It was one heck of a week at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. One festival had a superb 12th outing, one festival moved, a new festival popped up, one resurrected 465 miles west, one festival headliner announced limited touring next year, and one former festival headliner absolutely bowled us over.
Got all that?
Many of the details blew in and around the 800-acre park, but ultimately the glorious four days of the Wanee Music Festival were the main focus, however blurry that focus may have been. From the opening performance by Bonnie Blue on Wanee Wednesday Happy Hour to the twisted beauty of Umphrey’s McGee’s closing “All Night Wrong” set, Wanee was jam-packed with, well, jam, rock, funk, and a lot of jazz!
About those distractions. Early in the week, it was announced that the Magnolia Music Festival would not return to SoSMP and would instead move to the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Very shortly thereafter, the brand new Suwannee Roots Revival was announced for SoSMP, on the same weekend, with a great lineup including Peter Rowan, Donna the Buffalo, Blueground Undergrass, and Grass Is Dead.
And those announcements came shortly after the revival of the beloved Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival — in a different state and format. Bear Creek Bayou Music Festival will be an urban festival right in New Orleans, but they are planning to round up the usual suspects.
And then, right before Widespread Panic was set to headline Wanee Friday and Saturday night, keyboard player JoJo Hermann announced that Panic would limit touring in 2017 to several big events such as Red Rocks. Will that include Wanee? Damn good question.
On top of everything else, Mother Nature looked like she was going to throw one titanic hissy fit for most of the four days. Blessedly, just like at Suwanee Springfest, the rain was limited to brief showers on Wednesday. Once again, Suwannee magic kept everybody relatively dry, if a good bit cooler than anyone really expected.
Music started right on time at 2:30 with Bonnie Blue, an excellent Jacksonville quartet playing their engaging brand of Southern blues and rock. Those early arrivals who made it to the Mushroom Stage got a real treat, and that joy continued with a set from the Ben Sparaco Band from Miami.
It would be tempting to say that Sparaco channels Derek Trucks. Sounds similar. Plays similarly. One of his guitars is the same as Derek’s, I think. The set started with “Volunteered Slavery.” And yet Sparaco, a fine player, is his own man. He and his band delivered a great set. Rich Friedman of Crazy Fingers (guitar) joined for a tune, as did Eric Garcia and his harp (from JUke) for “Don’t Keep Me Wondering.”
JUke had the next slot, a great ‘post-blues’ band from Miami. Their solid set included great titles such as “Everything’s Gonna Be Funky From Now On” and “Who’s Got That Kinda time?” And now we were dodging raindrops — nothing serious, but enough to get wet. I heard most of the Crazy Fingers set from shelter. Another fine band from Miami playing the Dead is always welcome.
It was still precipitating when Thomas Wynn and the Believers hit the stage. It had been years since I’d heard them last, so we got out the ponchos and headed to the stage. And we were amply rewarded with an excellent, rocking set. Wynn has become a great guitar player, and he and sister Olivia sounded great on harmony vocals. Chris Bell was his usual excellent self on harp. My notes got wet, but I certainly liked the song that began with the intro to “Whipping Post” before it careened into a Zappa tease and into a band original. I need some more of that, but drier.
The day had been filled with great rock and blues, but that was about to change when The New Mastersounds hit the stage. They have been park regulars, but this was the quartet’s first Wanee appearance, and they made the most of it. Swing, jazz, funk and more are all in NMS’s trick bag. “Morning Fly” was an early treat.
Joe Tatton is always impressive on keyboards, and Eddie Roberts is a remarkable guitar player who certainly likes one of my heroes, Grant Green. They were both in superb form all night, but this set belonged to the incredible rhythm section of Pete Shand and Simon Allen (because it IS all about that bass… and drums). These two get so deep in the pocket and just carry you along.
Simon Allen should do standup comedy, and he is non-stop in his delivery. The band had just finished a tune, and people in the pit were yelling the group’s name. Allen mimicked them first: “NEW… MASTERSOUNDS… AWESOME! Thanks for doing that for those who’ve never seen us before.” And then “Don’t forget the definite article. Pisses me off. THE New Mastersounds.”
And no rain for the entire set! It did rain more during the night, but it wasn’t the deluge we’d been threatened with.
