Another installment of the Wanee Music Festival has come and gone, leaving the fortunate attendees with echoes and memories that will last a lifetime. The annual gathering hosted by the Allman Brothers Band at the Spirit of Suwanee Music Park has swelled to over 20,000 rabid music fans, all eager to hear blues-tinged southern rock played by masters of the form. From the phoenix like Furthur, rising from the Dead, to guitar legend Buddy Guy, new acts such as Trigger Hippy and Flannel Church, the jam roots of the Allmans was reflected heavily in the lineup alongside some very dense dance music courtesy of groups like Particle and the duo EOTO.
Throughout the rain-dappled weekend there was a sense of import in the air and a feeling that this was a weekend for the ages. Feeding those thoughts were rumors swirling about Gregg Allman’s health status. Having missed the last show-and-a-half of the band’s traditional Beacon run in New York, along with a variety of scares over the last few years, cast a shadow across the proceedings like the sun slowly setting over the horizon.
“It’s impossible to question Allman’s love for music, as he has continued on through tragedies and obstacles that would have stopped many a lesser man. But continue on he has, to the point of pushing himself to fight exhaustion and pain to simply do what he loves most, play for the people. “
Having experienced trials and tribulations well documented over the decades, Allman has lived a life that would have obliterated most men long ago. It’s been said that rock star years are like dog years, and heaven only knows that analogy fits Gegg Allman. With uncertainty swirling, many fans were there simply to give thanks and show respect for a lifetime of making music that has been the soundtrack to their lives. To hear the Allman’s influence, go anywhere in the country and tune in their local “Classic Rock” station. If it takes more than 45 minutes to hear an Allman Brothers song, you must have just turned on the radio as one was ending.
Wanee started early and went late on Wednesday. Given the picturesque nature of the park, and the propensity for festival goers to take the party to a higher level, the park was starting to fill up the week before the first band was to play! That band, Beebs And Her Money Makers, showed a deft combination of funk and jam, with Beebs playing showgirl.
New band Flannel Church wowed the crowd with a distinctive blend of blues, southern jams and sacred steel that hit the crowd right in their sweet spot. Eager faces seemed to melt into one amorphorus sea of smies and looks of appreciation that was a wonder to behold. Cope closed out the night with their suprisingly dense sound, punctuated by guitar fireworks and smoking saxophone solos that cut through the music and sailed out through the mighty cypress trees that cover the grounds with shade and a canopy of green.
Thursday morning, and the campgrounds were already teeming with life as new arrivals poured into Suwannee. All of Thursday’s music was hosted on the ampitheater stage, christened the “Mushroom Stage” for the weekend, and after sets by Bonnie Blue and the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio, the first true legend of the day took the stge, as Ray Manzarek of The Doors joinded Rodgers and his band for a set of new tunes and the classics the crowd longed to hear.
A stellar Riders On The Storm was both chilling in its scope, and a nod to the ominous clouds hovering in the sky all weekend long. On the scale of musical import, between The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, it’s hard to find artists who did more to shape the sound of their era. Elements of the original Airplane band, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, were on hand to show how it should be done. Simple instrumentation and earnest rocking that belied their years and cemented their status as true statesmen of the rock world took the crowd to the summer of love and back again.
Sandwiched between this history lesson was a legacy, Devon Allman. Looking and sounding like his father, Devon brought a bit of himself to the proceedings, rocking the guitar and even trying his hand at a Allman Brothers cover as a nod of respect. Conspirator, containing elements of the Disco Biscuits, Lotus and The New Deal, along with DJ Omen, got the crowd bumping and thumping late into the night, with lasers splitting the trees and the lights turning the crowd into a strobe lit pulsating organic mass.
Friday started off with clear blue skies and thousands of happy festival goers wandering the park, shopping for new clothes and art pieces from the craftsmen and vendors on site, eating fried alligator and numerous other tasty treats from the wide variety of food booths as well as swimming in the river and relaxing in the hundreds of hammocks that fill the park.
The anticipation of the crowd was building, and the fans were buzzing with setlist predictions for the day’s headliners. Sad news was also being spread, with news of Levon Helm’s passing. Bruce Hornsby used his mid-day set to note the loss with a heart wrenching cover of The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down that had the crowd singing along from front to back. Blues legend Buddy Guy was all smiles and thick chords and one note leads as he brought the spirit of Chicago blues to Florida and a very appreciative audience.
Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart and his band took his eclectic mix of drums and noise makers to the stage and made something truly unique, blending old rhythms and new band members for a well received set. After a wild year that has already seen them play for the President of the United States, The Tedeschi-Trucks Band looked more at home playing in front of what is essentially a home crowd. The interplay between the two is fun to watch, and their guitar styles blend well. With a pair of backing singers and a horn section, the thick bar band sound was rich with nuance and grungy joy.
Perennial one-man-band stylist Zach Deputy found himself a band and a whole lot of soul for the Wanee Festival. While missing some of his previous exuberance, the heartfelt singing and guitar licks showed how much he can do when focused on just fronting a band, putting to rest any doubts on his musical genius.
In the realm of genius, there are few bands as rich in musical intelligence as Furthur. From their decades of touring, founding members of the Grateful Dead Bob Weir and Phil Lesh have reignited their spark with Joe Russo and John Kadlecik, Jeff Chimenti. The band and vocalists have breathed new life into classic Dead tunes, and filled the role of elder statesmen of the music scene. It’s a fitting role as they are truly the creators of the travelling musical carnival know as festival season, and we among the first to run away and join the circus.
