Bonnaroo | 06.11 - 06.14 | Tennessee

Words by: Kayceman | Images by: Rod Snyder & Dave Vann

Bonnaroo :: 06.11.09 - 06.14.09 :: Manchester, TN

Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
Bonnaroo has got the goods. They've got the respect (from ticket buyers to industry insiders), influence, balls, money and vision to do what no other festival can. Who else can bring Phish and Bruce Springsteen to a festival? No one. This is the only American fest Bruce will play all year and Phish hasn't done a festival (other than their own) since the mid-90s.

Bonnaroo started as a jam-centric event bringing out the hippies for acts like Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh & Friends, The String Cheese Incident, moe. etc, and while they still honor these roots and welcome these acts back, the 'Roo no longer adheres to any genre distinctions, and, in fact, relishes the opportunity to bring wildly different artists together on the same stage. When I asked David Byrne, who both performed with his band and curated an entire stage at this year's party, how Bonnaroo developed into the landmark event it is, he said: "I've noticed that in the lineup and organization they just kind of widened their scope. It used to be known as the jamband festival some years ago. And it was for a while – but it seems to have widened out a lot since then. And, it kind of brought the audience with them, or vice versa. It's hard to tell who is leading who."

Byrne hit the nail on the head. Genres no longer matter. People who love music love ALL KINDS of music. We don't just like jambands, or just indi, or just rock, or just hip-hop; we love bits and pieces of it all and that's why 80,000 people consistently flock to this giant, humid field in Tennessee every summer. This is America's premier music festival. It's our Glastonbury, and it's where we got to see The Boss play with Phish, Nas sit-in with the Beastie Boys, Erykah Badu sing with Snoop Dogg, Elvis Costello perform with guests Allen Toussaint and Jenny Lewis, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) with Elvis Perkins, and David Byrne join the Dirty Projectors. There's nothing like the 'Roo, and these high-profile superstar collaborations only highlight this point.

What follows is one man's journey through the field. With over 140 acts on ten stages, not to mention the Comedy and Cinema tents, there's no way one dude could catch even a fraction, so like everyone else at Bonnaroo, I went where my ears led me. I hope you enjoy the journey even half as much as I did...

Thursday :: 06.11

Thursday was a shit show. It was travel day for many patrons and the plan was to get settled and head into the site to catch some of the action that was getting under way around 5:30 p.m. Mother Nature had other plans. Driving from the Nashville airport we experienced some of the heaviest rain I've ever encountered. As the sky opened up there were stories of tornado warnings, hail threats, tents being blown away, pathways turning to mud, stages drowning and lots of out of state ticket-holders getting stuck in connecting airports. The weather wreaked havoc on the first night and although music kept getting pushed later into the evening, I didn't even get in to Manchester until almost 3 a.m. Bummed to have missed acts like Alberta Cross, Delta Spirit and The Low Anthem, it was the forecast for the next few days that was truly troubling. Although all reports pointed to more rain, oddly enough the weather turned magical and we didn't see a drop of water the rest of the weekend.

Continue reading for Friday's coverage...

Friday :: 06.12

Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
Arriving Friday I was shocked at what great condition the grounds were in. After the torrential downpours of Thursday I was expecting Mudaroo 2009. Of course there were a few muddy spots where traffic was particularly high, but this was nothing compared to what I saw the first few years (and at no point did I wind up with annoying wet feet!). I'm not sure how they absorbed the water, but whatever the organizers did, they did it well. And that's part of this whole "Bonnaroo is the best" thing: Every year they make the event better. Case and point: The VIP Hill. At my last Bonnaroo (2005), when I went to the Main Stage VIP section I was sitting on a stale-ass metal bleacher. This year (and for the past couple) there were still bleachers, but they also built a big, soft, beautiful rolling hill that rises off the main stage field. It may sound like a small thing, but it highlights a big point: The folks behind the fest are always working to make Bonnaroo the best it can be. It's like an organizer for another very large U.S. music festival (which I won't mention) said to me Sunday night as we wound down, "There's just so much to learn from Bonnaroo."