Joe Marcinek had assembled another one of his dynamite collectives for a Florida tour including this Wanee date. His rhythm section was on loan from Dumpstaphunk: Tony Hall and Alvin Ford, Jr. In addition, he had Holly Bowling (keyboards), Juanjamon (tenor sax) from CopE (and his own superb funk band) and Dani Jaye (fiddle) from Come Back Alice.
The night before, at the campfire, there was a conversation about instruments. Kerri quoted, “The violin sings, but the fiddle dances.” When somebody else asked what the difference was, the response was “$100,000.” Dani has a violin, but she plays fiddle.
Hall went straight at it with “Standing on Shaky Ground, followed by a Marcinek composition, “60 Degrees in January,” his ode to Florida. “Tweezer” let Bowling go wild, and everybody jumped in on “Shakedown Street” with great solos from everybody. An abbreviated “Funky Bitch” closed the fine set.
Someone asked: “Is ‘Shakedown Street’ the new ‘Free Bird?’” The answer is no. You tell me when you find somebody NOT yelling “WOO!”
Tribal Seeds were the purveyors of reggae for the weekend, and the California sextet was in fine form. This was a really solid set, well received on this early afternoon. Mattie reminded me about the fact that the boys might have partaken earlier. The front man said said how much they loved being at “Mushroom Fest.” Did we hear that right? Apparently so, because he called it Mushroom Fest two more times!
Bobby Lee Rodgers is the Art Blakey of the jam world. He finds tons of outstanding rhythm sections to join him wherever he is. Rodgers is a Wanee mainstay, and he always has sets Friday and Saturday in addition to the traveling stage both days. With Brian Tate and Tom Damon in tow (bass and drums), the trio started their set six minutes early! Rodgers is a brilliant guitarist and great songwriter as well. He led the group through “Beggin’ You to Stay,” “Outer Space,” “Ike Stubblefield” and more of his favorites.
Speaking of Wanee mainstays, Devon Allman has played all but the first Wanee. In this case, nepotism is a very good thing. Devon’s set was hot, hot, hot, perhaps my favorite of his. Several tunes in, the band played a great song built on “All Along the Watchtower” chord progressions leading to blistering solos from Devon and the other guitar player. Next up was a rocking cover of “Forever Man,” Devon’s voice just right for “How many times must I tell you, babe?”
Then Devon invited Dani Jaye to the stage to help out on a tune Devon recorded on his album Torch: “No Woman, No Cry.” They took it at a slow tempo, and Devon’s vocal and Jaye’s fiddle just cried through the beautiful reading. After “Left My Heart in Memphis” (recorded with Royal Southern Brotherhood), Devon went wild. He walked off the stage and down into the pit of the Mushroom Stage, shredding all the while.
And then he just started throwing out great teases, starting with “Free Bird,” then “Come As You Are,” “Jessica,” and then the intro to “Stairway to Heaven.” He sang the first two lines, then said, “This is the shortest MFing version ever,” jumping straight to the coda. Ben Sparaco came up to add slide guitar to “One Way Out.”
Perhaps you’ve had the experience where you are watching a band you’ve seen before — but it just sounds so wonderfully… more amazing than you previously thought. That was my experience with N.M.O., better know as the North Mississippi Allstars with Anders Osborne. Incendiary would be accurate. Everything was clicking, and Luther Dickinson and Osborne were just tearing it up. My favorite was “Move Back to Mississippi (Oh Lord).”
It was time to put it in the Dumpsta! This night, Dumpstaphunk would do ‘Earth, War, and Power.’ They teased us first with three new Dumpsta tunes including “Do Your Thing.” And then it was time for the fun. How would they approach this project?
They hit Earth, Wind & Fire first, with “People of the Mighty > Shining Star > Can’t Hide Love > Yearnin’ Learnin’.” This segment was great if not spectacular, although “Yearnin’ Learnin’” was really hot. They were clearly having fun as they shifted to War’s “Cisco Kid.” Ian and Ivan Neville were both smoking while the twin towers of bass (Tony Hall and Nick Daniels) were blowing it up.
Everything clicked as they shifted into “The World is a Ghetto,” then “Slippin’ into Darkness,” including “Get Up, Stand Up” in the middle. And it just exploded on a song I usually ignore, but Dumpstaphunk sent “Me and Baby Brother” into outer space. And the Tower of Power set included “On the Serious Side > What is Hip? > You’re the Most > Soul Vaccination.” I might have missed a tune or two.
