BONNAROO 2003: THE FIELD OF DREAMS

The word "Bonnaroo" was taken from the 1974 Dr. John release Desitively Bonnaroo. The term is a loose New Orleans word roughly translating into "good times." I'd have to say that, to keep in line with the "good times" I've had at all my Superfly events, this name sure is accurate. In yet another stroke of genius, and a surprise for those who were still paying attention on Sunday, the guys from Superfly flew the legendary Dr. John into that huge 500 acre farm in Tennessee for a true "SuperJam." But SuperJams and Sundays find me gettin' a bit ahead of myself. Allow me to get back to the beginning of this here story, and in due time we'll wrap our way around to Sunday.


photo by Mike Cirrito
After the success and transcendence of last year's Bonnaroo, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be back for more in 2003. I just couldn't believe it was that time of year again, but as they say, "time flies when you're havin' fun."

As I began considering the best way to cover this years festivities I received a few emails from a regular JamBase contributor, this cocky girl out in Athens, "Madeline Modeliste." We've met a few times, and while she's damn opinionated, she does know her music and is willing to work as hard as anyone. So I threw her a bone, got her a VIP pass and on we went. I also received a few very kind offers from other JamBase writers to help the 'Base be everywhere, and with two main stages, two large tents, another smaller one and more music than anyone could ever see, I needed the help. What follows is perhaps the most comprehensive Bonnaroo review found anywhere, and whether you like it or not, it appears that I (The Kayceman) will act as your tour guide through this hot musical playground. We did our best to touch on every act, and while I'm sure a few of your favorites were left out, just remember: it's all about "good times."

Wednesday Night > Thursday Morning

Bonnaroo for The Kayceman started with the red-eye from San Francisco to Hotlanta. The red-eye can be a rough way to start a sleepless weekend, especially when you land and the first thing you do is jump in a car and drive to Tennessee. But by the time I strolled down the dirt path that dumped me back stage at Bonnaroo none of this mattered. The energy was palpable and the heat was oppressive, but let's be realistic, what would a festival in the South be without that heavy heat and wet wind?

As I began drinking in the vibe it occurred to me that Madeline Modeliste was already here! She had sent me an email proclaiming that she'd be at the 'roo Thursday night as I was squirming on a plane. I knew they were planning on having some music Thursday night, and I sure hoped she caught it.

Thursday Night

Ms. Madeline's start to Bonnaroo weekend couldn’t have gone any smoother. It was Thursday afternoon and I arrived at the VIP campgrounds with nothing but positive thoughts. Set up my tent, chatted with some folks, and proceeded to lock my keys in my car! Yes, I know I am attractive and smart, and articulate, and have all these things going for me, but I also have a knack for doing shit like locking my friggin' keys in the car not more than twenty minutes after I arrived at Bonnaroo. My locksmith story is boring, so let me just sum it up by saying I did get back into my car five hours later. By this point, pounding pain un-massaged my head. Thumping ached its way in. And it looked like I was done for the night. But Madeline Modeliste ain’t no wuss girl, I’m a friggin' "townie" bitch with heart from Athens. I ain’t gonna let no locked keys in the car, and a minor migraine stop me from having a time. So I headed on out to Centeroo.


photo by Mike Cirrito
Got a little grub, and heard word from a man named Herb that music would be starting in some of the tents. Huh? Music? Never heard of it. Nah, just joking, but music on Thursday night at Bonnaroo? This was unadvertised. And unadvertised music can sometimes turn out to be the most interesting kind.

Herb told me that a band called Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra would be playing at "This Tent" (as he pointed far across a field) and the Hackensaw Boys would be playing at "That Tent" (as he pointed to the stage we stood very close to). So I figured this Herb kid was a little off. "This" tent’s down there, and "That" tent's right here? Huh? Then I got it: those were the names of the tents. I soon learned there would be another tent close by called "Other Tent," and the stages were called "Which Stage" and "What Stage." This could get old real quick.

I decided to check out the Hackensaw Boys, and yee haw, am I glad I did. This somewhat traditional bluegrass band from Virginia impressed. They played funny, old-timey bluegrass that seemed to lift crater after crater off my head. My migraine was fading fast, and it was all thanks to that good ole time band the Hackensaw Boys. Great fun.

Friday 10:00am - 3:00pm

Friday morning found the lovely and exquisite Madeline Modeliste feeling and possibly (dare I say it) even looking not so lovely nor exquisite. I needed a shower to refresh, and lucky for me the VIP camping spot did indeed have some showers. When I got to the showers and saw the signs - "Male" and "Female" - I was furious. Now even if the signs read "Men" and "Women" I would still be displeased, for you see Madeline Modeliste is a Lady! And as they knew I was coming, sign accommodations could have been made. The water stunk like sulfur but I was refreshed and looking sharp once again.

After getting a lil' something in my tummy, my musical day had moved from its pre-game warm-up to tip-off. To "This Tent" we go. Some brass made its way on to "This Tent." Coming out sporting their fresh-ass New Orleans street style, these guys blow (in a good brass band way). The Rebirth Brass Band filled the air with classic New Orleans brass band music. They played so nice it got one fan running faster than Deuce McAllister. (Although when he came back he explained his sprint as needing to hit the Port-a-John and wanted to miss as little of Rebirth’s set as possible, and could you blame Mr. McAllister?) With so many horns on stage you'd think they would need to have everything orchestrated to a T, or else loose any semblance of structure. This is not the case with this here Rebirth Brass Band performing in "This" here tent. Rebirth has spots of songs well choreographed, using all their players. At other times though, Rebirth uses some of its shiny instrumentation to set a rhythm for the other shiny parts to lead over. Then there are the times where just a few hold down the rhythm while the others put layer of layer on this Cajun concoction. And finally there are the moments when all hell breaks loose and somehow it becomes every man for themselves up there. These different formats give the Rebirth Brass Band a laid-back New Orleans gumbo style all its own. Their music is infectious. The smiles from the guys’ faces and instruments quickly crept up on me and all the other occupants in "This" here tent. Their music does seem to fill a body with so much pure fun energy that one does feel like they have a full new life. When they call themselves the Rebirth Brass Band they ain’t lying!

photos by Tony Stack
After the Rebirth put an extra step in my walk, I double-timed all the way through and around the fest, seeing bits and pieces of Yonder Mountain, Jack Johnson and some pretty interesting press conferences as well. While walking around, avoiding as best I could the mud, I stumbled upon some sand. This however was not your normal everyday sand. Oh no, this sand was much much different. This sand was special. You see, the sand was obviously placed on top of the grassy field (to prevent more mud spots, I guess). The thing is, once this sand got walked on so many times, and rained on, and walked on and such and what not, it eventually became very strange. When you take a step on it, at first you feel like it is sort of a quick sand spot, but then it kind of gives you a bounce. It’s like a quick sand trampoline of sorts. I like to call it "funny ground." Throughout the fest I would see people having so much fun on the funny ground that they’d spend several minutes just jumping up and down on it, or dancing on it, or even praying to it (no just kidding, I didn’t see any praying, but the other stuff is true). So funny ground made a whole lotta fans on the first day of Bonnaroo. And on an Athens Scale of five, it gets a three, three bootleg videos of the hilarious Damn Show.


photo by Mike Cirrito
While Mad was playin' in the dirt (it was damn cool, it actually made both STS9's Zach Velmer's and my Bonnaroo Top 5), Kayceman and Co. were dancin' in the mud. The first sounds of Bonnaroo 2003 I heard were that of RJD2 cutting and mixing as I sloshed over to "Which Stage" for Yonder Mountain String Band. While I had already been at Bonnaroo for maybe an hour and music was well underway, things didn't seem to officially start until we cracked that first handle of Jack Daniels. I'm not kidding either, that taste of whiskey signaled my official start of Bonnaroo.

We had to get "credentials" and did the run-around for a bit before we settled in. Me and mine got muddy quick (it was pretty much impossible not to) as we slid our way up front for Yonder. We tried to dance and get in the groove but it was proving a bit difficult... no sleep, mud everywhere, hot as hell and already feelin' like we were playing catch-up, I quickly dug into our backpack and decided it was time. We cracked Jack open and each took a swill. It's amazing what a lil' whiskey will do for your disposition, and we quickly made some new friends. As we all shared what we had my mind eased right on in, and as luck and training would have it, I remained in the "BonnaZone" for the remainder of the weekend. In fact I'm just now getting the remaining specs of Bonnaroo out of my system.

photos by Adam Gulledge
Kicking the 'roo off with the twisted bluegrass of YMSB and a bit of still chilled whiskey was absolutely perfect. From rags to riches, headaches and travel, in the blink of an eye we found ourselves in a magical land, and it was an instant party! Jeff Austin on vocals and mandolin ran the show for Yonder and worked the crowd into a sweaty lather. The "Boatman" into "Snow On The Pines" was too darn fun to deny, and closing with "Two Hits And The Joint Turned Brown" couldn't have been a better choice. Kudos to Yonder, and to all my new Southern friends, y'all know how to do it.

