This past weekend I went down to Florida, dropped the kids with Jason’s family & headed over to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park for the Wanee Music Festival. It’s funny, we pass the park every time we drive to Jason’s parents’ house, but we’d just never stopped. I had NO IDEA how amazing the park was and how incredible it was to see live music there. If you’re ever in the area, I insist that you stop in and look around.
I heard about the music festival when I was checking out the tour dates for Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (awesome band….check them out). I was skimming the dates, looking for something near Atlanta when I saw “Live Oak, FL”. I recognized the name from our trips to visit in-laws and I couldn’t figure out WHY Grace would ever play there. I clicked the link and saw the most insane lineup….Allman Brothers, Derek Trucks, Little Feat, etc….are you kidding me??? I thought about going for a while, but couldn’t think of anyone that I thought would be able to go (I knew Jason wouldn’t be able to go). For a minute I gave up and thought “oh well…it was a nice thought”. Then I started thinking about how doing something alone has never stopped me before and should never stop me in the future. I’m young and strong and smart and I can’t let a little loneliness stop me from finding joy. Then I thought about how my younger sister regularly makes cross-country trips alone. What did I have to worry about???
So, I bought my ticket.
I still held out hope that I’d be able to find someone to go, but as the date got closer all of my potential festival buddies had other things come up. I didn’t care, I was still going to go. Occasionally I’d tell people about my plans and they’d look at me with concern and ask “do you think that’s safe?” One friend literally told me “I don’t think it’s safe. Please don’t go.” I smiled and nodded and told them I’d be fine.
By this time I’d found an online forum for people going to the festival. I figured that if I couldn’t find somebody I knew who was going, I’d find someone who was going and get to know them. Over the next couple months I got to virtually know many people on the board and found that, although we were all from very different backgrounds, we all had the love of great music in common. Leading up to the festival, I emailed a couple of the women on the board and asked if any of them minded me tagging along and camping with them. This was at the urging of another (awesome awesome awesome) member of the board, although it had crossed my mind already. It was funny, when Jason first heard that a “random guy” had private messaged me through the board, he was uncomfortable with it. He hadn’t been on the board and knew nothing about these people, even though I was starting to think of them as friends. Once I explained the intention of the message and read the exact wording, all he could say was “Wow, that’s really cool of him.” Yeah, it really was.
So, in the early morning hours of June 5, I packed up the kids and my camping equipment and headed to Florida. I met my mother-in-law at the gate and handed over my kids and my dog and headed into my adventure.
Although I’d seen a map, studied the map, memorized the map, once I got into the park I had no idea where I was or which way to go. There were people EVERYWHERE, most had been there since the day before. I drove around aimlessly for a while until I saw the SOS/BOS Banner that marked the unofficial meeting place for board members.
There was a group standing near-by, so I pulled over, jumped out and brightly said “Hey! Is this you guys????”. They all looked at me, looked at the banner & said “Oh, no, they just left”. My group wasn’t there and I had no idea where to go. It was so packed that I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere to even park my car, let alone set up a tent. By some amazing stroke of luck, I was able to get my friend Ashley (my camping buddy) on the phone, my cell signal was lousy all weekend, and she gave my directions to her site.
For all the activity planning & brainstorming we’d done of the board, once the initial meet & greet was done (the day before, I couldn’t make it), everyone had sort of scattered and done their own thing. When I got to the site, it was Ashley and her friend Allen. I worried for a second because the smaller the group the more conspicuous the “extra wheel”, but that passed quickly because they were pretty awesome. Ashley & Allen met in college and have spent the last 20 years going to concerts and festivals together. They were the perfect camping buddies- happy, laid-back & incredibly welcoming. By the end of the weekend, I couldn’t believe that I had JUST met them.
I don’t want to just skip over the good stuff and leave it at “everything was awesome”, but…well….everything was awesome and as much as I write, I’ll never be able to quite capture the essence of being there. Everything was calm and happy. Everybody was existing together. Music fans, frat boys, hippies & off-duty carnies (maybe?) were all hanging out enjoying the same things. It was just a really happy place. Wanee is not Bonnaroo or Rothbury. It’s smaller, more intimate & geared more toward people who just love the music. It was cool.
There are two stages at the park. The Peach stage is your typical “main stage” with a field in front. The other smaller stage, the Mushroom Stage, is more intimate with trees surrounding and dabbled among the audience. People hang hammocks between the trees and it’s understood that they’re free for the taking until the owner comes back. There are lights strung between the trees and huge ribbon mobiles hung on either side of the stage. It’s truly magical.
