Wanee Would Have Made Butch Trucks Proud
Cover Photo by Brian Hensley
I’m still buzzing from this past weekend at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. I’ve tried to explain to friends exactly what took place at Wanee this year and the only word I can use to describe it is special.
Everything about the weekend was special! From the many bands who paid tribute to the late Butch Trucks and the ailing Gregg Allman, to the collaborations that took place on stage, to the sense of community that only those who have been to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park know about, Wanee delivered on so many levels and I was left with tears running down my face on several occasions. Everything about this year’s Wanee was absolutely perfect and I think that anyone in attendance would agree with me.
Growing up in Jacksonville, FL I’ve been lucky enough to live just a short jaunt from the magical venue that has played host to Wanee every year since its inception in 2005 (my first Wanee). That year, I discovered my love for live music and for the people I share it with.
I’ve witnessed music that has left me speechless at this venue. I’ve witnessed true love come together in the form of marriage at this venue. I’ve seen friends’ hard work blossom into careers at this venue. I’ve even paid tribute to dear friends that have been taken from us too soon at this venue. This year was no different!
Butch Trucks left us with a huge hole in our hearts when he left for the afterlife at the beginning of this year. The man that held one of rock’s most iconic bands together was a pivotal part in every Wanee Fest since its inauguration. While he is physically no longer with us, anyone that attended this year’s Wanee knows that he lives in spirit at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and he lives in the hearts of all music lovers alike.
After locating my tribe for the weekend, I was quick to take off to locate where the rest of my people were camping. The Spirit of Suwanne Music Park is so big that I like to get my bearings straight before we get too far into the weekend. Granted I should have the lay of the land down after all of these years, but it’s a tall order when you start to enjoy yourself and you don’t have the assistance of sunlight. After getting as situated as I would for the weekend it was time to dance!
Dark Star Orchestra was the start of music for me on this particular weekend and it proved to be a great primer to the weekend. As DSO always does, they flawlessly executed a previously performed show from the jam legends, the Grateful Dead. One thing I love about DSO shows is the constant guessing as to what year the show might be from or what song might be next. I’m a gambler at heart so of course, I start throwing out $1 bets with anyone willing to play.
Remembering that ‘special’ seemed to be the theme of the weekend, the first instance that I recognized as special was during the encore of DSO. The band had extra time in their set so the crowd was treated to their rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s "White Rabbit.’"
After the near flawless version of the song, DSO decided it was time to honor the holiday that so many attendees celebrate (4/20) and played and riveting version of Bob Dylan’s "Everbody Must Get Stoned." Well, as riveting of a performance as one can expect from the laidback song. Just the fact that DSO was able to play such a fitting song left me with the thought that this weekend was going to be one for the record books.
From the main stage, otherwise known as the Peach Stage, attendees made their way over the Mushroom Stage for DJ Logic’s late night set. The Mushroom Stage is something writers much more talented that I would have a tough time describing. While one can describe the physical features of the stage from the tree cover of the old oak trees that help give North Florida its defining character and charm to the hammocks hanging in between them, it’s tough to describe the magic that always seems to take place at this stage. The setting helps add to the lore of this stage but the sense of comradery and friendship that you feel with people you’ve never met before is something you have to experience in order to grasp what I’m getting at look here.
As DJ Logic’s set came to a close so did the evening of festival produced music but seeing as the motto of the park is “Music Lives Here,” you can only imagine that the evening’s music was far from over. Making your way back into the campgrounds you can feel the love that oozes from the trees and radiates from the lake that leaves first timers absolutely floored. It is the most picture perfect setting for music to blossom from performers and attendees alike and walking through the campgrounds all I could do is smile as I heard campfire jams echoing through the park.
Friday morning came with little warning and I woke up a bit sweaty in my tent from the heat and humidity that North Florida is so well known for. While one would tend to get a little uncomfortable at the heat, part of the magic of this venue is the refreshing Suwannee River that hosts some of the best day parties all weekend long. My cohorts set up our camp closely situated from the beach access and our tribe took a short walk to the already hopping river beach.
