My band, Juke, was invited to play our first Wanee Festival last year, up at the Spirit of Swanee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida.
We played the opening night's festivities, rocked out, and suffered from a bit of culture shock. This 500-plus-acre park just outside Georgia is in the middle of nowhere.
Now the four-day festival is absolutely awesome. It is incredibly well run and attended by nearly 40,000 people. But I still didn't understand it.
I mean, I "got" it. But I really don't see how this basically internet-driven subculture can bring this many people to the "middle of nowhere." The nearest hotel is 20 minutes away, and these people are paying $250 a head to listen to music, camp out, use porta-potties, and dress like shit for four days.
Wanee is not the only fest of this kind either. There are dozens of these things across the country. And this particular campground in Live Oak is host to several of them.
All that being said, Juke and I were beyond excited to play Wanee 2013. Last year's show exposed us to some of the most intense music lovers I had ever met. They listened to every word, and they replenished some of the hope that Miami crowds have bled out of us over the years.
And not only were we playing the opening night for the second consecutive year. But on Friday, we were also playing the "Travelling Stage," which is basically a flatbed truck that gets rolled around the grounds for a couple of hours.
With a bottle of Jameson, my harmonicas, and some clean socks in my backpack, I was ready to hit this thing hard. The sound crew was the same as last year, and they made us feel welcome. These people are lifers. They work the whole circuit of these festivals and know all the musicians. Shutting the fuck up and listening to these people is highly recommended.
Wanee 2013, Day One
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Our first night's show went great again. We were on the "Mushroom Stage," and the sound was a definite upgrade. Plus, one of the best guitarists you will ever hear, Bobby Lee Rodgers, sat in with us at the end of the set. Playing like that with an engaged crowd will make it tough to play the next shitty little Fort Lauderdale gig. But that's life, huh?
Since we had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to drive up to Live Oak, we were beat and opted to drive back into town for a night at our lovely Days Inn. Too bad, because Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk was headlining that night. Too bad, I heard it was a sick show.
Wanee 2013, Day Two
Nothing was on the books for us. So sleeping in a bit and hitting the Waffle House seemed logical. The only question: Should go to the Waffle House a quarter mile past the hotel? Or the Waffle House a quarter mile in the other direction? Yes, that's right. Waffle House in Live Oak is like Starbucks in Seattle. My bass player wanted to opt for the Huddle House, but that's just fucking idiotic.
We headed back to the festival after breakfast with our laminates dangling and wristbands on. Then we lounged about backstage, listening to the bands. Beers in hands, my girl and I decided to get out into the crowd and check out this beautiful park. She was promptly ass-grabbed by Towelie when posing for a picture, and good times were had by all.
The Greyboy Allstars were supposed to play the late set that night. But we were all kind of tired and had to wake up for the Travelling Stage thing the next day. Too bad, I heard it was a sick show.
Wanee 2013, Day Three
The Travelling Stage was awesome. I highly recommend drinking whiskey at noon and being wheeled around endless campgrounds while playing an amplified harmonica. It just doesn't happen to everyone. The best part is that these people seemed to love it. They would usually emerge from their tents and wave and run up and give us beer.
That afternoon was a different story. Bobby Lee Rodgers asked me to sit in with his band for their go at the Travelling Stage run. This was a whole different animal and trying to keep up with these guys' chops sobered me up like the day I was born. I loved doing it. But I was way outta my league.
Still, that's the thing about these festivals. You will not get the musicianship or the musicianship appreciation at any other event anywhere.
Later, Steel Pulse and the Allman Brothers were all set to play a big set. But we were all kind of tired. So we headed back to the hotel. Too bad, I heard it was a sick show.
Wanee 2013, Day Four
The last few hours. And there was just one more task left for me to do. I got to sit in with the world-famous Lee Boys at Wanee.
Now, people in Miami don't seem to understand that the Lee Boys are a big deal just about everywhere else but where they live. Here! In Miami!
So on an early Saturday afternoon, up at the Spirit of Swanee Music Park, when they hear Roosevelt Collier's pedal steel start to scream and the Lee Boys bring it, those Wanee music junkies start gravitating down the hill to the stage like happy-ass zombies.
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Best quote from the whole festival was Lil Al, the bass player for the Lee Boys, commenting on some free and delicious grub in the hospitality tent.
In the middle of our meal, he exclaimed, "Mmmm! Whoever invented food must be rich!!!"