In the weeks and then days leading up to the 2015 Wanee Music Festival, there were questions, questions, questions, flooding into the mind of the concerned young person today. Old folks, too. Were we going to get wet? Would the torch be passed from ABB to WSP? Were we going to get soaked? Would the schedule come out in time to groan about conflicts? Would Wanee survive without its ten-year main attraction? Would the Mushroom stage flood out again?
There’s a lot to be said for karma. There must have been a whole mess of good karma floating around, because the great rains that plagued many parts of the Gulf Coast skirted around Live Oak. Rain early in the week gave way to mostly gray skies but only a sprinkle Wednesday and another Saturday, and that cooled things off and kept the dust down.
It had never been in the cards for me to make it to Wanee Wednesday before (this was my 9th time at this April mecca – yes, and the June one). I missed fest opener Bonnie Blue from Jacksonville. I was really sad to miss, by minutes, the set by the Parker Urban Band, also from Jax. (Fortunately, they will play at Purple Hatter’s Ball and Orange Blossom Jam.) The buzz for the remainder of the evening was about the PUB set. “Oh, man! You missed it!”
The Hometeam boys from Tampa, CopE, put on a smashing set. “What Goes Up” got everybody dancing, and by the end of the set we were prepared to “Shake Anything.” Juanjamon took a fabulous solo on his EWI, a relatively new toy for him to go with his tenor sax and keyboards.
Crazy Fingers kept the good vibes going as the sun set and the Mushroom stage lit up. In addition to their Grateful Dead music, they offered “Blue Skies” before a beautiful “Eyes of the World.” Then Melvin Seals & JGB rocked us into the night. The vibe was perfect for those able to arrive early. Both bands hit full stride during their sets and pumped up the jams. There were times when Melvin’s great voice seemed to out-Jerry Jerry! Vocals were great from the ladies, and the band rocked the entire set. This promised to be epic.
By Thursday, the park seemed to be filling up, even though many would not arrive until Friday. The schedule was fairly simple: plop your chair down at the Mushroom stage (that would be me) or rage down at the rail whenever you were in the mood for live music – for thirteen hours!
But first, it was time for the SOS/BOS Meet & Greet (that would be Sisters and Brothers of the Suwannee)! Waneetopia hosted a magnificent spread of food and beverages and camaraderie with at least a hundred people getting themselves set for the long haul. Thanks to the Gov’nah and his cabinet for their hard work in setting this up.
Juke followed their strong set at AURA with an even stronger performance to launch the day’s music. Their rocking blues proved to be the perfect musical Bloody Mary. The Jacob Jeffries Band likewise threw down a great set, with two keyboard players adding great colors to the mix. To my delight, somewhere in the middle of one electric piano solo, out popped a nice quote from “(not just) Knee Deep!”
Bobby Lee Rodgers has been a darling of the Wanee Festival almost since its inception. He and his trio always get the Friday and Saturday Peach Stage kick-offs plus a full set on Thursday. His current band, with Rodrigo Zambrano on bass and Tom Damon on drums, had already knocked out an hour of great music when he called up John and Juanita Parkerurban and Myrna Stallworth from the Parker Urban Band. Rodgers loves working with them, and it was instantly obvious to see why. They blew up the last half hour, starting with Rodgers’ best-known song, “Outer Space.” First tears running down my face in musical joy were courtesy of Juanita and Myrna taking everybody to church. After a superb “When the World Comes Tumbling Down,” Rodgers lauded John’s talents and had him sing the BLR tune “Piece.” They stomped off with “Goin’ to California.”
Next up was a very sentimental affair: the last show Devon Allman would play with Royal Southern Brotherhood (actually, he had two more after this one). This was his tenth Wanee (and he might have been a guest at the first one). This set kicked ass, pure and simple. Bart Walker rocked it right along with Devon, and Cyrille Neville is royalty by any unit of measurement. And it may not be ALL about that bass… and drums, but Charlie Wooten and Yonrico Scott are fabulous. There was a fist-bump between Cyrille and Devon near the end of the set that gave you chills.
There was a lot of pre-festival buzz about Raw Oyster Cult. The name alone was awesome, but the band’s line-up was amazing. How about “Keep On Shuckin’?” Five New Orleans denizens sent to Wanee to stir the pot: three Radiators, John Papa Gros from Papa Grows Funk, and Dave “Busta Gnutt” Pomerleau from Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. More Nawlins royalty on stage! Dave Malone was the enthusiastic front man, joined by the other former Radiators, Camile Baudoin and Frank Bua. They offered words for everyone at the festival: “Never Let Your Fire Go Out.” They delivered a wonderful “Morning Dew” near the end of the set.
When I am King… Hot Tuna played a great set that would have sounded perfect at the 5:30 slot. No matter how great Jack and Jorma are and how great a set they delivered, this was simply not compelling after RSB and ROC. The playing was great, Jorma’s voice always touching you deep inside, but… C’est la vie.
More pre-fest buzz focused on the 2014 Wanee afternoon surprise smash, Pink Talking Fish. The name tells you what they play (although they’re working up a Dead set for Chicago sometime in July). A setlist hasn’t surfaced yet, and my notes at 1 AM were more than a bit sketchy. There was a huge jam in “Girlfriend is Better” with tremendous synthesizer work from Richard James. “Poke You in the Eye,” “Money,” “Burning Down the House” – it was a magical close to a wonderful jam-packed day of music. Friday would bring the multiple-stage conflicts headaches. Grab your analgesic of choice.