Wanee Festival kicks off

Wannee Festival continues to grow with its eighth year of live clasic rock and funk favorites in North Florida beginning today. Special photo/Jason Koerner

Wannee Festival continues to grow with its eighth year of live clasic rock and funk favorites in North Florida beginning today. Special photo/Jason Koerner

Carlton Fletcher


LIVE OAK, Fla. — You know your little musical gathering in North Florida has taken on a life of its own when your “house band” almost every year is the Allman Brothers Band.

The Brothers will be back for their seventh performance in eight years at the 2012 Wanee Festival Thursday-Saturday, playing closing main-stage sets both Friday and Saturday nights. The annual festival kicks off with “Happy Hour” Wednesday at 5 p.m. and doesn’t finish until the North Mississippi All-Stars play into the early hours of Sunday morning.

In between will be performances by such artists as Hot Tuna Electric, Bruce Hornsby, Buddy Guy, Further, Gov’t Mule, the Manzarek-Rogers Band, Mickey Hart and dozens of jam band, classic rock and funk favorites.

“We try to be very creative in the booking process, appealing not only to the Allman Brothers demo, but the younger, crossover demo as well,” Live Nation Florida President Neil Jacobsen, the man credited with spurring the growth of the festival, said. “We try to provide a great lineup — work off a giant wish list and go from there — but with no set rules.

“(We use) just a big list of acts we think will add to the overall festival ambiance.”

Jacobsen and Live Nation have done that in the first seven years of the festival, held at the Spirit of Suwanee Music Park in Live Oak, Fla. Since its 2005 birth, Wanee has hosted such musical luminaries as Robert Plant, Widespread Panic, the Steve Miller Band, Stephen Stills, the Black Keys, Dr. John, Johnny Winter, the Doobie Brothers, Levon Helm, Sister Hazel, Little Feat and George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic.

“Wanee is about the music, the ambiance and vibe of the site, the location and charm of the site, the laid-back atmosphere,” Jacobsen said. “Wanee has a certain charm to it and seems to appeal to an audience that appreciates what the vibe is and how things are handled.”

Organizers knew the festival had staying power when Gregg Allman became ill from Hepatitis C complications and was unable to perform at the first Wanee fest in 2005.

“We kept the festival on, had the Wanee jam with all the bands pitching in, and everyone still had a great time with NO refunds,” Jacobsen said.

Cope, Flannel Church, Juke, and Beebs & Her Money Makers will play at the expanded festival this year, kicking off Happy Hour at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The festival proper kicks off at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, and music starts at 11 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday.

This year’s Wanee Festival allows Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna founding members Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen to bring the latter’s Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp from its Ohio home to North Florida, where the two, along with the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart and other “instructors,” will present workshops for attending musicians.

The Spirit of Suwanee Music Park is easily accessible from both interstates 75 and 10. From I-75, take Exit 451 and travel south 4.5 miles. From I-10, take Exit 238 and travel north on U.S. 129 for 4.5 miles.

Information, including performance schedules, is available at the www.waneefestival.com website.