The two discs that make up Live From Bonnaroo Music Festival 2002 are about as good of a synopsis of that weekend as is possible. The Bonnaroo DVD is amazing, as was the festival. I keep finding myself more and more impressed with Superfly; those cats have really got their act together.
From picking the site in Tennessee and the production of the event to the production of the DVD, Superfly, AC Entertainment and Sanctuary Records are all over it. The fact that they could pull off an event of this magnitude speaks volumes, and when you watch these DVDs, the spirit, the aura, and the soul of Bonnaroo are actually captured within. This is no easy task.
Often when you watch a DVD of a certain event, especially one you were at, it pales in comparison to what it was really like. Not in this case. Right away it becomes apparent that Superfly put the right people in charge. Having Upstream Multimedia Productions, LA Johnson, Marcy Gensic, and Arthur Rosato calling the shots made for one hell of a ride, all while your sitting in front of your TV. I remember seeing all the cameras while I was roaming around the festival, and I remember looking at the swiveling boom-mounted cameras all over the main stage, and I kept thinking, "Man, this DVD is gonna be the shit!" And there is no doubt that this is one of the best DVDs I've had the pleasure of seeing.
From the opening shots of the 500-acre farm in Manchester, TN you are instantly drawn into the Bonnaroo world. The DVD maintains a sense of chronological order, but doesn’t adhere to a strict schedule; instead they give you a feel for how it was all put together and the manner in which it was conceived. There is great, informative commentary from the Superfly crew on everything from how they picked the site to why they named it "Bonnaroo."
From the opening scenes they move to set-ups of all kinds; stages, trash, water, the arcade, the food. They give you a glimpse of everything, but never bore you with details. This was a music event, and proving their keen sense for what music fans really want, the producers sprinkle the entire DVD with live music footage (of course). As the camera is panning over the extensive work prior the event starting they really kick things off with Les Claypool's Frog Brigade. A few moments in and you have Les's freaky voice ringing, "Boooonnaarrooooooooooooo" in your ears, and it's official, the 2002 Bonnaroo music festival is under way. Now Les wasn't the first guy to hit a stage, but his pack of Frogs were one of the first major gigs to get things going, and putting Les and Skerik (saxaphonics for the Frog Brigade) toward the beginning of the video is very appropriate. The Claypool opener proved to be so well placed because by the time Les hit the main stage, about 6:00pm on Friday afternoon [yes, when you're at a huge music festival raging until sunrise, 6:00pm is still considered afternoon], most of the people - but certainly not all - had managed to get off the highway and into the utopia of Bonnaroo.
The DVD keeps in line with exactly what you want out of a music DVD; they take you to the action behind the scenes. The following segment illustrates just how dope this DVD is and it may be one of the coolest things I've ever seen recorded. The camera jumps to a guy with a walkie-talkie looking rather distressed and he speaks into the little black box something to the effect of, "Get Warren back here!" The other end responds, "You know how I said he had his guitar and he's going on stage, WELL HE'S ON STAGE!" Warren Haynes has wandered over to Les Claypool's set and has decided to jump in for part of "Shine On You Crazy Diamonds" with a little "Smoke On The Water" tease (whis is not shown on the DVD). I remember at the time when Warren slid out with Les and thought, "Oh shit, maybe I should I go catch a little Gov't Mule." Warren reminded me that at the same time Les was on stage Gov't Mule was too. Well, they were supposed to be, but some how Warren is on stage with Les!
Just as Warren walks out on stage and the walkie-talkie guys freaking out, another camera goes over to the Gov't Mule stage. The crowd is yelling, and Dave Schools is laughing back stage going, "So where is Warren?" The stage crew tells the rest of Gov't Mule that Warren just got on stage with Les, that he'll be back soon, and that he figured Schools would be ok with that since Schools is in the headlining act that night. The way it is shot and the reactions of the musicians is so good I need to stop butchering it with words; it's something you should really see.
As the DVD moves in and out of performances it has dashes of commentary from all kinds of people. There's a guy explaining how he gets to see bands he hasn't had the opportunity to see because they haven't gotten big enough yet. The footage jumps appropriately to Drums and Tuba who would clearly have blown up by now if musical talent was the only factor in the equation. There are fans talking about if these bands are "jambands" or not, people professing that this is "the festival they've been waiting for all their lives."
A friend of mine, Rain, explains to the camera how our scene is so fertile, and how some friends who stopped seeing a lot of music when the Dead died are really missing out. Rain's commentary is spot-on as he talks about "letting his hair down late night when it's 2am." This is something Superfly had made a career of (them and Particle) - being able to throw the all night freak out party. At this point, the DVD really shines as they go from Rain's late night commentary into Karl Denson's late night footage. The transition is smooth and flows in the same manner a band does when they are hitting stride.
