Words by: Wesley Hodges & Jake Krolick | Images by: Brad Hodge & Jake Krolick
Jump to Brad’s photo gallery here
Jump to Jake’s photo gallery here
See Wesley & Jake's coverage of Bonnaroo Thursday here
See Wesley’s write-up of Bonnaroo Friday here
See Jake’s photos from Bonnaroo Friday here
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival :: 06.09.11-06.12.11 :: Manchester, TN
Jake Krolick’s Bonnaroo 2011 Review
|Bonnaroo 2011 by Brad Hodge|
There are music festivals and then there is Bonnaroo. The Farm, the Roo, the Dust Bowl, what, which or however you want to describe Bonnaroo, one thing is certain: This is a festival that the world is watching. All music festivals are designed for fans of music, Bonnaroo is designed for fans of fun. It is bigger, more outrageous, and more over the top than any other festival in the country. It’s wildly diverse lineup rivals the best festivals that the UK and Europe offer, but Bonnaroo is ours. It’s our hot, dusty, central, made in the USA bad boy sitting outside on a farm for all to see. It’s filled with our hip disco, our fancy fountain, our graffiti artist tagged, burnt sienna walls. We wore blue jewelry that made an endless chorus of beeps. We ate from trucks. Our clock tower chimed out cartoon theme songs. We got a new, slippery wet slide, movies, dirty jokes and micro-breweries. And man, oh man, do we love our music! You should experience it at some point in your life.
The Roo, however, is not all rainbows and unicorns. Make no mistake you are going into a four day marathon of crazy. From the moment the sun’s nasty wake-up call pulls you from your tent to the last note of the second late night set, you are doing battle. This is the best test of endurance, planning and patience that many of you will ever encounter. You will push your body past any limits you thought you knew. However, the rewards are so astronomical that we do it and we do it placing our best dirty foot forward.
Friday was one of the most surreal, awe inspiring days of music and wonder that myself or many other attendees of Bonnaroo will encounter for a quite a while. Comedy Central’s Tig Nataro did a bit on Sunday talking about how she hated receiving emails from her friends saying things like, “My daughter starts kindergarten next year, can you believe that?” Or “my son just turned 3, can you believe it?” Tig if your reading, I wanted to let you know Bonnaroo just celebrated its 10th birthday, can you believe it?
|Fountain Shower by Jake Krolick|
The first few hours in any festival are usually where you find some of the best moods of the weekend. All that anticipation, waiting and traveling came to fruition Thursday morning. The opening line into Centeroo was a few thousand deep, but a breeze blew through the crowd every so often and the line moved fast enough that it took only several minutes to get in. Every time the line surged forward a cheer would roll through like some version of Bonnaroo thunder. The positive energy could have set the world on a new path. The looks on people faces as they discovered Splasheroo, the fountain, a chill tent, mist fans or a cold Sweetwater Beer were priceless. It was hot and these hours were as much about discovery as they were about acclimatization. The water in the fountain was so cold that it was met with scream after scream; we never seem to lose the child inside us when confronted with cold water.
The music started by 1 pm and the first highlight on the day came from Chris Harford & the Band of Changes. Harford has been a staple in the Pennsylvania scene for years playing with a revolving cast of 40-plus musicians that include his friends from that other PA band, Ween. He was joined in Tennessee by Ween bassist Dave Driewitz and drummer Joe Russo for several sets during the weekend. Thursday’s set saw Harford flexing his voice on Joe Strummer’s “Midnight Dream” and a cover of Neil Young’s “Too Far Gone,” with Harford’s orange Fender echoed his unique vocal wavering as he meandered through the cover. Russo and Dreiwitz are accustomed to playing with each other from Bustle in your Hedgerow and provided a stellar rhythm section keeping the Band of Changes songs firmly rooted in a familiar, bluesy stomp to start the festival.
At a festival the size of Bonnaroo, it’s easy to get caught up in a sensory overload of music and activities. It’s important to relax and find small moments of joy. Simply finding these moments isn’t enough, it’s recognizing them and having the patience to stay with them to make a connection. While Freelance Whales and Wavves had large crowds, a small freak show of a band called the Flavor Savers were rocking the Solar stage. On the side of the stage contestants for the Bonnaroo Beard and Mustache contest were being photographed. Their fu-manchus and beard sculptures were in full regalia as the oddball three piece band from Chicago kicked out the jams in a no holds bar salute to weirdness. Dressed as freaky superheroes the guys sang about everything from to anal probing aliens to the girls in the front row.
|Band of Skulls by Brad Hodge|
The first heavy hitter rock band was the Band of Skulls. The trio of Russell Marsden (guitar & vocals), Emma Richardson (bass & vocals) & Matt Hayward (drums) sent rock shivers down our spines. Their performance at Bonnaroo was gutsy and daring as the trio rocked the fuck out of us, playing four new songs before landing on a segment of pure, unadulterated bliss featuring “Light of the Morning,” “Death by Diamonds and Pearls” and “I Know What I Am.” Marsden laid on thick guitar and vocals thick as he worked the front of the stage while Richardson and Hayward collaborated on a thunderous, thumping low-end in the back.