Patterson Hood & The Screwtopians

The first act I really settled in for at Bonnaroo 2009 was Patterson Hood & The Screwtopians. Working outside the Drive-By Truckers, Hood is still a master frontman with one of the sharpest pens in the songwriting game. Even with DBT bandmates Brad Morgan (drums) and John Neff (pedal steel/guitars), there's less dynamite behind Hood here and that's part of the idea. But just because there's more restraint doesn't mean these cats can't beat the songs around when needed, and they roughed up some spots under the hot Tennessee sun. Most of the material came off Hood's upcoming solo album, Murdering Oscar (and other love songs) out June 23, but he dipped into the Truckers' catalog a bit. Of particular note was Neff's soaring pedal steel on "Pride Of The Yankees," Hood's ass-kicking guitar on "Understand Now," and one of the happiest songs Hood has ever written, "Granddaddy."

Animal Collective

Animal Collective :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
I wanted to like this set, I really did. I totally dig just about all of Animal Collective's albums and I particularly like the recent Merriweather Post Pavilion, but live I just couldn't connect. No doubt these future freak electro-rockers would have benefited from a night spot, the daylight making their light show non-existent, leaving fans to stare at three dudes playing with machines - but there was more to it than just timing. The sound was horrible, with deep bass rumbles drowning everything else out and it's hard to imagine they wanted it to sound that way, but then harder still to understand why it wasn't fixed. Before I lost my patience there were some cool, distorted delayed waves of sound washing across the crowd and I vaguely enjoyed "My Girls," but with so much going on it became impossible to remain underwhelmed and stick around. As disappointed as I was with their set, based on how impressive I find their albums I'm willing to give Animal Collective one more try in a club setting.

St. Vincent

I really had no intention of checking out St. Vincent. Looking at my schedule I knew I was gonna be at Animal Collective, but this is exactly what makes Bonnaroo so freakin' awesome: Bored/annoyed/over any one act and all you have to do is walk a few hundred feet to find something new and totally intriguing. Of course, that's the theory behind all festivals, but rarely (if ever) are the lineups packed with enough talent (especially at three o'clock in the afternoon) to really make this work. Well, Bonnaroo works. I left Animal Collective and strolled over to St. Vincent with zero expectations and proceeded to have my mind blown. I've heard the buzz behind St. Vincent (centered around singer-songwriter-guitarist Annie Clark) and enjoyed the recent sophomore album, Actor, but I had no idea the live show was like this. As I approached That Tent I was pulled in by swells of distorted noise. Staring at the stage it wasn't just Clark abusing her guitar, there was also a flute and a violin doing battle over the bass and drum. The band would build large static walls that came crashing into pretty melodies, only to be fractured by digital distortion. There were moments when clarinets would weave around keyboards or a processed sax would grind against Clark's buzzing, barbed wire guitar, which she even played lying on the stage at one point. But even when it was heavy and extra psychedelic there was still something beautiful hiding underneath. There was some combination of Bjork and Sonic Youth in the approach, but what Clark is doing with St. Vincent is definitely her own beast. One of the most wonderful surprises I'd experience all weekend.

Grizzly Bear

Ed Droste - Grizzly Bear by Snyder
There was a large crowd packed under This Tent for Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the band's music - and hence their performance - is the delicate way they arrange songs. Committed entirely to the composition, there was very little in the way of solos, improv or showing off, instead there were beautiful harmonies and well executed sections. During "Lullaby" the band began chanting, "Chin up, cheer up," over and over and the crowd began to sing-along, swaying left then right. Opting for simple structures layered with more complicated accents and various stringed things, Grizzly Bear held the crowd's attention and certainly increased my desire to see them again. But, across the way was an African legend and if he came all the way to my country least I could do was shake my ass at his tent.

King Sunny Ade

Juju master King Sunny Ade is a hero in his home of Nigeria. A philanthropist who employs an estimated 700 people, Ade is often considered the Bob Marley of Africa. But more than any of his good deeds or donations, what makes Ade special is his infectious blend of traditional African music/instruments with western forms, featuring electric guitars and synthesizers. With five of the 13 people on stage (plus two African dancers) playing percussion instruments, the groove never stopped. Tempos would be pushed into ever-faster spirals until they would break into tranquil open spaces or deep, groaning expanses. Similar to Afrobeat, there was constant motion and some call-response lyrics, but the snaking guitars and big, soulful vocals took the music to different terrain. If you didn't walk out of this set with a smile on your face it had to be your own damn fault.