With cold beers in the cooler, tasty tunes on the Bluetooth and tons of like-minded people having the same good time as all of us, the magic continued and it wasn’t taking place on stage. It was the sense of community that everyone felt on the beach and in the river. People talking of their time the night before and wondering what kind of Panic setlist we’d get from the boys that evening. It was meeting new faces and the sight of two old friends embracing one another so tightly and in a way that I hope everyone has been lucky enough to experience.
Jai Johanny Johanson, or more widely known as Jaimoe, played alongside Butch Trucks for so many years and his band let the crowd know that Butch would live on in music. After Jaimoe’s set, it was time for some R&R at the campsite as the night’s festivities would begin with what was destined to be a heater set from Turkuaz. My dancing feet, while full of rhythm, don’t have the spunk they had at my first Wanee so getting some laidback campsite time is definitely needed, especially with Widespread Panic as the night’s feature group and Les Brers as the late night show.
As expected, Turkuaz mopped the floor with their “powerfunk” and left the crowd completely gassed. Playing opposite of Bob Weir’s first set provided just the right amount of room that I needed to properly express my love for funk music via dance. When I say that, I mean that I needed plenty of space to properly move the way Turkuaz’s music makes me move. I’ve seen these guys in a packed house before and it’s never fun when you make enemies because you can’t stop your feet from feverishly moving to the funk unique funk that is Turkuaz.
I took the little bit of time away from both stages to get a glimpse at some of the vendors that work tirelessly to do what they love and what makes them happy. I always like to express my gratitude to the vendors as they are part of the reason that festivals such as Wanee are able to thrive. It’s proof that happiness is a state of mind and not a paycheck or a specific position in life. Plus, the pizza was calling my name and I wanted to get something of substance in my belly.
Widespread Panic took the stage to a raucous cheer from their faithful followers and began what would be one long set. Opening with "Ain’t Life Grand," proved to be the perfect primer to their elongated set that would get the crowd moving their hips in ways that only Panic can. The band moved through a string of songs that continued to keep the crowd amped for more. Throughout the early stages of the set I was wondering if the band would cover any Allman Bros. as a tribute to Butch Trucks. Duane Trucks, nephew of Butch, plays drums for the southern rockers and it only seemed fitting that they would pay homage to Butch in a way that only a musically inclined family can do, in song.
Midway through their set, the boys started "The Last Straw" that led into the answer to my question. As they snaked their way through their jams, Marcus King appeared on stage and the group went into a raucous "Mountain Jam" that kept the crowd amazed that such beauty could taking place right before their eyes. It was a beautiful way to pay tribute to the late Butch Trucks and the guys did it in an eloquent manner that would have left Butch with a tear streaming down his face as it did with me.
Panic’s set seemed to quickly come to a close after that cover and it was on to the Mushroom Stage for what was sure to be a very special set of music from Les Brers which was Butch’s band. Comprised of stellar musicians such like Jaimoe, Jack Pearson and Oteil Burbridge, the group took the stage to show tribute to their fearless leader. Duane Trucks was on double duty this evening and I couldn’t imagine the weight of his heart as he took the stage in place of his late uncle. This musical family is a close knit one and replacing the man that helped influence your passion is something that I’m not sure I would have had the heart to do.
I was lucky enough to be backstage surrounded by Butch’s family and friends as the band started their set with a raucous version of "Hot ‘Lanta" that quickly took the crowd’s mind off the saddening thought of not having Trucks and placed it squarely on what he would have wanted it to be on, the music. Moving into "Don’t Keep Me Wondering" was something that I absolutely loved. The track is one of my favorites from the Allman Bros. and it quickly had my feet full of life and, of course, rhythm.
Being backstage surrounded by smiles and laughter from the Trucks family and friends was one of the most moving moments of my life’s musical journey. It made me realize that while Butch was not with us in the physical state, he lives on in his music that will remain timeless and touch generations down the road. His good-natured spirit could be felt by everyone in attendance and allowed us to focus on what was important that night which was the music.