All day there was a buzz about who Roo’ers wanted to see. One band kept creeping into conversation, Sleigh Bells. Like a dirty little secret being passed around the festival, this was one of the most highly anticipated Thursday sets. Derek Miller teamed up with singer Alexis Krauss after he served her and her mother at a restaurant, and the rest is history. They formed this hybrid dance rock band and have blown up in that past years. The siren bash of “Crown On The Ground” erupted from eight massive, double-stacked Marshall Amps as the anthem of the evening, sending bodies flying as strobe lights bounced off of Krauss’s sparkle stretch pants and basketball jersey. She ruled the stage with an all-out, ear-piercing barrage of dance rock. “You want me to come out there, Bonnaroo?” Krauss shouted over the devastating beats of "A/B Machines.” It appears that crowd surfing was the new black because just like the Knux had done earlier in the day, Krauss ended her set by jumping into the crowd.
|Florence + The Machine by Brad Hodge|
Nothing could really prepare one for Friday at Bonnaroo. Sure, you had a schedule and it was filled with almost every major band playing today, but as you ran through what you would do, it just didn’t seem real. The Decemberists into Ray Lamontagne into Florence and the Machine into My Morning Jacket into the Arcade Fire was incomprehensible. But that is the beauty of Bonnaroo: It doesn’t have to make sense, just go with it and you’ll end up out on the other side with a blown mind and wide eyes. It was about 10 pm this night that I just lost all control. While I was changing at camp, white parachutes were dropping from the sky, leaving trails of glitter and glow like a tweaked scene from the movie Red Dawn. The Arcade Fire’s Win Butler must have made a similar connection as he remarked later during their set, “I thought the parachutists should have been dressed like Russians.” But that was much later in the evening. Let’s start at the beginning of the day.
Jessica Lea Mayfield is working with the right producer and again Dan Auerback (The Black Keys) has struck gold. Mayfield’s set on Friday morning at Bonnaroo blew away my expectations. She poured her sweet, whisky vocals into a wonderful, poignant rendition of “Our Hearts Are Wrong,” which featured a burning undercurrent fueled by guitarist Richard Kirkpatrick. The combination melted us into the sand on the tent floor and started the day in a most serendipitous way. This was Mayfield’s second time playing the festival and clearly won’t be her last.
|Matt & Kim by Jake Krolick|
Drummer/vocalist Kim Schifino was so excited to play for This Tent that she grinned all the way through their set as Matt & Kim uncorked one of the finest sets of synth-and-drums ever. They sent the masses into movement as they opened with the Sidewalks album hit “Block after Block.” Since the stoner doom sounds of The Sword were 1000 feet away it was possible to sandwich a few heavy building epics in between the party at Matt & Kim. The Sword was raging on “Tres Brujas,” a song off of their concept album Warp Riders. John D. Cronise, guitarist Kyle Shutt and bassist Bryan Richie were in their element in the heat. They carried us through grandiose, fantasy-filled epic adventures and heroic feats, all accomplished with only the heavy metal sounds controlled by their instruments. We were placed deep into the music as Shutt made his guitar cry and scream while he ripped into “Arrows In The Dark” and “How Heavy This Axe”. The Sword is like a heavy version of Clutch, if Clutch took a ten strip of acid while watching old 70s sci-fi flicks. They built us up and tore us down, filling our minds with music that was as visual as it was filled with sorrow, victory, pain and ferociousness. 30 minutes later, keyboardist/vocalist Matt Johnson and several thousand others were singing their lungs out on Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” as we arrived back at Matt & Kim to get our dance back on. Johnson had replaced words and was now singing “Bonnaroo, you’re just what I need....” It was perfect timing to catch them build back into frenzy during a cover of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” This led into their hit “Cameras” and then directly into a cover of Ludacris’ “Move Bitch,” where the audience exploded in a crowd surfing, shoulder hopping, sweaty mess. The crowd had shed the outside world and was displaying great signs of weirdness, covering themselves in body paint, funny sunglasses and Ghostbuster signs – it was wonderful.
The moon and sun were in a battle during the early evening and the sun was winning despite the 100,000+ who voted moon. Frontman Jim James didn't let the heat stop him from taking the stage in an oversized pair of white, faux-fur boots and black coat. James remarked, “It’s such an honor to play this ocean of humanity,” after unveiling the apropos opener “Victory Dance.” My Morning Jacket has only added to the legend of Bonnaroo over the years, and they added another story Friday night with a two-hour show, their first not under a Bonnaroo tent. "We've had our minds blown so many times at this festival," said James, "and it's an honor to be with you tonight." Cellist Ben Sollee sat in with the band on “Smokin From Shootin” before paper lanterns dotted the sky during “Holdin’ On To Black Metal,” and James’s voice seemed to push them higher and higher into the sky. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined My Morning Jacket for one of the funkiest versions of “Highly Suspicious” and the southern-tinged rocker “Dancefloors” before they finished with a classic ending of “One Big Holiday.” A strong My Morning Jacket show but not the epic Bonnaroo set that had previously been offered up in years past.