TV on the Radio

Featuring the addition of a sax player, TV on the Radio unfurled sheets of thick sound on the Which Stage. Guitarist Kyp Malone shot distorted chords while singer Tunde Adebimpe bounced around as he belted out the lyrics to "The Wrong Way" and "Halfway Home." There was an urgent tempo to the standout combo of "Golden Age" and "Wolf Like Me," and although certain points were a bit sloppy it never took away from the performance. A bit later in the set, TVOTR busted-out the euphoric "Staring At The Sun" and the dark "Red Dress," which both ignited the crowd. Throughout the set the sax was used in perfect proportions; always slightly distorted and never the focus (no cheesy solos), the tasteful horn constantly pushing the edges of the sonic maelstrom. A strong showing by one of the best bands on the circuit.

David Byrne

David Byrne :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
Choosing between the Beastie Boys and David Byrne as headliners for Friday night was one of the more difficult decisions of the weekend. Having seen both previously I went with the Talking Heads legend and I think I made the wrong choice. It wasn't that Byrne's set was bad, it was just overshadowed by the Beasties - literally, you could hear the rap group's noise bleeding over to Byrne's stage, drowning out his perfect singing voice. During set openers "Strange Overtones" and "I Zimbra" (the classic first track from the Heads' 1979 Fear of Music) you could barely hear Byrne, and I was pretty close, up near the soundboard. The delicate beauty of "Heaven" was impossible to enjoy and you could hear folks from all corners of the Which Stage yelling, "Turn it up!" With the most professional sound crew and systems money can buy one has to assume this was Byrne's doing not Bonnaroo's, but regardless, the volume needed to be raised. The levels did seem to go up during the huge triple play of "Crosseyed and Painless" > "Born Under Punches" > "Once In A Lifetime," and people responded by shaking asses and pumping fists. Closing the set with "Take Me To The River," "The Great Curve," "Air" and "Burning Down The House," there was plenty to enjoy. Had the volume been louder this could have been a big set, but in the end it was slightly underwhelming. Byrne is still touring with his large ensemble of dancers and singers, and while his current band is truly wonderful and hard to deny in the beautiful theater settings they've been playing, at Bonnaroo - with the Beastie Boys raging just a few hundred yards away - a bit more rock balls and less theatrical pomp would have served our elder statesmen well.

Phish

Trey Anastasio - Phish :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
It's not that I was a hater. Far from it, in fact. I actually once adored this band. I too can play the lame numbers game and compare how many shows I've been too (around 80) and when I saw The Best Show Ever (12/31/95 comes to mind). I never stopped respecting Phish, even when they really fell apart. I had just moved on, quite literally "over it." With so many amazing bands constantly coming into my life it became impossible to give a shit about an act floundering around way past their prime. Then, I went to Bonnaroo. I hadn't seen Phish since Coventry and I really didn't care. I was looking forward to checking them at the 'Roo but I just wasn't buying the hype. Instantly I was impressed with opener "Chalkdust Torture." Standing back on the hill and watching it all unfold, I was even relatively pleased with new song "Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan," but it was the well executed, clean reading of the highly composed classic "Divided Sky" that really got my attention. The last few times I saw Trey he had an incredibly difficult time with the technical spots. Here, he didn't miss much. Phish was pulling me in and I honestly couldn't believe it. As one would expect, "Down With Disease" was the first time things started to really open up - and at over seventeen minutes they certainly went places, but it was "Stash" > "Golgi Apparatus" > "Wolfman's Brother" that blew the hinges off. "Golgi" was whatever, serving to bridge these two journeys together, but "Stash" was primal, some sort of prehistoric ooze that covered the crowd. The band was overwhelming, and while "Wolfman's" wasn't the longest version I've heard, it got pretty weird. New song "Kill Devil Falls" was very impressive, where the middle jam section was dark and menacing in the vein of "David Bowie." It was around this point that it became clear there was no chance of a set break. "Free" was a treat and "Wading in the Velvet Sea" was crappy as ever (but without a set break it was sort of a welcome moment to take a piss and get a beer), but it was blow out time from there as Phish dropped bomb after bomb: "Harry Hood" > "Highway To Hell" > "2001" > "You Enjoy Myself" > "Wilson" > "You Enjoy Myself" followed by an encore of The Beatles' "A Day In The Life." Even with cursory knowledge of this band, just looking at those songs in one set should set off alarms. For some, the straight 20 songs in a row and lack of a set break with super-hit after super-hit to close the show was a little unnerving, sort of like being out at sea and unable to see any land. For this phan who is coming back around it seemed more like a statement. But what it all boils down to, like just about everything in life, is expectations. And I went to see the Phish show at Bonnaroo with almost no expectations. I was looking forward to hanging out with all my crazy Phishhead friends and that was about all, but what I got was a giant reminder that this band still has something important to add to the conversation. Am I jumping on tour? No. Headed to Red Rocks even? Not this year. But none of that matters, the point is Phish is back and this time it's worth checking out.

