In Memory of Elizabeth Reed… and Butch Trucks: Wanee Music Festival
Gearing up to write about the Wanee Music Festival is just like playing Whack-a-Mole. Just when I’m certain I have the lead I want, another pops up, and then another, and another. Talk about sit-in rumors that didn’t materialize? Praise the young musicians who are tearing up the scene? Discuss Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead music played? Note the amount of jazz that was played? Remember the tribute to Butch? Count the number of times “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” was heard? Remember that it IS all about that bass? Speculate about Gregg’s health, or the future of Wanee?
And there is so much more to tell. Might as well start at the beginning.
Seriously. Never miss Wanee Wednesday. It was a superb day, although it started ominously with several people repeating the rumor that Gregg Allman’s family had been called to his bedside. [We have since heard that the rumors were thankfully just that — rumors.] Oddly enough, I never heard it mentioned again.
And the first voice you heard was… Big Mike! Mike McCullough, your Mushroom Stage host, greeted us with his booming “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” welcoming us to Wanee. We would hear from him at the beginning and end of every set on that stage.
I did miss most of Brothers and Sisters opening on the Mushroom stage at 2:30 in the process of meeting a friend at the front gate. The quintet, fronted by powerful vocalist Hannah McCarthy, knocked out some great originals and a solid version of “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” living up to the band’s “indie-blues” self-description.
Matt Reynolds is the tour manager for Dark Star Orchestra, the group headlining Thursday evening. At first listen, this set seemed a little out of place, very laid back. As it continued to build, the excellent music the band played well deserved this early afternoon slot. Reynolds sang and played acoustic guitar, backed by bass, drums, electric guitar and female vocalist who also played flute. After “Sweet Talking,” the set went to great blues, then “I’m a Hurricane” and great tunes straight up to the closer.
Ben Sparaco was up for his first Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park show since moving from South Florida to Nashville. At the advanced age of 19 (!!), Sparaco continues to grow as a superb guitarist and band leader. His tremendous set featured six tunes from new album Wooden. He is cut in the mold of Derek Trucks, but Sparaco is his own man in the same way that Trucks is.
Blasting off with “Make Me Feel Alone Tonight,” he was definitely NOT alone during this set. Highlights from the set included an outstanding take on original tune “Walk On the Levee” and great playing on “Mountain Jam” and “That’s It for the Other One” with some sweet note-bending. And about that jazz: Sparaco threw in a dynamite version of Miles Davis’ “So What” in the middle of “Wooden” and quoted “Volunteered Slavery” (Roland Kirk, and a Derek Trucks favorite) during closing “Cypress Hotel.”
Crazy Fingers, one of several excellent Dead tribute bands from the Sunshine State, were next, and as always they got everybody grooving right away with “Good Lovin’ > That’s It for the Other One > Good Lovin’.” That’s how you do it! Along the way there was a nice “Terrapin Station,” a great “Samson and Delilah,” and a very jazzy groove during “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider.”
Then it was time for a trip to the bayou with the New Orleans Suspects, a band with deep, deep NOLA resumes. Time and again C.R. Gruver’s superb piano work stood out, boogie woogie NOLA-style. His Hammond B3 had that great Booker T. funk to it. Somewhere in the middle of “Sailing Shoes,” guitarist Jake Eckert added a great “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” quote. Jeff Watkins knocked it out on tenor sax on “Cocaine Jane,” and the band paid tribute to Paul Barrere with “Dixie Highway.” The set smoked from start to finished, in no small part due to the nasty rhythm section of Charlie Wooton and “Mean” Willie Green.
Which got us set up for the night’s big finale. For many, this was THE set of the weekend. Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars joined up with The Freight Train Band, and there was talk about “people” coming to sit in on this set. Ultimately — and fortunately — this was about the band that Butch had put together, bringing to a close Wanee Wednesday: Remembering Butch Trucks.