|JEFF The Brotherhood by Jake Krolick|
There are a few sets that are still burning a bright memory in my weary mind and on top of the list is JEFF The Brotherhood’s unreal showing at the On Tap Lounge. There were so many delicious moments during the set from this up and coming duo that it will be hard to place in words how well they moved the crowd. The band constructed of two brothers from Nashville, singer-guitarist Jake Orrall and his drumming brother Jamin brought their simple version of blues-meets-punk to life with loads of energy. They sounded like a lovechild of the Sex Pistols and Muddy Waters as they riled the crowd with songs off of their latest album, We Are the Champions. The songs “Diamond Way” and “Shredder” had repercussions so great the front row must still be hurting as you read this. These tunes created frenzy in the crowd so great that the front barrier rail was being bent in half and in danger of breaking loose and killing or crushing the front row. The looks of agony and ecstasy were amazing and well deserved as JEFF the Brotherhood rocked us with harmonized reverb and balls-to-the-wall, charging percussion. If you LOVE rock and roll, go see these guys immediately!
By Friday’s late night sets my mind had been blow so many times I just gave in, and just in time, as Big Boi and crew blasted the Other Tent with some of the best hip-hop of the festival. A green tracksuit wearing dance crew surrounded the rapper as he ran through old favorites “So Fresh So Clean” and a sick “Ms. Jackson.” Meanwhile, Weezy aka Lil' Wayne was mounting the Which Stage. There was a girl in the front row that had waited for 6 hours just to see “Her Weezy,” as she put it. When he appeared she lost it, screaming so loud that all around her just cringed. For the first 15 minutes I was with her. The beats were flying and Lil’ Wayne was ripping and spitting fire during “I'm Goin’ In” and “Motivation.’ He sent dirty request’s out to the crowd for ladies private parts because he was single for the night. At the sound board was porn legend Ron Jeremy, whose open-mouthed stare was unraveled by the Friday evening dirty talk. The aging porn star may not have been one to dance but the crew around him was getting down wildly as Weezy’s DJ teased Wiz Khalifa’s "Black and Yellow". Lil’ Wayne brought up a young guest rapper who lacked any flow and killed the mood, so we made a last ditch effort to catch more Big Boi. We made it back just in time to hear him do “You Ain’t No DJ,” which has been burned recently into my mind by the latest mash-up from Wick-it The Investigator. One could have only hoped that The Black Keys would have been at the encore to try the effort live.
|Deer Tick by Jake Krolick|
There is no rest for the weary and our nasty heat-based alarm clock sent us to the showers at 8:00 am for a meeting with Garnier Fructis before some much needed iced coffee and a couple tacos from a line of gourmet food trucks near the Other Tent. By 2:17 pm – a mere two minutes after starting their set, Forro in the Dark had captured the pulse of all under the Other Tent. This was a perfect crowd for the band who had been introduced by Gogol Bordello’s frontman Eugene Hutz. Forro in the Dark is a band born to play in the afternoon heat, and they emerged laying down a hard hitting Brazil-meets-the-backstreets-of-Centeroo vibe with members Mauro Refosco, Jorge Continentino, Guilherme Monteiro and Davi Vieira, who each brought a spirited take to the music, making it feel like we were dancing on a beach in South America. Their music was ripe with feverish beats from percussionists Refosco and Vieira and speckled with funky flute work from Continentino. This posse of musicians had the rhythms going so fast that at points their set took on the feeling of being at a club blasting techno flavored, sultry, seductive Latin music. They jammed out a version of “Forrowest” before Hutz joined the group for some lively singing on “Nonsensical” off their 2009 release Light A Candle.
The evening before saw Deer Tick’s members on the Sonic Stage doing their alter-ego Deervana, which featured them playing covers of Nirvana tunes and doing lots of stage dives into the crowd. Remember, crowd surfing is back in a big way. Some of the covers included “Aneurysm” and “In Bloom”. On Saturday afternoon under That Tent John McCauley, the front man for the Rhode Island band, confirmed rumors of Deervana breaking up soon were true before starting their Deer Tick set with a brand new song from the upcoming album. The new song bucked like a mighty horse, affected by McCauley’s gravelly vocals and bassist Christopher Dale Ryan’s booming bass work. They played a set that was filled with gusto and grit and managed to knock the sleep and cobwebs from the entire crowd. Highlights from Deer Tick's set included the alt-country song "Let's All Go to the Bar," which turned into a sing-along, and "Middle Brother," a song from McCauley's side project of the same name.