Friday 3:00pm - 5:30pm

Coming off Yonder and knowing Tortoise was on the horizon, time was already of the essence. I had to swing by the JamBase tent (no we didn't have music, but we had "good times," Nalgene bottles, T-shirts and schedules) to link up with fellow 'Base heads, and I did just that. The heat was pounding on my brain and before I got too caught up in all the fine people that were around, I escaped to check out Tortoise. Hailing from Chicago, these cats could have easily been from England or Sweden. Their sultry sounds and ethereal concepts proved to be an early highlight and led to one of my only regrets of the weekend. See while I was at Tortoise I bumped into Ms. Madeline and as we were rappin' I remembered hearing that Neil Young might give a press conference at 4:30. I was torn at this point and ended up leaving Mad Mode to get the in-depth on Tortoise while I scurried over the freak-dirt with hopes of getting the skinny on Neil.

photos by Tony Stack
The press conference never happened. Just goes to show that you never leave dope-ass music for press conferences... lesson learned. Although I really did want to catch more Tortoise there was a silver lining as I stumbled upon Lucinda Williams who's acoustified singer/songwriter Americana seemed to resonate with the masses. While I was enjoying the sweet sounds of Lucinda, I knew Joshua Redman was blowin' across the festival grounds. So back on my horse I dashed over the dirt to "This Tent."


photo by db Wayner
As I walked into the tent, grateful for some shade, Redman wasn't manning a sax per usual. Instead he was behind a Hammond creating dueling keys with madman Sam Yahel. Sam is a hotshot youngster from New York who has been turning heads since coming on the scene. Without Brian Blades on drums (who appears on the latest wonderful Redman release Elastic) I was a bit concerned, but Jeff Ballard on skins proved himself quickly and kept a deft touch through out the set. Joshua Redman's reputation precedes him, and in the jazz world he is renowned as a rare living legend. Seems Bonnaroo has a knack for grabbing all the right cats from all right genres. Not resting on his laurels, Redman has refused to keep playing inside the lines he has drawn, instead we find him constantly pushing the envelope and laying down a serious groove-heavy machine with peaks and valleys.

Having at first been a bit bummed that I left Tortoise, I was quickly put at ease watching Redman sweat through his shirt as he straight killed it in the summer heat. While I was getting my jazz on, I knew Mad Mode was back with Tortoise, and she raved about them at our next meeting.

photos by Adam Gulledge
Forever, folks from Athens have been telling me that I have got to listen to Tortoise. But you know Mad Mode’s attitude: I don’t like it when other people tell me to do stuff. I do whatever I want, dammit! But in this case they won, 'cause I did go check Tortoise out. Tortoise painted smooth musical landscapes with crafty yet lengthy songs that kept everyone’s attention (everyone from that wookie with both of his eyes rolling back in his head to the sixty year-old camera man for the local news that doesn’t know how the hell he wound up at this hippie fest). Never rushing a part, Tortoise took its damn time to make sure every ounce of music it delivered came out the way it was supposed to. I was really starting to get my groove on when a boy who couldn’t have been older than 20 started staring at me and slowly moving his way towards me. I’m used to this behavior, 'cause I really do get it all the damn time, but then he starts hitting on me, asking me all sorts of stuff, while I’m trying to dig on the music. In one ear I have Tortoise’s wise instrumental tales and in the other I have, "Where are you camped at, we are at Family Mullet and 6th, you should stop by sometime. By the way my name's Ben." Still in the groovy ear Tortoise moved with flowing patterns while Ben asked if he could by me a beer. I finally just said "No Ben," moved up about twenty feet, closed my eyes and started to really feel the music. When I closed my eyes, I began to realize the music was like surfing... but surfing underwater... yeah, surfing underwater, but surfing underwater while naked. Yeah, underwater naked surfing. So yeah, I was feeling as if I was surfing underwater naked but doing it backwards, and that right there can give a glimpse into the feel of Tortoise’s (pronounced tor-tI) music. Backwards underwater naked surfing rock! On an Athens Scale of five, straight up four, yo. Four orders of plantains from Caliente Cab.

Friday 5:30pm - 7:30pm

I didn't realize that Madeline was surfing naked, but I did know she was gonna head over to Keller Williams after Tortoise, let's just hope she put some clothes back on before doing so (because believe you me, there was some naked goin' around, and not all of it was good naked). Anyway, knowing that Madeline was hittin' up Keller made it that much easier for me to skip his loop-dream wonderworld and focus solely on one of my personal most anticipated acts of the weekend, Sonic Youth.

photos by Adam Gulledge
It would be hard to imagine what modern music would be like without Sonic Youth. Formed in New York City back in 1981, this formidable band helped write some crucial chapters to "alternative" music. Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals), Kim Gordon (bass, guitar, vocals), Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals), and Steve Shelley (drums) comprise the core of SY, and do so with a fervor. More than 20 years! Are you kidding me?! Their set was full of life and more experimental than the majority of bands I saw all weekend. Tweaking distortion and laying down heavy foundations, the band was able to loudly go where they wanted. The stage relationship of Moore and Kim Gordon is remarkable and lends great strength to what Gordon does in the band. At one point Moore had his guitar set atop his speaker as he plucked strings and evoked an array of dark tones. It wasn't so much a dance party but a mouth-open "check this shit out" affair, and at 6:18pm of Friday Bonnaroo, it seemed extremely appropriate.

I wandered off to let a lil' of that Jack back when I found myself standing in a pretty darn clean Port o' Potty having the strangest audio moment. There I stood in that hot box with the heavy distorted sounds of Sonic Youth, the banjo of Bela Fleck, and the voice of Keller Williams all bleeding together to create its own music. I smiled to myself and thought, "Where else in the world could this happen but at Bonnaroo." Trying not to spend too much time in the confines of what some call the "honey bucket," I quickly exited and slid back to Sonic Youth.

The remainder of their set was just as good as the start. As I was soaking in Sonic Youth I was surprised how the crowd had thinned; I reckon most people had no idea what kind of history, let alone what kind of music, SY had in store. In talking with several artists over the weekend, almost all of them commented on Sonic Youth, and for good reason. These cats have been doin' it longer than most and can give a sermon in how to blow a stage up. For anyone who may not have caught Sonic Youth at Bonnaroo, do some homework, you won't be sorry.

Knowing that a few confounded words from Keller in the midst of my Sonic Youth experience wouldn't suffice, I was glad to hear that Madeline caught all of Keller.

photos by Tony Stack
On my way over to Keller it was hard to resist the sounds of Ben Harper. I was on my way, walking the way I do, when the pulse from the huge "What Stage" called me in. I didn't stay long, but long enough to dig his vibe and catch his style. While I have seen Ben before, his emotional songs and commitment to the cause are always enjoyable. All in all, Harper served as rather nice drive-by on my way to Keller on a fine Bonnaroo Friday.

Keller Williams played in "This Tent." Inspiration, creative genius, innovative artist, and a beauty, but enough about me... let’s talk some Keller Williams. Keller Williams is just one man, but at any given point at his shows it might sound as if a four- or six- or 25-piece band is up there jamming out. You see, Keller is a musician with too many toys. He starts a song off with his intricate guitar style, fumbling around hitting sweet notes in a furry of full fluid picking. Once he finds just the right lick, Keller will loop it. He then will either loop another guitar part on top of that, or move to another instrument, be it his trumpet sounding voice, percussion instruments, bass, or vocal beatbox, and loop that. Once Keller has his full band of Keller's rocking out behind him, he can step up and sing his sometimes funny, sometimes goofy, and occasionally thoughtful lyrics. "Kidney in a cooler" Keller’d sing to the jam-packed "This Tent" partying public. He shared his craft with all of us who were there making many folks mouth the words, "How’d he do that?" To answer that question I present myself, Ms. Madeline Modeliste. Mad Mode: "I have no friggin' idea."

Friday 7:30pm - 11:30pm

photo by Bradly Bifulco
There was little time to waste as the sounds of Kid Koala could be heard from the main stage, or "What Stage," if you'd prefer. No matter what you want to call the stage, the man, the myth, and - yes - the legend Neil Young was getting ready to play. But before Neil got the glory, Kid Koala did a remarkably cool thing. It was nearing or perhaps just after 8:00pm and an ominous, marvelous moon was rising over roughly 80,000 people's left shoulder. As we all took notice Koala played a tripped out "Moon River" and made roughly 80,000 smile from shoulder to shoulder.