To everyone’s delight, we were greeted first by Melody Trucks, a fine singer and daughter of the late ABB drummer. Immediately, the band stomped on “Hot ‘Lanta.” Bruce Katz was first out of the gate on Hammond B3. Over the years, Katz has been such a stalwart in the ABB family, working with Gregg Allman, Les Brers, and The Freight Train Band. Then it was a guitar onslaught from Vaylor Trucks, Heather Gillis, and Luther Dickinson. Vaylor, Butch’s son, played with Butch for the first time two years ago at Wanee, and he leads his own incredible band The Yeti Trio. Gillis was “adopted” by Butch and has blossomed into an amazing player; this was by far the finest of the dozen or so performances I’ve seen of hers — at the ancient age of 22. There was also a tremendous walking bass passage, and we discovered it was another young man from Tampa named Matt Walker.
Melody returned to the stage to belt “Trouble No More,” featuring some great lap steel work from Damon Fowler; yes, this band had four amazing guitar slingers! He turned it into a flat-out boogie. What followed was so magnificent and unexpected that heads were nodding everywhere: an incendiary version of Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam.” Vaylor TORE. IT. UP. And the entire band just killed it, Katz in particular.
Fowler crooned a great version of William Bell’s “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday” along with Melody, who also sang “Statesboro Blues.” Gillis wowed the crowd with her powerful vocals on “Dreams” and a great solo; Fowler was back on lap steel, and Junior Mack from Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band joined in. That meant there were five guitars on stage for an excellent Little Walter tune up next. During “Ophelia,” Mack left but Ben Sparaco jumped in.
It was crying time next — for me, anyway. When they began “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and got to the section where there are normally two guitars in unison, but now there were four, well, tears began to fall. It was that magnificent. Gillis, Luther, Vaylor, Katz and then Fowler all dug in deep. Walker was simply incredible, and then the drums had a fine outing: Cody Dickinson, Justin Hedley and Garrett Dawson.
20 amazing minutes. It was everything we had hoped for — to infinity and beyond. The beyond part? Oh, that would be the 15-minute “Whipping Post” encore! Butch was grinning from ear to ear, no doubt.
Albert Simpson played in the Music Hall for the breakfast crowd each day, but I never made it. I was lucky I made it up by 11 AM.
Crazy Fingers and Brothers and Sisters each got another chance to shine. Crazy Fingers had another nice set that included “Mexicali Blues” and the first public acknowledgement that this was, in fact, 4/20 with “(Let’s Go Down to the) Smokin’ Hole,” a Radiators cover. There was a nice Jerry jam, then “That’s It for the Other One,” a “Mountain Jam” tease and a fine closing “Morning Dew.”
There are numerous groups of friends throughout the Wanee campgrounds. I attended the SOS/BOS Meet & Greet (that’s Sisters and Brothers of the Suwannee) during the Brothers and Sisters set (it seemed appropriate), so we heard it just fine, but there were many distractions. In addition to reprising “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” among their originals they also blew out a nice version of “Whole Lotta Love.” And shout-out to Shell, the Gov’nah and all who helped her organize and host the Meet & Greet!
I have had the privilege of seeing Bobby Lee Rodgers 40 times or so, and I was definitely front and center for his afternoon romp with his trio and very special guest Roosevelt Collier. It was spectacular. Rodgers can play blues and rock, but underneath everything he does is jazz. Think a metal Wes Montgomery. Brilliant playing, trading back and forth with Collier and with bass player Brian Tate and drummer Tom Damon.
They began with a monster version of “Victor the Snake Man” (and I’m going to get him to sing “Robert the Snake Man” at some point). BLR3 tunes rarely clock in less than ten minutes. Tate had a fine solo after Rodgers and Colliers batted it back and forth. Next was a great funk workout on “Ain’t It Funky Now?” During “Saved by the Same Thing,” Rodgers’ Leslie effect was magic.
The highlight of the set was a long take on Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here,” propelled by Damon on drums. Collier had the first stroll, followed by Rodgers. The set closed with a simply WOW rendition of “Outer Space,” perhaps his best-known composition, often covered.