|Bootsy Collins by Brad Hodge|
Everyone at Bonnaroo had some sort of crazy story. The guy next to me enjoying Portugal. The Man told me how he and his friends left NYC driving to Tennessee on Wednesday in the 100-plus degree heat with no AC. It took them 26 hours to get from door to campsite. Lead singer John Gourley pulled me away from the young man’s story with a fast set of changes as he, drummer Jason Sechrist, bassist Zachary Carothers and keyboard wiz Ryan Neighbors laid down their lightning. You cannot prepare yourself for the mastery of live interplay that Portugal. The Man’s members bring to the table. At Bonnaroo they shattered my expectations, tearing through their own songs like Umphrey's McGee meets Stevie Wonder meets MGMT. Songs like “The Sun,” off of their fourth album The Satanic Satanist, showcased just how amazingly they can pick ones spirit up. With brilliant lyrics, bold song structures and tighter than squeezing into the rail at the Eminem set interplay, I fell in love with this band. Portugal. The Man even managed to squeeze in a surprise set on top of a Mr. T Mardi Gras float that kicked off after Dr. John’s show with a New Orleans style march through Centeroo by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan.
Bootsy Collins and Dr. John both sit on top of their respected genres of music as an old guard holding it down like no other. Bootsy Collins and The Funk University may have been almost an hour late starting the set, but looking at the crowd back stage that included Eric Krazno and Ivan Neville, we were clearly at the right place to see the best that funk had to offer. This was no dog and pony show like George Clinton and his diapered outfit. This was real deal funk that looks, smells and sounds like old Parliament. Like something off of Maggot Brain, the funk legend and P-Funk bassist laid down some serious strangeness, including the classic Parliament songs “Flashlight,” “One Nation Under A Groove” and a classic “Mothership Connection.” He even invited basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar up onstage, who was at Bonnaroo showcasing a new basketball movie, On The Shoulders of Giants.
Later in the evening we were gifted to even more legendary funkiness from the Night Tripper himself as Dr. John with the Original Meters and Allen Toussaint performed Destively Bonnaroo. The best moments were during the Meters opening set and the super-duper funky retelling of the album version “Everybody Wanna Get Rich Rite Away.” It was just an amazing sight and set of sounds to see unfold live.
|Girl Talk fans by Jake Krolick|
Saturday night really never ended as Greg Gillis, aka Girl Talk , created one of the wilder scenes of flailing arms and gyrating bodies. His posse of toilet paper shooting ninjas and invited stage dancers swirled with the mash-up artist’s dreams to create one wild dance party under This Tent. At the same time Sound Tribe Sector 9 was throwing down the goods under That Tent. There were some wickedly grand moments as part way into STS9's late-night set, David Murphy announced that they were going to play later than scheduled. They ended the show at about 5 am with an amazing “Circus” that carried on into the first light of the morning.
|The Head and the Heart by Jake Krolick|
Sunday came in like a lamb and ended like a lion. There is no better drink to kick off your last day than an iced mocha with a triple shot of espresso (well, barring Bloody Mary’s). To help right ourselves from the pumping STS9 tunes that were still ringing in our noggins, we went for some of Seattle, Washington’s The Head and the Heart, whose lofty melodies and revivalist spirits were just what the doc ordered. The combo of Josiah Johnson’s and Jonathan Russell’s vocals mixed with the bouncing energy of Charity Rose Thielen on violin to create a Sunday cure for Saturday’s hangover. The six-piece group played like a folksy version of Dr. Dog mixed with the Arcade Fire. Kenny Hensley’s catchy piano melodies stood side by side with a tight trio of harmonies and the solid, stick breaking gusto from Tyler Williams on drums. When you added in Chris Zasche’s thudding bass lines and plenty of hand claps and foot stomps, their Bonnaroo set was inspiring and fun. Highlights from their set include the horns on loan from Iron & Wine during “Ghosts” plus amazing versions of “Cats and Dogs” and “Lost in My Mind.” There were two young brothers jockeying for position on the side rail all through the show next to a couple in their fifties, leading one to assume that this music was ageless and appealed to all.
Next door under That Tent, Smith Westerns captivated a growing Sunday afternoon crowd. The hip youngster trio on the rise from Chicago rocked the crowd with sundrenched, indolent, guitar driven rock that featured highlights “Only One” and “Weekend” off of their latest Fat Possom record, Dye it Blond. By the end of the set the crowd acted like it hadn’t attended three full days already and showed signs of life not previously seen so early in the day.
|Junip by Jake Krolick|
The afternoon sets were glorious and filled with lofty sounds that floated through Centeroo, carried by cooler temperatures and a general lethargic vibe. This new feeling was kicked off by Junip, whose frontman and guitar virtuoso laid down some of the sickest acoustic finger work many had ever seen. The frontman in question, Jose Gonzalez and his band played a glorious hour and almost a complete album’s worth of tracks. During “Rope and Summit,” González unleashed a bit of atmospheric fuzz that shook Bonnaroo’s paint job, the dust shaking loose from the places it had settled in. González carried the sonic vibrations from his guitar up through his hand and body to his voice, creating a moving affect that combined with a light dusting of keys to create magic. This happened repeatedly during “Black Refuge” and “Howl.” José González was quite the animal as he worked his guitar, though never really moving about the stage or away from his microphone. He built song structures and rhythms with his guitar that could be considered very mathematical. Junip’s rhythmic master was the fantastic, jazzy Elias Araya, who carried us through on drums. Keyboard player Tobias Winterkorn’s changes were so sweet that it reaffirmed why I put my body through the rigorous schedule to see music for four days in the elements.
