by Steve Prendergast
Going to festivals to see some of our favorite bands has been such a great experience for many of us over the years. Hearing the stories from the many who do, is always an enjoyable time. From the first tales of Woodstock of 1969 and beyond, it has taken many shapes and forms and has taken many on a musical, soul searching journey sometimes lasting more than just one show. For some, the journey has never stopped. Jam bands like the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad, later on Phish, Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, Dave Matthews Band and now more recently, Moe, Umphrey’s McGee and STS9 have given many fans of improvisational jam music experiences and memories that will carry them through their lives. Some fans of Improvisational Jam music continue going year in and year out to select festivals all around the country to hopefully get just another small taste of that great feeling of musical, communal bliss.
Now in 2013, we can experience musical euphoria at many venues and festival across the country. There is Bonnaroo, Camp Bisco, Summer Camp, Wakarusa, The Electric Forest Festival, The Gorge, Red Rocks, the Allgood festival just to name just a few. I have had the great opportunity to live close enough to the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida to get to experience a sliver of that enjoyment over the years. One of the better music festivals that comes around every year in SMP is the Wanee Music Festival.
Hosted and Headlined by the Allman Brothers in April of each year, it brings a chance for the young and the old to go out to the wilderness for four days, camp out in a beautiful setting and hear some awesome jams from a diverse group of very talented musicians. As much fun as the music is, sometimes there is a forging of new friendships and awakening of the senses that many experience that can be just as valuable. Walking around, checking out all they different camp site set ups and the people watching can sometimes be just as fun as the music.
You can read the Wanee forum on their website www.waneefestival.com and find many stories of people who travel hundreds of miles each year to partake in some great music and festivities at Wanee. They come from New York, Chicago and like the guys who camped near me this past April, as far as California. Some fortify group shelters that take days to build. I saw one that housed at least 50 people. The tarp itself was over 100 feet by 40 feet and well over 50 feet in the air. Some of those who come every year, put up elaborate, colorful, artistic, psychedelic prints on blankets that hang from clothes lines circling around their site. Some bring nothing but a backpack and cheap tent. Yet others, who have a little wealth that they don’t mind parting with, bring $200,000 camper buses and park in the VIP areas with hot water, electric and all the amenities.
One of the more entertaining parts of Wanee each year is the drum circle. It is usually set up way out in the boondocks of the camping area a long ways away from the main stage area. When the bands are done playing around 2 or 3 in the morning, those who just can’t stop from having fun, journey their way back there. You can still hear drum beats from all over the music park. Sometimes you can find a fifteen foot high bonfire, circled by 30 or 40 drummers from all walks of life, collectively maintaining a hypnotic, trance like beat. You might get a glimpse of some guys with long poles, fire burning at the ends twirling, spinning and juggling. It is also always fun when you get to see 15 or 20 different girls out there all of which is equipped with LED lighted hula hoops spinning and twirling as the drums pour out the thumping beats.
Yes, we all go to see The Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, North Mississippi Allstars, Widespread Panic Derek Trucks and Susan Teduschi every year at Wanee. Yet, when we think back of the time we spent, our memories are filled with the new friends we met, the vendor art we saw, the side show experiences we were a part, all of the crazy stuff we saw out there, the costumes people wore, the rage sticks that people carried around, the cool outfits and colorful, happy friendliness of everyone we met that also keeps ups coming back for more.