Wanee Music Festival | Spirit of Suwannee Music Park | Friday 04.17.15

MORE pre-fest buzz surrounded Vermont’s Twiddle, and they came roaring out at 11 AM with a brilliant set. I heard elements of Phish and Dopapod, but they sound like… Twiddle. My favorite moment during a keyboard jam late in the set was a healthy chunk of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. That was sweet indeed! A bouncy poppy reggae tune led to a fun vocal song and finally to an alt-country closer. They have ALL the bases covered!

Then it was time for the travellin’ shoes to get over to the Peach Stage for the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio half-hour set. Rodgers is drastically underrated as a guitar slinger, but he makes new believers every time out. Tom Damon had a huge set; he reminds me in style and enthusiasm of Stanton Moore. If you’ve seen him, then you know.

We enter now the Conflict Zone. The saving grace of Wanee is that there are only two stages, so you can see everybody – just not complete sets. I intended to get back to see Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes, so it’s Jaimoe’s fault that I didn’t. This was no longer the Allman Brothers’ festival in name, but make no mistake: ABB sentiment will run deep forever. Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band just killed it the entire set. You can blame the drummer, of course, but also throw blame on Junior Mack, the singer, guitarist and front man, and keyboard player Bruce Katz, who gets around a bit.

After starting with a guitar blues intro, they suddenly swung into this song. “Hey! I know that song!” I didn’t scream that, but I thought it. The tune was “Hippology,” recorded by Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. When Mack introduced Katz later in the set, it all made sense; Katz wrote that one. I was hooked. They laid down a great “Ain’t Wasting Time > Mountain Jam.” Then Mack announced that he was having trouble at home, which led into a classic-style blues “I Need Some Help at Home.” The set closed with a rollicking “I Believe My Baby’s Got a Black Cat Bone.”

The schedule got terribly convoluted at this point (there was actually a useless half hour when nobody was playing!), and my notes don’t help much with order, but I think it went down this way: Tea Leaf Green was throwing down an amazing psychedelic set, with Reed Mathis huge on the bass. As quickly as I could, I went back to see The Word. The North Mississippi All-Stars boys (Luther, Cody and Chris) were playing with John Medeski and Robert Randolph. Robert had his right hand heavily bandaged, so he had brought in reinforcements, and there is no better-loved Wanee reinforcement than Roosevelt Collier. Two of the kings of the pedal steel guitar with that wonderful band. That, ladies and gentlemen, is amazing grace right there.

Back past Tea Leaf Green to Short-Cut Camp I went. Scrog and his merry pranksters and shenanigans-makers had transformed the camp into Wonkaville, and it was time for Willie Wonka, the children, a passel of Oompa Loompas and yours truly as Slugworth or Grampa Joe (jury’s still out on that one) to parade to Earth, Wind and Fire and then back over to Zappa Plays Zappa. The Oompa Loompa troop made quite an impression just as Earth, Wind and Fire hit the stage (15 minutes late – this is frowned upon). They were spectacular, better than I remember them in 1976. There was enormous power as they opened with a scorching rock intro, then jumping directly into “Boogie Wonderland.” Seeing P.K.’s face as he said, “This is a dream come true” was a moment I will never forget. Tears on my face, too.

But I vowed I would not miss a single second of Zappa Plays Zappa. In the event you read the article I wrote titled Why ZPZ Matters, then you understand. No matter what I said, or thought, or wrote, I underestimated. It was beyond belief. First, let’s acknowledge that Frank did all the heavy lifting, writing the music, breaking the barriers, fighting battle after battle for his music. No question. But I saw Frank eleven times, and he never sounded better than ZPZ’s Wanee set.

This was the tour where the band was featuring the 1975 gem One Size Fits All. They opened with “Andy,” but where you expected it to draw to a close, a titanic funk jam emerged. Titanic is accurate. Ben Thomas is the vocalist with the chameleon-like voice, but all six band members sing, and that allowed “Susy Creamcheese” and “Who Needs the Peace Corps” to sound so wonderful. Back to OSFA for “Florentine Pogen,” with another huge jam and massive guitar solo. Dweezil Zappa has always been a brilliant player, but that boy’s been practicing, I believe. WOW.

