Words by: Wesley Hodges | Images by: Jake Krolick
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival :: 06.09.11 :: Manchester, TN
Here’s some highlights and photos from yesterday’s official start to the 10th Anniversary Bonnaroo. We’ll have some more coverage over the weekend and a larger follow-up and gallery next week.
|Bonnaroo 2011 by Jake Krolick|
”This morning’s gonna make us right” – Futurebirds’ “APO”
And just like that, Bonnaroo 2011 was off. Groggy as I may be at the moment after a night in a tent and a rude, early awakening in that same tent, reflecting back on Thursday fondly is an easy thing to do. A young Athens, GA band called the Futurebirds ushered in the 10th Anniversary of this mammoth gathering, and what’s more apropos than an up-and-coming, country-tinged rock band to fill the sleepy hills of Tennessee with steel, banjo and harmonies? The sextet’s sound fit the occasion very appropriately. As I’ve said in the past and will repeat once again, Thursday is always a beautiful orientation for what’s to come, a chance for all to dig in the dirt and set yourself up for a memorable musical adventure while you’ve still got the advantages of rest, cleanliness and all of the creature comforts that become irrelevant as the weekend proceeds. After nine years at Bonnaroo, I can say with full confidence that this was the finest Thursday the organizers have provided for us, a slam-packed slate of talent that made me wonder on multiple occasions why certain bands weren’t saved for the proper weekend. Tonight will surely be one for the ages with the two hottest rock bands in the world performing back-to-back on the main stage - My Morning Jacket and Arcade Fire - but last night will undoubtedly stick out as a special day amongst my 36 days on the farm. Without further adieu, here were the Top 3 bands that highlighted an opening day for the ages.
1. Deerhunter :: 11:30 p.m. – 12:45 a.m. – That Tent
|Bonnaroo 2011 by Jake Krolick|
The atmosphere was bent and given pliability during Deerhunter’s highly-anticipated set. As I conveyed in the Bonnaroo Preview, this was on a short list of sets that I looked forward to most before arriving at the fest. Expectations were annihilated and vaporized on Thursday night in That Tent as this heavy-driving psychedelic wonder band brought the kind of intensity and precision that one would expect from a What Stage headliner. The late night crowd seemed utterly mesmerized during songs like the spiraling “Helicopter” as Bradford Cox’s voice blanketed the crowd and shut the book on an epic kickoff to this festival’s Tenth Anniversary. Although I expected a lot of the drone-heavy ambience that drew me to Deerhunter, songs like “Memory Boy” and “He Would Have Laughed” reached a metallic crescendo one could bottle and sell. Points during the set inspired that rare, indescribable transcendence that makes this yearly pilgrimage to Manchester worthwhile, goosebumps-inducing despite the high heat and humidity. Thursdays are always great, but never has a first day set even been in the conversation for set of the weekend – this one was a keeper for sure and I’m only hoping someone manages to approach or exceed the magic that unfolded around midnight on Thursday. After years of enjoying their recorded output, Deerhunter is now officially on the list of the best live bands touring currently.
2. Futurebirds :: 4:15-5:00 p.m. – That Tent
Ever since the artist additions were unveiled and the Futurebirds were included, their opening slot has been circled and highlighted as a must-see, even if this meant getting to the festival and setting up shop earlier than ever. “There Is No Place For This To Go” kicked things into gear for Bonnaroo 2011 and this Athens, GA collective filled the farm with their lustrous harmonies and steel in front of a surprisingly sizeable crowd of music-hungry fans in That Tent. “APO” was the first of several spinning banshee moments for this band where the three guitarists convened in front of the drum risers for a head-banging and loosely planned jam. Although still a young band, the two years of heavy touring have given these fellas a great deal of polish and they proved to the swelling audience why they belong at a festival like Bonnaroo. The whiskey-spiked “Battle for Rome” proved tonic for those looking to get in touch with their new (albeit temporary) life on the farm – a stone cold, alt-country banger showcasing Thomas Johnson’s unique and patterned vocals. As any band with a mere 45-minute set should do, the set-closing “Ski Chalet” proved to be the immaculate climax of the band’s Bonnaroo debut, putting an exclamation point on the most important performance to date for the Futurebirds with a true blue rock star moment when all three guitarists stood above the crowd during an extended jam to shut down a quick but impressive performance.
3. Band of Skulls :: 8:30-9:30 p.m. – That Tent
|Band of Skulls by Jake Krolick|
Although we only made it into the ginormous Band of Skulls crowd for about 25 minutes, the time spent watching these guys left enough of an impact to write home about. Never has it been more immediately clear that a band is deserving of a big slot on the big stage than after watching this band for a few minutes. A huge arena rock sound emanated from this power trio that was powerful and high-voltage enough to fill a coliseum, and the turnout for the still under-the-radar band swelled to the highest capacity I personally saw all day. Definitely one of those bands I see at a festival and take a mental note to check out more fully the next time they visit New Orleans. This was a rock show in an era where straight-laced, old school is in unfortunately sparse supply.
”No one’s here to stay/ We got nothing to lose” – Futurebirds’ “Sam Jones”
Best utilization of crowd energy: The Knux for kickin’ it old school with a sample of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain,” throwin’ up peace signs, sippin’ Grey Goose and establishing one helluva party scene.
Keep an eye out for: Twin Shadow, one of the more intriguing new acts to catch my attention on Thursday.
Three days to go!
P.S. Plans for the Friday: Watch the Victory Dance in the evening’s setting sun. Giddy.
Continue reading for more pics of Bonnaroo 2011 Day One...