It’s hard to describe the magic of Wanee to those who have never experienced it. It is a festival which not only offers a spectacular lineup including some of the most brilliant musicians of all time, but also has a Family vibe that few other festivals can achieve. One would think a festival that has been around as long as Wanee would start to loose it’s originality and appeal, but the festival continues to grow in new and exciting ways every year. Maybe the fact that Wanee always delivers a lineup full of amazing and diverse musicians is the reason people are so loyal to returning every April to Live Oak. Maybe it is because Wanee is held is held over 420 weekend in North Florida, making it one of the earliest festivals of the season in the Southeast. Or perhaps it is because the festival is held at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, a not only beautiful venue, but also a place where many call home. Whatever makes Wanee your next “must see” festival, you can be sure that you will not be disappointed by the unique and entertaining experience of attending this beautiful event.
Upon returning to Wanee this year, I began to seek out my favorite camping spot. I attend many festivals at The Spirit of Suwannee, but I always like to camp in the same location. I believe that in a large camping venue, it’s nice to have that drunken muscle memory that always leads me back where I belong. With this in mind, a tip for those visiting this venue for the first time is to arrive with plenty of daylight on your side. Once you secure your wrist band and parking sticker (included in the ticket price) you are ushered through the gates of the park. No security checkpoints are between you and your campsite, with the exception of some attendants who just want you to flash your wristband along the way. Once you are through the gates, the campsite is simple lousy with awesome spots to set up camp. It is up to you to pick your favorite. Take a minute to roam the grounds and decide on a spot that fits your needs. Some people like to be secluded and off to the side, others enjoy being right up by the gates or right in the middle of a raging party. Whatever your preference, you can find a spot that will make you happy. Giving yourself plenty of time to roam around and pick your setting will get the weekend started off on the right foot.
When we arrived at our campsite, the daylight was starting to fade and we only had a little time to set up. Naturally I like to pack as much crap as can possibly squeeze into my vehicle. Many folks have their own setup camp ritual, and mine includes unpacking EVERYTHING and organizing it immediately so that the rest of the weekend I know where to find anything I need. With limited light on our side I was anxious to get the tent, shade tent, and lanterns set up. Within seconds of unloading, our neighbors immediately popped over to lend a hand. I am the first to admit that after years of traveling the festival circuit, I have been concerned about the new generation of festival kids. While adventurous and fun loving, they have also had a tendency to display selfish and self destructive behavior, making them the wildcards of the festival scene. With this gesture and those that followed, my faith in the kids these days was completely restored. After they helped us set up they told us they run a free festival kitchen. They buy an enormous amount of food and prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for any hungry folks in the camp ground who want to stop by and get fed. Even when they were not already cooking, I watched them make something special for anyone who visited them. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
The Wanee festival also host some other beautiful people, Conscious Alliance. If you are unfamiliar with this program, it is an innovative “Art That Feeds” food drive. You can stop by the tent to donate 20 non-perishable food items, and in return you get a super awesome poster, designed exclusively for Wanee and only available to those who donate. It’s good all around! You get to do something nice for other people while getting something cool in return, and all of the food gets donated to a local Florida food bank.
Now that I’ve covered the “Why Wanee makes me so freaking happy” portion of this article, here’s the need to know stuff. As mentioned before, security coming into the venue is not extensive, however it is important to keep your head on your shoulders once you enter the campgrounds. Local police will be present throughout the weekend so try to make smart decisions as to not make yourself a target for the fuzz. You can bring a golf cart or bike for putting around and exploring the grounds. Bring a chain to leave your bike up front because they are not permitted in the music venue itself. Once arriving at the gates to the venue security will briefly check any bags, mostly looking for beer. The security does this year round at this venue and are not overly aggressive so try and be nice to them and they will be nice to you. You are allowed to bring in chairs, shade tents, Sunbrellas, etc. so take advantage of this. Small half tents for shelter can be a great thing to have in Florida because it can be both very sunny and rainy all in the same day. You may also hang a hammock for lounging in one of the many trees at the Mushroom Stage. If you do choose to set up some shade, here are some good rules of thumb: don’t set up an entire EZ up style tent near the front. Not only is this rude to those many many people whose view will be blocked, but security will also eventually ask you to remove it. Do not leave your tent up after the last shows of the night. We chose to set ours up on Thursday so it would be there all weekend when we wanted it, but the winds kicked up pretty intensely through the night. We came back the next day to find that our tent, even though staked down, had blown away and was picked up by security. We initially believed that some jackass had stolen it, but after looking around for it we spoke to some nice folks who suggested asking security. We got our tent back, but in a weird twist of fate the same folks who helped us out the day before arrived an Saturday to find that their tent had in fact been stolen. Moral of the story, sign your tent so that you can identify yours in case of theft, and take it down every night to avoid either of these issues. You are also permitted to bring snacks and water into the venue. If you pack a refillable water container there are great cold and tasty Brita filter stations available throughout the venue. If you don’t bring snacks there are some fantastic vendors available for your grubbing out pleasure. The park requires you to purchase tickets to exchange for all food and beverages. While it’s tempting to buy a whole bunch, my suggestion is to buy only a few at a time. Without fail, I always come home with some hiding in my pack. They cost a dollar per ticket and you can not refund them for cash, but the line to purchase them was never very long.
While packing for Wanee, keep in mind that Florida weather can be unpredictable. This year we experienced every range of weather from scorching days, to windy, cold, rainy nights. The expression in Florida is “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”. For the most part it was beautiful to be outside, but there were those intense points in the weekend where I was so glad to have some waterproof shoes, raincoat, and warm dry clothes. Another thing to make sure to pack is bug repellent and after bite care. This park is a beautiful piece of nature, full of mossy live oaks and a lovely river, but with that comes lots of bugs! Keep an eye out for those ant piles as well, those little devils are everywhere!
Many thanks to all of the kick-ass bands, friendly staff, and raging campers that helped make this year’s Wanee such a memorable event. It was great to be back home with the Fam at Spirit of Suwannee. It truly was magical. A Merry Wanee to all!
Special thanks to Wil Arnold for the pictures. Happy friend-aversary!