Wanee Music Festival | Spirit of Suwannee Music Park | Saturday 04.18.15

I have such respect for bands such as Twiddle and Natural Child, who drew Saturday’s 11 AM slot, for coming out and holding nothing back, even though many folks were still asleep or groggily looking at coffee back at their campsites. Natural Child is a trio that depends on harmony vocals which were very effective and engaging. If you want a point of comparison, they might remind you of Grand Funk Railroad doing “Some Kind of Wonderful,” kicked up a few notches. They sang a fun tune called “If We Don’t Wake the Kids” and another with the refrain “I’ve been smoking crack with my friends.” What a hoot!

Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio had their half-hour set next (and he played on the travelling stage as well both days). His typical set was three ten-minute songs. This one began with “Victor the Snake Man” (which has been an earworm ALL day), then “Beggin’ You to Stay” and “Lima.” The delightfully unexpected happened: five extra minutes! Rodgers plays tons of jazz dates and is especially fond of Thelonious Monk, so they sent out a lovely “Rhythm-a-Ning.” Rodrigo Zambrano had another tremendous day on the bass.

Conflict Zone, Day 2. I thought I would see Butch Trucks & Very Special Friends for a bit, then head over to catch the Revivalists. Again, I grossly underestimated what was about to unfold. Bruce Katz was again on B3 (he was with Jaimoe and is normally in Gregg’s band) with Dave Yoke on guitar. But you need two guitars for some of this stuff. For the first time, Vaylor Trucks played a full set with his dad, and he was hot! The vocals were handled excellently by Lamar Williams, Jr., son of the former ABB bassist. And Marc Quinones teamed up with Butch on percussion.

It was an ABB set, starting with “Midnight Rider,” which segued into a great “Dreams” and then smoothed its way into “Please Call Home.” I was sitting in my chair in the shade when they launched into “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” and suddenly I sat up. The basslines were huge! (Why didn’t I notice them before??) Oh! It’s Oteil Burbridge. Now that makes perfectly good sense. This version was wonderful, as was the entire set.

I sprinted over to the Peach Stage (OK, I walked) to hear at least a bit of the Revivalists’ set. They sounded great, playing a tune from their upcoming album release, then their SiriusXM hit, “Criminal.” Singer David Shaw was all over the stage and beyond.

We had another senseless half-hour lull, then an extremely difficult decision to make. JJ Grey and MOFRO, or Dragon Smoke. Dragon who? They were both superb, listening to an hour of each.

JJ Grey used to wear camo; this day he was resplendent in bright orange shirt and white pants. Do not think for a nanosecond, however, that this had any effect on Grey’s message from day one: I love Florida, I love nature, I respect the gifts we have been given. He has never wavered an inch from that message.

The set featured tunes from the new album, Ol’ Glory, and many of his best-loved songs. His horn section kicked during “99 Shades of Crazy.” Before “Brighter Days,” he said, “This is like playing in your backyard! Wait! This IS my backyard!” He pointed out that he wrote “Brighter Days” when he was mad. Then he sang a song he wrote when he was happy, “Every Minute.”

After his signature “Lochloosa,” he offered this soliloquy: “I’ve never done anything by myself. I’ve always had wonderful people to work with, including these fabulous guys playing here. And to all of you fans who come to shows, and not just come to show, but jump in with both feet! THANK Y’ALL!” With that, they played “Light a Candle.” He is a true blessing for all of us.

I tore myself away to check out Dragon Smoke, who, like Raw Oyster cult, had little name recognition but incredible talent. Also because Kerri said so. This was more Nawlins royalty in the form of Ivan Neville (Mr. Dumpstaphunk), Eric Lindell on guitar, and the Galactic rhythm section of Rob Mercurio and Stanton Moore. Intergalactic is more like it. They put on a great set, including the William deVaughan hit “Be Thankful for What You Got.” They paired “Out in the Country” with “Country Livin’.” Later in the set, it was Stanton time. First, Neville laid down a great piano vamp for Stanton to play on. Then, there were crescendos of Hammond B3 with more Stanton. And he got one last shot – with that awesome standing-up thing he does that drives me crazy – during “Will it Go Round in Circles?” (the same one Gov’t Mule quoted the previous night).

Another of the big pre-fest questions was about the inclusion of Cheap Trick. Wha??? I was skeptical, and what I heard did nothing to change my mind. Sadly, the sound for CT was lousy compared to the pristine sound Friday night for everybody, especially Gov’t Mule and Panic. CT performs a lot of Beatles songs in addition to their own catalog of hits. They played “Magical Mystery Tour,” which transformed into something which then turned into “I Am the Walrus.” Not compelling, for me.