Late Late Night

Phish's set was officially billed as a Late Night slot, and ending after 2 a.m. clearly it was, but there was still other stuff going on, so I set off to get a sample. Me and mine took in pieces of Paul Oakenfold (whose thumping set of sensual house had folks bumping well into the morning), Girl Talk (who clearly had the biggest party raging as scantly clad ladies shook it hard), and my personal favorite of the late late night stuff, Pretty Lights (who mixed our past with the present for a rather compelling headtrip). But after Phish (not to mention St. Vincent, TV on the Radio, King Sunny Ade and David Byrne) it was really just a wash, something to put in our ears as we went over the day's events and tried to calm our nerves in hopes of some sleep at some point.

Girl Talk :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder

Continue reading for Saturday's coverage...

Saturday :: 06.13

Strolling into the grounds on Saturday it was hot, but after the rain we had on Thursday, heat and humidity (sans falling water) felt like a victory for sure.

Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
No one sleeps much at festivals. It's part of the deal and you just gotta roll with it. Standing under That Tent with a gorgeous breeze and The High Priest of New Orleans Music holding court on his grand piano, this was fuel for the soul, washing off last night's party and clearing our heads for the coming day's adventure. Toussaint is a legend, there's no denying that, and with the humid air and giant white tent, for a minute I thought I was at Jazz Fest. With his stellar band (sax, guitar, bass, drum, percussion), Toussaint worked the ivories as he sang "Sneaking Sally Through The Ally," "Soul Sister," "Hercules," "Get Out Of My Life Woman" and more. Burnt and tired on Saturday morning (err... afternoon) not much makes you wanna sing and clap, but Allen Toussaint certainly did.

Booker T & the DBTs

I wanted to "see" more of Booker T & the DBTs, but everyone has to eat, and my gut was letting me know my time had come. So what I did was get some food behind the Which Stage so I could keep an ear on what was going down. Mixing songs from their recently released Potato Hole such as the title track, "Pound It Out" and their cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya" with Drive-By Truckers staples like "Let There Be Rock" and set closer "Lookout Mountain" (the highlight of the set for this DBT fan), as well as Booker T's classic "Green Onions," I was glad I heard bits and pieces as I stuffed my gullet with homemade tacos!

Bon Iver

Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
I love Bon Iver. For Emma, Forever Ago was my favorite album last year and all three times I've seen Bon Iver I've been completely blown away. But having seen Justin Vernon multiple times recently I stayed for Booker T & the DBTs (and my lunch) and only caught the end of their set - which had fans spilling out of This Tent. Arriving for "Regarding: Stack" and a massive, euphoric full-crowd sing-along on "Wolves," I was second-guessing my decision to eat. It was beautiful stuff, and the huge mass of people definitely agreed. I wish I had seen "Skinny Love," "Flume," "Blood Bank" and "For Emma," but you can't do it all and I bet eating helped me more than I'll ever know.