Before long Neil Young and Crazy Horse took the stage and completely rocked Bonnaroo. I think Neil was perhaps the overall highlight for many, including yours truly, The Kayceman. I had only seen Neil once before, and that was years ago, and perhaps more importantly that was without Crazy Horse. I went in expecting a good time and a chance to really check out one of my idols, and ended up getting swept up in a full bore rock show (which, if you know me, is exactly what I'm looking for).

photo by Tony Stack
Neil and Crazy Horse hit the stage like gangbusters and never let up. I was instantly drawn in by the manner in which things got off the ground. Instead of your more common crowd-baiting and general bullshit brew ha-ha, Neil and his fellow guitar army formed a small circle, playing to and for each other as drums wailed in appreciation. No words, heavy distortion and loud aggressive licks, now that's how you start a rock concert! Within minutes I uttered the words, "I had no idea Neil was gonna bring it like this." And that sentiment stayed with me all night, and to be honest I still can't believe how much heat Neil brought.


photo by Tony Stack
After about 15 minutes of guitar madness Neil busted into "Love To Burn," but that in no way signaled the end of the guitar onslaught; with Crazy Horse it NEVER stops. "Love To Burn" and every other song was punctuated with heavy guitar exploration. Neil never took it easy and was never afraid to lay it out. When "Powderfinger" fell into "Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)" the crowd began to really get behind Neil. Personally I was ecstatic about the songs we had heard thus far and when I heard the opening notes of "Cortez The Killer" I was shocked and elated. "Cortez" would probably be the one song (along with "Don't Be Denied") I would request if Neil gave me the chance. Perhaps this time I'm the one who didn't do his homework because I had no idea Neil was going to be playing THESE songs. "Cortez" was one of my first favorite Neil Young songs, and after years of having Widespread Panic drill it into my membranes it was simply amazing to hear the man himself destroy it. I had chills all over as Neil cried:

Hate was just a legend
And war was never known
The people worked together
And they lifted many stones

My eyes became damp as my mind grew limber, and before I knew it the epic journey of the evil "Cortez" led right into "Fuckin' Up" and "Hurricane." My goodness! The hits just kept coming, but these weren't heartless renditions or "crowd pleasers." Each song dug deep and opened up. Nothing was taken for granted, and there were several times that I became engulfed in the ferocious guitars as I lost any interest in what song was actually being played.

At some point in the over three-hour set, Neil cracked what I found to be the funniest joke all weekend. As the 1978 "Peace Dove" organ was lowered from the scaffolding Neil proclaimed this instrument (and prop) their "Stonehenge," referring to Spinal Tap. I erupted in laughter, but for only a second. This was serious business Neil was up to, no time for jokes.


photo by Adam Gulledge
One of the only songs I didn't know was "Be The Rain." This track featured some female back-up singers and a lively young lady with a megaphone. Neil also had a megaphone rigged through his mic stand, and the two of them weaved distorted lyrics proclaiming, "We have a job to do. Save mother earth..." It's really quite hard to argue with, and I certainly respect Neil for using his voice to hopefully integrate a bit of enlightenment into his dark music. The monster set ended with "Cinnamon Girl," "Rockin' In The Free World," "Roll Another Number (For The Road)" and "Down By The River." This was pretty much an ideal set, and as I indicated a few moments ago, what made it so damn impressive was the expansive freak-out qualities. A prime example of this came in "Rockin' In The Free World." Everyone knew he was gonna play it, especially after the political "Be The Rain," and it would have been so easy to come up a bit lame on this classic. But apparently Neil follows his own advice and is one who is simply not to be denied. I half expected Neil to play many of these hits, but I never expected him to bust them and my head open in the process.

This was a real rock 'n' roll thrown down by one of rocks forefathers. Perhaps the best way to sum this one up would be to use a few of good ole Neil's words:

"Keep on rockin' in the free world."

Or perhaps you'd prefer:

"Hey hey, my my, rock and roll will never die."

Either way, Neil forced me to carve out some space atop my Widespread Panic horse for another serious rock 'n' roll beast. Long live rock!

Friday 11:30pm - 4:00am

From the distorted freak-out of Neil Young to the clean space sounds of Sound Tribe Sector 9, Friday night was setting a particularly high standard for the weekend... but that's Bonnaroo for ya.

The walk from guitar overload with Neil at "What Stage" to the considerably smaller and more intimate "That Tent" remains a blur in my mind. In fact I don't think I could even recall a single detail from this journey. It's clear I traveled with my core posse because we rocked Sound Tribe Sector 9 hard as nails and as a unit... but again actually getting to show time is beyond me. It's good thing that such details are frivolous and somehow I managed to remember the meat of a SERIOUS STS9 show.

photo by Adam Gulledge
Serious is a key word here. I'm willing to say that I am fairly familiar with the Sound Tribe, and I have watched them develop and grow as a band, as an entity and, in some respect, as a concept. Musically they have far surpassed any notions I may have had when I first saw them back around 1998. There have been aspects and angles of their development that have resonated more with me than others, but one thing has maintained true in every step of their growth: they have always intrigued, welcomed and impressed me. Back to serious. I think it's clear that they have been getting more and more serious as this progression has been occurring. They have been fine tuning their skills, and perhaps not "jamming" songs out as long or exploring every nook that exists in a particular segment, but they are making each and every "sound" the best it can be. It is almost as if they are hyperanalyzing each segment of a song and focusing very intently on it and making it the crispest, cleanest, tightest it can be, sort of like a great deal of the highly produced music that is impossible to deny these days. (And this goes in direct conflict with long versions of songs; they are by nature going to be looser and harder to fine-tune). It seem that the band is dedicated to presenting these wonderful songs they have crafted. They have written some of the most amazing instrumental songs I've ever heard, and they are REAL songs, real concepts, and they NEED to present them as such, and not as forty-minute space jams. Their material has real intention and they want to use certain songs in certain places to evoke certain emotions, and god bless them for it. Sound Tribe Sector 9 is not interested in riding a funk vamp for twenty minutes; they want to relate their material in a more comprehendible manner. I believe they want people to dig, remember and relate to the crafted moments and the core essences of emotions that are embedded in the structure of their music. And for those that are more familiar with STS9, I believe that is why you have seen some more repetition in their setlists, and that is why the 20 minute "R&E" is now six minutes.

For me this entire vision of what they have been doing the past year or so came full circle at Bonnaroo - and perhaps the proverbial cat is now out of the bag. With a massive crowd that was easily twice as big as any they've ever played for (I'd reckon more like four times as many people, roughly 10,000 - 20,000 people surrounded "That Tent") the band did what they do best: manipulate energy.

photo by Adam Gulledge
Every band obviously plays music, but Sound Tribe Sector 9 seem to do more than just that. The band taps into a higher vibration, something that can't really be explained in words, but most of the bands that we all really dig do this in their own way. The Sound Tribe's way is aural soundscapes and beautiful textures. It's spaced-out journeys with dark undertones and in-depth conversations. It's more than just a certain song or a particular peak; it's the entire experience. It's what you see, feel, say and hear, it's all this and more. And early in the morning of Saturday, June 14th it was as tight, serious and hard-hitting as any Sector 9 show I've seen. The rapport between band and audience was more personal, electric and explosive than any I felt all weekend at Bonnaroo (the Polyphonic Spree did a nice job in this category as well).

The five members of STS9 came out SERIOUS. We're talkin' seventh game of a good NBA finals serious. Bassist Dave Murphy and keyboard wizard David Phipps had heads shaved, and when Murphy took the mic to start things off you could tell they were amped and ready to throw down. They walked on stage and never let up. In the course of about 28 songs these cats played hard and heavy for around four hours (minus the short setbreak).


photo by Adam Gulledge
Throughout the entire night I never found myself "wanting" anything. Sometimes with bands that you have become particularly familiar with you long for certain songs or criticize other ones. Not so on this evening, at least not for me. The opening "Ramon and Emiglio" was just as sharp as the set I closer "T.W.E.L.V.E." into "Dance." The entire evening flowed remarkably well and having a ginormous crowd roar at the peaks and transitions was incredible. Never in my life have I heard that many people scream for "Kamuy" or bust open during "Moonsockets." While there were many STS9 staples there were also a few tracks I had never heard, and even a completely re-worked "Rilly Wut." The entire show could never be summed up in one moment, but the encore with Phish bassist Mike Gordon says more than one might think. Not only was Gordo quoted in CNN saying how much he dug the band and was so excited to play with them that he ran back in hopes of getting in on the encore, but in some way it just may signify "the turning point." The encore wasn't the best part of the show; it was cool and sounded great, but what it did was force more of the outside world to look into STS9's growing universe.

