Wanee Festival – Live Oak, Florida – 4/20/2017
Words and photos: Joey Pye & Andrew Noble
Now that the 12th Wanee Festival is in the books, leaving many questions answered, yet many more still remain. How did it measure up to Sweetwater 420 Fest? What was it like with the absence of the Allman Brother Band and Tedeschi Trucks Band? How was the Panic set on the first night of a three-day, two city run? For those in attendance, the answers are crystal clear. But one huge question still remains, what does all this mean for the future of Wanee Fest?
Lets start with the overwhelming love and appreciation for Butch Trucks that consumed the entire park. His impact on the people that were playing that festival was so deep, I can honestly say it was the most ABB feeling Wanee I have ever been to. After kicking off the weekend with “The Freight Train” performing ABB songs in tribute to Butch, the theme was set for the weekend. The lineup was stacked with several bands that played with, or had members in the ABB, including Panic, Mule, Jaimoe and another billed tribute “Les Brers”. The Conscious Alliance poster had “Dedicated to a Brother” scrolled across it, Butch’s drum set sat empty staged right, directly underneath the Wanee banner and signs reading, “We love you Butch,” dotted the park. The theme of the weekend was clear, remembering Butch and the rest of the ABB.
Waking up Thursday with Butch heavy on our minds, we cruised straight into another stellar day of music, kicking off at the Mushroom Stage with Crazy Fingers. The energy emitted from the SOSMP’s amphitheater seeped through the live oaks and Spanish moss, engulfing us in a cloud of pure bliss that sent chills all the way down our backs. After the day’s first dose of Suwannee’s magic, it was time to retreat back through the hammocks to stroll through the many vendors that help create the experience we all yearn. The weekend would feel incomplete without the presence of artist such as Bean Spence, who’s work is displayed throughout the park, to food trucks like What’s the Catch, who work tireless hours while the rest of us indulge. After a quick stop at the Conscious Alliance tent, it was time to return to the Mushroom Stage for the Brothers & Sisters, followed by the Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio. By then the festival was in full swing, and Leftover Salmon took the stage and melted fans with the music of Neil Young. Bobby Lee returned jumped in for an incredible thirteen minute “Down by the River,” leaving the audience primed for Blackberry Smoke. Thursday’s headliner, Dark Star Orchestra, opened up the Peach Stage with a four-hour heater, a recreation of a 1977 Barton Hall Dead show. The encore provided yet another treat, a holiday dance party with Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women.” To close out the night, DJ Logic lite up the amphitheater for the late-night boogie, throwing down the heaviest bass and light show of the weekend.
After a cup of coffee and a Budweiser to shake off the previous night, I quickly stumbled down the old railroad ties to get front and center for the weekends MVP, Marcus King. Wow! I really don’t know what to say other than this cat is on fire. You could compare his weekend to that of Jason Carter at Jomeokee, Zach Brown at Lock’n, or Brandaon “Taz” Neidermeyer at Bear Creek; Marcus was on every stage, and if you didn’t know him before the weekend, you sure do now. He and Mule were the only 2 bands selling vinyl, and one of my festy rule of thumb is always respect the band that brought vinyl. Never fails so I picked up both. Shortly after, Bobby Lee Rodgers kicked off the day on the Peach Stage, with his first of two sets for the weekend. He was followed by Matisyahu, whose set I enjoyed from the campsite alongside a grilled cheese. Refreshed and ready, it was time for JJ Grey and Mofro, whose charismatic stage presence and storytelling never disappoint. The day rolled on with Bobby’s first set of the weekend, followed by an incredible three hour Panic set. Pounding straight through and dropping a killer “Mountain Jam” as I was just on top of the Ferris Wheel, I was immediately pumped and ready to groove. Luckily they invited Marcus King to the stage, and the song lasted almost seventeen minutes, allowing me to enjoy the jam from the top and back on the ground. And then it was on to what would be amongst the top sets of the weekend, Les Brers at the Mushroom Stage. With Duane Trucks sitting in his uncles spot, they laid down one of the most one of the most intense ABB experiences I have ever had, boasting one of the best “Liz Reed’s” I have ever seen. Rumors were buzzing all day that they were “playing until dawn”. I knew there was know way production would have it, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t play as long as they wanted. I am not sure how long they went over, but it more than an hour or so past 2:00 a.m., but the nights a bit hazy at that point. They wore the soles off my boogie boots!
Saturday would turn out to be one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had at the SOSMP. The mid-day Mule set, included the debut of “Revolution Come, Revolution Go,” and a nasty “When Doves Cry” and “Beautifully Broken” sandwich. Trey brought the crowd to tears telling stories during about one of his personal Wanee experiences about playing with ABB, in which he tells the audience about the “the sound of the ABB” and how “Butch was driving the truck, like an 18-wheeler.” Trey and his band continued to impress throughout the set, but Trey wasn’t done with us yet. He returned to the stage during Bobby’s second set and they treated the crowd with a five-song, acoustic duo, including “Deep Elem Blues.” After Bobby closed out the Peach Stage for the year with “Ripple,” it was time for a tough decision. Pink Talking Fish and Kung Fu were preparing to take the stage for a Bowie and Prince tribute set. However, we were kindly invited to Butch’s daughter Melody’s campsite for an intimate jam I will never forget. Included, but not limited to, were Isaac Corbitt, Melody Trucks, Bobby Lee Rodgers, Willis Gore, Jaimoe and so many more I can’t recall. It was absolutely miraculous and truly a blessing to be a part of such an intimate and wonderful occasion. I will remember it forever and am truly grateful for the experience. Melody said it best “If my dad were here, this is the Wanee he would want to see.” The jam migrated a cabin off River Road, and the entire experience lasted from around midnight until close to 4:00 a.m.
Outside of everything that takes place on stage, it’s always the magic of the park that will always keep me coming back. I would love to have tried 420 Fest, as I have never and hear great things, but personally I just can’t bring myself to leave the seclusion, lack of city luxuries and ideal camping that the SOSMP provides. The facilities and venue are nicer than most need and the only traffic we dealt with was the acoustic cover song’s played by our camp neighbors. I know some people like to stay in hotels, I just don’t see why. This is my favorite Wanee I have attended and for reasons I hoped to be true. With Panic not playing there twice in a row (going off of history) and the mantle open, I am again on the edge of my seat to see what Live Nation will bring next year; the bar’s set high after everything we witnessed this weekend.