There had been a lot of buzz about Leftover Salmon performing the music of Neil Young. “Heart of Gold” featured a melodica solo by keyboard player Erik Deustch and Drew Emmitt on mandolin. “Out on the Weekend” was great, Andy Thorn’s banjo ringing out. Their version of “Cowgirl in the Sand” was delightful, bouncy double-time bluegrass. Mandolin and banjo were great, and Greg Garrison’s bass was front and center.
LoS worked us through a punchy “Are You Ready for the Country?” and a subdued “Old Man.” “Alabama” had a slow bluegrass intro before kicking into overdrive. Emmitt’s guitar was truly electric, and drums courtesy of Alwyn Robinson were great. As always, the vocals throughout were on point, thanks to Vince Hermann, Emmitt and the band. Bobby Lee Rodgers joined them for the closing “Down by the River,” tossing out George Benson-like runs (old-school Benson).
Blackberry Smoke had the next slot. This is a really solid band, but for me this set did not rise to the level of the rest of the day’s music. You will find plenty of fans who would disagree with me. They began with a solid rock and roll take on “Promised Land” and offered more of their vision of Southern rock. Some of it really kicked ass, including a great psychedelic rocker in the middle of the set that got really funky.
For the first time on a Wanee Thursday, we all trekked over to the Peach Stage for a two-set Dark Star Orchestra. They were on fire from the very first notes of “New Minglewood Blues.” After “Loser,” there was a bouncy “El Paso,” then settling back into “They Love Each Other” and “Jack Straw.” Skip Vangelas was superb on bass on “Deal.” The lazy start to “Lazy Lightning” built up to a tremendous guitar solo from Jeff Mattson on “Supplication.” As the set closed with “Row Jimmy” and that glorious disco version of “Dancin’ in the Streets,” I failed to recognize what was taking place.
And continued to not figure it out as the second set began with “Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain.” All 21 minutes of it. There was Jerry’s horn effect on “Estimated Prophet,” then the awesome “St. Stephen > Not Fade > Away > St. Stephen.” NFA totally rocked out, bass and guitars. “Morning Dew” to close.
And we step away from the review for an editorial comment. At this point, unbeknowst to me, DSO had lovingly just performed the Holy Grail of Grateful Dead shows, Barton Hall at Cornell 05/08/77. And there was silence from the crowd. Nearly. There was no uproar for an encore. It was as if the crowd EXPECTED an encore but didn’t want to work for it. I surely don’t understand this trend.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled review.
The encore was “One More Saturday Night,” with Rob Barraco standing out on piano. After which they told us it was Barton Hall. Because there was time left, they surprised us with a dynamite version of “White Rabbit,” Lisa Mackey’s vocals really great, and the band followed that with Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” Perfect!
Throughout the set, Bean Spence was painting live on stage. Spence has produced outstanding art for Wanee and other Florida festivals for years.
DJ Logic had the late-night set back at the Mushroom stage. It was interesting, and he spun some great music, but ultimately it was a DJ set. After that DSO blow-out, it just didn’t appeal to me. Once again, the Mushroom stage was bouncing, so your mileage may vary.
Now it was time for music overload, with sets starting at 11 AM and sets overlapping throughout the day. The largest crowd, by far, ever assembled for an early set at Wanee packed the Mushroom stage in anticipation of the Marcus King Band. If you are keeping track, King just turned 21, Heather Gillis is 22, and Ben Sparaco won’t turn 20 until August. The future of our scene is in very good hands, and these three represent just the tip of the iceberg.
We were justly rewarded for getting up early, as King and band scorched the entire set. “Change Gonna Come” hit like “Machine Gun.” On the next song, Stephen Campbell was amazing on bass, followed by a superb funky jazz solo from Dean Mitchell on tenor sax. Matt Jennings piled on with Hammond B3, the horns really punctuating the sound. King ripped several outstanding solos. Hammond B3 introduced a new funky jazz jam with King singing “Hanging on to my last drop.”