After the show I was floating around and I can't tell you how many people I heard talking about the show, and the band. Sound Tribe Sector 9 blew minds that night. There were several, "I can't believe how sick that was" and "That is the best show I've ever seen" comments going around. And if I had never heard STS9 before I'd have to agree... they sure are something. Enjoy the smaller venues and theatres while you can, it's only a matter of time now.

Friday 4:00am - 11:00am

Theoretically this is the time for sleep. And while I'm sure many people were resting their weary Bonnabones, some of us didn't quite get the rest we had hoped for. What I did get to do was discuss the evening's festivities with Zach Velmer, drummer for STS9. He told me how much fun they had and how a lot of people felt like "something happened" that night. Well, something did my friend, something most certainly did. Perhaps the funniest part of my evening occurred while I was telling Zach that his band was about to blow up big time. He proceeded to walk out of the hotel room and proclaim, "I don't care if we're big here, I just want to be a rock star in Japan."

Saturday 11:00am - 3:00pm

My sleepless night led to an early (relatively) morning at the JamBase tent. I chilled out for a few, but knew rest was for the weak and there was no way I was missing Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons' set at 1:00pm.


photo by Bradly Bifulco
Earlier in the week Jerry said to me, "I don't know who booked the wake-up-angry-with-Jerry set, but it'll be cool." While gettin' outta bed was tough, I can't really imagine a better way to start a Saturday that ends (or at least peaks) with Widespread Panic, than with Mr. Jerry Joseph. The reverend led his three-piece ass kicker through a great hour of rock. The "Road to Damascus > Shout [by Tears for Fears] > Road to Damascus" got the crowd (and Jerry) goin'. But it was the mid-set "Airplane" and late showing of "Light is Like Water" that has really stuck with me. By the time I sipped a little Jack Daniels and threw my fist up with Jerry for a bit I was back on track and there was no slowing down. Perhaps "waking up angry with Jerry" was just what the doctor ordered. I went from bruised and slightly broken to ready and willing in no time... well, perhaps not no time, but in one fast hour with the Jackmormons.

While The Kayceman was exorcising certain demons with Jerry, Ms. Madeline was getting in touch with a different type of energy back at the Press Tent.

When I woke I remembered what them press folks told me: "Make sure you make it to the Press Tent in time for The Polyphonic Spree. They will be playing a special show in the press tent at noon." So there I was, I went, and got there, and was there at the tent. They walked in, all 25 or so of them, in white gowns, smiles, a few instruments, and began singing. The music was uplifting, spiritual, almost gospel-esque. They sang with the kind of beauty you would like to wake up to every morning. It’s the kind of thing you might expect to hear on a voyage to heaven or something. And before I knew it, their lil' ten minute show was over, and they turned and exited the tent still singing their song. I don’t know what they were selling, but I’ll buy it, I’ll join. How do I convert? What I am trying to say... this shit was pretty powerful.


photo by Tony Stack
Madeline hung around a bit here, a bit there, a whole bunch there, and finally wound up over yonder, where the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players finally started their much-anticipated set. With the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players you get a traditional power rock trio; think Jimi Hendrix experience or Gov't Mule or something. Except that the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are actually nothing at all like a power rock trio. Their set-up consists of father on keyboards, guitars, and vocals, mother on slideshow projection, and nine-year-old daughter on drums and backup vocals. The way it works is the family finds slides at flea markets and then writes their songs based on these newly found slides. Unfortunately for the Bonnaroo crowd it was the peak of day, not letting much darkness in the tent, and therefore making it virtually impossible to see the slide projections. I, however, was one of the lucky ones. I made my way close enough to the stage to be able to see what story these slides were showing us. Meanwhile the songs were kind of bizarre. Watching this nine-year-old drummer sing "religion kills the world" probably will be a memory that won’t be forgotten for a long time. Many in the crowd watched on in confusion. And I think that is exactly what the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players wanted.

photos by Adam Gulledge
I saw bits and pieces of Nickel Creek and Emmylou Harris before I wandered back to the press tent. The bits I saw of Nickel Creek were outstanding, with their crystal clear bluegrass sound. The pieces I saw of Emmylou Harris were so real I cannot put them into words. Now the pieces of Nickel Creek I saw and the bits of Emmylou Harris I saw are a whole other story, a story I like to call "Pieces and Bits of Nickel Creek and Emmylou Harris, Respectively." The reason for my premature departure from sets of such talented musicians was the fact that press conferences were getting ready to go on.

Saturday 3:00pm - 7:30pm

Ahhhh... again we find ourselves getting a bit ahead of the Bonnaroo horse. I can't with good conscious let Madeline dive headfirst into our Press Conference dialogue. Not when the aforementioned Emmylou Harris was wowing all in attendance at "What Stage" and your friend The Kayceman was reliving Madeline's glory with The Polyphonic Spree.


photo by Adam Gulledge
I had promised a few people, namely Super Dee (of JamBase fame) that come hell or high-water I would make it to The Polyphonic Spree. And I'm sure glad she made me promise. I had half a mind to go scope out the Press Tent, but after considering how I left Tortoise for a false Neil Young talk, I opted to stick to my guns and get religious with the Spree. So as not to reiterate too much, I too would like to offer up whatever services I may be able to offer to The Spree. I, like Madeline, will sign on the line. This is one hot group of zealous folks. Their energy and joy cannot be expressed; it simply has to be seen. There is a reason that this band is perhaps the most talked about new act in our scene. I suggest you all heed the words of Super Dee and "Go See Live Polyphonic Spree!"

While the cultish, joyous, amazing Spree was making The Kayceman pop with glee, a fellow JamBase contributor and all around talented artist Bradly Bifulco was compelled to share his thoughts on Emmylou Harris. In fact, Bradly is part of my "core crew" and when we met back up after our various Saturday afternoon fun he seemed incredibly impressed with what Emmylou had to offer. Perhaps I should just let him tell y'all:


photo by Adam Gulledge
My singular knowledge of Emmylou Harris comes from her involvement in the soundtrack for the Coen brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou (if you haven't seen the movie or heard the music, do yourself a favor and do so). The sun had been shining all day, and it was hot. The main stage wore a whole different vibe from the previous night's atmosphere where Neil Young and Crazy Horse delivered their bombastic rock manifesto. I had never seen Emmylou Harris before, nor could I have truthfully said, "oh yeah, sure, I'm a fan." But I drank of her music deeply, enjoying the vibe as she and her band wove their way through pop, rock, country, folk, and several other derivative and potentially non-derivative styles. One may assume that an act such as this would maybe execute a sort of well-rehearsed, very tight, stiff set. Well it was tight, and probably well rehearsed, but it wasn't at all stiff - it was very intimate, comfortable and friendly. There seemed to be rock-solid rapport amongst the players on stage, to the extent that it seemed that the band members were as stoked to be there with Emmylou as her die-hard fans would be. Even as the styles were changed up, sometimes from song to song, this easy-going pace pervaded every note of the show. Seemed like Emmylou and her band wanted everyone to feel right at home at the main stage in Manchester, TN. My good friend sitting next to me said, "You know, I really like that record Red Dirt Girl, I hope she plays some stuff off that one." During the very next break between songs, Ms. Harris announces that she'll be playing something off her record Red Dirt Girl, which incidentally won a Grammy in 2002 for Best Contemporary Folk Album. And that's just one of the honors she's managed to garner over her 30-plus year career. Gibson guitars named her best acoustic female guitarist of 2001. So, this woman is about as close to the essence of "cool" as you can get.

Her stage presence typified that of a musical legend; moreover, a treasure. Thanks to the screens positioned about the main stage area, I was able to watch her very closely as she sang over some sparsely accompanied sections. She's got the kind of voice that has an indescribable beauty, texture, and character - one that pretty much defies replication. Listening to her, I was thinking to myself that it's almost as if you don't want to believe that it's actually her voice, like it's too perfect, like humans can't do that. But it was her. Emmylou enjoyed having a sizeable crowd out there lending its ears, letting people know that she likes to "bonnaroo" (have a fuckin' good time). As class-act as class-acts come, Emmylou was definitely an unsuspected treat for me and my Bonnaroo experience. For all you avant-jazz freaks, fist-pumping rockers, psychedelic tweakers, beat-heads (of which all of the aforementioned groups I'd consider myself a member), check her out. She stands for a whole big part of roots music that I'm glad I found heaps more appreciation for this weekend.

As Bradly was soaking in the sounds of Emmylou it occurred to The Kayceman that Madeline had mentioned something about John Bell and JoJo from Widespread Panic doing a press conference. I was hesitant, but figured it's pretty damn rare that I may get to hear JB's thoughts while he's chillin' out as opposed to leading the Panic monster in front of, oh say... 80,000 people! So I took a chance and ran over the tripped-out moon dirt to the Press Tent. When I got there Madeline began introducing me to people, saying hi to this guy and that guy... it was like she was there all day or something?! I came to find out it might not have been all day, but Madeline did have quite a bit to say about the press conferences. Here are what you could consider Madeline Modeliste's "Notes From The Press Tent":

photos by Adam Gulledge and Tony Stack
Sitting on the couches in front of rows of media were: Gregg Allman, Keller Williams, Mike Gordon, and Derek Trucks.