Like Dumpstaphunk, Soulive is a frequent guest at SoSMP, and the trio came roaring out of the gate with “Manic Depression.” Eric Krasno and Neal and Alan Evans were simply on fire. Further into the set, a superb swing song gave way to “Revolution” with great solos from Neal on Hammond B3 and Krasno on guitar. And they look so very, very hip. From there on, either my notes or my brain gave out, but it was a wonderful set, including a trippy “Third Stone from the Sun.”
Wednesday and Thursday were easy: only one stage to deal with and half-hour breaks in between sets. Now there were two stages (Mushroom = amphitheater, Peach = main stage in meadow) and the traveling stage to boot. And music started an hour earlier than in past years.
So North Carolina funksters Big Something made their SoSMP debut at 11 AM, and they showed everyone why they are in such demand in addition to hosting their own Big WHAT? festival in July. A spacey intro with “Blue Dream” and the reggae of “Song for Us” led to “UFOs are Real,” then “Crack of Dawn.” They proceeded to funk through a wicked version of “Love Generator,” Nick MacDaniels (guitar and vocals) bouncing around like a jumping jack, smiling and singing. Casey Cranford’s EWI soared above Josh Kagel’s synthesizers.
Guitarist Jesse Hensley is a truly underrated player, and he was great all set, shredding especially on “The Curse of Julia Brown.” Next came a delightful cover of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Cranford, who also wailed on alto sax, tore this one up on EWI. And they closed with “Amanda Lynn.” Guess what instrument MacDaniels was playing! While hopping pogo stick-style!
On Wednesday and Thursday, the music was at tolerable levels. Somebody pointed out, correctly, I’m sad to say, that the volume starts out OK, but by Friday they crank it up. I still contend it shouldn’t hurt to stand FOH. Tell that joke now.
From Mushroom to Peach to see Bobby Lee Rodgers again. The set was delayed almost 15 minutes for sound problems, a real Wanee rarity. After “Ike Stubblefield,” Rodgers called Juanjamon to the stage for “Outer Space;” those two have collaborated often. Juanjamon’s great tenor sax prompted the jazziest solo from Rodgers, and the trio closed with a quick Thelonious Monk workout on “Rhythm-A-Ning.” And Rodgers always gives the rhythm section lots of space, which Tate and Damon handled just right.
So now it was decision time. First, let me remind you that I am obsessed with the music. I know friends who don’t go to much of the music, whereas I try to hear part of everything. Because the next decision, after you’ve left your campsite, is: do I see part of this set and part of the other, or just see one and skip the other.
I jetted back to hear Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band. This jam fest was already showing a deluxe jazz aspect to it, what with THE New Mastersounds and Soulive and Rodgers dropping Monk. As I arrived, Jaimoe’s band was deep, deep in the pocket with Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder!” And superb keys man Bruce Katz was on board. He has been part of Gregg Allman’s band and has been with Jaimoe for a while. Incredible. And then front man, guitarist and singer Junior Mack soared on “Loan Me a Dime.”
And then it was REALLY time for jazz: Stanley Clarke! I’ve been seeing Clarke since 1975. He is one of the kings of the bass. As I worked my way to the Peach, he and his two keyboard players and spectacular 20-year-old drummer were loving on “Good Bye Pork Pie Hat,” Charles Mingus’ elegy to Lester Young. Then it was straight into “School Days,” with Clarke demonstrating to the unfamiliar just why he is THE MAN.
After a fun sing-along tune (“Whoa Yeah!”), the quartet left the stage, early, it seemed. When they came back, Clarke, who had been playing electric, picked up his double bass. With that, the keyboard players and drummer led into… “No Mystery!” Seriously! It was just so wonderful. Keyboard player stage left was on a grand piano; keyboard player stage right had several, but for this he was playing an electric piano that sounded almost like vibes.
STRAIGHT OUTTA JAZZVILLE…
If you like unexplained mysteries, ask Giorgio Tsoukalos why there was a half hour of no music each day from 2:00 to 2:30 PM. You know Giorgio’s answer. Seems legit.
