Wanee and the Legacy of the Allman Brothers

written by Connor Hayes
photos by Connor Hayes

Suwannee Hulaween may be Spirit of Suwannee Music Park’s largest event by size, but Wanee has the most heart. Smaller than Hulaween by about half (10,000 attendees), Wanee distinguishes itself among festivals in the southeast by having one of the most seasoned fanbases: a mixture of Deadheads, Phish Phans, Allman Brothers devotees, just to name a few, that are lifelong festival goers, as well as being a bit older and wiser than many other festival populations. With the biggest lineup Wanee has had in possibly it’s entire history (Bob Weir, Trey Anastasio, and Widespread Panic all making appearances), the original spirit of kindness and generosity that sets this festival apart from any other has no departed, as shots of “Merry Wanee!” can be heard across the park.

Music Genre: Jam, Progressive Bluegrass, Jam grass, Funk, Southern Rock, and Blues Rock
Camping: Yes
Capacity: Medium (10k-20k attendees)
Crowd Type: Deadheads, Phans, ABB family
Water Stations: Yes

For the First Timers – Wanee is a festival that really feels more like a camping vacation than a festival. The pace is much slower than most festivals, and that suits attendees just fine. Don’t expect to be jumping to four or five different stages either; Wanee has but two stages: The Peach stage (it’s main stage), and the legendary Mushroom stage. Veterans of other festivals at Suwannee might be tempted to call the latter the Amp Stage, but this is not the same stage, though it occupies the same space in the park. The Mushroom Stage is special due to the abundance of lasers, projection mapping technology, and last but certainly not least because of Mike “Big Mike” McCullough, the MC of all the sets at the Mushroom Stage. Unlike any other event at the park, Big Mike brings a sense of family and community between the audience and whomever is about to play next, simply through his charisma, booming yet kind voice, and his trademark greeting of “Waaaaaah-nneeeee”.

Standout Food – Though a staple of many events at the park, you simply cannot go wrong with Wonton Taco, a food truck that makes gourmet tacos, with fillings ranging from Asian to Mediterranean styles. Taste of India again takes the cake, with their Korma rice and mango bread patties, with a desert of Chocolate Sea Salt popsicle, provided by King Of Pops, being the cherry on top.
Musical Highlights – There was no standard set at Wanee, every single one was exemplary, however a few were truly once in a lifetime events.
  • Pink Talking Fu – Pink Talking Fish and Kung Fu teaming up for a set is reason enough to be euphoric, but that they did a tribute set to the late and great David Bowie and Prince, makes this event something that may never happen again. Pink Talking Fu even brought out two of the singers from fellow jam funk group Turkuaz.
  • Widespread Panic – The southern jam posse known as Widespread Panic is a legend in Athens, GA, yet in the South as a whole, its an institution. You can’t help but feel swept up in the excitement of those around, as Spreadheads seeing their boys onstage are some of the happiest people you will ever meet. While at the side of the stage enjoying the last part of their set, a 45 year old man rushed by me, and like a kid about to catch his favorite TV program, just kept incessantly shouting “End of the Show! We got End of the Show! (One of the songs fans have been chasing for years).
  • Bob Weir – Though Wanee began as an Allman Brothers headed festival, having one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead performing not one, but TWO sets, was absolutely historic in every sense of the word. Weir brought out Phish frontman Trey Anastasio for a few select Dead tracks like “Friend of the Devil”, and even delved into a slower, a tempo version of “Shakedown Street”, ending his second night with a beautiful rendition of “Ripple”, that left no dry eyes in the audience.
Things to Do – As mentioned, Wanee goes at its own pace, and nowhere is this more true than in the campgrounds. I made friends with my neighbors in Camping E, a group of eight or so 40-year-olds from around Nashville, Tennessee. After sharing our festival and show “war stories”, we then enjoyed crab cakes prepared by one of their crew, then were treated to prime cut pork chops that a passerby was offering to all the different campsites. Caught in the spirit of a Southern bon vivant, I brought out my own reserve of muscadine wine, which we all enjoyed readily. That night I treated the gang to jambalaya with andouille sausages, while we kept hydrated on “hippie punch”, a combination of kiwi, strawberry, and watermelon infusion, with a pinch of Triple Sec. All of this was potluck, and this kind of magic can be found anywhere at Wanee if you simply go and meet the neighbors.
  • Sleep in and relax at camp: the music isn’t going anywhere.
  • Attend a Wanee Wedding
  • Visit Bean Spence’s Art Stand (the artist who paints all the stages and statuary for Wanee)
  • Kick back and enjoy the set from your chair
VIP or Nah – While catered lunch and dinner on Friday and Saturday, plus private bathrooms and a variety of other accouterments, is its own reward, the VIP experience truly is made special by the viewing areas (essentially the wings of the photo pit) at the Peach stage. With such a historic lineup of jam bands, being able to see Bob Weir, Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio, all from literally just a few feet away, is it’s own kind of memory.


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