The sound the band gets is very powerful, like a mini Tedeschi Trucks Band. The ballads were tremendous, and when the band shoved it into overdrive it was like a Brecker Brothers/Afrobeat mashup. They closed with a nasty boogie that included Isaac Corbitt on harp, King singing “Shoot… ’cause you’re goin’ down.” Believe the hype.
Inexplicably, there was now a half-hour gap with no music from noon to 12:30. Bobby Lee Rodgers remedied part of that by jumping on stage early for his half-hour set to open the Peach Stage, starting up just after 12:15. The trio came out blazing jazz, then moving into “When the World Comes Tumblin’ Down,” featuring a fine bass solo from Brian Tate. After “Start to Breathe,” they even worked in a shortened “Outer Space.” The trio would later be heard on the Traveling Stage.
Meanwhile, Devon Allman was at the Mushroom, so we zipped over there for some smokin’ Southern soul, his forte. The hot set ranged from boogie woogie and blues to a great Royal Southern Brotherhood tune. In the search for lunch, I heard part of Matisyahu’s set but did not get over to the Peach to see him. Most of the set involved his reggae/hip hop stylings, but there was one departure from that as the band blistered a strong rock tune and then got very funky.
Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band came out romping, with Junior Mack leading the way on “Born Under a Bad Sign,” which morphed into Hendrix’s “Who Knows,” then a brief “Mountain Jam” and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.” There was a fine slow swing blues and more before Marcus King, who had been on the Traveling Stage with his band, joined in on a “Les Brers in A Minor” intro to “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”
Then I zipped back to the Peach for JJ Grey and Mofro. Grey is Florida’s greatest ambassador; his love for this state is without peer. “Lochloosa?” Check. After “Country Ghetto” and “Brighter Days,” Grey did some testifyin’ about what brighter days mean. His words are always welcome.
The Mofro horn section turned “Loving Every Minute I’m Living” into a Stax party, and next was a tune he dedicated to his grandmother: as he said, “Not ‘Ho Cake.’ This is ‘Gal Young’un.’” It had that “Louisiana Blues” feel. The fabulous set closed with a glorious “How Junior Got His Head Put Out” and the previously mentioned “Ho Cake.” Thank you, Mr. Ambassador!
Turkuaz. Turkuaz. Turkuaz. For some, this was the set of the festival. This nine-member hurricane whips up mighty funk winds every time out, and this was a glorious two hours of incredible soul-filled funk. Every time you felt the band had peaked, they somehow found another gear. At some point, I just wrote, “HOLY SHIT.” If you’ve seen them, you know they are a colored band. Leader Dave Brandwein always wears turquoise (or is that ‘turkuaz?’); drummer Michelangelo Carubba always wears green, and so on. Even the ladies have tambourines to match their outfits.
They offered a great cover of The Band’s “Don’t Do It” with Sammi Garett (pink) and Shira Elias (yellow) singing in unison. “Bitter Storm” dealt some choppy funk, and “Off with Their Heads” was a visual delight. After “I Run in Circles,” Elias belted “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” over clavinet. Then Joshua Schwartz (purple, baritone sax) led everyone through “Holy Ghost.”
One of the few criticisms of the sound over the four days was here, as vocals were often not loud enough for us to hear clearly. Nonetheless, it was a fabulous set. Near the end of the set, it was just brilliant, with Craig Brodhead (white, guitar and synths) blowing up on guitar. Turkuaz have that James Brown/P-Funk precision to their presentation, with space bass (Taylor Shell, orange), wah-wah trumpet (Chris Brouwers, black, also keyboards), and more.
So it was odd moving back to the Peach Stage to hear Bob Weir and the Campfire Band. “West L.A. Fadeaway” started at a funereal pace, with “Cassidy” moving into second gear. “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” was slow again. I enjoyed this set, but it would have worked better earlier in the day. My 3.2 cents, adjusted for inflation. “China Cat Sunflower” started very slowly as well, but the long jam that emerged was great leading into “I Know You Rider.” I split after “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” to check out Papadosio.