The Wood Brothers were back at the Mushroom. I had seen them recently, and I needed to head back to the campsite for medicinal barley and hops before Umphrey’s McGee. Why, you might ask, don’t I buy the beer on sale? Unfortunately, drinkers of porters and stouts have zero options for purchase at most festivals and many many bars. So I missed the Wood Brothers outside of a quick drive-by (well, walk-by).
Meanwhile, the Traveling Stage was moving from the lake area to the horse camp area. Originally, it was to have gone to the river, but that access was closed due to high water. Gabriel Kelley took the early ride, and the ubiquitous Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio had the late slot.
I have seen Umphrey’s McGee a dozen times, and I love their playing. For whatever reason, I’m not good with their song titles, but I sure love the music. This was an interesting afternoon set, and I was having a great time, when, all of a sudden, they started playing Miles Davis! Miles freaking Davis! They rolled out a superb cover of “It’s About That Time” (the one everybody thinks is “In a Silent Way;” that’s the brief pastoral intro).
OK. That’s my story. They claim “Loose Ends > Day Nurse.” And then “Hourglass > Phil’s Farm > Can’t You Hear Me Knocking jam > The Bottom Half.” During this part of the set, there was great acoustic piano from Joel
Cummins which led to Latin jazz to raging fusion back to Latin jazz. That’s my story, and I’m stuck with it. (At least until the show appears on archive.)
Back to the campsite, with a bit more Wood Brothers. On my way back, Nigel Hall and friends were about to start their rave-up, also at the Mushroom. They were having a great time, but I was determined to check out Billy and the Kids.
This great quartet, led by Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, was actually a quintet for this show, with Eric Krasno joining Tom Hamilton on guitars. Aron Magner was on keyboards, with Reed Mathis anchoring the proceedings on bass. It was so loud we could hear the set start plainly where we were camped. There was bleed-through between the stages on occasion both Friday and Saturday.
“Shakedown Street” seemed like a reasonable place to start, followed by “Dear Prudence.” “Me and My Uncle” and “Cassidy” were invited to the party, too, and a fine ‘Scarlet Begonias > Stella Blue.” After a really jazzy “Uncle John’s Band” (thanks Magner and Kras), I assume it was Billy who grabbed the microphone:
“One more! We’re going to bring on Warren Haynes. He’s a new man on the scene. I think he’s got what it takes!” To which Warren said, “Hello there!” And out poured a beautiful “Deal,” three guitars sending it to heaven.
Nigel Hall was still testifying, singing George Clinton’s “Put Your Hands Together.” But then it was time to get an ass-kicking, courtesy of Gov’t Mule. And knew you were in trouble when they opened with “Bad Little Doggie > Blind Man in the Dark > Rocking Horse!” Warren called Jack Pearson up for “Can’t You See.”
A tremendous “Kind of Bird” followed. Danny Louis soloed on Hammond B3 and electric piano, with a Warren shred in the middle. I was just planning my jazz radio show featuring the jazzy stuff from Wanee, also planning to play Ellington At Newport, when, right on cue, Warren played “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” A “Les Brers in A Minor” tease was next, and then Danny Louis grabbing trombone for the coda. Finally, Warren held a dance lesson, making sure all the Mule virgins learned the steps to “Thorazine Shuffle,” with Matt Abts pulverizing his drum kit.
Back at the Mushroom, Conspirator was about to melt faces. This quartet had blown minds at Wanee 2012, and we were ready for round two. Mike Greenfield (Lotus) was at the drum kit, so all was right with the world. The band has used several different drummers, all excellent, but Greenfield seems to fit the best.
The set was pure electronic/jamtronic bliss, as Marc Brownstein (bass) and Aron Magner (keys), both of the Disco Biscuits, and Chris Michetti of RAQ on guitar just lit it up start to finish. And speaking of lighting up, the sun was setting, and the lasers and lights from the stage facilitated the face-melting. It was deluxe.
Brownie grabbed the mic at some point to encourage everyone to visit the Head Count booth to register to vote. He also gave a shout-out to Magner, who had just performed with Billy and the Kids, and he told us this was the band’s first show of 2016! Meanwhile, Michetti was shredding the entire set, everything driven by Greenfield’s relentless propulsion.
“Good ev’ning, good people!” And with that, Widespread Panic was underway. “Chilly Water” was a great way to start. “Rock” and “Dying Man” also sounded good, but the set seemed to lack cohesion. “Tall Boy” segued into “Shut Up and Drive,” followed by an understated “Heroes.”