Del McCoury

It was almost 5:00 p.m. and I had one hour before the next set I was definitely seeing (Wilco). I took the opportunity to roll through the grounds and catch a few songs from different acts, starting with the Del McCoury Band at the Other Tent. This is probably the greatest bluegrass band I will ever see, heck they might be the greatest bluegrass band any of us will ever see. These guys play fast - really fast - and they never miss a note. Fingers are flying and vocals are soaring. You look up "professional" in the dictionary and Del should be standing there with his impossibly full silver hair. Del's son Ronnie, who won "Mandolin Player of the Year" honors eight years in a row, was a vision to behold, and when they teased "Poor Heart" off Phish's A Picture of Nectar those in the know let out a giant yelp.

of Montreal

of Montreal :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
I was eager to see these freaks do their thang, but it was oppressively hot in This Tent and Wilco was getting close, so I only stayed for two songs. What I did see was enough to make me realize I have to get my ass to their next show in my town. It was weird. It was sexy. It was gender bending and it was a party. Whenever a band is doing something no one else is (or at least doing it better than anyone else), it's worth looking deeper, and of Montreal has definitely made me curious.

Gov't Mule

Same theory as Bon Iver, I couldn't convince myself to go see Mule when I've seen them so often and there were bands (like of Montreal) that I've never seen. I did however walk through the Mule crowd on my way to Wilco and was able to take in almost the entire ballad "Beautifully Broken." I wish I had been able to see Radiohead's "Creep," U2's "One" and Neil Young's "Southern Man," but with Jeff Tweedy and his boys about to kick off on the main What Stage I was on a mission and nothing was stopping me.

Wilco

Jeff Tweedy - Wilco :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
6 p.m. until 3 a.m. on Saturday may have been the greatest festival run I've ever witnessed. Wilco > The Mars Volta > Bruce Springsteen > Nine Inch Nails. WTF? Long before I got to Bonnaroo I knew this was gonna be the shit, and boy was it. With the heat of the day gone it was getting easier to find one's groove, and when Wilco kicked off with "Wilco The Song" off their forthcoming new album, Wilco (the album), we all screamed the chorus, "Wilco will love you!" Every song was well executed and performed with that classic Wilco mix of beauty and chaos. We let our minds drift during "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and we rocked out to the long "Handshake Drugs" with mad-genius guitarist Nels Cline crafting sharp angles with his lead. New track "Bull Black Nova" was a clear highlight with a tension-building format that allowed Tweedy's vocals to pour across the urgent beat to great affect. "You Are My Face" created space for beautiful harmonies, and again, the guitars built into dissonant waters with "Shot In The Arm." When not erecting intricate sonic structures like they did on "Jesus, Etc." or letting Cline just go nuts with his rig, the band would often twist three guitars into a triple helix as they did on "Impossible Germany." The Mars Volta was about to start so I started making for the path, and walking out I kept thinking, "Man, this really is one of the best bands in America," at which point "California Stars" began and I had to turn back. Even if I missed the start of Volta, "California Stars" is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard and I needed to get it in me.