En route to Iron & Wine, you could hear Daniel Lanois’ new-ish group Black Dub throwing down the soulful skank of “I Believe In You” with Chris Whitley’s daughter Trixie shattering the vocals while Brian Blade added a reggae tinge with his expert drumming. Iron & Wine’s Samuel Beam’s takes on his songs “Tree By The River” and “Boy With A Coin” came off as almost too polished and made me wish I had stayed at Black Dub. Perhaps it was the massive band Beam had in tow, but the show seemed to lack many raw qualities. Perhaps Beam has decided to move on from a simple a singer-songwriter and carry Iron & Wine into a new place more along the lines of The Decemberists.
|John Waters by Jake Krolick|
John Waters played the Comedy Tent on Sunday dressed in an impressive suit jacket decorated with black and white skulls. He shared some sick stories about his life, his fantasies and his movies, including Pink Flamingos and A Dirty Shame. He shared an idea for a crazy sequel to 2009's Precious, which involved an overweight15-year-old girl who forms a dance duo with her abusive mother only to get pregnant by Justin Timberlake. He even described what his version of a music festival would look like complete with the choir for the Church of Satan and Kevin Federline. He said he would move it to Eagles, CA, where it’s hotter and they would only serve grizzled meat.
The Super Jam at Bonnaroo saw two legends converge: Dr. John, who brought the old school New Orleans sound, and The Black Keys' singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach. They were joined by My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan, two female back-up singers, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Together they played a mix of classic New Orleans song classics like "Iko Iko," “St. James Infirmary," "Mama Roux" and "Jump Sturdy.” Dr. John was loose and flowing as he switched between piano and guitar. The band just hung in the back shadows, filling in where they could while setting a funky-blues mood that could work well with both styles. Dr. John played his part as the funky, loosely flowing melodic rocker, and Dan Auerbach filled in with fiery blues-rock diplomacy. "Mama Roux," "Jump Sturdy," and "There's a Break in the Road" all led to the clear highlight of the set, namely a version of "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" off Dr. John's 1968 debut album, Gris-Gris. Auerbach did not overshadow the good Doctor and was fairly calm as Dr. John added a sweet ‘n’ dirty slide guitar solo that created the song's dark, rhythmic voodoo feel.
|Widespread Panic by Brad Hodge|
By the time John Bell and Dave Schools emerged on the main stage with Widespread Panic, the crowd had transcended into a sleep deprived, pleasingly groggy existence that only a four day festival could produce. In a few measures of opener “Arleen,” the rest of the crowd and I had snapped out of it and were ready for shots of whiskey to help fuel the party to the very end. The two-plus-hour set of Panic was light and fun, and the added MegaBlasters on horns gave the set punch. Panic’s set featured several great portions of jams, especially during the long and winding introduction from “Protein Drink” into “Sewing Machine” that featured plenty of growling vocals by Bell. It’s so good to see them playing a lot of Vic Chesnutt tunes, and you can see he is clearly missed by this band and many in the crowd.
Of all the people still at Bonnaroo, why they choose to bring up Bruce Hornsby still lingers in my mind. His take on the keys during “Red Hot Mama” just killed the energy. Even Jimmy Herring attempted to come over and get him going with a little back and forth before Herring realized Hornsby was lost. It is obviously just an opinion, but it would have been better without him. As soon as he left, the last section of music was pure fire. Schools let his bass lines roll out of “Pigeons” into “Chilly Water,” where it appeared that the whole sky was filled with water. The Centeroo fountain had nothing on the Which Stage field at this point. They expertly jammed out of “Chilly Water” right into a charging, funky “Love Tractor” before finishing out by going back into “Chilly Water.” It was a very surreal experience to be wet and cool after such a heated four days. I thought the band sounded awfully tight for the most part. Todd Nuance, John Bell and Dave Schools all seemed to really be digging the set and it showed in their wonderful interplay.
Continue reading for Wesley’s weekend wrap-up review...