Opening with an appropriate Not Fade Away the band toured through their rich catalog of classics, with a Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain that had the crowd cheering and an encore of Touch of Grey that seemed to fit the mood of the day and weekend.
The time came for all the questions to be answered, and for the weekend’s hosts, The Allman Brothers Band, to take the stage. After their lifetime Grammy Award and the national attention it garnered for them, there were epic cheers as Gregg Allman took the stage and played the first three ripping numbers, including a breathy and powerful Midnight Rider. Lest we forget, the Allman Brothers is more than just one man, and, at their heart, are a guitar-driven band that features two of the most noted southern rock players on the planet, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes.
Former child prodigy Trucks and long time band mate Haynes mesh together to form a wall of sound, backed by the deep bass lines of Oteil Burbridge and a trio of drummers and percussionists. Taking a few songs off, Gregg sat stage right and watched while Kofi Burbridge covered the organ for him joining Bruce Katz, who played the entire show supporting Gregg, while he gathered his strength for the tribute to come.
Warren Haynes took to the microphone and dedicated the three numbers to Levon Helm, and set off on one of the most inspiring tributes imaginable. With a strong history of the blues, the Allmans’ tribute could have easily been a somber affair, but by the time they came to The Weight, the stage was packed with Susan Tedeschi and her band’s backing vocalists and horn players.
Standing front and center was special guest Bob Weir, who led the band through the raucous cover, and channeled Levon’s spirit and vocal stylings clear through. A sea of dancing music fans drove home the decades of service Gregg and his band has done the world, as they were all there to revel in the songs that have provided the soundtrack to their lives.
Closing the set with In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed, which quickly turned into a guitar lovers nirvana, before coming back out and encoring with a fitting No One To Run With, the band proved that there was still plenty of fight left in them. Particle had the unenviable task of finishing out the night, and managed to bring fresh energy to a crowd that had been going since the early hours of the day.
Saturday started off with ominous weather reports and threatening clouds, ready to wash the festival clean and bring nature’s power to the event. Allman Brothers drummer Jaimoe brought his jazz band to the amphitheater for a beautiful set of atmospheric songs that seemed to open to the sky like flowers. Those flowers were quickly watered by a downpour and the sets were pushed back a good 20 minutes. When they finally did get the okay to take the stage, Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene’s new band Trigger Hippy set out to show the crowd what they could do, and with their pedigree, it was more than could be expected. Having played a host of new songs, the band established themselves as a soulful force, with at times joyous singing by the delightful Osborne and serious riffing by Greene. A strong statement of things to come.
Leftover Salmon brought Vince Herman’s love of festivals and good time zydeco-tinged Americana to the amphitheater, while Gov’t Mule found their set cut short by rain as well. Starting from behind, Warren Haynes rapidly caught up to the recommended amount of wild jamming solos, and managed to turn in a set that inspired the crowd to chant his name in places!
Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires and Big Sam and His Funky Nation brought a true funk to the ampitheater, while the skies cleared and the rain fell to momentary outbursts. Furthur then took the main stage for a second three-hour slot, with guests like Joan Osborne to help bring an element of history to the proceedings. A massive Viola Lee Blues > Bertha > Viola Lee Blues > Wharf Rat > Viola Lee Blues > Stella Blue > I Know You Rider was one of the runs of the weekend and had more than one fan shell shocked from its execution. Encoring with U.S. Blues, Furthur turned in one of their most memorable two day runs and set the stage nicely, once again, for the fireworks to come. EOTO brought the dance fans to the amphitheater for a light and dance fest that stretched from the front of the stage to the reaches of the campground.
Coming back out, a visibly worn Gregg Allman again ascended his keyboard throne, nestling in behind the organ. Haynes took lead duties for the Allman Brothers Band, acting as field general and leading the night’s show, helping cover Gregg’s frequent breaks. Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars joined the fun for a couple of numbers, and covers of The Sky Is Crying and All Along The Watchtower, nestled next to Allman Brothers classics Jessica and Statesboro Blues before setting down a epic Mountain Jam to end the set.
Before ending the night with Southbound, Gregg Allman came out and joined Haynes and Trucks for a truly chilling cover of Neil Young’s Needle And The Damage Done. Gregg sat on a stool, and sang with a world weariness and awareness of his condition, and how he came to this point. Nothing is more telling than hearing advice from someone who has lived the subject, and with his battles fought and won long ago, Gregg Allman could give anyone advice on how to carry on through adversity.
It’s impossible to question Allman’s love for music, as he has continued on through tragedies and obstacles that would have stopped many a lesser man. But continue on he has, to the point of pushing himself to fight exhaustion and pain to simply do what he loves most, play for the people. There was an understanding in the crowd of the pain he was in, and the simple fact that he was fighting it to be there for them elevated the love they felt all the more.
In a world where dedication and perseverance are becoming true rarities, one man set out to do just that, and without intending to be an example to everyone who witnessed the show that in the end, it’s what you do in this world that matters and how you do it that sets you apart from the rest. From his distinctive honeyed voice to his bombastic organ runs, Gregg Allman has made his mark on the music world and made it in letters so huge that they can be seen from miles away.
Here’s a full gallery of Rex’s Wanee Festival photographs…