Highlights: Mike Gordon telling the story of seeing Sound Tribe Sector 9 for the first time the night before, and really enjoying it, so much that he decided to see if he could join the band, which he did for the encore.

When asked, "Who should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?"

  • Greg Allman: "Widespread Panic."

  • Keller Williams: "Tenacious D."

  • Mike Gordon: "Leo Kottke, and [half-jokingly, he added] Sound Tribe Sector 9."

    That’s three Athens-related artists those folks just named. Leo Kottke (originally from Athens), Sound Tribe Sector 9 (started out of Athens) and of course the Panic.

    Lowlights: During the press conference Robert Randolph and his Family Band could be heard from "Which Stage." When asked about whom they’d like to sit in with, Derek Trucks, hearing someone sitting in with RRFB, responded, "Well, the wife is right now." We could all hear Susan Tedeschi singing her soulful lil' heart out. And Derek added, "We were supposed to be sitting in right now." So the lowlight was the fact that us, the press, held up a potentially incredible guest sit-in.

    The next press conference consisted of Nickel Creek, JB and JoJo of Widespread Panic, and the entire Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players.

    Highlights: Just seeing these three very different groups of artists sharing a press conference.

    Lowlights: Seeing these three very different group of artists sharing a press conference.

    From the press tent I took my pretty little behind right on over to see me some more of that Greg Allman. And let me tell you; he and his Band of Brothers delivered!

    Though the Allman Brothers Band has gone through some very interesting player personnel moves in the last few years, no one can deny the players that were picked up through trades, free agency and the draft as they are all very adequate and talented ball players; I mean musicians in their own rights. Though I personally missed hearing Mr. Betts, I don’t think I could sense this from anyone in the crowd. And with good reason. These new (and old) Allman Brothers gave the crowd what they wanted. Old classics such as "Statesboro Blues," "Midnight Rider," "Whipping Post," and a "Layla" that sounded sweeter than a Georgia peach. But they didn't stick to the oldies. The bands new album, Hittin' the Note, is being reviewed as one of their best and certainly finds the band with an eye on the future still. A few songs of note from Hittin' the Note were "The High Cost of Low Living" and "Instrumental Illness." It’s the kind of Georgia music that’ll cure almost any ill you might have. You scream them beautiful lines, and dance your sweat right on out of you while ripping guitars boogie through your head. Seems to me this legendary band has some fine looking years ahead of them.


    photo by Tony Stack
    Got to the Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon tent in time to catch a nice lil' chunk of their set. The acoustic-driven duo put a chill vibe out to everyone around. This does not mean they lacked intensity, however; very much the opposite. Their music wrapped its delicate hands around me and pulled me in close. A bit country, bit folky, I’d like to call it farm music. However, there wasn’t much rust to it. This was refined crisp clean farm music. Somewhere in between twang and ting. After listening to their music for 20 minutes I somehow felt purified. Time for a cigarette.

    From there, well, Panic’s a bit too close to the heart to review, so I’ll just leave that up to The Kayceman (I don’t think he has ever heard them before).

    Saturday 7:30pm - 4:00am

    Sarcasm can be lost here in cyberland, and believe you me Madeline is being sarcastic when she says that I (El Kayceman) have not heard of, seen or been heavily involved with Widespread Panic for quite some time now. And while this is not the appropriate place to go into detail about how each and every show is sort of a new experience for Spread Heads, it should at least be touched on briefly. You see the nature of the WSP beast is still finding its groove with new lead guitarist George McConnell. But they are finding that groove, and just as the last show I saw over JazzFest was the best Panic show I've seen since Mikey passed away, this one very well may have been too. Well, even if it wasn't "better" than the Municipal Auditorium show, I'll tell ya this: if it had a setbreak and the added intensity of being all cooped up in an indoor venue, then this show would have taken the cake.

    photos by Adam Gulledge
    As game time was approaching I couldn't help but think back to last year's Bonnaroo. And anyone who is even vaguely paying attention in the WSP world can tell you, last year Panic BROUGHT IT! That 6.22.02 Saturday night show was one of the best experiences (Panic or otherwise) I've ever had... and it allowed me to see things that I needed to see again, things like JB locking in with Mikey. Things like "Vacation." And while I was stuck in a bit of retrospection my attention was swallowed by what tonight's Panic would bring. My excitement began to bubble over and cascade a bit out of control with anticipation. As my heat-soaked mind was doing backflips, it was none to soon that I heard the opening notes to "Love Tractor" come belting over the AWESOME sound system. [Editor's note: It really is an impressive feat to bring sound to 80,000 people in an open field, and have it sound good.] "Love Tractor" got a nice dash of spice as they weaved "Thin Air (Smells Like Mississippi)" into the middle of it. At this point I was sort of gettin' a bird-s-eye view, but I needed to be closer, I needed to feel the bass. By the time JB was belting the rapid-fire lyrics of "Thin Air" I began to tear through the crowd.

    I shifted around and found some space not too far back up near Schools and settled on in for some down right dirty rippin'. "Ain't Life Grand" bating third in the set rotation was a bit unexpected, but this would certainly not be the only surprise of the evening. The set really got rolling with the arrival of some fresh material found on the recent release Ball. "Papa Johnny Road" sounded damn good both musically and lyrically. JB really gets up inside this one and strikes a few nerves. The words:

    Crawlin' in the dirt all night
    I guess this is a place

    were more than appropriate, and I don't think anyone can deny John Bell singing:

    Laugh so hard, the devil gets scared
    I got a real good mind to beat you senseless.

    And this was only the start of the onslaught. "Tortured Artist" gave way to "Greta," and this was when the WSP truck began to fire. George's guitar was growling in "Greta" and the rest of the band followed suit. The sounds began to swirl and rap around one another, things got a little hazy and slightly off-kilter. As Panic was gathering momentum and darkness began to fall, "Driving Song > Pusherman > Driving Song" allowed me to stop thinking. The music began to really take hold and I was no longer listening for what George was gonna do, or how Schools was going to react. I was getting swept up in it, and we still weren't even at "full tilt freak-out."

    The heavy wake of "Thought Sausage" sounded as good as I've heard it, but it was "Nebulous" that would really shine. "Nebulous" is one of the strongest songs Widespread Panic has right now. There have been no previous ideas laid down. There have been no crowd/band expectations for where things would naturally go with Mikey. It only makes sense that the newer songs, the songs off Ball, would be stronger; they were written with George and he is helping write the map for where the songs go. "Nebulous" follows a dark slinky path and is quickly becoming a serious piece of music. The other song off Ball that is really showing heavy experimental and improvisational possibilities is "Monstrosity." Allowing "Nebulous" to lead into "Monstrosity" (after a hot drum session with Stanton Moore) proved to be the heat that I needed from the boys. This power-packed middle section including "Nebulous," "Monstrosity," and "Give" really fueled my obsession. They had some serious grit rolling, and I had fully succumbed to the band. I was no longer trying to rationalize this or analyze that. Panic was moving and they were mowing people down.

    Another thing about this band is that they always seem to have something tucked away, sort of a card up the sleeve, if you will. I wasn't sure what we had on tap tonight, but at the end of a slightly lackluster "Henry Parsons" you could have convinced me the "Nebulous/Monstrosity" was the moment of glory. But it would be the delicate, but dark as all hell, bluegrassy rework of "Imitation Leather Shoes" that would steal the thunder. In preparation for this masterful "Imitation," JB led the band through a few very well played acoustic numbers including "Fishing," "Counting Train Cars" and "Porch Song." But it was really all about "Imitation," and what would follow, of course.

    photos by Adam Gulledge
    This highly acclaimed "Imitation Leather Shoes" sounded so damn good and again, unexpected, that the Panic faithful were gettin' loose! Amongst other aspects of music that score very well with me, surprise is definitely one of them. And WSP kept me guessing all night. From the lack of setbreak to an insanely demented vision created by JB during "Imitation" to a marvelous triple encore including "Pilgrims," Panic left me on my toes and drifting pretty high.