2017 Wanee! Another year for the 📚. Sad to say goodbye to some friends, but couldn't think of a better way to do it. #Matisyahu#wanee2017#wanee#DJLogic#PinkTalkingFu#KungFu#PinkTalkingFish#ButchTrucks#JJGreyandMofro#ApplebutterExpress#BeanSpenceArt#BeanSpence#mushroomstage#peachstage#primitivecamping#lovelife
The first song played once I had moved from the backstage area was "Jessica," and it was performed flawlessly. I was able to find my dear friend Marshall whom I’ve seen countless Allman Bros. shows with at Wanee. We were both floored by the perfection the was taking place on stage and it only continued as the band moved into "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" with Marcus King joining them on stage. Once again, the band played the track to absolute perfection and Marshall and I couldn’t even find the words to describe what we were feeling. I still can’t find the words.
They encored with "Whipping Post" which was absolutely fitting for recent events that had taken place in my life. I was able to connect to the band as if Gregg Allman himself was singing to me and it made me feel a sense of closure to the once gut-wrenching thought of being without someone that I thought was going to be around forever. The band moved without resistance through the progression of the ballad that shows the true emotion of feeling taken advantage of and proves that everyone goes through similar emotions.
After the final chorus was sung, the band went into an instrumental jam that had the crowd guessing what it might be. It sounded a lot like "Row Jimmy," a Grateful Dead tune that would have been incredibly fitting for the setting of the evening. My friend Scott described it simply as a “gospel progression” which was just as fitting. Either way, it was clearly a ceremonial send off to their brother in music Butch Trucks.
Being as floored as I was after that show made it hard to comprehend anything else and I made my way back to camp to embrace the feelings that were running through me. I knew that the Les Brers show was going to be emotional but had no idea that it would affect me the way that it did. I helped me embrace the feelings that I had felt leading up to Wanee up my own life and allowed me to leave those feelings at the Mushroom Stage for good. Life goes on just as the music does and it was time to embrace the upcoming day of special music.
Saturday, otherwise known as “Rap Saturday” by my camping cohort was a new day and we made sure to bump old school rap at the beach to get the day started. It proved to be a great way to forget about the past and to enjoy the present with the company you are with. Moving from the beach to the stages, we walked up to Pink Talking Fish that laid down a cover set of some incredibly groovy tunes from Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish.
Making my way to Gov’t Mule was a great decision as I saw Jack Pearson join his old buddy Warren Haynes on stage for a battle of guitar prowess. Mule brought their heavy hitting rock to the Wanee crowd that Warren is so familiar with and proved to lube up the somewhat hungover crowd at the Peach Stage for what was sure to be a special set from Trey Anastasio Band, otherwise known as TAB.
TAB crushed as expected moving through their classic tracks like "Cayman Review" "Money, Love and Change," and "Push On ‘Til the Day." They also played "Sand" which is one of my favorite Phish songs that really got my hips swaying. Closing with "Dazed and Confused" was an amazing treat to end the set but the shining moment of the set was when Trey addressed the crowd as he does so often at his shows. This time he spoke with a heavy heart about Butch Trucks whom he “idolized” growing up. He spoke of the first time he played with Butch which happened to be at Wanee in ’14 and how he knew that the rumbling drum beats laid down by Butch was “the sound of the Allman Bros.” Wiping tears from his eyes, just as I was wiping the tears from mine, you could feel the sincerity in Trey’s voice and it goes to show you the impact that Butch had on everyone.
Bob Weir’s Campfire Band had their last set of the weekend shortly after Trey had finished but little did we know that Trey wasn’t going anywhere. After opening the set with his acoustic guitar as Bobby does with all of his Campfire Band shows, he brought out Trey with his own acoustic guitar. The two treated the absolutely stunned crowd to Grateful Dead tunes "Deep Elem Blues," "Friend of the Devil," and "Bird Song." They moved into their rendition of Phish’s "Miss You" which brought back certain feelings that I thought I had a suppressed earlier in the weekend, but apparently, love has a way of trickling back into your train of thought. As if the crowd couldn’t be more surprised, the two went into a cover Lady Gaga’s "Million Reasons" that has already be championed by Gaga herself.
The weekend was chock full of incredible moments that not only touched my heart directly but touched everyone in attendance. From the deeply moving tributes to the late Trucks, to the inexplicably special collaborations that took place throughout the weekend, the undying sense of community that the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park is never without, the weekend was absolutely perfect in every way. I consider myself lucky to have been able to experience the weekend in the manner that I did and I wish those of you that haven’t yet the opportunity to one day make it to this magical place for this magical event.