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FESTIVAL REVIEW: In The Allman’s Absence, Wanee Still Thrives

Over the past four years, our outlet has been to the Suwannee somewhere around 20 times. Each festival is special and brings a unique experience, but one festival is the biggest. Wanee, both in attendance and in caliber of artistry, is always the largest gathering at the beloved Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.

With the Allman Brothers Band calling it a day, there was a huge void to be filled – an impossible one. Nevertheless, thousands and thousands of people flocked to the North Florida Park for four days of unmatchable music, energy, and fun. They wouldn’t leave disappointed.

Widespread Panic, who more or less did fill the Brothers’ shoes, did a phenomenal job of it. With a three-hour slot on Friday and Saturday night, the six-piece band carried the torch for those who love improvisational southern rock. They took no set breaks as they blitzed through ~20 song sets originals and staple covers.

Night one kicked off with fireworks, both musically and literally. As soon as Panic came to the stage and kicked things off with “Love Tractor,” someone in the crowd ignited fireworks and goose bumps arose from the arms of thousands. (I get the goose bumps again just thinking about it as I type…) You can listen to that set on panicstream.com.

A drum-off between Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz provided the only break during the first night. The music was dominated by guitar shredding, and had this psychedelic-specked mind thinking, “Is this Jimmy HERRING, or HENDRIX or PAGE?

Photo by Jason Koerner

Panic’s second night saw them blend original favorites like “Ribs and Whiskey,” “All Time Low,” “Pilgrims,” “Airplane,” and “Surprise Valley” with an excellent selection of covers. Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down,” Funkadelic’s “Red Hot Mama,” and the encore-ending “Mr. Soul,” written by Neil Young, displayed how versatility is a defining factor for the Athens collective. You can listen to that set on panicstream.com as well.

While Panic was Wanee 2015’s defining band, they weren’t the only band that impressed…not by a long shot. Gregg Allman put on a great show with his solo band, kicking it off with “Statesboro Blues” and providing nostalgia to so many in the audience who really missed the Brothers’ presence. Earth Wind & Fire proved how they’ve been able to stay relevant for 46 years with a passionate and funky afternoon set. On the other end of the musical spectrum, Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band offered up sets of jammin’ progressive bluegrass that stretched string music to places other bands simply cannot take it.

Photo by Jason Koerner

Gov’t Mule got super-psychedelic as they jammed songs by The Allman Brothers, Elton John, John Scofield, Van Morrison, and a very special dub-tinged cover of Steve Miller Band “The Joker.” Despite the fact that we only got a couple Warren Haynes originals, they impressed us once again with their range of skill. Panicstream.com for the win once more!

Late-night funk sessions commenced at midnight, brought to you by Dumpstaphunk and Galactic. Burnt out by the long days before, I gladly let them lull me to sleep while lying in a hammock. However there was no doubt that their sets provided a primetime party to other festivalgoers who are better night owls than myself.

In addition to the music, Suwannee has a great offering of exploration and activities. An early afternoon disc golf session took place on Friday, which only came to an end once I foolishly launched my disc into this swamp. I guess you win some and you lose some?

The following day was all about the beach! We took the truck out to the river where hundreds of patrons were splashing around, rope swinging off of trees, exploring trails, bathing, etc. It was a great scene and another reminder of just how special the Suwanee Park is.

Even in the absence of the Allman Brothers, it was still a spectacular festival both musically and beyond. Widespread Panic proved that they’re ready to become southern jam rock’s torchbearers with two unique nights of face-melting shred while each band surrounding them legitimized their own longevity. It’s still April and I’m already thinking, “I can’t wait ‘til next year!”

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