There’s something magical about the Wanee Music Festival. It always feels like the start of festival season, the official kickoff if you will.
Wanee began as a two-day festival with only 11 bands; it is now a three-day festival with as many as 44 performers. The lineup never disappoints, and you always end up with a few crossover sit-ins that are memorable and unique. The days are long; music typically begins around 11 a.m. and can go until close to 3 a.m. Then there’s the drum circle afterward. It’s only natural that the park’s motto is “Music Lives Here.”
Still, Wanee Music Festival couldn’t be what it is without the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. Maybe I am biased as a born-and-raised Floridian, but I believe this park encompasses the best Florida has to offer. It consists of over 800 acres of sprawling oak trees, natural springs, and a brackish river that probably terrifies visitors. In many ways the park still feels untouched, even as it fills with thousands of people for events. I have no doubt this is why The Allman Brothers began hosting the festival in 2005 and continued until 2014. The park even offers bands on Wednesdays now. It is a perfect marriage that brings out all of the beauty and wonder that Florida has to offer.
There are two primary stages in the music park—the Peach stage (main stage) and the Mushroom stage. The Peach stage is in a large open field, and there you will find the bigger names that typically rotate out yearly with a few regulars added into the mix. There is a large blowup mushroom with “The Allman Brothers” written on it as a way to pay homage to the festival’s roots; it sits near the large Ferris wheel that runs most of the day.
The Mushroom stage is built strategically into the woods so as not to disturb Mother Nature but to embrace all that she has to offer. The amphitheater seating is made from old railroad ties that are carefully placed and stacked to not disrupt the large oaks that provide much needed shade from the Florida sun—as well as a place to hang your hammock. This is the stage on which the smaller bands play. Don’t let that description fool you, though; the bands that grace this stage are still top-notch and put on one hell of a show. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched a band play on the Mushroom stage only to find them again in a year or two on the Peach stage.
At the festival, you will also find beer guys with light-up hats dancing the night away while working, festival crews dressed in matching shirts, and children playing with new friends and loving every minute of it. Without question, someone will be wearing an animal onesie even though its 90 degrees out. You are also certain to see a few tutus, and people of all ages. Somehow it all works seamlessly for these few wonderful days, and everyone is just there to enjoy the music, take in the scenery, and have a great time.
This year’s festival headliners on the Peach stage were Dark Star Orchestra (Thursday), Widespread Panic (Friday and Saturday), and Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band (Friday and Saturday). Other acts that performed on the Peach stage were Bobby Lee Rogers Trio, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Sonny Landreth, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, and As the Crow Flies. The Mushroom stage was packed with talent as well. Midnight North, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, The Marcus King Band, Walter Trout, The Main Squeeze, and North Mississippi Allstars all played on Friday. On Saturday, talent included The Yeti Trio, New Orleans Suspects, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, George Porter Jr., Soul Rebels, and Karl Denson. Everything I saw was fantastic! Although Marcus King sitting in with Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band was my highlight!
For an event of this size, festival organizers did a good job overall of not overlapping competing bands on the two stages. Any festival junkie knows that the worst part of the festival is trying to preplan each day at each stage so no bands are missed! It can be rather difficult. However, the close proximity of the stages to one another helps to keep festival goers on schedule.
I always say that the weeks following Wanee are the “Wanee Hangover”; it is so hard to get back to reality and the daily grind. There is just something very special about this festival, where you think, “Take me back!” The biggest comfort is that, since this is the “kickoff” of festival season, at least you know the summer tour is right around the corner. Until next year, “Merry Wanee!” I hope you enjoy going to the woods as much as I do.