Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Above: Jon Bahr's vision on Bonnaroo....

It's been a while. I case you missed me, here is a look at where i have been....

It takes a few days to truly settle in: the blurry-eyed enthusiasm, the unpredictable collaborations, and, yes, the deodorant masked odor that can only be described as “feteroo.” But, before you know it, Bonnaroo is in full swing and Thursday night’s festivities feel as distant as last year’s SuperJam (not to mention last Wednesday’s shower).

As the final note of Friday night’s late night sets gently segued into Saturday, Manchester awoke with temperatures nearing the 90s and predicted rain on the horizon. Yet, throughout Centeroo’s maze of dust balls and bobble heads, the afternoon’s conversation quickly shifted to less weather-related forecasts: a possible late-night performance by Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon, a surprise appearance by Southeast icon Travis Tritt and, above all else, Radiohead’s first American festival date since George W. Bush’s first term.

Saturday’s schedule mixed new faces (Mute Math, who offered a set of its carefully calculated future-rock in the Troo Music Lounge), old friends (Les Claypool, one of the only artists to appear at every Bonnaroo since its inception) and first time visitors who performed like Bonnaroo stalwarts (we tip our hats to Blues Traveler, who helped lay the groundwork for the weekend’s festivities by spearheading the traveling H.O.R.D.E. tour). While firmly rooted in the idea of escapism through its success, Bonnaroo has blossomed into a fully functioning society. With relative ease one can register to vote, update a My Space profile or catch the final goal from the weekend’s eagerly anticipated World Cup matches (the US tied Italy 1-1). Falling just short of commanding its own ZIP, Bonnaroo’s city has also expanded to include a number of stylistic boroughs. In fact, depending on one’s interests, Bonnaroo can be broken down into several genre specific mini-festivals, each characterized by is own headliners, surprise guests and late-night offerings.

A fan of New Orleans’ trademark funk/soul could start his day with an early-afternoon set by the Neville Brothers, enjoy a traveling Big Easy tribute curated by Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint (highlighted by the pair’s Katrina eulogy “The River in Reverse”) and stay up until dawn with Louisiana icons like Dr. John, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Rebirth Brass Band. Similarly, indie-rock aficionados had the opportunity to catch a high-energy set from New York/Philadelphia darlings Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the Swedish psychedelic swirls of Dungen and the late-night burlesque of the Dresden Dolls. The Magic Numbers and Gomez fought for the somewhat oxymoronic title of England’s best Americana act; the former favoring harmony laced California-pop, the later blues-inspired fish n’chips rock.

For fans who favor improvisation, DJ Logic jammed with MMW, Rusted Root teased “Watchtower” and Claypool rolled out his sitar-happy “Fancy Band.” World music fans were also in luck, whether it was the infectious dance-beats of blind African sensations Amadou & Mariam or the cross-generational, multi-genre beats of Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. The younger Marley also offered two of the afternoon’s most memorable anthems (while proudly uttering the j-word): his father’s “Jamming” and his own “Welcome to Jamrock.”

Perhaps the weekend’s most enjoyable left field addition, Cypress Hill inflated a festival- size Buddha onstage near the end of its set, simultaneously encouraging its audience to pull out that “sticky green stuff.” Its hit-filled set also featured a number of cuts from 1993’s Black Sunday, including “Insane in the Brain” and “Hits from the Bong.” Though a far cry from the hippie-ethos of “peace, love and understanding,” the group’s stoner raps felt strangely familiar. Falling squarely into a genre of his own, Beck danced alongside miniature mannequin and offered a showstopping rendition of “Where It’s At.” Earlier, Beck nodded to his onetime backing band, the Flaming Lips, performing the art-rocker’s “Do You Realize?” The semi-acoustic Sonic Stage also offered its share of highlights, ranging from Tom Hamilton’s rendition of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” to moe.’s “Happy Hour Hero.” Recalling its on-point performance from Friday night, the Disco Biscuits managed to sneak, not one, but two segues into its abbreviated 30-minute Sonic Stage set.

