Wanee 2014: Number 10, and the Last One with The Allman Brothers
[No sooner had I shared the Wednesday/Thursday post about Wanee Music Festival in 2014 than I found the rest of the review. All of this was penned and posted on Facebook, then published later that year after Tie Your Shoes Reviews began and before I was usurped by MusicFestNews.]
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 under-appreciated 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 (Electric Kif) 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 Casady, Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Mitterhoff 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.
Thursday was the easy day: one stage, no muss, no fuss. Now we were ready for two stages and overlapping sets (not as hectic as Bear Creek or AURA, but…).
I had an immediate dilemma at noon: Bobby Lee Rodgers on the Peach Stage and The Hip Abduction on the Mushroom. BLR had a short half-hour set, so I started there. Right choice again. New addition (lock in his contract, BLR!) Rodrigo Zambrano had another superb outing with Rodgers and drummer Tom Damon. We “early” risers were amply rewarded. Then I scurried back to see The Hip Abduction. I had seen them for the first time opening for Toubab Krewe in November, and they played a very nice set, dovetailing well with Toubab’s sound with the additional feature of very good, effective vocals. That set was nice; the Wanee set was on an entirely new astral plane. They absolutely killed it! What a superb way to start the day! Their website says “Afropop reggae,” but that barely scratches the surface. Surf music, rock, ska, Afrobeat and more poured out of the stage to an appreciative dancing crowd.
Flame-throwers ready? Good. One of the most impressive aspects of these festivals is that performers start on time and end on time. Mostly. It seems to me a matter of respect for the fans and for fellow musicians. I don’t know why Ziggy Marley hit the stage 25 minutes late (an eternity in festival time), but they connected immediately with the crowd. Just not me. Ziggy was THE highlight for my dear friend Rev. Hugh. I listened for half an hour and went to check on Futurebirds, who were rocking the Mushroom stage, all the while anticipating the first of two Wanee sets from Umphrey’s McGee.
I was trying to make a list the other day of bands I would never miss. What a dumb thing to do (but I LOVE lists). Anyway, UM is high on that list. Their afternoon set was magnificent. In a weekend of many highlights, for me the two UM sets were the pinnacle, the acme. These boys don’t LOOK like rockers, but no matter. They are at the top of their game right now, and I can imagine them staying there as long as they want. They RAGED in the middle of the afternoon!
That gave short shrift to Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, unfortunately. Junior Mack and Jaimoe lead this powerful band, and I really enjoyed their full set at the Sunshine Blues Fest in January. I got to hear the tail end of this set, and they were as strong as ever. My apologies, Jaimoe. My clone was out of order.
In the days and weeks before the festival, much was said about Lynyrd Skynyrd, their music, their fans, their legacy and practically everything else. I had never seen them before and did not have much interest. I gave it about 20 minutes, which for me was enough. Once again, I was in the decided minority, as most folks really enjoyed the LS set. I needed moe.
There is always something special about a moe. set at the park, whether it was their first time (Wanee 2008) or Bear Creek. Almost every band brings its A game to the park; moe. delivers its A+ game every time. They shoved it into high gear right after “Okayalright,” sliding into “Recreational Chemistry.” Their superb set concluded with a romping, galloping “Buster” and a crowd-delighting “Godzilla” encore.
It was Trey time. TAB has been impressing people all over, including non-Phishheads, and this was a great set in perfect sync with the setting sun. How about, “Magilla,” “Ooh Child,” and “Push on ’Til the Day?” The “Black Dog” encore had people going wild, opening the Led Zep songbook wide.
Many chose to stay put, waiting for the Allman Brothers’ headlining set in an hour, while others (of COURSE I did), travelled back to the Mushroom to check out Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza do his DJ set. WELL! All of us have heard DJs all over the spectrum from spectacular to revolting (well, I have). Garza’s set was as good as it gets. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.
The Brothers. I confess I was anticipating two incredible nights to celebrate the tenth Wanee and the last year of ABB, at least with this lineup (who knows what will happen going forward?). Friday night was kind of flat. Listen, ABB is still better than almost any other band, but for THEM this was a very average performance. The only song that truly lifted me was Warren Haynes (of course) ripping into “Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home.” Albert was the King, but Warren owns this song now. I enjoyed “You Don’t Love Me” and “Liz Reed,” but otherwise, just OK.
Whatever your mood, it was immediately kicked into the stratosphere by Dumpstazeppelin, I mean, Dumpstaphunk playing Led Zeppelin. This was an ambitious set. Ivan Neville’s crew has nailed cover sets in previous years by Sly Stone and P-Funk. How would Zep work out? It was awesome! If you go now to listen to the recording, it’s rough in places, and the vocals aren’t perfect, but I assure you that mattered not one bit during the set. The music was great. My favorites included “Custard Pie,” “Trampled Underfoot” and “The Wanton Song,” the latter a lesser-known gem. Can you tell I love the uber-funky Physical Graffiti LP? And Warren graced the stage for the last 40 minutes, ripping it up AGAIN, especially on “Ramble On.”
The night was NOT over, as the Zep leitmotif yielded to Pink Floyd. I was at camping with the thespians led by Scrog, who had created Dorothy’s trip to Oz at Short-Cut Camp. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, Mr. Not-Nobody-Not-NoHow, the Man Behind the Curtain, witches, flying monkeys, and Toto made a magnificent appearance during the moe. set (the twister was conspicuously absent!). At 2:30 AM, thanks to Herculean efforts by my campmates, we had concert-quality sound and a superb picture as they matched up “Dark Side of the Moon” with “The Wizard of Oz.” I’ve read about it often, but I’d never seen it. The musical transitions that match the scene segues are electrifying.