Jamtronica is Papadosio’s forte. They call it space rock, which is accurate. There was plenty of spacey stuff going on. Some of the set was very powerful, other tunes perhaps a bit too sing-songy for me. But they were in a great groove all set.
Widespread Panic had the nominal headlining slot, although nobody was pretending that the late-night Les Brers set wasn’t the day’s climax. This was, by far, the most unusually paced Panic set I’ve ever hear — live or recorded. And it worked, in its own unique way. After an “Ain’t Life Grand” opener (yes, it is), they immediately jumped into “Love Tractor.” “Cease Fire” featured a long slow guitar solo from Jimmy Herring and Hammond B3 from JoJo Hermann before slowing down more into “Heaven.” There was a very powerful “Junior,” marred momentarily as some idiot lit a firework in the crowd that seemed to go off on the ground. Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz really kicked it up on this one.
“Party at Your Mama’s House” blazed into “Stop Breaking Down,” Hermann all over it on piano. Marcus King appeared as “The Last Straw” yielded to a mighty “Mountain Jam,” with Herring and King tearing it up. There was a brief “Drums” before Dave Schools entered with rumbling bass to reprise “Mountain Jam.” Trucks was off the charts!
This was one entire jam from “The Last Straw” through “Mountain Jam” and “Impossible > Big Wooly Mammoth > Jam > Christmas Katie > One Kind Favor > Saint Ex.” Hermann abused his clarinet on “Big Wooly Mammoth,” and the jam out of “Christmas Katie” was titanic.
After the “Blackout Blues” and “End Of The Show” encore, everybody scurried back to the Mushroom Stage for Les Brers. And we were not disappointed.
It was interesting how closely aligned this setlist and the Freight Train setlist were. Not criticism nor praise, just fact. Both were carefully thought out.
Out of the gate: “Hot ‘Lanta.” Oteil Burbridge’s bass was simply incredible start to finish. Vocalist Lamar Williams, Jr., came on for “Ain’t Wastin’ Time.” Duane Trucks sat in Butch’s place with Jaimoe, joined by percussionist Marc Quiñones. “Every Hungry Woman” and “Trouble No More” came tumbling out, Jack Pearson and Pat Bergeson blazing on guitars. Things got really funky on “I Can Fix It” courtesy of Bruce Katz on keyboards, and the jam that blew out of “Just an Expression” was superb.
“Blue Sky” is always a crowd-pleaser, followed by an A+ version of “Dreams.” “Jessica” led to an incredible pumped-up jam, which backed off slightly with “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’.” Marcus King (and that last name is appropriate) was invited up for “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” yet another titanic version of this beautiful song, and Les Brers encored with “Whippin’ Post.” Butch is still smiling!
Over the Peach Stage speakers, before the day’s music would start officially, they were again playing Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.). Apparently, this is the only way the Col. can get to Wanee these days. For reasons I’ve never understood, fans clamoring for the Col. to be added to the lineup are annually ignored.
It was Earth Day, and The Yeti Trio CRUSHED a stunning set of prog rock. Last year’s set (with Butch and grandchildren on the rail) was amazing, but this was on another astral plane altogether. They call their mix “frightening fusion improv,” and I’m not arguing. Several songs in, Vaylor Trucks announced: “This song is ‘Ennead,’ because it’s in nine.” It reminded me of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, starting from introspective to “Miles Ahead”-like fury, Eric Sanders pushing the pace from his drum kit.
After that, Vaylor declared, for those who understood the reference, “You will never hear surf music again.” Keyboard player Brooks Smith had an electric piano intro before Vaylor started blistering metal. After another electric piano interlude, the song simply exploded, first with “Walk Don’t Run” (yep, the Ventures), “Lumpy Gravy” (Zappa), “Hall of the Mountain King” (Grieg), and “Eat That Question” (Zappa again) before ending the mania. STUNNING.
