Main Image: Dumpstaphunk @ Wanee 2018
Since it’s foundation year in 2005, Wanee has called upon people from all over the world, especially the Southeast U.S., to celebrate their deeply rooted love for the music Butch Trucks founded many years ago. It was a tradition founded under the discerning Live Oaks, characteristically draped in the tinsel of Spanish moss. Wanee is a place in which worries fade away and where the land knows you better than you thought you knew yourself. It's the reason so many call this magical place home. People come for the music, but the reason people come back is because of a spiritual connection one can only experience firsthand. When Butch Trucks’ daughter, Melody, was asked what Wanee means to her in a recent interview with Bullet, she said is meant: “home. The people that are here and the music here- it’s family. Everywhere I look I see my dad. This is home and my dad is everywhere.” After the devastating loss of Butch Trucks early last year, this extended family would soon suffer another blow with the death of a second Allman Brothers Band visionary, Gregg Allman, just months later, though the love for the legacy both left behind resonated from every soulful tribute offered to these late greats across this years festival.
Wanee 2018 began on the Wednesday, when the crowd cascaded down the naturally formed amphitheater and into the festival, which Bonnie Blue officially opened, bringing on stage Isaac Corbitt for one of his signature harmonica expeditions. Later that evening, Ben Sparaco & the New Effect would take to the stage with an affluence of talent, including fourteen year-old guitarist Jaden Lehman, alongside Mike Weberman (sax), Adam Gorman (guitar) and Chris Sartin (vocals). To close the set, Melody Trucks would serenade the swelling crowd with “Thrill of It All,” a song recently written by Ben Sparaco and bassist Adam Discipio. Elsewhere, South Florida natives Crazy Fingers paid homage to Grateful Dead’s archive, hyping the crowd for Phil Lesh’s highly anticipated sets to come, while Roosevelt Collier’s sought-after Jimi Meets Funk set once again left the crowd avid for more - offering a small tease of what was to come during the days ahead.
Crazy Fingers also played on the Thursday, opening proceedings with a second helping of upbeat jams, their intention being to get everyone up and ready for a day full of guest sit-ins and tributes. One such tribute occured during Berry Oakley’s Indigenous Suspects set, the band not only covering a soulful “Whipping Post,” but also welcoming Vaylor Trucks, son of Butch Trucks, to the stage. Elsewhere, Kung Fu saxophonist Rob Somerville sat in with Bobby Lee Rodgers Trio on the Mushroom stage, while Dumpstaphunk slathered the funk on thick with their heavy bass notes during a crowd-pleasing set dedicated to the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Later that day, Pink Talking Fish’s "Tied to the Whipping Post" set was everything-and-more, with out-of-this-world covers of Pink Floyd, The Talking Heads, Phish, and The Allman Brothers Band. Their Suwannee cover sets never disappoint, following on from an excellent 2017 set which covered David Bowie and Prince. Both that year, and this year, proved to be pure magic.
Friday commenced with San Francisco-based folk-blues group Midnight North performing original ballads such as set-highlight “Roamin" while, simultaneously, Bobby Lee Rodgers was warmly welcomed for a second show on the Peach Stage. The mellow sun made it pleasantly easy to step away from the canopied amphitheater and join the growing congregation in the meadow for artists such as The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and Phil Lesh & the Terrapin Family Band. Throughout Phil’s set, everything began to move, from the Ferris wheel, to the hula hoops, to the people, as the former Grateful Dead bassist took his audience on a musical journey. Marcus King, of The Marcus King Band, played a song from his new album Homesick, stating that it was the first love song he had ever written, before The Main Squeeze played an electrifying set which kept a sizable crowd hooked from the offset. The day came to a close with a two and a half hour set from Widespread Panic, who brought home hits like “Chilly Water,” “Disco,” “Space Wrangler” and “Climb to Safety.”
Saturday mirrored Friday, with Bobby Lee Rodgers playing once again on the Mushroom and Traveling Stage, while Chris Robinson (with As the Crow Flies) and Phil Lesh & the Terrapin Family Band both gave the crowd some more Marcus King. Vaylor Trucks took the lead on the final day of music with his band The Yeti Trio, before electro-funk quartet Pigeons Playing Ping Pong amped up the crowd with lofty, high frequency songs like “Julia,” “Live It Up” and an expansive jam of “Spacejam” into “F.U.”. Later that day, Soul Rebels transformed crowd favorites like “Night People” by using elements of their eight-piece brass ensemble to mimic sounds of pop and funk classics. I was able to sit down with both Soul Rebels and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong to chat surrounding their Saturday sets. You can listen to our interview with the latter above. Widespread Panic, playing for a second time, kept with the theme by bringing out the masterful Marcus King for a Grateful Dead cover of “New Speedway Boogie” - to great enjoyment, while Jason Crosby also joined the Georgia boys on fiddle for “Second Skin,” and again on the keys for “Fishwater.” Karl Denson's Tiny Universe had been given the opportunity to close out the weekend, allowing Denson to show off his skills on the saxophone, flute and percussive instruments.. The men, dressed dapper in black suits, performed a stellar "Eat a Bunch of Peaches" finale including Allman Brother treasures "One Way Out," "Dreams," and "Ain't Wastin' Time No More."
When asked about the sense of family and community at Wanee, after the fact, Melody Trucks had replied:
Wanee 2018 was certainly characterized by a feeling of kinship, a sense of community harmonized years ago by Butch Trucks and the music of The Allman Brothers Band coming to positive fruition. Now, the torch has been passed to the next generation in Melody and Vaylor Trucks; through their careful and compassionate approach to music, they inspired kinship not only through the soulful genres of rock and blues, but also by utilising the spirit of Suwannee Music Park.
All photos by Jen McKinnon for Bullet Music.