The Hold Steady at Bonnaroo (photo by Jon Bahr)
Let’s see, it’s been a while since I’ve been home (both physically and digitally). Good thing Relix wrote down all that’s been going….
Bonnaroo Happened: For a look at what exactly happened according to us Relix/Jambands.comers, click here for a Wednesday recap, here for a Thursday recap, here for a Friday recap, here for a Saturday recap, here for a Saturday night recap and here and here for Sunday recaps.
Sam Champion are Officially Cool: I've liked them for years, but now the mainstream media is onto them. I got to do an Artist of the Day for Spin which was nice and is located here. Joe Russo also loves 'em and, unlike me, got to sit-in with Sam Champion as well (photo above).
For a blog-like look at my Friday at Bonnaroo, read below!
So, chances are, even if you’re only half as neurotic as I am, you probably spent hours, days or even weeks plotting your perfect plan of attack, figuring out how to slot Manu Chao, Lily Allen, The Roots, Kings of Leon, Tool, String Cheese Incident and so many more into a single schedule, without skipping a beat or, worse yet, missing a note of music. But as Thursday night’s last call gently segued into Friday’s first Shakedown Street firecracker display, that familiar festeroo feel took over and the only thing to do was drop your meticulously folded schedule like a bad date--or old DAT---and succumb to that mysterious condition most certainly known as Bonnaroo ADD.
And, indeed, the beauty of Bonnaroo is that, in a single day, one can bounce between stages and styles with the ease of a stray Tigger, figuring out the perfect blend of music and perfect balance of sun and shade, all the while trying to find the missing link between String Cheese and Tool (the answer to which, of course, is artist Alex Gray).
Not that most artists on Friday’s marquee didn’t arrive with enough energy to fill a full set of music. In the morning, new-school, old-time sensations Uncle Earl kick-started both the day’s musical offerings and the weekend’s string of sit-ins by inviting out Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones to play on a series of acoustic selections. Instead of showing off his trademark bass skills, Jones, who produced the all-female group’s third album, Waterloo, Tennessee, played mandolin on a series of covers and originals, which were both current (King Wilkie’s “The Last Goodbye”) and classic (Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower”). As if to take advantage of Warren Haynes’ delayed arrival, John Paul Jones made an early run for the weekend’s ‘collaboration king,’ sticking around The Other Tent long enough to join Gillian Welch and David Rawlings for one of their best songs, “Back in Time.” A Bonnaroo vet herself with two tours of duty under her belt, Welch aptly noted that “it’s not a Bonnaroo show without at least one special guest” and proceeded to dub JPJ “the King of Rock and Bluegrass” (and, yes, after three shows today alone, JPJ and I are on a first initial basis). Meanwhile, in the Troo Music Lounge, a representative from a very different lineage of rock-royalty, “Sir” Joe Russo, as he was known in his days at New York haunt Wetlands Preserve, played percussion with rising indie-rockers Sam Champion for their entire set.
In fact, no matter which style of music you fancy, Friday offered enough choices to make you wish it was still socially acceptable to schedule a nap. For those who preferred beats before brunch, Brazilian Girls started things off just right with a set of X-rated dance music that culminated with one lucky fellow invited onstage and many more singing the lyrics to “Pussy” with a passion which might not make their parents proud. Of course, there was also the carefully calculated peaks and valleys of Tortoise’s post-rock, the Euro-dance blips of Hot Chip and the catchy dance-pop of current indie-queen Lily Allen (sorry Amy Winehouse, you’re just a princess).
If you’re more into the roots side of the Roo---and we’re not even up to ?uestlove yet--- than perhaps your day began with a set by South Carolina blues-revivalist James Blood Ulmer in This Tent or included an large chunk of Fairport Convention visionary Richard Thompson’s performance in That Tent. Then again, you also could have spent time a good chunk of time with country-rocker Dierks Bentley (with special guest Sam Bush) in The Other Tent or noted jazz-heir Ravi Coltrane (with special guest air conditioning) in the Somethin’ Else performance space. Late night, String Cheese Incident brought its Bonnaroo legacy full circle, inviting the guitarist it backed late night at the inaugural Bonnaroo, Keller Williams, for “Stayin’ Alive” at the start of its second set on the Which Stage. Earlier in the evening departing guitarist Bill Nershi ran so many laps during “Jellyfish,” he might want to think about a career in gymnastics after leaving his longtime band in August.
