BONNAROO : : THE BIGGEST & BEST

Bonnaroo. The word means more than ever. Consider this: Lollapalooza was being pushed as the summer's big fest, and with the lineup Perry Farell had sewn together there was a chance. Lollapalooza recently canceled their entire summer tour due to lack of sales. Bonnaroo sold out with no advertising at three times the ticket price. While the booking of the bands may have followed a similar ethos, these two festivals differed in approach and perception enough to make one soar and one sink. Part of this is no doubt due to what these two respective words have come to mean. There are so many damn "Palooza's" these days that to be honest, it's hard for me to take anything serious with that ring to it. Further more, the festival has never reached the heights it did over ten years ago, and while I empathize with the cause and can see the potential, the deployment of their plan was full of holes.


Warren Haynes :: Bonnaroo 2004 by M. Weintrob
Now take that one word "Bonnaroo." It has come to mean something. In 2004, when festivals fold, promoters loose their shirts, and one unremarkable festival bleeds into the other, Bonnaroo is blowing it out and throwing the biggest baddest party of the summer (well that Phish thang in August oughta be cool... but that's a whole 'nother story). Bonnaroo is succeeding in every sense of the word while the majority of the music world is scratching its head trying to figure out how the hell they are going to survive this slip in structure. Clear Channel is buying everyone, people are burning music, CDs will become irrelevant soon, the radio still sucks, no one wants to be called a "jam" band, or an "indie" band, yet Bonnaroo brings together acts from vastly different audiences and creates an atmosphere where the goal is actually met: a weekend-long (that is part of the key, the actual stationary "I'm here, I don't need to go anywhere, I even got my late night party" festival atmosphere) party where people are getting turned on to new music while raging to the bands they already love. Mixing bands and fans, sleep deprivation and heat is no easy task, but Bonnaroo has yet again pulled it off... and with more mud than most of us have ever had to deal with, they managed to still make it more fun than anyone thought possible.

So on we go, to Bonnaroo 2004... let's sling a little mud.

FRIDAY :: 06.11.04

New Monsoon :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Adam George
NEW MONSOON
One of the highlights of giant, multi-band festivals like Bonnaroo is the chance for younger, up-and-coming acts to turn it on in front of a huge audience. For these acts, the large, receptive crowds are not commonplace and the collective energy really propels the band to new heights. Such was the case for San Francisco's New Monsoon. The band's set at the "Another Tent" at 12:30 p.m. Friday was one of the festival's first but easily stood out at the end of the weekend as one of the event's highest energy shows. The blazing mid-day sun may have kept the tent hot, but the band was what was really turning up the heat.

Several hundred fans arrived early to line the rail and get a good spot to see the band, many for the first time. By showtime, the tent was overflowing with well over three thousand grooving fans, new and old. In addition to the several thousand standing and dancing, many more huddled in the nearby shade to cool off and give a listen. There was little doubt the band was winning fans quickly with its high energy, eclectic mix of Latin, Indian, African, funk, rock, and bluegrass styles. Many in attendance were seeing their first New Monsoon performance but explained that they had been interested in the band and hoping to see them for some time.

The band was noticeably stronger than usual and all its members stepped up to the occasion by blazing through an hour-long set of strong original material, charging the atmosphere with energy and vibe. The raging set and large crowd is surely only a sign of things to come in this vibrant band's future.

-Jeffrey V. Smith


Bonnaroo 2004 by Adam George
THE BLACK KEYS
Hailing from Akron, Ohio this was the first band of Bonnaroo that I had to see. The duo of singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney on drums had impressed me with their Fat Possum Records release Thickfreakness and I was eager to see what the gritty garage rock outfit had in store for me live.

One minute. I'd say that's how long it took for me to realize I'm a fan of The Black Keys. Dirty, crunchy vocals and even rougher guitar solos over skin breaking drums; I'm in. I shit you not when I tell you that Carney slams on the drums about as hard as anyone I saw all weekend... and at Bonnaroo everyone is hitting their hardest, singing their loudest, playing their best; this is part of what makes Bonnaroo Bonnaroo. While both men did a nice job strutting their stuff, the set also showed some fine interplay between the two, focusing on Auerbach's nasty, distorted slide guitar. Pushing the already-heated crowd into the weekend, Bonnaroo seemed taken by The Black Keys' inspired set of rock. Drawing some apt comparisons to the White Stripes this band is one to keep an eye on.

-The Kayceman


Bonnaroo 2004 by Jeremy Jones
JOJO AND HIS MOJO MARDI GRAS BAND
Here's the deal. I would do just about anything I could in order to get myself a seat inside ANY venue Mr. JoJo Hermann is playing. Since Panic has decided they would try a hiatus on for size, us fans can only see the songs of our favorite band through the member's various side projects. This fine group consists of, obviously, JoJo Hermann on vocals and keyboards, Johnny Few on bass, Hunter Williams on percussion, Kevin Mabin on drums, and a man that can blow the sax with the greats, Max Abrams. The set opened with a smoking "Stagger Lee" and an intro to boot. In between the playing of the intro and the song itself, JoJo grabbed the mike and screamed, "It's great to be back. This gets better every year!!!" I think the next two songs he followed up with were "Ain't Got No Hair (Bald Head)" and "Baby How Long." Sticking with the Dr. John/Professor Longhair-influenced set, he unleashed a rare treat for any Panic fan, "Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand." It would only be appropriate that this Widespread Panic member invited others onstage to participate in Bonnaroo's version of a mini Mardi Gras. Who better than some members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They rocked out in the afternoon sun to "Boogie Woogie Blues." And since we know that the more the merrier, JoJo brought up another new friend of his, Rich Soto, the guitarist from deSol. From there the set jumped into another Panic rare cover, "She Walks Right In" > "Shake, Rattle, & Roll." The set was winding down, and we all knew it. JoJo said there would be one more tune and as he so appropriately claimed, "I've got my mojo working" before screaming, "I've got my red beans cookin'!" Then JoJo and the crowd traded screams back and forth as the song spiraled into a chaotic frenzy until the set was over.