The thought occurred that, if this were a two-set show, the first set seemed flat. But “Give” had extra spark, yielding to “Greta,” and the entire complexion of the set changed. Jimmy Herring ripped a great solo, followed by JoJo Hermann on clavinet. The moment that morphed into “Driving Song,” it was clear this would be a great ride: “Driving Song > Papa’s Home > Driving Song.”
“Surprise Valley” with a short drums segment into “Blackout Blues,” followed by “Ain’t Life Grand,” was a fine ending to the set. Somehow, for the encore they dragged Warren Haynes and Danny Louis back up on stage. Imagine JB and Warren trading stanzas on “Waiting for the Bus > Jesus Just Left Chicago” while the band tore it up. And Panic closed with a solid “Bowlegged Woman” in tribute to Jorma Kaukonen (performing Saturday), with a “Use Me” rap.
For ten years Wanee belonged to the Allman Brothers Band and family. After the band retired in 2014, there was speculation about the direction Wanee would head. For the ABB faithful, there was of course plenty of ABB family: Gregg, Devon, Butch Trucks, Oteil Burbridge, Warren Haynes, Jaimoe, Marc Quinones and the Yeti Trio. Widespread Panic took on the headliner role for 2015 and 2016.
Then we got this message from JoJo Hermann, commenting on the band’s upcoming hiatus: “We’re really wearing it out this year, because we’re basically going to call it touring-wise after this year; we’re not going to tour anymore.” They will be doing shows such as Red Rocks and others. Will that include Wanee? The jury’s out.
Into that potential void stepped Butch Trucks and his Les Brers collective. Many remembered the excellent set Butch and friends put on last year on an early afternoon, and certainly everyone who crowded the Mushroom Stage was looking for that ABB vibe. But I doubt anybody was prepared for the absolute brilliance of the nearly three-hour set that was to unfold before us. Look at the setlist first:
[Hot ‘Lanta, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Just An Expression, Trouble No More, Les Brers, The Same Thing, Please Call Home, Anyday, Hold On to What You Got, Dreams, I Can Fix It, Jessica, I Walk on Gilded Splinters, Every Hungry Woman, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed; E: Whipping Post]
Butch and company wasted NO time getting right to it, “Hot ‘Lanta” the perfect kick-off. One of the many facets of ABB was the incredible percussive onslaught of Butch, Jaimoe and Marc Quinones, and the entire set was driven by this trio along with Oteil Burbridge on bass. His intro to “Les Brers” was mind-blowing, once again.
Then Butch welcomed Warren Haynes to the stage (how many times have you heard Warren say, “Please welcome to the stage…?”). Warren always enjoyed performing Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing” with ABB, but again I’m not sure anyone expected a legendary 15-minute take on this song. Bruce Katz, fabulous all night on piano and Hammond B3, had a huge piano solo. (If you’ve never seen the lyrics to this song, check them out here!)
Les Brers were graced by Jack Pearson and Pat Bergeson on guitars, and they sounded awesome. Also sounding awesome was Lamar Williams, Jr., on vocals. “Jessica” and “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” were just superb.
We had anticipated a two-hour set, but it was clear we were gloriously going over when the subtle strains of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” emerged. Pearson, Bergeson and Katz were amazing. The band left the stage after Butch introduced the band, including: “Where the fuck’s Jaimoe? Ah, his shoulder’s sore.” I doubt anybody was anticipating more, much less a 15-minute crushing on “Whipping Post.”
Les Brers indeed!
This would be the sixth appearance of the Yeti Trio at Wanee. I had seen the previous five and enjoyed them, but apparently I had not paid enough attention, because this set was nothing short of spectacular — at 11 AM, shoving Saturday into overdrive immediately.
This band, led by Vaylor Trucks on guitar, plays wicked fusion with incredible twists and turns. He, Brooks Smith on keyboards and Eric Sanders on drums were nothing short of stunning. Prog, jazz, rock — they did it all. Totally blown away.
And who was front and center on the rail for the entire set? Papa Butch!