The Mars Volta

Cedric Bixler Zavala - The Mars Volta by Vann
Slimmed down to a six-piece from an eight, The Mars Volta melted the Which Stage. The set began with a bit of a false start that led frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala to joke about their tuning techniques. In fact, Zavala was about as lighthearted as I've seen him, joking that he was happy to be at Burning Man and interacting intimately with the front of the crowd. As they exploded back into "Goliath," Zavala whipped his thick, bright white mic chord around like Indiana Jones as lead guitarist/master mind Omar Rodriguez Lopez turned the song inside out with psychedelic power. As Zavala sang, "Never heard a man speak like this man before," Lopez would answer with a twisted guitar line. "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)" followed and was every bit as sprawling and intense as one would hope, and new song "Cotopaxi" was vicious. The band would produce huge swells of manic cacophony only to tear open a seam and drop into languid moments of tranquil guitar and subtle bass. Drummer Thomas Pridgen is mesmerizing. He moves from thunder crushing drums to delicate hi-hat work effortlessly, and he never ceases to amaze with the amount of notes he's able to hit. During "Drunkship Of Lanterns" I was compelled to write down "Industrial Dub Rock," and I recall being fully under their spell, transfixed by the happenings on stage. "Cygnus... Vismund Cygnus" closed the set and might have been the single greatest song of Bonnaroo. It was incredibly long and drifted into so many sections I forgot what song it was on more than one occasion. There was the beautiful guitar passage from Omar, the disgusto-funk from keyboardist Ikey Owens and then there was the back-end "Strychnine Jam." Although as far as I know still technically part of "Cygnus," for the last part of the epic jam Cedric started repeating, "strychnine... I want your strychnine," over and over above a stretched out, patient foundation. It was totally demented and absolutely awesome. One of the best jams I've ever seen by this band, and that's saying something, people.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Vann
The Boss in a field with about 80,000 people, it's the stuff of legends. There actually seemed to be a small, strange division between younger fans there presumably to see Phish and the rest of us who just like all kinds of music, but I did hear a few grumbles about Springsteen headlining Saturday night. How in the fuck you don't dig Springsteen is beyond me, but to each their own. And if you're even remotely into the craft of songwriting, well, then you already know Bruce is the man. If you didn't somehow dick it and wind up in your tent Saturday night (nothing else was scheduled during Springsteen) one has to assume Bruce won you over with his marathon live show. "Badlands" was the first offering and had the masses singing loud and proud. A few songs in, things really got interesting with "Outlaw Pete." Not a song I would inherently look forward to, this was the first time Bruce went into full story mode, and let me assure you, when Bruce starts telling a tale he's brilliant, captivating, one of the best I've seen. He continued the story vibe later with newer song "Working On A Dream." Inside this song he turned our big field into a church, preaching to his congregation about bringing down the walls of hate and building a house of love. It's the type of thing that can fail easily but when done right can be incredibly powerful. And to not mention the giant E Street Band would be criminal. From guitar solos to "The Big Man" Clarence Clemons' sax to the perfect back-up singers to the stellar drumming by both Max and Jay Weinberg (who took over for his dad about halfway through the show), nothing chugs along like the E Street Band. There was a Motown swing to certain songs, while others were punched up with gritty rock glory. Both "Thunder Road" and "The River" (two very clear highlights) were pealed way back, with the tempos slow and tense. Closing the set with "The Rising" and "Born To Run" brought the crowd to a boiling point. Coming back with a huge never-ending encore that included "Hard Times," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," "Land of Hope and Dreams," "American Land," "Rosalita," "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark," The Boss conquered Bonnaroo and I was exhausted just watching him. If you're a skeptic, or if you just don't want to see it, I can understand how Bruce might not flip your switch. But, if you just stop thinking and feel, if you just give yourself to it, if you just believe, it's all there in Bruce Springsteen, and I for one believe in The Boss.

Late Night

Sorta like after Phish on Friday, following a full day of amazing music and the never-ending Bossathon, my team was frazzled and full of music, so we elected to bounce around and catch pieces of various late night shows instead of shacking up at one.

After replenishing ourselves appropriately in various tour buses and RVs, we started our late night crawl at Nine Inch Nails. Holy shit, they are awesome! All heavy and crazy with exploding lights and some sort of post-apocalyptic rock, it was head-splittingly brilliant. And knowing this was rumored to be NIN's last U.S. performance I can't believe I let myself be convinced to leave. Ditching NIN would prove to be the worst decision of my Bonnaroo.

From NIN we went to MGMT. Granted it was packed and we set up shop outside of That Tent, but it pretty much sucked. The album is awesome, but live it was definitely underwhelming. We still managed to dance to hits like "Time To Pretend" and "Electric Feel" (both great songs for sure) but before long we lost interest and roamed by This Tent, where moe. was holding court.

My days with moe. seem to have come and gone (although I still have nothing but respect for these master jammers), and while it sounded fun with talk of both Grace Potter and Brock Butler sitting in, by the time we got there it was incredibly crowded and approaching 3 or 4 a.m. (it's hard to keep track at that point). We pulled the chute and elected to crash and burn.

Nine Inch Nails :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Vann

Continue reading for Sunday's coverage...