Wesley Hodges’ Weekend Wrap
”Refried confusion is making itself clear/Wonder which way do I go to get on out of here.” - Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time”
Although my brain is still blanketed with a thick layer of dust, it’s easy to reflect on Bonnaroo 2011 as an overwhelming success for my crew as one of the best (if not the best) Roos I’ve been lucky enough to attend. Despite the dust bowl conditions that grew more intense as the weekend grew on, it was easy to dig down each morning to get ready for another 12-16 hour day of music and wandering across the grounds to take in the remarkable array of talent performing around Centeroo each day. Seeing an act like Hanggai from the other side of the globe right in the same breath as the buzzed about Alberta Cross to start a day makes getting out there early completely worthwhile.
|Dr. John by Jake Krolick|
The late night scheduling (giving jam scene favorites SCI and STS9 coveted slots in succession), the love fest on display for the New Orleans artists that inspired the festival, and the proper recognition given to Widespread Panic, who received a key to the city of Manchester before their festival closing set, are all things I’ll take away from this year’s Roo. Besides the Superjam and the Dr. John hat on top of the Bonnaroo arch, nods to the Crescent City manifested themselves even more subtly, with Sunday headliner and Bonnaroo stalwart Widespread Panic opened with a horns-heavy “Arleen,” “Fishwater,” and “Weight of the World” to kick off their 8th set on the Bonnaroo main What Stage. Once again, Bonnaroo has outdone itself and created an ephemeral yet indelible music utopia that I feel fortunate to have taken part in.
Ya better keep track of your friends/ Your gonna need them in the end.”
1. The Meters – The String Cheese Incident – STS9
|The Meters by Brad Hodge|
Although three very distinct performances, this late night whirlwind flowed together so seamlessly that it makes sense to combine them into one juggernaut, jam-heavy late night that I’ll surely muse over years from now when recalling Bonnaroo 2011. Before the disappointing Eminem headlining set at Which Stage even ended, it was over to That Tent for the long-awaited reunion of the inventors of New Orleans funk, The Meters. It took a few pinches before I could fully grasp the fact that I was watching perhaps the world’s finest rhythm section open their greatest hits mini-set in appropriate fashion with “Fire On The Bayou.” There was no finer (or grittier) deep pocket groove established this weekend than the one built by George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste during “People Say” and “Africa,” underlying the vibin’/tailor-made-for-summer melodies of “Poppa Funk,” Art Neville, and long-estranged guitar man Leo Nocentelli. As a transplant NOLA resident, I can only dream that the quartet had enough fun rehearsing and performing the old tunes to give the old Meters one last whirl and book a night of greasy funk at Tipitina’s someday soon.
The String Cheese Incident
|String Cheese Incident by Brad Hodge|
If any band can create a carnival atmosphere that transcends the music unfolding onstage, it’s SCI. Ever since returning from a three years hiatus, SCI has made a point to only perform when they can put on a Flaming Lips-level spectacle to compliment their legendary sound. A stripped-down, bluegrass cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed” (the real, unofficial Bonnaroo anthem, in my opinion) was an appropriate-if-slightly-obvious choice to open the show, harkening back to Roo ’02 when Phil & Friends’ performance of the tune soundtracked the maiden festival.
Fully understanding the notion that not all music has to be deadly serious, SCI still remains intent on inspiring a no-frills atmosphere of exuberant, playful celebration. Early on in the set, the band unleashed a 40-foot inflatable T-Rex during “Miss Brown’s Teahouse,” a man on a jet pack briefly flew into the air behind the stage and fairy nymphs floated above the crowd periodically throughout the show as giant white balloons floated around the audience. Feels weird even typing that last sentence but that’s exactly what was happening at Which Stage at about 2 am on Sunday morning. There were a handful of skits throughout the show including a mark-missing dance-off during “Joyful Sound” and the hilarious guest spot by “Sexy Sax Man” for George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.” Besides all of the shenanigans, there were some really strong musical moments, including the early wave-riding “Rollover,” “Miss Brown’s Teahouse,” the dancehall Stevie-styled dance raver “Rosie,” and a bizarre, explorative “Texas” to close the proper set. A friend of mine who wouldn’t be caught dead at a normal String Cheese show commented that he appreciated their carefree attitude and that sometimes music really should just be about having as much fun onstage and in the crowd as possible, checking your ego at the door and just cutting loose. Although this attitude has been firmly established in the 17 year existence of SCI, it was interesting and more poignant coming from him, clear that he understood what this was all about after just one performance. All music critiques aside, this set was definitely one of the more impressive performances this year, showing that the band had put a lot of time, thought and energy into giving the fans something unforgettable.
|Bonnaroo Night Crowd by Jake Krolick|
Another band I haven’t paid much attention to in the last half-decade or so after years of intense fanhood is STS9, who have taken a sharply different direction from their earlier jazzy sound that brought me in initially. After a brief instrumental take on Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair,” it was fitting that one of the first tunes I arrived to was “Move My Peeps,” a spacey jazz movement that highlighted the band’s legendary 2005 sunrise set and accented this straight-laced late night exploration of sound, harkening back to the band’s early years. The trio of “Hubble,” “Scheme” and “Rent” rounded out this extraordinary set before a brief encore break. Unsurprisingly, bassist David Murphy announced midway through the set that they were going to play well-past their allotted set time (set to end at 4:00 p.m.) and the set wore on past the dawn, ending this powerfully imaginative band’s set, one that exhibited a tapestry of stylistic range with one of the band’s simplest, most flowery tunes, “Circus,” as the Sunday dawn light crept over the farm around 5:30 a.m.