And, while Thursday may indeed be the new Friday, as we mused yesterday, its still not a festival until Michael Franti asks, “How ya feelin’?” and, luckily, the Spearhead singer asked each and every one of Bonnaroo’s 80,000 fans how Friday was treating them before delivering a touching salute to Sesame Street. The schedule also spotlighted some new faces (rising ska/punk/jam hybrid RX Bandits), old friends (perennial late night kings Sound Tribe Sector 9, who played so late their crystals actually carbonated into computers), undercover spies (self-proclaimed hippie-hater David Cross who played a game called “You know you’re a Dead-neck when” to the tune of “You Know You’re a Redneck When”) and conspicuously absent regulars (let us here tip our hat to fallen Perfect Attendance Award champ Les Claypool, who sent along a copy of his new film Electric Apricot to screen in the Cinema Tent). Meanwhile the Roots delivered inspired takes on both Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” and Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.”
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. Cold War Kids, who have attracted niche followings in urban pockets across the country, played for a sprawling crowd of hipster looking hippies and hippie looking hipsters, peaking with their on-point version of their recent single “Hang Me Up to Dry.” Tennessee’s own Kings of Leon, who, more than almost any other performer, have grown along with Bonnaroo since first appearing in 2004, made their What Stage debut, overcoming both a light drizzle and a brief power outage while celebrating the release of 2007’s Because of the Times.
It also seems particularly fitting that today, June 16, marks the fortieth anniversary of Monterey Pop, the first large scale rock-and-roll festival and the unofficial start of the Summer of Love. At the time, few would have thought that those three days would lay the groundwork for Woodstock, Watkins Glen, Lollapalooza, H.O.R.D.E. and all the rest of the great American music festivals which helped lead 80,000 music fans to Manchester, TN, this weekend. Yet, as presented on the Monterey Pop film screened in the Silent Disco Thursday, Bonnaroo at times feels “like Christmas, Easter and New Year’s” all rolled into one with a little Dazed and Confused thrown in for good measure.
And so, on the eve of the Summer of Love’s 40th anniversary, Bonnaroo presented its most left-field headliner, prog-metal icons, Tool, to a packed crowd of fist-pounding glowstick throwing, fans who in just two days time may be mistaken for Spreadheads. While Maynard James Keenan’s haunting simian dance moves and guitarist Adam Jones’ pulsating guitar assault would most certainly have scared Monterey Pop promoter John Phillips into prematurely surrendering his tie-dye flag, in certain ways there is a direct line between the Who and Jimi Hendrix’s controversial sets at Monterey Pop and Tool’s mainstage performance. Between the group’s kaleidoscope of visual images and amplified rhythmic beats, there seemed to be an Anakin soul beneath Tool’s Darth Vader mask and, if nothing else, a surprise appearance by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who performed earlier in the day as the Nightwatchman, proved that sit-ins aren’t just for jambands and environmental activists.
For many, Friday’s highlight took place in the early hours of Saturday morning, as John Paul Jones, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Ben Harper played a set primarily composed of Led Zeppelin covers as part of Bonnaroo’s annual SuperJam. The evening opened with John Paul Jones on slide, before he switched to bass for a set that coiled “Dazed and Confused” around a number of Led Zeppelin chestnuts and choice selections like Band of Gypsys’ “Them Changes” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” (both of which featured the Roots’ Anthony Hamilton on guitar).
So even if that folded personalized Bonnaroo schedule now almost certainly floating aimlessly like the plastic bag in American Beauty argues otherwise, Friday isn't just the new Saturday, it's a continuation of yesterday's Thursday.