Bobby Lee Rodgers and trio were joined by Junior Mack for their 30-minute set, which consisted of two 15-minute songs! They opened with a funk jazz tune and closed with another attack on “Ain’t It Funky Now.” Which was a rhetorical question. The trio would also take the second shift on the Traveling Stage, following Jack Broadbent.
Kung Fu was half an hour into their set, but I knew I would catch an hour and see them again late night. The first song I heard was new, a wicked Zappa-inspired piece titled “Chop Suey.” They also blew up another new composition by bassist Chris DeAngelis called “Cookie Monster” that was WOW. On their current Fez tour, they play a set of their own songs and a set of Steely Dan tunes. Here, they just interspersed them. “Hey 19” featured a great synth solo from Beau Sasser, followed by a romp from DeAngelis. Rob Somerville (tenor sax and vocals) then encouraged us to sing happy birthday to DeAngelis (his birthday was Friday). Deep funk poured out of “Help a Brother Get Down” before they ended with a great “Reelin’ in the Years” that made its way into “Two Tickets to Paradise!”
The process, as it was Friday, was to volley back and forth between the stages, this time to catch Dr. John and the Nite Trippers, out for a daytime spin. The good Dr. offered up a true greatest hits revue, including “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” “Gris Gris” and “Right Place, Wrong Time.” that was hot! He continued with a very allegorical discussion about “three monkeys in a coconut tree. He pitched a fine “Wang Dang Doodle,” got into some deep Latin jazz grooves, feted “Mardi Gras,” and regaled with “What a Night.” Mac Rebbenack is the consummate performer.
Pink Talking Fish was next on the menu. So here is the thing: I love this band but am the worst at identifying the various Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish tunes the band strings together. The “Tennessee Jed/Ocelot Mashup” was excellent, reminding us that PTF has performed a full Dead set, too. This sequence is a great example of how this band rolls: “Divided Sky > Another Brick In The Wall > Psycho Killer > Another Brick In The Wall > Divided Sky.” And they closed with “Frankenstein!”
“World Boss” was an appropriate opener for Gov’t Mule. The medley of “Trane > Eternity’s Breath > St. Stephen’ Jam > Forsaken Savior” was extremely powerful. “Doin’ It to Death” was insanely hot, with Danny Louis working out on clavinet, electric piano and synthesizers and Warren Haynes tossing in a “Hottentot” passage, followed by a really strong “Revolution Come, Revolution Go” that got into deep space for a bit. Then Jack Pearson jumped onstage, and he and Haynes threw down a 19-minute version of “Freeway Jam.” Who woulda thunk we’d hear that great song twice over the weekend? Mule ended with a tasty sandwich of “Effigy > Hey Joe > Effigy.” Ass kicked, thank you very much.
Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass was perfect in the afternoon slot at the Mushroom stage. A very different “Shakedown Street” led to “Railroad Blues.” Wah-wah violin accented “Scarlet Begonias” which moved into “Fire on the Mountain” and back to “Begonias.” “Bird Song” turned into straight swing jazz, and later “Brown-Eyed Women” and “Friend of the Devil” delighted the crowd.
Then it was TAB time. Trey Anastasio knocks it out of the “park” every time he visits, and this one was no different. As I made it to the stage, he was into some deep funk on “Magilla” and “Sand.” Natalie Cressman had a great trombone solo on “Soul Rebel,” and the backing vocals from Jennifer Hartswick and Cressman were just heavenly.
Trey then delivered a heartfelt testimonial about what Butch Trucks, the Allman Brothers Band and Wanee meant to him:
Thanks, everybody. Catch my breath. I want to take a little moment here if you will bear with me, because this is the only place to express these thoughts. In 2014, I was lucky enough to be invited to play at this beautiful festival, and one of the great memories of my life was that I was invited to sit in with the Allman Brothers on this stage, and I want to tell you this story, because I’ve told it to close friends of mine, but it’s hard to express it to a large group of people, but if there’s ever a group of people who could listen to this story, it would be here with all of you.