2. Man Man
This one gets the award for best daytime set of the weekend, as this zanytown Philly collective emptied their bag of tricks, keeping the decent-sized crowd in This Tent entertained for 75 minutes straight with a good mix of new tunes off Life Fantastic like the riotous “Piranhas Club” and the hilariously entertaining “Bangkok Necktie”. All warpainted with white streaks on the band members’ faces, this crazed group maintained a healthy level of well-controlled chaos (think Zappa and Captain Beefheart) throughout the set, putting on a theatrically brash stage show that was matched in grandeur by first-rate musicianship. A band with names like Honus Honus, Pow Pow, T. Moth, and Chang Wang should be able to bring the weird, and Man Man didn’t disappoint in living up to my lofty expectations for this set.
”This one is about a warrior who traveled very far…”
|Hanggai by Jake Krolick|
Although the lyrics were completely lost in translation, the band exhibited a penchant for meshing the traditional sounds of the Far East (Mongolian Folk is their m.o.) with Western dance-heavy influences. The set offered a strikingly rare, seamless oscillation between sounds from opposite sides of the globe. It’s safe to say that 98-percent of the crowd had likely never seen or heard of this band before arriving at The Other Tent, but I didn’t talk to any dissatisfied customers on the way out – lots of smiles leaving this set. Also, this band undoubtedly wins the awards for both “Best Dressed” at Bonnaroo with their amazing native garb and “Coolest Frontman,” who swung a whip and flipped The Other Tent upside down with some killer throat singing – not something you see everyday/ever in Middle Tennessee.
Saturday Special Mentions
Best Cover: New Orleans’ Rotary Downs doing The Clash’s “Magnificient Seven” towards the end of their impressive set in the Miller On Tap Lounge.
Reggae Fix: Black Uhuru, providing me with one of my favorite Bonnaroo past times - laying in the midday sun, listening to reggae in front of the big stage – a life-affirming shot in the arm that helped keep a long day moving forward.
1. A low sound mix marring what could have been a great trip back in the time machine at Buffalo Springfield. Although I must say the band looked to be thoroughly enjoying their time onstage together and the brief electric storm going on made for a cool natural light show.
2. Having to leave Bootsy Collins and Funk University after the band didn’t come on until 70 minutes late and then being told it was one of the best sets of the weekend AND that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out there getting down onstage. Lucky for me, I’m seeing the band at Tipitina’s Uptown in NOLA!
”It’s just so dusty out here that when you take a drink of water it turns to mud.” - Wanda Jackson stage banter
|WSP's Dave Schools by Brad Hodge|
1. Widespread Panic
Always nice to close down a Bonnaroo weekend with a familiar favorite, something the organizers have done consistently throughout the ten years of the festival. I found out after getting home that Panic was presented with the keys to the city of Manchester before taking the stage and there’s no question that no act is more deserving of such recognition than the 8-time headliners of the Bonnaroo main stage. Over a quarter of the main stage performances at Bonnaroo have been helmed by J.B., Schools, Sunny, Todd, Jimmy/GMAC and JoJo (and most of them have been pretty damn good, even by high Panic standards). This set was no exception. The opening trio of NOLA-flavored tunes “Arleen,” “Fishwater” and “Weight of the World” (all appearing on the Another Joyous Occasion live record from the Big Easy) were all appropriately helped along by the MegaBlasters, a four-piece horn section lead by Randall Bramblett that joined the band on nine tunes during the show. “You Should Be Glad” and “Protein Drink > Sewing Machine” were the kind of off-the-rails, muscular Southern rock that has become hugely prevalent in the Jimmy Herring era of the last few years. As per usual, the Vic Chesnutt “Protein Drink > Sewing Machine” suite highlighted the show, and this combo once again served as one of the best vehicles for the dark side of Panic to come out and infuse a little Sabbath-style hard rock into the jam band’s 2.5 hour-plus burner.
You just knew that someone was going to join the fray, in keeping with Panic Bonnaroo traditions, but for some reason Bruce Hornsby wasn’t mentioned by most (many thought perhaps Robert Plant, Gregg Allman or even Neil Young might make an appearance) as a possibility to join the band. Hornsby, who’s no stranger to the jam band/festival circuit having performed over 100 shows as a member of the Grateful Dead in the early-90s, fit into the mold with Panic excellently, showing off his chops on the ivories on the slow-burning “Her Dance Needs No Body” and “Red Hot Mama,” going back and forth with JoJo and looking to thoroughly enjoy his time playing for a big time crowd once again. It should also be noted that Hornsby was already wearing some Mavs gear only minutes after the Dallas team had taken down sport’s newest evil empire in the NBA finals. Finally, it was fitting that the set closed down with “Pigeons > Chilly Water > Love Tractor > Chilly Water,” leaving no need for an encore, signing and dotting the lower case j’s on this year’s Bonnaroo and sending the masses back to reality until next time.