    Before I explain exactly why I was so happy and proud to hear "Pilgrims," I have to make mention of a few great guests that helped create one hell of a set. After an emotional "Climb To Safety" (with no Jerry Joseph, sadly) Warren Haynes came out for "Don't Wanna Loose You" and a very touching, fiery, Panic-y "Surprise Valley." At this point another string slinger came out in the form of Robert Randolph. Randolph added a nice high-end scream to "Ride Me High" but was definitely in huge company as he moved gingerly. The set closer "Chilly Water" was solid and left me wondering what the hell just went down.

    photos by Tony Stack
    I was trying (with little luck) to piece the set back together, which is actually a good sign, but no time to explain all that now. Before I could get past "Ain't Life Grand" in my memory the band was back and Schools was making dedications to all of us, the fine people of Bonnaroo and "the guy whose farm this is." That led to a smile inducing pig-rolling version of "Down On The Farm." The second part of the triple encore was "Pilgrims." Now when I heard the unmistakable guitar line that opens this beauty I stopped dead in my tracks. See I had just had a conversation with George McConnell in which we talked at great length about "Pilgrims." In fact George told me it's always been one of his favorite Panic songs, and he went on to explain a bit more:

    "One of the biggest challenges right off the bat, something I've probably worked the longest on, is 'Pilgrims.' It's such a beautiful chord passage that Mikey does on that, and it's really unique. I've never played anything like it in my life; I've never even used these chords before."

    So when I heard those chords it was impossible for me to not listen with a bit of extra attention. And I'll tell you what, it sounded pretty damn good. Looks like all that hard work is paying off. From one Panic staple to another, "Space Wrangler" ended the set. I was smiling so loud and so bright that even without a setbreak I walked away satisfied.

    Wandering out of Panic-land in the drizzling rain I had lost all my friends, a small piece of my mind, and a great deal of inhibition. I knew I needed to get over to "That Tent" for a chance to see perhaps the most talked about band of the year, The Flaming Lips. Getting sidetracked on my way I was lucky enough to run into a few good friends and after freshening up we bolted to the big screens, freaky effect and highly produced show that is the Lips.

    photos by Tony Stack and Adam Gulledge
    In the days leading to Saturday Late Night Bonnaroo, I had heard so many people talking about The Flaming Lips that I expected the Late Night tent to be packed beyond capacity. This was not the case, in great part due to wonder group Medeski Martin & Wood playing at the same time. Now I'm a huge MMW fan, so this was not the easiest of choices, but I have seen (and will see) MMW many many times, so I figured I damn well better use this chance to catch one of the hottest acts around. The Flaming Lips busted on the scene big time with their smash album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, but this was far from their debut. The band got together back in 1983 in Oklahoma City and over the past 20 years has released eleven albums. While most of the MTV generation thinks The Flaming Lips are a new band, we all know better. Their career has entered its third decade, and they are clearly stronger than ever.

    photos by Tony Stack
    I have heard the music of The Flaming Lips described as "acid-bubblegum rock," and that seems pretty accurate. They rely on sweet melodies clashing with harsh imagery to create a very bizarre and strange world. My biggest concern, which was partially accurate and partially misjudged, was the notion that they are more concerned with the "show" than the "music." This proved to be both the beauty and weakness of The Flaming Lips (and this is purely opinion, but so is just about anything you read). As I looked around I didn't see one person dancing or getting into the music, it was all about the show. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing, just something that was hard for my heavily demented mind to ignore. But what this band did for an overall experience was AWESOME.

    photos by Adam Gulledge
    The stage set up, props, life-sized animal figures, screens, sounds and vision were beyond anything available at Bonnaroo, and perhaps anywhere. The band touched on its various hits and performed them wildly. This was truly a feast for the eyes and ears alike. There was clearly just as much attention paid to the stage as to the music. And this music is very sensitive and needs attention to detail, as did the stage. A few of the stage antics were undeniable. For instance, at one point bandleader Wayne Coyne led the band and the projection screens through a "don't snort your brain" seminar. The disturbing visuals found a man locked in a bathroom stall cutting the top half of his cranium open. The sad man then proceeded to remove his brain and very vividly chop his brain up much like you see people do in the movies with white powders. The figure on the huge screen then did the inevitable, he snorted his brain and licked the his fingers clean of the "product." As this ended the huge words, DON'T SNORT YOUR BRAIN, RELAX, ENJOY LIFE - THE FLAMING LIPS" appeared. Indeed, do NOT snort your brain, or, as the message made pretty clear, don't snort anything. Like mom and Mrs. Regan used to say, "Just Say No."


    photo by Tony Stack
    Another visual oddity and fully freaky aspect of the show occurred when Coyne used fake blood as a prop. The blood poured down his head and face and I don't believe it was ever cleaned up. Coyne's ability as a performer was equal to that of his skills as a bandleader. The Flaming Lips experience is unlike anything else I have ever been a part of. Not to dwell too much on what I saw, because I did hear some really wonderful things as well... they were just dwarfed by what my late-night eyes saw. On the audio side I must tip my hat to a few marvelous Pink Floyd covers, as well as an all around really strong performance. What made these Pink Floyd songs so great was a variety of things. First off they played them very well, so good that even Roger Waters would have been pleased. But it was also the placement in the set, and the placement in the festival. Hearing "Breathe" and "Us and Them" with a warm breeze blowing over my exposed brain was more than fitting. It allowed a short time to float as I mulled over the thought of "Us and Them," and how at that point in time I felt like Bonnaroo was "Us" and the remainder of the world was "Them." Furthermore my good man TK suggested something that might sound a bit conceited, or maybe even a bit crazy, but worthy of consideration nonetheless. TK suggested that The Flaming Lips feel perhaps that they are our generation's Pink Floyd and that's why these songs were played. At first I found this to be preposterous, and while I'm still unwilling to lump anyone in Pink Floyd's category, time will tell what kind of mark The Flaming Lips will leave. They have already been around for 20 years and broken through a wide array of genres... perhaps greatness will become them. Perhaps it already has.

    photos by Adam Gulledge
    After complete sensory overload at The Lips, we meandered over to Medeski Martin & Wood. Passing by hot shot DJ Mark Farina we got a lil' taste of his patented Mushroom Jazz which seemed like a nice appetizer for the freaked-out jazz journeys of MMW. By the time we passed the mushroom fountain and meandered down Centeroo around the umbrella lights, the crowd was dense at MMW. The rain that had been kind enough to hold off began to pour and in the blink of an eye a large group or people found themselves cramming under the tent trying to stay dry. By this time in the evening my posse and I had depleted our batteries and the rain was causing a few short circuits. We stayed long enough to hear the outbound jazz trio tweak a few sounds, but the call of the Days Inn was too strong to ignore at wet 3:00am. One piece of MMW that I wished I had seen was Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars sitting in. I heard from a few sources that this was hot! And I'm sure it was, MMW has yet to let me down. I have a many a friend who says, "Oh they're too spacey" or "I love them when they throw down, but sometimes they get too out there." Well, out there or in here, funkin' out or trippin' out, MMW does no wrong for me... too bad I couldn't do it all at Bonnaroo, but a taste of Medeski Martin & Wood is better than none at all.

    Saturday 4:00am - 11:00am

    photos by Adam Gulledge
    Again, this is the time that most people sleep... but something about Bonnaroo and all this heated music kept me awake, night after night. As I sat at our bird's-eye maple table looking at the trees outside my window, I was mentally and physically exhausted, yet my mind wouldn't stop. I knew we were headed for day three of Bonnaroo... and while I was looking to take it a bit easier, I knew I needed at least a few minutes of sleep. At some point I did manage to catch a couple of winks, but it wasn't until I had a good laugh watching all my friends drool on themselves. I awoke from my twisted dreamscape instantly realizing that one of my favorite young bands was due to hit the stage soon. No sleep for the wicked, and back to the farm I went.

    Sunday 11:00am - 3:30pm

    Meanwhile, as I was preparing the morning version of a Jack Daniels cocktail, JamBase correspondent Chris Proposki was wisely one step ahead as he was over at Warren Haynes' Sunday morning solo set. In retrospect this ended up being the one show I didn't see that I really wish I had. But such is life on the farm, good thing we got Chris.


    photo by Adam Gulledge
    One of the highlights of the weekend on the farm in Tennessee was Warren Haynes' impressive solo acoustic set on the "What Stage" on Sunday afternoon. He looked quite alone standing on such a cavernous stage build for large bands. Being able to see this particular performance was a real treat. Warren played a surprisingly emotional and passionate selection of both originals as well as some carefully selected covers.

    Starting off with Radiohead's "Lucky," the set’s song subjects dealt with sadness, loss, betrayal, love lost and hope. "Patchwork Quilt," Warren’s song for Jerry Garcia, was followed by Garcia’s own "To Lay Me Down."

    "Glory Road" and "The Real Thing" came next. These songs were emotionally heavy and Haynes kept a stern demeanor throughout the entire set, caught up in the dark subject matter of the songs. It was like a Sunday sermon on loss, regret and heartbreak. A pleasant surprise was Warren’s version of U2's "One." "Fallen Down" fell into "In My Life." After "Beautifully Broken," Warren strapped on his Les Paul for a bit more power. "I’ve Got Dreams" and "Tastes Like Wine" had a much different sound being played with the solo electric rather than the acoustic guitar.

