Here’s a riddle: how do you capture the magic and excitement of the first-ever Bonnaroo Festival, with it’s 50+ bands, four stages, 80 thousand attendees and absolutely unfathomable amount of music on a two CD set? The answer: you don’t.

However, the guys at Superfly definitely gave it their best shot. Culling 21 tracks from the now-infamous and hopefully annual event, the same people that put together the best festival of last summer have produced a veritable cornucopia of music that certainly begins to hint at the diverse array of music around Manchester, Tennessee that wild weekend in June, even if it’s not an altogether accurate picture of how damn good it really was. Not to say that the collection is not without its moments.

Dedicated to the late Michael Houser, the album opens up with a magnificent version of Widespread Panic's “Tall Boy.” Accompanied by gospel great Dottie Peoples, Panic turns up the juice on this typically straight-ahead rocker and gives it a whole new feel. Repeating the phrase, “Gonna summon the Holy Ghost,” the track serves as a touching but feel-good eulogy of sorts to the guitarist whose unique style of playing helped place the band on the map.

The predictable choice from Phil Lesh & Friends is served up next with a standard version of “Tennessee Jed.” Perhaps not as strong as the “Sugar Magnolia” that was chosen for the Bonnaroo DVD, the great tune still fits perfectly on the disc and features great vocals from special guest Bob Weir.

One of the musical highlights of the disc is Galactic's version of “Tiger Roll.” Dark and brooding, the number is a brief example of some of the madness that unfolded in their tent that long, late night.

The only number that might have given Galactic's number a run for its money would’ve been the version of “Captain America” from moe.’s notorious set that ironically happened at the same time. Unfortunately, the track fades out right before the instrumental section, which is probably for the best seeing as where it would’ve taken up the rest of the disk. (Subliminal message: GET THE BOOTLEG.)

Clearly, the album is full of great music – Trey Anastasio's “Last Tube” rocks, as does Robert Randolph's “Peekaboo” and the North Mississippi Allstars' “Sugartown.” The String Cheese Incident's “Search” is a wonderful mellower track, and Soulive's “Turn It Out” gets the nod for jazziest tune on the set. Scattered throughout are more lyrical selections from a wide range of artists like Gov't Mule, Jurassic 5, Norah Jones, Ween, Ben Harper and the Del McCoury Band, along with an interesting little acoustic medley from Edgar Meyer & Bela Fleck appropriately titled, “Bonnaroo Traveler.” I guess the number of different artists and styles on the compilation lends itself to a certain degree of discontinuity.

A possible solution to the problem of how to get so many great bands on two CDs would’ve been to throw on a few more of the moments where different artists shared the stage together. Most glaring omission: Karl Denson's Tiny Universe with DJ Logic. Words cannot describe the sparks that flew when those two got together during Denson’s late night set.

While it might not flow as smoothly as some albums, the discs are worth picking up as a souvenir piece for sure. The deluxe packaging contains great pictures of the artists whose music was selected, and liner notes that help better explain what really happened throughout the weekend. There’s also a CD-ROM portion of the disk with a highly entertaining preview of the DVD.

All in all, the collection is money well spent – but probably best suited for a festive occasion with lots of people in the room, when you don’t want to play DJ or put the CD player on random mode. Perhaps the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's selection serves as the best description of the album – “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Party.”

It’s also an accurate but understated description of Bonnaroo itself. See you there again next year.

Travis Langdon
Images by Adam Gulledge
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[Published on: 10/17/02]

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