So I came up on stage, and, obviously, when I was 14, 15, like everybody of my generation, we carried Fillmore East and looked at the pictures of the crew guys, and we all wanted to do that, like a boyhood dream, and I was lucky enough to play with the Allman Brothers a couple of times, but this particular show was very special for me, and I stood right there. right behind me, right behind my head was the legendary Butch Trucks playing drums. This is the story:
I came onstage, and everyone on stage was a musical assassin, every one of them. Oteil, who for years has been one of my favorite musicians, and Derek and Warren, and to my right the amazing Gregg Allman. But what I noticed was… we kicked into the first tune, and I heard this sound behind me [imitates Butch’s beat vocally], and I thought, wow! That’s the sound of the Allman Brothers! When you stand up here and you feel it like I felt it there was a guy driving that truck, Butch Trucks, it felt like an 18-wheeler going down the street.
It’s a band that gets a lot of props for having the greatest guitar players who ever lived… and literally the greatest singer who ever lived. Butch was a very nice guy, and one time he took the guys from Phish out; we went fishing on his boat, and he told us all kinds of crazy rock and roll stories.
My heart is full of love, and my heart is full of memories, and I just wanted to share that with you. This is probably the place that I could do that. We miss him very much, and he is with us here in spirit. Thanks for listening. I am dedicating this song to family and friends. We’ll all share this in honor of him. Thanks.
At which point the band played a straight-up cover of “Ooh Child” by the Five Stairsteps. “Mozambique > Simple Twist Up Dave” was a funky Latin jazz rave-up, with great solos from Cressman, James Casey on tenor sax, Hartswick on trumpet, Ray Paczkowski on keyboards, and then Trey’s blazing guitar. “Valentine” benefitted from a great horn section punch and more delicious background vocals. And the tremendous set closed with Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood” and Hartswick killing on “Dazed and Confused.”
Back at the Mushroom, The Greyboy Allstars were funking things up, Karl Denson as the ringleader. But it was jazz, soul jazz, funk jazz, just wonderful. Robert Walter had a great set on Hammond B3. “Still Waiting for My Baby” was James Brown soul, and a new tune entered the deep funk zone with Denson on tenor sax, Elgin Park with a great turn on guitar, and Walter on clavinet. Chris Stillwell and Aaron Redfield were driving the train on bass and drums. Denson grabbed his flute for a tune that reminded me of “Sombrero Sam.” The whole set was smoking.
There had been great speculation about what might transpire during Bobby’s second set of the weekend. Would all kinds of sit-ins occur?
As it turned out, there was one very significant sit-in, but otherwise this set was a buzzkill. It would have been magical as a stand-alone show, and it would have been magical in a late afternoon slot. But Wanee fans, ever since 2005, have fully expected to rage at the Peach Stage for the headlining Saturday set. And this set did not rage. Despite its musical excellence, the crowd was for the most part not engaged.
As Bob Weir has been doing on this tour with his Campfire Band, he started solo acoustic with “Two Djinn > Corrinna > Two Djinn.” Then, to everyone’s delight, he invited Trey on stage to join him for five tunes. They began with “Deep Elem Blues” and “Friend of the Devil.” “Bird Song” also received loving treatment. Next they pulled out a Trey tune, “Miss You,” and finished with a song many may not have recognized [this writer included]: Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” Recognized or not, it was a magical set.
Trey split, and Bobby was joined by his band. The playing was fine, but the pace was slow, plodding along. After three songs from last year’s Blue Mountain — “Darkest Hour,” “Ghost Towns” and “Cottonwood Lullaby” — Bobby turned to Dead material, beginning with “Shakedown Street” and a revamped “New Minglewood Blues.” They closed the first set with “Jack Straw.” It just seemed that the energy level was low.
The second set was more uptempo, opening with “Dark Star” before moving into “Playing in the Band > Eyes of the World > The Other One.” After ending with “Morning Dew,” he and the band returned to encore with “Not Fade Away” and “Ripple.”