One bad thing happened during the weekend….and I’m afraid I have nobody to blame but myself. After driving to FL on very little sleep and hitting the ground running, during the Gov’t Mule show my body completely revolted. I realized later that I hadn’t consumed nearly enough water. That added to my lack of sleep just made me feel like hell. I lounged on a hill through Mule and then trudged over to the other stage to see Grace Potter (you know, the entire reason I went). After two songs I realized that I just wasn’t enjoying it and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything else until I went back to my site and slept. It killed me. I’m surprised I didn’t cry. I walked back and collapsed in the back of my SUV. I’d sacrificed Grace and I decided to sacrifice the Allman Bros (because they were playing both nights) in order to get some sleep and be able to see Derek Trucks Band at midnight. After a couple hours sleeps with one bout of dehydration-induced vomiting in the middle, I woke up feeling fine just in time to walk over to the stage and see Derek. I went over, drank some water and enjoyed an amazing show (with Susan AND Warren sitting in!).
Saturday morning was a little more laid back for everyone (there were some nasty hangovers going on). I woke feeling a little more relaxed and feeling like I wanted to be able to really enjoy the music with out rushing from place to place. Allen, Ashley & I got up and ate breakfast and napped a little in lawn chairs until around noon (when the music started). At 12:30, Allen had gone to take a shower and I figured that I’d head over to the stages.
On my way, I passed the SOS/BOS gathering site and there were several people hanging out. Until then, I’d only met a few people from the Wanee forum. It was great to meet so many more and actually be able to talk instead of shouting over music. I can’t stress enough how cool these people are. It’s rare that you’ll have such a diverse group of people who meet on the internet and ALL of them will be kind and friendly and caring. It’s like we were old friends who had been waiting up until that point to come into each other’s lives. When I met the group at the site, I felt like I was finally THERE….my Wanee experience was whole.
The rest of the after noon was a lot of fun. Some concerts I took in alone (Drive-by Truckers), others I took in with Ashley & Allen (Ivan Neville & Dumpstaphunk). It poured until I was numb and didn’t even realize it was raining (and didn’t realize when it had stopped). The sun came out. I visited the vendors and bought a necklace & a scarf.
Saturday evening I was standing alone watching the Doobie Brothers waiting to see if Ashley & Allen would walk out of the VIP tent. They had VIP tickets which entitled them to free food and $1 beer in the VIP tent, so when I lost track of them I could usual bet on finding them back there at some point. I was getting mildly irritated because a group of guys wearing denim shorts, tank tops & high top sneakers were standing right next to me talking constantly. As I was wondering where I could move to, I saw my new Waneeboard friend Doug (who was the one who had originally emailed me urging me to find a woman on the board to camp with) and his wife Christine walk by heading toward the stage. I hate feeling like I’m just tagging along with people, but I figured that I’d go stand with them for the rest of the concert anyway. I’d already seen how friendly and kind they were, so I wasn’t surprised when they welcomed me with open arms. I hung out with Doug & Christine for the rest of the night, through the rest of the Doobie Brothers, the Allman Brothers (yes, I made it that time) & the Wailers. It was a great time full of laughs, dancing & vodka-spiked lemonade. They’re just good, solid, caring people and I can’t help but feel like I was meant to meet them.
As we were leaving the last show of the night, we happened to see Ashley & Allen and I walked back to camp with them. By the time we got back to our site, we were all so exhausted that we barely had energy to eat one hot dog each and crawl into our tents. I slept so well that night. I only had one thin blanket as padding and the 20 year olds at the site next to us were laughing & yelling, but I was dead to the world within 5 minutes.
When I woke up Sunday morning, the sun was shining and the mood was blissfully subdued. By the time I crawled out of my tent, the site next to us was broken down and packed up. I didn’t have that much to disassemble, so I was packed up and in my car by 10:30a. It took me another 30 minutes to get out of the park (traffic was backed up). As I was sitting in my car I soaked up the last bit of Wanee love. I watched people helping each other pack up their supplies, one woman was offering her left over food to the people in the next site. Music was playing and people were all around.
When I hit the park’s front gate I took a breath, looked in the rear-view mirror and smiled. I thought about how much Jason will love it when he comes with me next year. Then I made a right turn and headed toward my in-laws to pick up the kids.
“It’s impossible to maintain, impossible to sustain. You can’t stay like this forever. Blissed out. Bugged out. High, but not stoned. I’m in this moment. This second. Nowhere else. The work is done.” -Anderson Cooper