    Warren followed these up with an excellent reading of The Eagles’ tearjerker "Wasted Time." Continuing with the melancholy songs, a cover of the Grateful Dead classic "Stella Blue" came next, much to the delight of the fans.

    The set concluded with the ever-hopeful "Soulshine" featuring South African singer Vusi Mahlasela signing a few of the verses. It was a really nice touch. So nice that even Warren smiled.

    Having to miss a solo show by Warren of this magnitude is tough, but when you're up past sunrise noon comes quick. It was unfortunate, but I was having trouble getting sufficiently prepared for two smaller bands that I simply love: The Slip and Drive-By Truckers.

    photos by Adam Gulledge
    After a particularly early Jack and frozen lemonade [editor's note: when you have no ice, utilize the frozen drinks available to you by the vendors] I found myself walking under "This Tent" just as The Slip slid on stage. Comprised of brothers Andrew and Brad Barr on drums/percussion and guitar/vocals, respectively, along with childhood friend Marc Friedman on bass, The Slip is a band that I have truly enjoyed watching grow. When I first heard the band's 1997 release From the Gecko I was an instant fan. The CD captured an essence and a small sample of experience that became a large piece of my late-teen/early 20s soundtrack. But what has happened since 1997's Gecko and 2002's Ryko release Angels Come On Time is nothing short of inspiring. Each member of this band has taken it upon himself to constantly get better, and that is what they are doing. Every time I see these guys they are better. The emotionally charged releases found in their earlier work are still there, but they are now musical powerhouses. Friedman on fretless (usually) is one of the best young bassists I've ever seen. His phrasings are admirable and his patience is soothing. But this doesn't mean he is soft, not at all. The rhythms that he leads the band through can be both intimidating and confounding, but he always seems to be in the right spot. Anchoring the groove with Andrew Barr doesn't hurt any. It would appear that Andrew has a natural sense of rhythm. The type of thing that you never learn, you just have it or you don't. He certainly draws comparison to Billy Martin, but is definitely not copying. I suppose the comparison is so apt in that they both work from within, sort of tapping into the universe's movement. It is this inherent ability that allows him to utilize such a wide array of percussive toys and never make them seem trite.


    photo by Zack Smith
    On lead, Brad Barr has come miles in the past couple of years, in both his guitar playing and singing. Brad's story telling and vocal imagery is a strong component of The Slip's music, which completely escapes classification. With heavy jazz chops, music theory, a few loops and knobs, a dash of Americana, a heavy nod to quality pop and vocal expression, it's a joke to even try to put one name on this band.

    In their hour-long set at Bonnaroo they covered quite a bit of ground and did their best to touch on all of these elements. The opener of "Get Me With Fuji" showed off their propensity for sonic distortion, heavy beats and futuristic twisting. But they didn't stay in space too long as they moved through old and new material with ease. "Nellie Jean" (off Angels, as is "Fuji") displayed Friedman's dexterity gorgeously. In the end what impressed me most of all was two newer songs I heard as well as the overall quality of sound. The newer vocal track "Soft Machine," that Brad whipped up in the beginning, was mouth dropping and the "Moroccan Tune," finding Brad off his hallow body and on nylon strings, was a brilliant way to move into the set closer "Sorry." Looking out over the extremely appreciative crowd, who were filling the tent with a substantial amount of praise, I began to see a glimpse of the future. This band is so damn good, and seem bent on getting better, that I hope Bonnaroo can help propel them a bit. I hope this experience allows a few more eyes to be opened and a few more ears engaged, because The Slip are worth seeing!

    Sunday morning found some at The New Deal, some at Topaz, Chris at Warren, Kayceman at The Slip and for Madeline, her final day of Bonnaroo began Mississippi style.


    photo by Adam Gulledge
    The North Mississippi Allstars didn’t waste much time up there on "Which Stage." From the get-go them Mississippi boys threw down. The four-piece contemporary blues band took no prisoners. Everyone within hearing range became victim to their upbeat blues. When I call them a contemporary blues band, what one must understand is that there are no other contemporaries that sound like them. Sure, they share riffs or lyrical content, or musical formulas with some of their peers, but no one sounds like the North Mississippi Allstars. "Which Stage" was a perfect spot for NMAS to play. A giant field held thousands at "Which Stage," which one would think might be a bit too big to be the perfect spot for an Allstars show. However, the reason it was a perfect spot had nothing to do with the size of it. It was all about the mud. There wasn’t a muddier venue in all of Bonnaroo than "Which Stage," and there wasn’t a more mud-themed band playing in all of Bonnaroo than the North Mississippi Allstars.


    photo by Adam Gulledge
    As I grooved closer and closer to the stage I walked on the funny ground. Luther Dickinson, guitar and vocals, sang from deep within his soul, and bled his beautiful blues from his twangy tuned guitar. I knew I had to get closer, Chris Chew kept my motor going with thumping bass lines that seemed to actually lift my leg and move it forward. Bass lines moved me, while Cody Dickinson’s drums bobbed my head (in true punk rock fashion). It was Duwayne Burnside’s easy sounding guitar that finished my voyage to a spot that I was happy with; a spot with plenty of room to dance, good views, and great sound. I looked down, and realized a fault of this spot: I stood in two-foot deep mud. The music caused me to dance my little feet all the way ankles deep in the mud. But what the Allstars threw down was music muddified. Something dirty. Sure there is beauty beneath, but they like to throw a lil' mud on top so you got to work for that beauty. My feet could feel that Allstar magic and made a lil' mud music of my own.

    From the bluesy mud beats of NMAS to WSP and more, there was plenty of dirty rock to get you through the weekend. Staying with this line of thought, following The Slip on "This Stage" was the hardest Southern rock band in the land. Some of you might be saying, "But Kayceman, you always talk so much hype about Panic being the Kings of Rock." Yes this is true, and they are. But ya see, Widespread Panic is more than a Southern rock band, while the Truckers are the epitome of a hard-ass, shit-kickin', whiskey sluggin', angry-loud Southern rock band. In fact they killed it so hard that they are probably my new favorite band. Now I don't mean they are my favorite band, they are my favorite "new" band. I have many different types of favorites, and after having my skull cracked by the DBTs I have to find a favorite spot for them... at least for a little while.

    photos by The Kayceman
    I had been listening to the band rather obsessively for some time now. Live stuff, great albums etc., but I was yet to witness their live destruction. Patterson Hood assumes the role of leader, and he quickly blew me straight to hell with his unwavering tenacity. He's got this vicious whiskey-soaked voice and has that look in his eye. That glare that tells you more than he's willing to talk about. That glaze that ties him to the devil. Mind you, his guitar screams as loud as he does, and together they are a team I wouldn't even consider pissing off.

    While Hood is nasty as they come, fellow guitar growler Mike Cooley seems to drink of the same wine. In his press release it says: "Mike Cooley plays guitar and sings. He grew up in Tuscumbia, AL... He plays really cheap beat-up guitars, and tears them up when they act up. Don't act up." Point noted. With the Drive-By Truckers this is what you are dealing with. Hood spitting on the ground as they get into "Hell No I Ain't Happy," and throwing his drink across the stage before "Let There Be Rock" starts. This is not your Sunday afternoon lie-in-the-grass Bonnaroo band. This is more like the out-of-control 18-wheeler that will chew you up Sunday Bonnaroo band.

    It seems that maybe the Drive-By Truckers instruments were acting up, or not submitting as hoped, because the show ended in ridiculous arena rock guitar destruction. While the 24 year-old third guitar ripper Jason Isbell had the head of his axe buried in the stage as he literally ripped the strings out of the body and Cooley was desecrating his piece, Patterson held his guitar over head with one hand and proclaimed, "Hey y'all we're the Drive-By Truckers, we're from Muscle Shoals Alabama," at which point he dropped his guitar and didn't even watch it bounce as he walked off stage.

    I reckon there's a lot of people who either don't want to or just can't get behind this type of gritty, distorted take on the world music. But for those of us who can, take a ride with the Truckers and you'll never hear things quite the same.

    Sunday 3:30pm - 7:30pm


    photo by Tony Stack
    My afternoon drifted in and out of consciousness as I began to relax for the first time all weekend. Laying under a tree on the dry welcoming earth I heard the sounds of Michael Franti & Spearhead billowing out of "This Tent." My horizontal viewpoint made for perfect listening, as I very much-enjoyed Franti's politically spun hip-hop folk anthems. I particularly enjoyed his explanation for the song "Taxi Radio" which was recorded with French star Sgt. Garcia. Franti explained that he wanted to make the most universal song he could. He wanted to make a song that people of all nations could relate to. He went on to explain that the two most common words in all languages are "Taxi" and "Radio." In all countries all over the world these words exist. People in Uganda call "Taxi" just as people in Boston do (with slightly different accents, of course). As the band broke into song and I lay staring at the broken sky above a marvelous tree, I felt at peace with all of my surroundings.

