Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak
If you want to talk about a whirlwind of emotions, try this on for size: the Wanee Festival, brainchild of the Allman Brothers, celebrates its tenth year at SoSMP, AND Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, ABB’s two guitar players (for 25 and 15 years, respectively) announce they will leave the band at the end of the year. THEN add concern because Gregg Allman had to postpone the last four Beacon shows due to bronchitis. And THEN, unbeknownst to us at the time, Gregg broke his hand before the shows Friday and Saturday.
Got all that?
No matter. It was another magical time at a magical place with magical friends listening to magical music.
Friends have kindly referred to my past scribbling as reviews, but know this. I review what I like, for the most part. It’s part altruistic, part selfish. I certainly want all of these bands to have great success – that’s the altruistic part. But I also want to cheerlead for my favorites, afraid that I might be personally responsible for a band’s demise if I don’t. Absurd? Mostly, but still. This is my part in the game.
This was an interesting festival. There were a few bands I just wasn’t interested in, although I gave each one at least 20 to 30 minutes. You can set your flamethrowers to ‘immolate’ again: Ziggy Marley, Blues Traveler, Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Lynyrd Skynyrd are in that bunch. So understand that this is just my take on stuff I like. I met lots of people with fairly opposite tastes from mine. On the other hand, there were a number of bands who rose to the occasion and went far beyond and some impressive performances from bands I did not know, or at least not well enough.
There is always a great early-bird special line-up on Wednesday, and I always miss it (I am REALLY going to enjoy retirement!). Those who attended said they had a blast and mentioned most often CopE and the Heavy Pets, two of Florida’s premier jam bands.
In fact, I arrived too late Thursday to see Berry Oakley’s Skylab, but I did catch Sean Chambers, a blues rocker. His set was choogling along, when suddenly it seemed to catch fire, and the last 20-25 minutes were a string-bending blur, much to the delight of the small but growing crowd at the Mushroom stage.
Bobby Lee Rodgers has become a Wanee fixture. Again this year, his trio got a slot on the Thursday bill and short early sets the next two days. Rodgers is a truly underappreciated guitar player, and these three performances were the best I have ever seen from him. Imagine if Wes Montgomery had become a crossover rocker. That’s Bobby Lee. He is also a strong singer and gifted songwriter. BLR has been working for some time with Tom Damon on drums. Damon is a monster, and his smile is positively infectious (like Michael Garrie’s from CopE). At the Sunshine Blues Festival in January, they worked as a duo, but for these gigs (and, boy, I hope this is permanent) Rodrigo Zambrano was on bass. What a find! BLR gave him tons of solo space, and he just killed it!
By this point, I was on an emotional high, and out came the Blind Boys of Alabama. RESPECT. No audience was as quiet or attentive all weekend. The Blind Boys bring messages of hope, love, redemption and faith, and their performance was riveting. Featured were songs from “our new record” (“I’ll Find a Way”), including this gem (both as a song and a song title): “There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table.” They also sang a wonderful version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.”
Next up was the first Allman connection of the festival, with Devon Allman playing in the fabulous collective called Royal Southern Brotherhood. It was also the first Neville connection, as Cyrille Neville sings and plays percussion fronting the band with Devon on guitar. And don’t forget blues slinger Mike Zito. Last year’s show was great; this was magical. For me, much of the credit must go to the rhythm section. There are few duos in this business who can match Yonrico Scott on drums and Charlie Wooton on bass. Time and again during the set, I was drawn in by the steady pulsing coming from the back of the stage.
More magic arrived in the form of Hot Tuna, this time in an electric setting. Jack, Jorma and Barry did their thing with great style and flair. This was a more cohesive set than at last year’s Wanee.
I have mentioned that once in a while you hear a band in way you just never have before. I’ve seen Soulive before, seen Eric Krasno a dozen times, and bought most of the Soulive CDs. I have been a fan ever since I stumbled across their first disk, “Turn It Out.” But until Thursday, I had never HEARD them sound like a Blue Note or Prestige jazz record (and I say that with the highest praise). The trio was simply awesome, a magnificent close to a perfect first day of Wanee.
I already had my money’s worth. So the next two days would just be, you know, icing on the Wanee cake.