All in all, a magnificent Wanee Friday. Two down, one to go. And so much promise awaiting the Saturday schedule!
After the trip to Oz the previous night (well, a couple hours prior), it was up to greet the noon. Sadly, that meant missing the Yeti Trio [Ed. note: I never made that mistake again.] although they sounded good filtering through the woods. I was again faced with the noon dilemma: Bobby Lee Rodgers or what Carol Merrill had behind door number three. Several of us had been talking about door number 3, actually, a new conglomeration called Pink Talking Fish (as in Floyd, Heads and Ph-ish). But you know I needed one more shot of the BLR Trio. Once again I was amply rewarded.
Then I jetted back to hear Pink Talking Fish. The medley I missed started this way: “Run Like Hell > Slippery People > Tweezer.” Eric Gould, former bass player for Particle, leads this outfit as they segue almost seamlessly from one band to the other. I was standing with Rev. Hugh when they kicked into “The Great Gig in the Sky.” That is the tune from Dark Side of the Moon where Clare Torry sings wordlessly. All of a sudden, Sunny Trippel appeared on stage and began singing. In unison, Rev. Hugh and I turned to each other and compared arms. Yep! Hair sticking straight up! Yikes! She was phenomenal. If your band is going to attempt THAT song, you’d better nail it. She did.
Next up: another one of my prejudices. I am just not a Chris Robinson fan. I listened for half an hour, and it simply was not of interest – to me. Again, I was in the distinct minority. So I went back to the amphitheatre to see Matt Schofield, an English blues rocker. I enjoyed this set as much as his Sunshine Blues Fest set. It was a perfect afternoon performance.
Prejudice number two: not a John Popper fan, either. At least I’m up front about it! The Blues Traveler set sounded OK, but I was dying to get back to the amphitheatre to hear Rusted Root. I had not seen them for several years.
I heard music I liked more during the weekend, but no set came close to reaching this emotional peak. There was an incredible connection between band and audience, positively electrifying. It was a wonderful roller coaster ride (my son will be amused, since I HATE roller coasters!). The download sounds good, but you had to be there. I would recommend that you NOT miss them next time around.
So I went from this amazing emotional high back to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band. I have written about them glowingly (see: Sunshine Blues Fest and upcoming piece on redefinition of “the big band”), but this was an average set at best. Again, TTB is better than 99.9% of bands on the planet, but this was – for them – nothing special.
Also, this was an odd day. If memory serves, TTB and Gov’t Mule never played back-to-back sets and rarely the same day unless one or the other was doing the closing midnight set. Due to schedule SNAFUs (and absurd delays in its release), that became necessary. So while Mule was setting up, I got to hear a small portion of the JGB set with Melvin Seals, solid as always.
A brief recap to this point: nothing special for me on the main stage, some superb sets at the amphitheatre. It was time for Mule. If there is one man you can count on – Who you gonna call? – it’s Warren Haynes. He was the jewel in the ABB set Friday, capped off with his huge sit-in with Dumstaphunk doing Zep.
I know that Wanee is the ABB festival (and where that goes in 2015 is fit for much speculation), but for me Warren IS Wanee. Mule BLEW IT OUT. Every tune sizzled, whether they were new tunes from “Shout” (we got four, including “World Boss” and “Stoop So Low,” two of my favs), an opening “Hammer and Nails,” or a closing “Mule > Whole Lotta Love > Mule” (more Zep!). The hottest item of the set was when Warren called Derek Trucks on stage, and they lit up the Billy Cobham tune “Stratus.” I thought I had time-warped back 40 years!
The break before the Brothers set was literal: Break Science. I have seen them great and not so great. I headed back to the campground for a brief time-out. Mistake. Susan Tedeschi joined them, and perhaps Warren did, too. I’m an underachiever; what can I say?
If the Allman Brothers’ set wasn’t legendary, it was certainly stronger than Friday’s show. Hats off to Kofi Burbridge for filling in so superbly on keyboards, since Gregg’s hand was broken. Gregg’s voice wasn’t, though, as he ripped into “Not My Cross to Bear” early in the set. There was great diversity in the song selection, and everything seemed to sparkle. The set closed with a dynamic reading of “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” and a tight, compact “Whipping Post.” The encore featured Popper and Roosevelt Collier on his lap steel for “One Way Out.”
It’s one thing to be wrong. It’s another to be 100% wrong. During my Break Science break, I speculated with a campmate that I probably wouldn’t know any of the songs Umphrey’s McGee had decided to cover for their All Night Wrong set. I was guessing they would choose music by bands I didn’t really know. I could not possibly have been more wrong (math teachers WILL point out that 100% is really the maximum).
Here was the set opener: “Exodus / Life During Wartime > 25 or 6 to 4 > City of Tiny Lites (Zappa) > Life During Exodus.” WOW. They hit the two weekend themes, Zep and Floyd, with “Song Remains the Same” and later “Immigrant Song” (with Warren, natch) and MORE “Dark Side” with “Breathe.” Scofield’s “A Go Go.” Hendrix’s “Power of Soul.” Krasno joined them for the second encore, a perfect “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
For me, the other set highlights were two great song pairings. First, it was “Rock the Casbah > Miss You,” with Popper. The best jam of the night launched out of “Hey Nineteen” into a deluxe “When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” Game, two sets and match to Umphrey’s McGee.
I have no idea what happened after that. I did finally get to sleep hours later. I think friends happened. That’s the way with Brothers and Sisters of the Suwannee. Thanks again to the Gov’nah, Adam Pierce, for all of his Waneetopia work, to Scrog and Company for the magnificent Short-Cut Camp tribute to The Wizard of Oz, and to all the grateful friends who, like me, are pretty sure this is what heaven looks like.
At least I hope so.
Even if I don’t get an invite.