P.S.: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing lighting rig utilized for this big-ticket 10th Anniversary performance, including some onstage spotlights that cut far across the farm. Panic, not usually known for visual expertise in their performances, has finally, after 25 years, decided to put serious some stock in that element of the performance and it only made things better on Sunday night.
2. Mavis Staples
A Sunday revival was in order and Mavis Staples’ infectious, righteous spirit was uplifting as the gospel/soul legend poured through traditional tunes and new Jeff Tweedy originals from You Are Not Alone, thanking the Wilco frontman in absentia for working with her and helping revive her career in a big way. Church was in session, and by Sunday we could all use a spiritual restoration. A fun factoid I picked up was that “Freedom Highway” was written by Mavis’ father “Pop” Staples, all while Mavis strutted the stage and ad-libbed lines about the Civil Rights Movement and offered rousing socially-conscious encouragement to the laid-out patrons in the What Stage field. With a smoky howl and a first-class outlook on life at age 72, Mavis had the audience hanging on her every word during “Wade in the Water” and invited a little sister Patty Griffin and the iconic country singer/songwriter Buddy Miller to each sing verses on “The Weight,” a tune Mavis memorably performed with The Band for the Last Waltz.
3. Superjam featuring Dan Auerbach and Dr. John
|Superjam by Jake Krolick|
Alas, after missing his performance with The Meters the night before, it was time to go pay homage once-and-for-all and visit the Good Doctor at the Revenge of the Superjam – a tradition lost in the last few Bonnaroos but aptly revived for this year’s 10th anniversary Roo. With a view of the Centeroo arch that paid tribute to Mac’s signature hat-and-feather look, it was a beautiful sight to see a couple members of headlining bands - Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) and Patrick Hallahan (My Morning Jacket) - joining the Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer at sunset for a second performance by the legend of the swampland. Auerbach gushed, "I'm surrounded by my friends and great musicians," while emcee’ing most of the set but graciously recognizing that he was just another member of Dr. John’s entourage on this day. By the time the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined the band there were 17 musicians onstage including an excellent vocal section that carried the set. You could tell this set was well-rehearsed (Auerbach commented on how great it was to work out these tunes all week in Nashville) because at no point did this set drown into a cacophonous mess that can sometimes happen with these one-offs. NOLA classics like Chuck Carbo’s “Can I Be Your Squeeze,” and “Iko Iko” were exquisitely delivered with extra emphasis injected thanks to this all-star expanded supergroup. Also, it was very cool to see Louis Armstrong’s “St. James Infirmary” given a Black Keys style (think “Strange Times”) vibe. This set served as a coronation of Dr. John as the Rex of Roo ‘11 and the Doctor staked his claim on Sunday, flanked by artists from the generation that will take this thing into the next decade of existence.
Sunday Special Mentions
Best 15-Minute Stop-In of the Weekend: Before stopping into the Superjam, we checked out Texas dream-rockers Explosions in the Sky and caught a epic, sprawling “First Breath After Coma” from the intense instrumental band that trumped just about any other tune heard on Sunday on the farm. It induced chills – hard to come by in the daylight hours in Manchester.
Classic Moment: Robert Plant’s retooled, slowed down and funked-out opening rendition of “Black Dog.”
Best Kept Secret: A tie -- John Bell’s sparsely-attended solo acoustic performance at the Solar Stage that included an opening “Already Fried” and “Chilly Water,” and seeing Galactic’s Ben Ellman and his Gypsyphonic Disko project on display at the Sonic Stage. The Disko meshed Southeastern European Balkan-styled melodies with dirty NOLA bounce rap for the most part, an interesting and entirely unique DJ set I’m glad to have caught.
The Youth of Bonnaroo: Walked up as the Flavor of the Month indie band Smith Westerns were playing their catchy pop anthem “All Die Young,” one of the year’s best new tunes, a dead ringer for the styles of past Bonnaroo breakout MGMT.
The Bonnaroo 2011 A-List
1. Can’t pick between Deerhunter and My Morning Jacket, who’ll share my blue ribbon for Bonnaroo X. Fitting, as both of these bands are fronted by generational creative talents who I’m excited to marvel at for years to come.
|Futurebirds by Brad Hodge|
2. Seeing the Futurebirds - a band I saw less than two years ago play in a St. Simons Island 4th of July party - play the biggest set of their career to date and kick off the festival in a big way, showing why we’ll be seeing them many years from now in much bigger time slots.
3. Meters/SCI/STS9 – Such a night.
4. Man Man
5. Friday’s late night mixup - Black Angels, Big Boi, The Shpongletron Experience and Ratatat
6. Arcade Fire - Happy to see them taking the lead at festivals worldwide, eons better than most bands of this popularity and deserving of their newfound stature.
7. Twin Shadow
8. Hanggai - Discovering new bands is what festivals are all about.
9. (Almost) no rain for four days.
10. 9 years in a row on the Farm and it keeps on getting better every year.
Bonus: Having as many close friends at the festival as I’ve ever had, a joyous reunion of kindred spirits making this thing all the better.
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