Hurrying back to the Peach stage for Bobby Lee Rodgers one last time, there was something entirely different going on. Usually, the band rocks out. This time, however, they were playing a superb jazz composition of Rodgers’ called “Plate Hot.” And I mean superb. Rodgers is one of the best guitar players on the planet, and you can take that to the bank. Then, the trio blasted an incredible version of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance!” Oh, man! They closed with “When the World Comes Tumbling Down.”
I asked Tom Damon about the jazz set, which was received just as well as their rockers. He said they talked before the set, and Rodgers said, “Let’s do something different!” It was a perfect complement to the jazz vibe all fest long.
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear were at the Mushroom. Ward and his mom play guitars and sing, and they were accompanied by bass and drums in a very acoustic setting. It was a soft, mellow offering after the frenetic set by the Yeti Trio and BLR’s flash. There were originals and old-school covers as well in the set.
As I got lunch, I went to check out the short set from Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers. It was cool to hear him throw in Gale Garnett’s “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” I confess my brain had moved on to events later in the day. After the the absurd 30-minute break with no music, Oteil was on one stage and Hot Tuna on the other. And my clone nowhere in sight. Again.
I chose Oteil and Friends first. It was a great funky set featuring Alfreda Gerald on vocals (and a beautiful dress!). They sounded great on tunes such as “What is Hip?,” “I’ll Take You There” and “Sing a Simple Song.” Then it was out to the Peach to catch this special Hot Tuna electric performance with Steve Kimock. I love Tuna and Kimock, but I was distracted (not their fault). And Jorma did play “Bowlegged Woman.” I stopped by Oteil’s set one more time to hear Gerald, who ranges from soul and funk to gospel. WOW!
I am a huge Kung Fu fan, but they were going to have to wait, because Warren Haynes was up again, this time with his Ashes and Dust Band. I was fortunate enough to catch the fall tour. No matter how great we anticipated that show to be, it was one thousand times greater. More? Hell, yes!
Haynes, joined again by the outstanding Nashville trio Chessboxer, drummer extraordinaire Jeff Sipe (Apt. Q-258), and x, had a brilliant set, certainly one of the festival hightlights, especially for those who had not yet heard this band live. They opened with one of the two songs in the set from the Ashes and Dust album, “Is It Me Or You?” Warren then lit up the crowd with “Patchwork Quilt,” followed by a stunningly wicked “Skin It Back.” A marvelous “Blue Skies > Mountain Jam” included “Ramble On” and “Franklin’s Tower” teases.
I knew that one of the highlights of the festival would be the beyond-brilliant song “Instrumental Illness” (with “Jerusalem Ridge” tease). And this version was so far over the top. It is jazz fusion, jam and rock at its greatest — with fiddle, banjo, and mandolin! A lovely “Angel Band” yielded to “Soulshine,” to everyone’s delight. The set had something special for everyone. For me, it was “Instrumental Illness.” After “Soulshine,” the fellow sitting near me offered, “It don’t get a whole lot better’n that!”
“Spots Of Time” followed in great fashion with a great drum intro from Sipe, who was simply stunning all set. It included an “Ants Marching” tease, and they closed the set with “Jessica,” the third time that song surfaced during the festival.
Time to zip over to the Mushroom to see Kung Fu, park regulars but Wanee first-timers. As I arrived, they were blowing out radio staple “Hollywood Kisses” (well, on SiriusXM JamOn, anyway). It was too damn loud. This is not their fault; sound ‘engineers’ just shoved everything up to Nigel Tufnel levels… unnecessarily.
Kung Fu had just released a new album, Joyride, and they announced the title track, with help from Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee. This was just sick, sick, sick. “Joyride” morphed into Gary Numan’s “Cars,” then a nasty jam and finally back to “Joyride.” Drummer Adrian Tramantano was on another planet entirely all set long.
Keyboard player Beau Sasser had a nice solo segment, then joined by Tramantano, and eventually the band. “So Good” was a jazzy delight, and, after Rob Somerville did band introductions, they closed with “Scrab.” Did I mention that Tim Palmieri shredded his fingers off?
The godfather of Wanee was up next on the Peach. Gregg Allman always has a killer band, and this was no exception, especially bass player Ron Johnson. In fine voice, Gregg delivered “Queen of Hearts,” “I Love the Life I Live,” and “I’m No Angel.” He also tapped the ABB vein with “Done Somebody Wrong” and “Hot ‘Lanta.” Then he invited — of course — Warren Haynes to the stage for “Dreams.” Just in case you thought this was no longer the Allman Brothers festival.
