C. J. Walsh
Wanee Festival, Live Oak, FL 2011
Wanee Music Festival
April 14-16, 2011
Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park
Live Oak, Florida
View: Fourth row, stage left
Launched just ahead of the mosquitoes’ arrival, those craving variety had to love the Wanee Festival. With Reggae, jam bands jazz, folk, retro-rock, blues and all points in between and pin-drop sound throughout. Thursday saw an acoustic Hot Tuna, who like to release a new album every twenty years or so (Steady As She Goes). Good Shepherd and 99 Year Blues confirmed Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy remain at the height of their abilities. And though just a duo now, the North Mississippi Allstars still kick up a hellacious racket. Stephen Marley continues the endless flow of talent bearing that surname, with a cracking band and a voice eerily like his dad’s on 3 Little Birds, Could You Be Loved and Buffalo Soldier.
Widespread Panic closed Thursday with an incandescent, deafening roar. Highlights were Chainsaw City and a perfect version of Traffic’s Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys.
In the broiling afternoon sun Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings put on the closest thing to an authentic Ike and Tina Turner-style soul revue we’ll see in this lifetime. Silver-sequined, Jones showed the crowd the Funky Chicken and the Pony; she somehow kept a straight face as the audience attempted to join in. Though the material is decidedly modern (She Ain’t A Child No More), the group recalls the halcyon days of Stax. Jones has old-fashioned pipes and can belt it out when necessary, but great songs are their secret weapon.
Robert Plant’s Band of Joy went on at sundown on Friday, more country in its approach, albeit one that rocked like a bastard. On Black Dog and Rock and Roll, Plant duets with his new foil, Patty Griffin. She and guitarist Buddy Miller were given turns at leading, though on these songs the twang is more pronounced and their sound is more like every other C&W group. Whether this is the mark of a real band or a respite for Plant remains to be seen. Though the Led Zeppelin songs like Gallows Pole and Ramble On were strained through the ghostly Americana he’s now fond of, other solo favorites such as Down To The Sea and In the Mood survived intact. He remains one of the most charismatic front men in rock.
For wont of a theme, Saturday’s was the blues with a great set by Guitar Shorty and Taj Mahal gave a master class in country blues, with standards like Corinne, Corinna . Whether playing guitar, harp, banjo or piano, he’s a natural force. Just before wrapping up he reminded everyone of Robert Johnson’s upcoming 100th Birthday.
Two decades into their sophomore year of high school, rabble rousers Ween remain notorious, (Spinal Meningitis) and confounding (a note-perfect version of Bowie’s Let’s Dance), they refuse to age gracefully. The crowd loved them.
And for time-warp heaven, look no further than Steve Miller, who somehow sounded exactly as he did in 1978. With The Joker and Fly Like an Eagle you could feel the jeans flare, collars widen. Though a powerful take of Key to the Highway was a reminder of his blues guitar prowess.
The Susan Tedeschi-Derek Trucks band brought out the best in both artists, her soulful voice and his labyrinthine playing on mostly new material, as well as Stevie Wonder’s Uptight and Sly and the Family Stone’s Sing A Simple Song.
Of course this is the Allman Brothers party. Though they all have solo projects in the fire, it’s when they’re together that things become truly festive - so many excellent musicians with an unprecedented catalogue to draw upon. From Friday night’s opening Hot ‘Lanta through to In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, peaks were scaled and flags planted. The latter saw a half-hour journey where the baton was passed from one player to the next and drum solos where the bathrooms didn’t beckon. The encore of One Way Out had North Mississippi All Stars’ guitarist Luther Dickinson and Lee Boys’ Roosevelt Collier on pedal steel; zooming in and around Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks - an embarrassment of riches.
Gregg Allman’s new liver is clearly functioning quite well, on Melissa he sounded more engaged than he has in years. Highlights were Haynes slow burn on Who’s Been Talking and Black Hearted Woman, where Busby Berkeley movies played in the background.
They would better it on Saturday night, with a show that went just south of three hours. Taj Mahal came out to shout about having the Statesboro Blues and later Gregg announced “This is a song I wrote back in 1968”, then delivered a poignant, tremulous Dreams. Closing with the definitive encore, Whipping Post, the Allmans remain truly formidable. Forty years after his passing, one would imagine Duane Allman being quite proud.