    I don't really know how much time elapsed but I awoke to "Come on... get up Kayceman, sounds like 'SuperJam' is gonna be dope." As I opened my eyes and ears I could barely make out the sounds, but what I did hear grabbed me by the jimmy and pushed me right on up to my feat.

    photos by Tony Stack
    I walked closer and closer and became more and more pleased. Before I could even see Dr. John the sound of his seminal "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" was rapping around my weary head. I walked closer, and again before I could even see Stanton Moore it was clear that he was laying down his unmistakable gumbo funk. And to the left the shredding of Luther Dickinson was underway. And whom, you might ask, was keeping the bass on track? Mike Gordon. Of course it was Gordo - this was a real "SuperJam." Often times with these "SuperJams" you get a few good (maybe great) musicians riding a funk track and taking turns soloing. There is rarely any interesting slant or enticing direction. But with Dr. John at the helm and a very super group behind him, the entire set was very intriguing.

    Along with Dr. John's "Gilded Splinters" we heard his legendary "Right Place Wrong Time." Stanton was his usual amazing self and Luther slid in and out with due respect to the Dr.'s space. And of course Mike was adding his subtle touches and off-kilter bumps, but for the most part he too followed Dr. John as he blazed Bonnaroo. There were a few other surprises mixed in, a nice harmonica accompaniment, but in the end Dr. John came out as the big surprise and the hidden gem of Bonnaroo.

    It wasn't even that he the "SuperJam" lit the place on fire so much. It was just so refreshing to see a real "super band" communicating on stage. You would be hard pressed to find four more talented men at their respective instruments, and having someone to really take charge like the good Dr. himself made "SuperJam" my final fully engaged moment at Bonnaroo. In the back of my weary head, I knew I still had Madeline running around ready to fill me in on moe. and The Dead. So I checked out some more music, heard a bit of this and a tad of that (for the record, I enjoyed what I heard of moe. much more than Madeline did), but with the sweet sounds of Dr. John - the man who coined the term "Bonnaroo," people! - I just figured it was time to let the 'roo start to slide.

    photos by Tony Stack
    After checking out some James Brown I decided to move my lil' Athens ass on over to watch moe. Now folks had been talking about moe. all over and about Bonnaroo, so I said, "Eh, what the feg, I’ll go see what everyone’s talking about. It’s not like Dr. John is going to be playing at the 'SuperJam' or anything."

    This Yankee band came out with some intriguing guitar riff-filled songs. Led by the wall of guitars featuring Al Schnier on guitar/vocals, Rob Derhak on bass/vocals, and Chuck Garvey on guitar/vocals, the band has been one of the hardest touring and most successful "jambands" on the circuit. Musically I was beginning to like it. Then the signing came. Their voices were adequate, possibly even a touch above average, but what they were singing about verged between silly and meaningless. I decided to be a big girl, and look past these personal annoyances. So I focused back on the music, the somewhat heavy guitar-driven music that I liked in the beginning. Unfortunately this too was becoming a bit meaningless. Each song moe. flung out at us seemed lighter than the last. And every time I was going to write these guys off, something interesting would happen, be it a jam that actually had drive and/or purpose to it, or an interesting guest sit in, like John Popper or Warren Haynes. These were the reasons I didn’t leave. I stayed and endured all the more or less boring parts of moe. so that I could hear the few musical gems they produced. What pissed me off more than anything is that, of all people, Dr. John really was playing at the same time at the "SuperJam." D'oh! On an Athens scale of five, moe. gets a two. Two haircuts from Rage Hair studio.

    Now as I mentioned, I thought moe. sounded pretty alright... but I was off to the side, as I said starting to let my weekend slide. But this notion was reinforced when I ran back into my man Bradly. In fact moe. worked so well for him that he felt a few moe. words needed to be said.

    photos by Adam Gulledge
    I was wandering around between stages as moe. was beginning its set. I couldn't even say I was paying attention as they began with "32 Things." I haven't seen that much of moe. I saw them in about 1995 or '96 on my college campus, and then again at the Gathering of the Vibes in '99. And both times I recall as being great performances. Yet as they closed out "32 things" and began "Opium" and throwing Warren Haynes into the mix, I realized I probably should have been paying better attention to moe. over the last several years. Haynes stayed up with them for the title track from their most recent release Wormwood, and left before they wound their way into "Okayallright." By this time, it was pretty evident to me that moe. was in the midst of dropping a considerable bomb on those fortunate enough to be crowded around that stage. I had a pretty "macro" view of the whole stage, a long way off from being "in the soup", and their sonic output was fully enveloping my headspace. John Popper emerged during the next tune, "Bring it Back Home," and that was cool hearing him. It's interesting to think about how John Popper would feel, rocking Bonnaroo - he's been on this scene (live/touring) for a good long while, some would probably say he's partially responsible for perpetuating and nurturing this scene. I hope he's stoked on what he helped make. Not to mention he gets to blow it out with a band as sharp, agile and witty as moe.

    At this point in the show, I looked up in the sky above the stage and there is this bulbous pile of a cloud kind of sitting in this pocket of bright blue sky. The setting sun was kind of hitting the cloud at this odd angle, lighting up the texture of the cloud as it dissipated over the stage while moe. absolutely brought the house down. It was a cool thing to see - a beautiful manifestation of nature coupled with moe.'s conversations in thunder and lightning. moe. finished things up with what I'm told is one of the cooler ways that they end shows: "Buster > Plane Crash > Buster > Plane Crash." It wailed and left me wanting another set of moe. so I could climb my way up front and into the soup.

    Sunday 7:30pm - 11:30pm

    photos by Adam Gulledge
    The Dead took the stage to close out the entire festival. Now I’ve been seeing "The Dead" since before most of you were born. How do I know that? Well, perhaps not most of you, but by the faces that were trying to get my eye it was clear that many of the fans were youngens. At any rate, the Grateful Dead had always been something close to my heart, and it has really been tough for me to see any such Dead-related group since Mr. Garcia took his motorcycle up to the sky. I’ve seen some Phil and Friends shows, and a couple Other Ones shows, but not many of either. This would be the first time I have seen anything like it in a few years. I am glad I waited, because the new product packs a pinch of magic. The new lineup - consisting of Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Jimmy Herring, Joan Osborne, Rob Barraco, and Jeff Chimenti - transported something very similar to the original Grateful Dead aura right into modern day neo-hippie land. The crowd was ready and "Touch of Grey" started it all off. The two-set show kept most in the crowd shaking for hours (including the eye-catching and undeniably fine-looking Madeline Modeliste herself). When hearing that these guys are playing together again, all Dead Heads have one question: "Who is playing guitar on the other side of Bobby?" It might be the toughest spot in rock 'n' roll to fill, but that is why Jimmy Herring was chosen. If anyone is up for a job that no one in the world thinks could be filled, it is Jimmy Herring. This Georgia boy can rage, can play low and delicate, can emulate any style thrown at him. Herring fills the un-fillable Grateful Dead lead guitarist spot as well as I think anyone can. And the Dead’s music flourished this night due in part to Herring’s guitar playing. It wasn’t all peaches and cream though; there were moments in the show that had me cringing. All in all, however, the Dead’s set was powerful and fun and a perfect way to end a surprisingly smooth and unforgettable weekend.

    An unforgettable weekend indeed. With new faces and sounds, weather and experiences, Bonnaroo 2003 was certainly different than 2002. But while the schedules and plans, camping and layout were new, the vibe, preparation, management, enjoyment and all around "good times" were noticeably similar. Superfly and AC Entertainment know what they are doing. They surprised the music industry (and population at large) by pulling off the original Bonnaroo. And when rain was pelting the Eastern United States and rumors of increased police presence began to circulate, fears began to arise, and speculation about turnout and success began to filter down the trough. But like that Field Of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come." You know, come to think of it, that farm in Manchester is its own "Field Of Dreams." They build the most impressive line-up of the year, and we will come. Come rain, come mud, come sleep deprivation and fun... we will come. Here's to another great Bonnaroo, and many more to come.

    Many thanks to all the fine people associated with this fine festival, and a very special thank you to all who helped in the writing of this here short novel: Madeline Modeliste, Bradly, and Chris Proposki from all of us here at JamBase, this is The Kayceman signing off.

    Narration and tour guide by: The Kayceman
    Images by: Adam Gulledge and Tony Stack
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    [Published on: 6/27/03]

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