Sunday :: 06.14

The final day was already upon us. Like that wise man once said, "Time flies when you're having fun," and I'd be shocked if I have more fun at a festival this year. Time also got sucked from my day, as I didn't arrive at the fest until Erykah Badu's set. I had wanted to start my day with Todd Snider or Dillinger Escape Plan but when it's the final day of the fest and you didn't actually hit the pillow till the sun was in the sky, well, an early start is no easy thing.

Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
Considering Badu burned me at this past year's SXSW I wasn't particularly excited to give her more of my time. But, we had arrived late and apparently that paid off because in classic Badu style, the princess took the stage about 45-minutes after her scheduled slot (or so I was told). She may not care about being punctual, but when she actually is on stage singing with her band (check the bass!), it's pretty damn impressive. Wearing a Public Enemy sweatshirt (how she wasn't melting I'm not sure), Badu switched from future soul rock to mean hip-hop to a spaced-out combo of it all.

Merle Haggard

Feeling a bit haggard myself, it was definitely the right call to sit in the shade and dig on the legendary Merle Haggard for a bit. Busting out hits like "Mama Tried" (which made the many Deadheads shout their approval), Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and the classic "Jackson" - equipped with a perfect June Carter-style female counter-point - Haggard and his crack band of country pickers and strummers, not to mention the strong sax, kept spirits high as we headed towards evening.

Band of Horses

Ben Bridwell - Band of Horses :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
Starting with "Monsters," this was a powerful set. With Snoop Dogg on the main stage, the crowd was thinner at BoH, but certainly still well attended, and it allowed us to get a good close spot for the emotionally-pregnant performance. Mixing in newer songs, that found even the keyboard player singing lead at one point, with staples like "Great Salt Lake" and the more recent "Is There A Ghost," Ben Bridwell and his Horses delivered a perfectly balanced set. During "Marry Song" I felt my collective energy take the much-needed positive swing towards night. It may have been 6:30 p.m., but I was finally starting to feel alive again, and it was fully due to Band of Horses' triumphant rock. After a stellar cover of Gram Parsons' "A Song For You," we had "Window Blues," the beautifully touching "No One's Gonna Love You," the serious rocker "Ode to LRC" and "Wicked Gil." Then, a thick bass crawled over the crowd. It was throbbing, pulling us closer and the most haunting, wonderful intro to "The Funeral" wrapped around the field. It was at this point that I shut myself off. I couldn't chat anymore and I just had to feel it. We all have connections to certain music for certain reasons - Band of Horses is a special band for me. They define a difficult stretch and remind me of people I love and have lost. Music is deeply personal, we all know that, and for some Band of Horses is one of the most emotionally powerful bands out there, and at Bonnaroo they crafted amazingly potent feelings, slowing time and wetting eyes.

Phish

Trey Anastasio - Phish :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Snyder
It was time for Phish's Bonnaroo closing performance. After being so impressed with Friday night's show, my own personal expectations were fairly high. Things started out well enough with "AC/DC Bag" > "NICU," but really took off during a meaty jam inside "Gotta Jibbo" and "Punch You In The Eye," with Trey even nailing the fancy Latin dance moves with Mike (not to mention the difficult guitar passages). The "Bathtub Gin" was huge, undeniably good with thick, chunky guitar explorations that seemed particularly adventurous. "Character Zero" > "Tweezer" (with a "Free" jam) was also impressive and then after a decent (though far from overwhelming) "Run Like An Antelope" shit just got crazy.

Trey started to tell a story about seeing a rock concert when he was a teenager back in Jersey. He explained how the concert was three hours of non-stop electricity and energy and then he welcomed out his childhood hero, Bruce Springsteen. To say the crowd went nuts would be an understatement. Talk about Jersey Pride! With The Boss center stage, they jumped into "Mustang Sally." It took a minute to get everyone on the same page, but as they let the song unfold Trey and Bruce hit a few wicked sections where their guitars wrapped around each other and pushed into piercing notes. There was also one hilarious moment where Bruce went to call for a keyboard solo but clearly didn't know Page's name and wound up saying, "Come on, Mr. Keyboard Player," we all laughed, as did Page. After "Mustang Sally" they went into the old Bruce track "Bobby Jean," which included a "Rift" tease as well as a bunch of fireworks lighting up the sky. The final song of the Bruce segment (and the set) was "Glory Days." It started slow and I couldn't help but say to those in my area, "Who woulda thunk you'd hear two 'Glory Days' at Bonnaroo?" Although not overwhelming at the start, they built "Glory Days" into a burner full of swirling guitars, with Bruce clearly impressed by Trey's finger-work. Watching them slay "Glory Days" I couldn't help but wonder if Bruce was thinking, "Man, I didn't know 'Glory Days' could be that kind of song!" This was one of those epic rock & roll moments that those who witnessed it will never forget. And it doesn't even really matter if you are Phish fan, a Springsteen fan or neither: this was a special moment and it was clear to anyone lucky enough to be a part of it.