Melvin Seals and JGB had the next slot with special guest Karl Denson. So here’s the thing. Seals and company were awesome last year on Wanee Wednesday. Somehow, however, this set seemed poorly placed after so much energy throughout Friday and Saturday. It was really well played, and I enjoyed it, but it simply could not rise to the level of competition all around it.
Seals was joined by guitar, bass, drums, Denson and Cheryl Rucker and Shirley Starks on vocals. “The Harder They Come” was great. Denson sounded great on tenor, and Dave Hebert got that wonderful horn sound that Jerry Garcia made famous. “Tore Up” and “Turn Around” were great, the latter a ballad with Denson on flute.
It was time for Widespread Panic, round two. Question one: would it smoke Friday’s set? Question two: would I get my “Tie Your Shoes?”
The instant they segued from a great opening “Disco” into the best “Holden Oversoul” I’ve ever heard, I announced to no one in particular, “IT’S ON!” Herring took the first of many great guitar solos, followed by Hermann on piano, then Hammond B3, and that led to “Solid Rock” with Hermann abusing his clavinet.
It was great to hear “One Arm Steve,” and “Old Neighborhood” had a nasty jam, with Dave Schools teasing “Gilded Splinters” on bass. Shortly thereafter, it went deliriously deluxe.
“Aunt Avis” is a ballad, but it blew up into a huge jam with Herring and Schools in the lead. When that segued into “Rebirtha,” it was clear this was going to get huge (‘yuge?’). “Tail Dragger” yielded to “Ride Me High,” and then Schools made my wish come true, driving the band headlong into “Tie Your Shoes.” Damn right. “Drums > Machine > Barstools and Dreamers.” (Greedy as I am, I was hoping for “Travelin’ Light.”)
There is a weird dynamic that occurs at shows and especially at festivals. A band finishes an amazing set, but the response is muted at best. Back in the day, people would be whooping and hollering for an encore. Now, often, the majority of the crowd just waits, feeling entitled to an encore. Very weird, but please remember I am a dinosaur teetering toward the tar pits.
As the Panic boys returned for the encore, Schools stepped to the mic and said: “I got my fun meter set to ‘oral.’” Alrighty, then!
“Swamp” always goes over big in Florida, followed by “Honky Red.” To this point, I have failed to mention the enormous contributions of Sunny Ortiz and Duane Trucks on percussion and drums. Two great nights from both gentlemen. They really flexed on “Protein Drink > Sewing Machine,” the perfect way to close the set. Herring was brilliant.
The finale to the Wanee Music Festival was the “All Night Wrong” set from Umphrey’s McGee. When they announced they would be playing that for Wanee 2014, I thought, “I’m not going to know anything they play.” Speaking of wrong, I knew every note. Apparently, my thought was waiting for 2016. Examine the setlist first:
[JaJunk > 2×2, Come As Your Kids, Soul Food I > Remind Me, Nothing Too Fancy > Frankie Zombie, Glory > Nothing Too Fancy, Bitter Sweet Haji > JaJunk; E: Hangover]
I recognized maybe five songs, including a “Have a Cigar” tease not mentioned. I’ll need to find someone who was paying attention in the ‘80s and ‘90s who also has infinite patience to explain it to me. Or not.
Ultimately, for me, that was not important. It was the playing. They were absolutely superb. It sounded wonderful, start to finish. Umphrey’s McGee is at the top of the jam game. Bravo to Brendan Bayliss, Jake Cinninger, Joel Cummins, Andy Farag, Kris Myers, and Ryan Stasik!
MusicFestNews photographer Brian Hensley is a huge fan. His comment: “It was perfect. I walked away stunned that they strayed from the usual.”
Thanks, as always, to Big Mike for greeting us daily on the Mushroom Stage.
And here is the official Wanee shirt designed by Bean Spence.
More questions. Will there be a Wanee 2017? [Yes!]
Will Widespread Panic headline? [possibly]
Will the Allman Brothers family footprint still define Wanee? [ABSO-FLIPPIN’-LUTELY]
What’s the countdown to Wanee 2017?
Photography courtesy of Brian Hensley and David Lee / Gypsyshooter.