Of course, Bonnaroo has long served as a launching pad for tomorrow’s festival favorites and Saturday’s lineup featured a number of able bodied contenders for next summer’s big thing. Steel Train – who graduated from its Thursday night showcase to a coveted Saturday afternoon spot – veered toward to eclectic, shifting from the lullaby-like harmonies of “Road Song” to the Arcade Fire energy of “Alone on the Sea” with striking ease. Somewhere in between, the quintet also snuck in a choice cover of Wilco’s “I Got You,” a staple on Steel Train’s spring tour. Welcomed in any number of crowd shots like fro’d Waldos, the group offered a campground busk following Saturday’s main stage festivities. Likewise, Recent New Groove Jammy winner Grace Potter showed off her band, the Nocturnals, opening the day’s activities in That Tent and her rapidly maturing vocal abilities with a duo performance alongside Scott Tournet for XM Radio.

Since Bonnaroo’s initial artist announcement, all eyes have been on Radiohead, perhaps England’s most important export since Pink Floyd. Offering a well-balanced mix of classic anthems (“No Surprises”) and material from its forthcoming solo project (“Body Snatchers”) Radiohead turned the weekend’s intense performance, opening with Hail to the Thief’s “There There” and closing its proper set with its signature ballad, “Karma Police.” In certain ways, Tom Petty and Radiohead are a study in contrasts. One is the embodiment of summertime idealism, the other industrial realism. Petty speaks in broad guitar strokes, Radiohead minimalist paranoia and synthesized beats. Yet, both acts produce equally anathemic music, seemingly designed for a festival of Bonnaroo’s magnitude.

Bonnaroo’s first English headliner, Radiohead’s appearance continued a cross-pond dialogue stretching back since the 1960s. Performing its lone festival date on a stateside theater tour, Radiohead arrived with a subdued light show, characterized by primary hues and dim backlight. Fans added their own colors, however, throwing glowsticks and sparking lighters during decade old hits like “The Bends.” It wasn’t until the frantic buildup of “Paranoid Android” that Radiohead unveiled the Andy Warhol kaleidoscope characteristic of its past arena-outings. Yet, perhaps the group’s naked performance was a blessing in disguise, stripping the space-rock stars down to the core unit that still serves as Radiohead’s bedrock.

If Friday night’s debauchery felt akin to a wookified Gettysburg, then Saturday evoked the spirit of New Orleans during Mardi Gras (or Spring Break). Previewing their upcoming summer tour, Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon took the stage with the Benevento/Russo Duo for Saturday’s high profile SuperJam. Anastasio, who flew back to Bonnaroo after opening for Petty in St. Louis earlier in the evening, arrived in top form, as if driven to win back fans who questioned his direction since Shine.

Opening with a reworked version of the Duo’s anathemic sing-along “Play Pause Stop,” the title track from its forthcoming studio disc, the group mixed new originals like “Dragonfly” with material from each player’s solo canon. A year after many claimed the former Phish guitarist “jumped the shark” with a cover-heavy late night set on the Which Stage, Anastasio appeared focused and energetic, rearranging solo cuts for “Mr. Completely” and “Goodbye Head” for his new project (unofficially referred to by many as G.R.A.B.).

For those who have spent the weekend debating the merits of hippies versus hipsters, the quartet’s set offered a comfortable middle ground: using the Duo’s hard-edged rhythms to focus the Phish pair’s improvisations, G.R.A.B. sounded hip, yet comfortable. Marco Benevento, who utilized a Page-like baby grand piano in addition to his own keyboard toys, proved to be a particular force, shifting the group into fresh atonal territory throughout the night. Lost in the excitement, the group’s future touring mate Phil Lesh stopped by early on in G.R.A.B.’s set, leading the all-star collective through “Casey Jones” and “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.”

Meanwhile, several of New Orleans most important names filled This Tent with an evening long New Orleans tribute, tied into Bonnaroo’s annual float parade.

Draped in a full-on Night Tripper regalia, Dr. John opened his set with “Wade: Hurricane Suite,” handing over the stage to the Rebirth Brass Band and a Skerik-enhanced version of Dumpstaphunk (both Tony Hall and Raymond Weber, who perform in Anastasio’s solo band also traveled back to Bonnaroo with guitarist for their late-night performance). Meanwhile, moe.’s Chuck Garvey and Jim Loughlin teamed with Umphrey’s McGee’s Ryan Stasik and Joel Cummins for a costume-clad Masquerade Ball, recruiting Addison Groove Project’s Rob Marscher for the final portions of its set.

Saturday’s festivities not only firmly establish Bonnaroo as America’s answer to Glastonbury, but confirms that English and American acts will continue to swap ideas and push each other further into the 21st century. As Thom Yorke said from the stage, “This is what I call a music festival.”

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