Meanwhile, back at the Mushroom, it was time for “Home at Last – The Nth Power Perform Steely Dan.” I am not the biggest Nth Power fan, but this was a great, great set of music, and more so given the recent departure of Nigel Hall. Nick Cassarino was excellent fronting the band while Nikki Glaspie was driving the band along at breakneck speed.

Since 2005, Wanee had been the brainchild of the Allman Brothers, and who more fitting to perform next than THE remaining Allman brother, Gregg. This was another very strong set, dovetailing perfectly with Jaimoe’s and Butch’s fine performances. Gregg voice sounded fine and so welcome washing over the Peach Stage crowd there to say Thank You for the juggernaut Wanee has become.

“Trouble No More” and “Soulshine” (with a shout-out to Warren Haynes) appeared early in the set. The horn section was dynamite, delivering Latin-y, jazzy sounds for great diversity throughout the set. Marc Quinones was there on percussion, and Ron Johnson was huge on the bass. “Black-Hearted Woman” was a romp, “Melissa” was soulful and sweet, and “Whipping Post” was almost as good as Dweezil’s!

Yonder Mountain String Band was slamming the Mushroom Stage. This was the perfect set to fit between Gregg and the Panic to come. They were on fire, with a superb mandolin player whose name refuses to surface on the interwebs. There was a nice cover of Pure Prairie League’s “Aimee” along the way.

I hate rage sticks. Looking through a dozen or more of these things, having them foul photos, they’re just a pain – to me. There is this one absurd rage with an enormous round Kenny Loggins head. No, it makes no sense to me, either. Anyway, at some point, something crazy happened on stage. Bassist Ben Kaufmann said, “I blame the floating Kenny Loggins head, but then I always blame the floating Kenny Loggins head!”

The time of reckoning had arrived. It was time for Widespread Panic to prove that they deserved to be the Wanee torchbearers looking into the future. I am an unabashed fan, but I’d say the answer is HELL YES! They jumped immediately into “Makes Sense to Me,” followed by a very powerful “Chainsaw City.”

This was JoJo Hermann night as far as I was concerned. He had a huge night, blowing up song after song. He wailed on the clavinet during “Chainsaw City,” and his piano owned the jam out “Wondering.” His piano and Hammond B3 were highlights of the “Ribs and Whiskey > Stop Breaking Down > Ribs and Whiskey” sandwich.

Duane Trucks had another amazing night with Sunny Ortiz and all of his percussion toys. David Schools’ magnificent bass work was crystal clear out of the massive sound system. This was the performance that would clinch the deal for Panic.

Jimmy Herring had a shred-o-matic night, but one of his top moments came during an astounding “All Time Low.” Panic always knocks this one out of the park, but this was unlike any I had previously encountered. The jam was so sick and uptempo, with Herring surfing atop the wave. JoJo’s clavinet was strong in the mix as well.

What emerged next was the wickedness of “Arleen,” another huge version. Me, I was praying and praying that it would turn into “Tie Your Shoes.” As if to torture me personally, they teased TYS for about ten seconds before drifting into “Pilgrims.” More Herring, more JoJo. What a night!

A big jam out of “Airplane” led to a sultry “Second Skin” with a pop-up “Machine Gun” vamp before sliding into “Surprise Valley.” If you want to whip up Southern Panic crowds, you play “Red Hot Mama,” and was it ever! The set closed with “Conrad,” and the encore featured “End of the Show,” a bouncy “Big Woolly Mammoth” and a blistering “Mr. Soul.”

I believe they will be invited back.

People were busy garnering their last energy reserves to head to the Mushroom Stage one last time for a Galactic fix. They did not disappoint. The show started very jazzy, and the vamp got even hotter as the sound veered toward eastern European music.

Then it was time for the first appearance by Miss Erica Falls, a fine vocalist. During her second time out, Ivan Neville joined her for a nice version of Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” When she went off stage the second time, Galactic dug into its deepest, dankest funk, with Stanton Moore again just killing it, Rich Vogel’s clavinet looming large, and Rob Mercurio on bass laying down another vamp for Stanton. When Falls came back out, she said what we all felt: “That shit was on fire!” The encore was Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” with the best tenor sax work from Ben Ellman.

And then it was up to Big Mike to remind us that we only had to wait another 360 days to do it all over again. THANK YOU, WANEE!



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