To quote the good Dr. John: Right place, wrong time.
Those still looking to rage headed to the Mushroom stage for the much-anticipated Pink Talking Fu set dedicated to David Bowie and Prince. This was a festival highlight for many. Pink Talking Fish and Kung Fu were incredibly enmeshed, working as one to keep the faithful dancing. They opened with “Musicology” before “Fame > 1999” and “Golden Years > Take Me With You.” The jam during “Golden Years” was outstanding.
The crowd went wild when Shira Elias of Turkuaz joined the fray to sing “Under Pressure” and wilder still as her bandmate Sammi Garett joined Elisa on “Kiss.” They stayed for “Young Americans,” and Elias also sang “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” The ladies left, only to be replaced by more Turkuaz in the form of Greg Sanderson (baritone sax) and Chris Brouwers (trumpet) for “Let’s Dance.” After “Let’s Go Crazy,” they participated in what may have been the sickest jam of the weekend between “Space Oddity” and “Sexy MF.” Garett returned after “Heroes” to sing the closing “Purple Rain.” The much-deserved encore was “All the Young Dudes.”
There was so much going on all set long, but first honors go to Beau Sasser (KF) and Richard James (PTF) on keyboards; they were stunning. Tim Palmieri (KF) and Dave Brunyak (PTF) blazed on guitars, while Eric Gould (PTF) and DeAngelis were monsters on bass. It IS all about that bass. But don’t tell Adrian Tramentano (KF) and Zach Burwick (PTF), who killed it on drums. Rob Somerville was all over the set on vocals and tenor sax. What a magical time.
All magic must come to an end, sadly, and Big Mike reminded us that we would be back in a short 51 weeks to do it all over again. ‘YEAH, YEAH, YEAH!”
So it appears that Wanee is in transition. Understand first that many, many patrons declared this their favorite Wanee ever, based on music, family and the experience. The Allman Brothers have retired, Butch is gone, and it seems unlikely Gregg will return for 2018 (although we certainly hope so!). Derek Trucks and company are no longer in the fold. Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule bandmates rolled in for their set and back out. So most who helped to establish the Wanee Music Festival are no longer in the picture, Haynes with a much reduced presence.
And yet the spirit still fills the park. We can hope that Les Brers and The Freight Train Band will keep the Allman Brothers Band memories alive and well, and we love seeing Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band every time they play. Devon Allman always brings the fire, as does Vaylor Trucks and The Yeti Trio.
Everyone anticipates a good ass-kicking from Gov’t Mule, and Trey Anastasio and band obviously love playing this festival. Widespread Panic has played ten Wanee sets, and we hope they will play another ten.
The Grateful Dead influence is always present, whether in the form of Furthur, Ratdog or Bob Weir & the Campfire Band. Add to that Dark Star Orchestra, Crazy Fingers, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, Melvin Seals & JGB, and all of the performers who include Dead material in their setlists.
The “old guard” — JJ Grey and Mofro, Dr. John, Leftover Salmon, Hot Tuna, North Mississippi Allstars, Bruce Hornsby and Bobby Lee Rodgers — all love their time at Wanee. And the “new guard” have certainly established themselves as rising stars: Heather Gillis, Ben Sparaco, Marcus King and more.
And we want the funk! Kung Fu, Pink Talking Fish, Conspirator, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, The Lee Boys, Earth, Wind & Fire, Galactic, Dumpstaphunk, The Greyboy Allstars, Soulive, and The Revivalists have all graced the park in recent years.
And two more: Umphrey’s McGee and moe.
Yes, Wanee is evolving, but the love of family, music and spirit are as strong as ever. We cannot wait for the next Wanee Wednesday when Big Mike says, “YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, WANEEEEEE!”
Videos courtesy of CHeeSeHeaDPRoDuCTioNS, WardenJune, Dillon Fries, Suwannee HD Streams, and Hugh Manatee.
Photographs courtesy of David Lee/Gypsyshooter, Mandi Nulph, Brian Hensley and Matt Hillman.