By Dino Perrucci
Another testament to the countless hours they must have recorded and all the foresight that went into this piece of work is the commentary from the town folk. It's really great stuff. There's a girl in the local coffee shop talking about a naked lady running down the street, and then how she's definitely going to Bonnaroo next year. There's a guy from Wal-Mart who explains that there have been a lot of people in and out of his store but that "90% of them are really great people." You get a little taste of the Mayor talking about the economy and another lady mentioning how kids have been bathing in the birdbaths.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is a music DVD and you get a nice batch of performances. And it isn't just a clip here and a clip there. Each performer gets a full song (except Widespread Panic - they appropriately get two), and they don't cut them off or any of that crap, they let the whole song go. And incidentally the choice of songs on the DVD are very well chosen and far better than the selections that went into the Bonnaroo CD or JazzFest CD, both put out by Superfly as well. To be honest the CDs from JazzFest and Bonnaroo are about the only thing I've seen Superfly come up a bit lame with. Every event they are a part of seems to be a massive success, and not just financial, they're fun as hell!
Some of the other performance highlights include the insane Colonel Claypool's Bucket Of Bernie Brains. DJ Logic with the Del McCoury Band doing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." There is of course a nice clip from the String Cheese Incident, as well as Robert Randolph with Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi Allstars. You also get hip-hop stars Jurassic 5 bouncin' with Cut Chemist scratching, Stanton Moore jumping out of his seat with Galactic and of course Phil and Bobby belting out "Tennessee, Tennessee there ain't no place I'd rather be..." In the end the entire two-disc set is one big highlight reel.
While the performances are all top-notch it's really the way they are captured that sets this DVD apart. The producers really have a feel for what a serious music fan wants to see, and the way you want to see it. They aren't focusing on the guitar player's face the whole time, they aren't concerned with distractions, they switch back and forth from different angles in time with the music and they show Trey's, or Warren's, or Mikey's hands as they lay into a solo. The producers are also really using technology to their advantage meshing two or sometimes three different shots into one frame, so you can see both Mikey and JB at the same time, or maybe Edgar Meyer and both of Bela Fleck's hands as he does things to the banjo that don't seem possible. The cameras jump from band to crowd and back much the way your eyes do when you're getting down in the heat of the moment.
There are close-ups of all the right things, and I simply love the way the footage goes from video to film in brief segments. The way they blend these two mediums is beautiful. Film is extremely expensive and you couldn't film hundreds upon hundreds of disposable hours on film - you'd never even get your money back. But by filtering in small tid-bits of film the DVD receives extra points for authenticity and a feel you just can't achieve with video. In line with jumping from film to video the DVD also utilizes amazing still images. There are some amazing photographs (that also appear in the nice little booklet that comes with the DVD package), and these still shots often come at the end of a performance serving as a wonderful transition into interview sections. I really can't say enough about the production value on this DVD; it is with out a doubt one of the best final products out there.
The whole DVD wraps up with the man, the myth, the Trey killing it with a huge "Push On Till The Day," which again makes perfect sense seeing as how the Bonnaroo music marathon also concluded with Trey Anastasio's performance. And you gotta love the shot of the ominous full moon as Trey's slot begins. Again, kudos to Superfly, AC Entertainment, Sanctuary, and the producers.
On a personal note there is another aspect of this DVD that really seals the deal for me. On the back of the accompanying booklet and I think even at the end of the DVD it says, "Dedicated to Michael Houser and his love for his fellow musicians and the music. January 6, 1962 – August 10, 2002." This was the last time a lot of people (including myself) ever saw Mikey. Houser and Widespread Panic have been a cornerstone of this scene for years, and to recognize Houser and dedicate this project to him is both heartwarming and appropriate.
For me (and many others I'm sure), the whole Bonnaroo festival hinges on Michael Houser. As I said, this was the last time a lot of us saw Mikey, and to have this footage of him sitting up there ripping his Telecaster as Dottie Peoples opens the pathways to God is almost too much. Well to keep with being honest the first time I watched this part it was a bit too much, the flood gates opened, but at least half of the tears were tears of joy. So to actually have this clip of Mikey at the end of his days, thin yet radiating light, sick but full of peace, that hair flying with that warm smile... that right there is worth whatever you want to charge me. I find myself going back over and over again to the Panic segment featuring, "Blue Indian" into "Tall Boy>Testify." The look JB flashes Mikey during the "Still right here, still just here, My Brave little friend" in "Blue Indian" is again worth more than any piece of paper ever printed or coin ever pressed. I get chills just thinking about it.
All in all this DVD is marvelous, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. If you were not at Bonnaroo this will walk you through the event in style allowing you to stop off at some of the most impressive spots while definitely giving you a look at certain things you wouldn't have been able to see from the average fans perspective. And if you were one of the lucky 70,000 plus then this will forever serve as a memento and memory of perhaps the most successful and enjoyable festival ever put together.
Words by: The Kayceman
Images by: Adam Gulledge (unless otherwise noted)
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