I had hoped beyond hope that Dweezil would absolutely destroy the blues solo on “Po-Jama People.” Once again, I underestimated. It was magnificent. The band used “Grand Wazoo” to give all band members great solo time, all well deserved. They even worked a Pink Floyd “Money” tease in at the end. “Magic Fingers,” the highlight of 200 Motels, was deluxe.

“Inca Roads.” That is all.

The greatest compliment you can give this band is that Frank would have loved to play with them. Scheila Gonzalez is so multi-talented that you cannot decide what she does best: sing, keyboards, flute, alto, tenor, smile.

In 1981, Frank closed many of his shows by saying, “Oh, I knew you’d be surprised,” and then playing an astonishing version of “Whipping Post.” The suggestion to play that song came from running gags as early as 1974. I saw him play it twice, and it was an ass-kicking version, unlike the reggae-tinged one on Them or Us. Dweezil opted for the kick-ass version, which might have been the best version of an ABB song played all weekend. The set finished with another of Frank’s favorite codas, “Muffin Man.”

That was about the only music set that could have kept me away from Gov’t Mule that long. Warren Haynes as a member of ABB and Gov’t Mule have been fixtures at Wanee from the get-go, and all recognize him as the hardest-working man in show business. This is the 20th year that Haynes and Matt Abts joined forces in the Mule. I missed the first five songs but arrived in “Time to Confess.” An interesting jazzy instrumental, “Jeep on 35,” was followed by a reggae take on “The Joker” (in keeping with the recent release of Dub Side of the Mule). There was a beautiful “Soulshine” with “Tupelo Honey” tucked inside, and they closed with their tremendous homage to Albert King, “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.” As he often does, Warren inserted lyrics from “Will It Go Around in Circles?” and “Let Me Have It All.”

Back to the Mushroom stage for Leftover Salmon, featuring Bill Payne of Little Feat. It had been years since I had seen LoS, and clearly that was my mistake. They were excellent. In the midst of Salmon songs, they absolutely blew up a huge “Dixie Chicken;” the jam was unreal.

Now it was time to discover whether Widespread Panic was the right choice to headline the Wanee Music Festival. There had been much discussion, including haters, lovers, and the knights who say “Meh.”

One other piece of business to address. Over the years, I have been a very vocal supporter of Todd Nance as the perfect drummer for WSMFP (as they are affectionately known). And I miss him and his style and what he adds to the band. That having been said, DUANE TRUCKS. Because WOW. He is simply superb, the engine behind the jam.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or heard about Panic opening with “Love Tractor,” but it certainly got everyone’s immediate attention. “Travelin’ Light” was great, and the “Radio Child” was one of many opportunities for Jimmy Herring to shred. We got a fine “Diner” and funky “Smokestack Lightning” before the two-hour+ set closed with “Use Me,” plus an encore. Schools had a fine time with “Blight” earlier in the set.

In the past, there were stacks of speakers set up in the middle of the field at the Peach Stage, which wreaked havoc with sound delays and such. To me, the sound from this year’s set-up (no stacks) was crystal clear. Let’s be fair: JB is not always the easiest singer to understand, but every word came out just fine.

I thought perhaps WSMFP had done enough to earn this festival; more experienced heads suggested otherwise. “They really need to come out tomorrow night and prove it.” Well, that’s the sentiment of what she said, and she was right.

Assuming you had any gas left in the tank, a trip to the Mushroom Stage for Dumpstaphunk was mandatory. This was billed as a 70s funk fest. Can I get a “HELL YEAH?” The reminded us that they had done P-Funk some years back, opening with “Dr. Funkenstein.” Immediately, they hit their 2013 album Dirty Word for the nasty, nasty funk of “I Wish You Would.” They also grabbed “Blueswave” from the same disk. This was deep, deep, deeper than deep.

They did the O’Jays with “For the Love of Money” and “Give the People What They Want,” with “Family Affair” in between. Ivan and Ian Neville = more Nawlins royalty. Tony Hall and Nick Daniels were just sick the entire set, along with the stomping Alvin Ford, Jr. Somehow, they found the energy to pull off a tremendous encore including the Isleys’ “Fight the Power” and “Funk #49” (the James Gang!).

2:30 AM. Better go throw some wood on the fire before Pat comes to inspect!



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