settled on Jimmy Herring, veteran of Aquarium Rescue Unit, the Allman Brothers, Frogwings, Phil & Friends…too many bands to name. Herring is jokingly referred to as "the man who saved Widespread Panic," but it’s a pretty accurate jest. Jimmy’s soaring guitar solos and lightning-fast hands have given Widespread’s jams new life in the past few years.

A recent co-headlining tour with the Allman Brothers Band further revitalized the band’s fan base and led them to their first apperance at Wanee this year. They kept the massive Peach Stage crowd grinning with favorites "Tallboy," "Chilly Water," and "Stop/Go" before ending their set with "Protein Drink" into "Sewing Machine."

Legendary Hot Tuna played an electric set on the Mushroom Stage as Widespread finished up–guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady brought their unique psychedelic blues to Wanee, far from their 1960’s San Francisco roots.

abb1.jpgBack on the Peach Stage, the crowd swelled to epic proportions for The Allman Brothers Band‘s first set of the weekend. The Brothers didn’t fail to please, with longtime favorites "Statesboro Blues," "Midnight Rider," "Whipping Post," and "Jessica" appearing in their set. They also featured guest players throughout the set, including Derek Trucks Band percussionist Count M’Butu, guitarist Grant Green, Jr. and saxophonists Jay Collins and Ron Holloway

As I embarked on a debaucherous golf cart ride through the festival grounds, Gov’t Mule took the Mushroom Stage for their late-night set. Recent addition to the band bassist Jorgen Carlsson set the mood when he began pounding out the bassline to Pink Floyd’s "One of These Days," which segued into a beautiful rendition of "Fearless," with Warren Haynes perfectly delivering the legendary guitar licks and dreamy lyrics.

While some expected a full-on Floyd set like 2008’s Halloween show in Boston, it was instead to become a Mule party. Today’s greatest blues band brought the heat with powerhouse tunes like "Trane" and "Broke Down on the Brazos" before closing out the night with the ever-popular "Soulshine."

Revelers made their way into the campgrounds and the party continued deep into the night. As the sky brightened, some festivalgoers scraped up a ragtag game of kickball and we got ready for our last day of music at Wanee. {mospagebreak}

Saturday

It seems that the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio was the musical morning coffee for Wanee 2010 – he started things off on the Peach Stage again, getting everyone’s ears tuned up for another full day of wailing guitars and rowdy dancing. After attending friends Paul and Mimi’s beautiful wedding on Rees Lake, we made our way back to the concert area.

Cody Dickinson took on guitar duties with his band Hill Country Revue while Atlanta’s Bonobos Convergence filled the air around the Mushroom Stage with their complex fusion rock sounds. However, it was soon time for New Orleans to descend on Wanee.

drjohn.jpg The Night Tripper himself, Dr. John, crooned away on the Peach Stage with his Lower 911 band backing him up, while perhaps the most unusual set of the weekend was performed on the Mushroom Stage – A Family Affair with Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, a tribute set to funk legends Sly and the Family Stone. After seeing Dumpstaphunk over the last five years or so, I was unaware how many songs in their repetoire originated on Sly Stone albums. The dual bass assault by Nick Daniels and Tony Hall kept the crowd bumping while guitar solos from young Ian Neville added a New Orleans touch to classics "Dance to the Music," "Everyday People," and "Sing a Simple Song."

Over on the Peach Stage, rarely-seen supergroup The Word, featuring the North Mississippi Allstars, John Medeski on keys, and pedal steel master Robert Randolph delivered an amazing set of instrumental gospel.

After the funky dance party in the trees at the Mushroom Stage, the crowd was ready for the next high-powered funk band, Brooklyn’s Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. In a bizarre turn of events, however, the band was unable to make it to the festival due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland, an event that seemed otherworldly to those of us who had been on vacation in Florida for days. In true New Orleans fashion, musicians pulled together and made the best of a hard situation.

neville1.jpgDubbed The Wanee Allstar Funk Jam, a who’s-who of Wanee showed up and got down. George Porter, Jr., Ivan Neville, Ian Neville, JoJo Herman, the Dickinson brothers, Oteil and Kofi Burbridge, and Florida guitar virtuoso Matt Grondin were a few of the faces that could be seen on stage for this funk extravaganza. They wove their way improvisationally through tunes like "Red Beans Cookin’," "Iko Iko," and "Will it Go Round in Circles," keeping the funk alive at the Mushroom Stage for the next act, the Funky Meters, led by George Porter and Art Neville.

The Meters’ set continued in much of the same vein and it was hard to tell when Dumpstaphunk ended and the Funky Meters began, there was so much funk oozing around the amphitheater.

Widespread Panic played their second show of the weekend on the Peach Stage, offering a nearly seamless jam throughout the entire set, ending with a fantastic cover of the War classic, "Slippin’ Into Darkness," featuring a cameo from Luther Dickinson into the rocking "North," with Warren Haynes stopping in for a solo or two. Blues legend Johnny Winter unleashed his high-powered guitar work on the Mushroom Stage, showing that talent does not fade with time.

dereksusan.jpgThe Allman Brothers Band closed down the Peach Stage for the weekend with a guest-laden set including Johnny Winter on "The Sky is Crying" and Widespread Panic’s John Bell for a cover of Van Morrison’s "And it Stoned Me." The massive encore of "Midnight Rider > Mountain Jam > Dazed and Confused > Mountain Jam" proved musically that the Brothers are still firing on all cylinders and will remain an American rock and roll institution for years to come.

Saturday’s late-night slot belonged to The Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band. Derek and Susan, perhaps the country’s most musical couple, served up a set of bluesy originals and choice covers, showcasing Tedeschi’s powerful voice.

When the music was over, the campground once again became a hive of latenight activity, with campers stirring up all kinds of mischief late into the night and into Sunday morning. Around midday, we packed it in and made our way back to the relative normalcy of everyday life, leaving behind the surreal world that exists in small pockets of time at music festivals.

Wanee 2010 was a huge success for Live Oak and for new promoters, LiveNation. The biggest attendance ever and relatively incident-free weekend showed all that you can gather a huge group of people together and everyone can indeed get along. Thank you, music!

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