Coming out of set break was a monster version of The Velvet Undergrounds "Rock & Roll" that showed serious teeth. We were also treated to a surprisingly strong "46 Days," a nice "Farmhouse" guitar solo and a set closing "First Tube" that brought things down in style. The encore of "Suzy Greenberg" > "Tweezer Reprise" was satisfying, and although some fans were looking for one more song to cap this epic weekend, sometimes enough is enough and it seemed clear from the sparkling eyes and shouts of joy that Phish pleased the masses.

And even if Phish wasn't your bag, Bonnaroo 2009 had something for any music fan, and with perfect weather and amicable crowds it's hard to imagine things going any better. Back at the tour buses, campsites and RVs, one could over hear cries of, "Best Bonnaroo Ever!" I would have to agree.

Bruce Springsteen with Phish :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Vann
Bruce Springsteen with Phish :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Vann
Bruce Springsteen with Phish :: Bonnaroo 2009 by Vann

Continue reading for lots more pics of Bonnaroo 2009...

Images by: Rod Snyder

Thursday :: 06.11.09

Alberta Cross
Alberta Cross
Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe
Charlie Allen
Hockey
Chairlift
Chairlift
White Rabbits
White Rabbits
Murs
Portugal. The Man

For even more pics of Thursday check out Dave Vann's shots here.

Continue reading for more pics of Friday at Bonnaroo... Images by: Rod Snyder

Friday :: 06.12.09

Toubab Krewe
Vieux Farka Touré
Kaki King
Karen O - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Ben Ellman - Galactic
Animal Collective
Grizzly Bear
Ani DiFranco
Al Green
Al Green
Amadou & Mariam
Art of Such and Such
Art of Such and Such
David Byrne
David Byrne
Trey Anastasio - Phish
Trey Anastasio - Phish
Mike Gordon - Phish
Page McConnell - Phish
Public Enemy
Public Enemy
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Girl Talk
Girl Talk


Images by: Dave Vann

Friday Late Night :: 06.12.09

Phish
Phish
Phish
Phish
Phish
Femi Kuti
Femi Kuti
Paul Oakenfold
Paul Oakenfold
Pretty Lights
Pretty Lights

For even more pics of Friday check out Dave Vann's shots here.

Continue reading for more pics of Saturday at Bonnaroo...

Images by: Rod Snyder

Saturday :: 06.13.09

Bon Iver
Alejandro Escovedo
Booker T.
Booker T. & the DBTs
Jimmy Buffett
Margaret Cho
Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Katzenjammer
Wailing Souls
Allen Toussaint
of Montreal
Lucinda Williams and Justin Townes Earle
Warren Haynes - Gov't Mule
Nels Cline - Wilco
Ben Harper and Relentless7


Images by: Dave Vann

Satuday Late Night :: 06.13.09

moe.
moe.
moe.
moe.
moe.
moe.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Catherine Popper - Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
MGMT
MGMT
MGMT
MGMT
MGMT
Sunrise

For even more pics of Saturday check out Dave Vann's shots here.

Continue reading for more pics of Sunday at Bonnaroo...

Images by: Rod Snyder

Sunday :: 06.14.09

Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg
Shadows Fall
Citizen Cope
Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue
Merle Haggard
Erykah Badu
Band of Horses
Trey Anastasio - Phish
Mike Gordon - Phish
Trey Anastasio - Phish
Page McConnell - Phish
Trey Anastasio - Phish

For even more pics of Sunday check out Dave Vann's shots here.

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