-Mark Oxborough



Jeff Tweedy :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Adam George
WILCO
Wilco cancelled earlier dates such as Coachella because of front man Jeff Tweedy's stint in rehab, so the large crowd assembled for the band's afternoon slot on the main stage was anxious to hear how the rejuvenated Tweedy would sound. During the joyous and beautiful set, Tweedy asked the masses, "Who here is high?" The ensuing ovation produced a grin from the newly clean and sober Tweedy. He proudly said, "I'm not," and received an even bigger cheer from both the VIPs watching from the side of the stage as well as the crowd enjoying the musical strains of one of America's best bands.

Debuting material from their new album, A Ghost is Born, the band was in fine form and the appreciative audience seemed to boost the spirits of Tweedy. Songs like "Handshake Drugs" detailed his addiction with a literary style of Lou Reed and a voice like Elliott Smith. With the latter being a casualty of his addictions, it's nice to still have Jeff Tweedy. Credit the organizers for exposing Wilco to the jam audience, who appreciated the music as much as Wilco appreciated the new fans. With the cancellation of Lollapalooza, the only other scheduled date for the band in the United States this summer is at the Newport Folk Festival in August, so this show proves to be even more special in hindsight.

-Forrest Reda


Ani DiFranco :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Adam George & Michael Weintrob
ANI DIFRANCO
Just like the diehard fans of Dave Mathews, Trey Anastasio, The Dead, Bob Dylan, Primus, moe., and the String Cheese Incident, there were people at Bonnaroo explicitly to see Ani DiFranco. Bonnaroo is a fantastic event because the lineup includes so many high caliber acts like Ani D that have built careers from live performances. Ani's set showcased the triple threat of DiFranco's poetry, incredible skill on the guitar, and beautiful voice. Combined with her musical talent, her intimacy with her crowd makes any journey for music priceless. It was hard to stare at Ani DiFranco testifying to her fans and imagine a more Righteous Babe. Her contributions to music elevate her into a special class of musician, an elite group that is known simply by their first name, and not because it said so on a press release, but because the fans hold them that close to their hearts. Playing songs from her new, self-recorded new record Educated Guess along with classic songs like "Untouchable Face"," DiFranco had the crowd singing along, showing another example of an appreciative crowd getting something extra from an appreciative artist and another Bonnaroo moment.

-Forrest Reda


THE SOUL OF BONNAROO

J.J. Grey of MOFRO :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Jeremy Jones
MOFRO
Something I found has been missing from my musical escapades of late is the presence of true gritty soul expressed through vocals. Thanks to my friend and desk neighbor The Kayceman, I inadvertently learned to appreciate the vocals of JB (John Bell of course) in the last year and things have changed for me since then. This year at Bonnaroo, I was lucky to find two such singers that were all heart and soul: J.J. Grey of MOFRO and Chris Robinson of New Earth Mud. The MOFRO set was beautiful and REAL - everything out there for you to see and feel. It was sweaty in that tent and the band seemed perfectly comfortable. They played lots of crowd favorites (they were pretty much on home turf) and a few from their new upcoming album Lochloosa. People, get ready for this album - it's gutwrenchingly good!

Chris Robinson :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Adam George & Jeremy Jones
CHRIS ROBINSON
Chris Robinson is a real live rock star and he was at OUR festival! That's what it felt like to me. As seasoned as he is, he also seemed to be really taken aback by all the shiny happy people that make up Bonnaroo. I caught him doing an interview on the XM Satellite Sonic Stage where someone tossed a baby onesy at Chris on the stage. The interviewer commented that it was a lot different from getting bras and panties thrown up on stage to which Chris said, "A lot of things have changed." Chris Robinson and The New Earth Mud had a stellar set later that afternoon featuring many songs from the new album, This Magnificent Distance, including, "the hit" "40 Days," and a guest appearance by Warren Haynes. Each member of the New Earth Mud band rocks hard--Rob Barraco and Audley Freed were both particularly impressive. And the incredible vocals--soaring and soulful, exciting yet comfortably familiar--make this a band to pay attention to.

-Super Dee



Bonnaroo crowd during Bob Dylan by The Kayceman
BOB DYLAN
Bob Dylan led the Bonnaroo crowd on an obscure tour of his career and paid tribute to other American troubadours during his daytime set on the main stage. As he increasingly does in the twilight of his career, he played keyboards, leaving the guitar in the capable hands of his band mates, who gives it a country, honky-tonk twang that matches Dylan's raspy, sultry voice. By allowing his band to dictate the flow of the show, the music is tighter: Dylan does more for his music by playing less. The covers of "Samson and Delilah" and "Pancho and Lefty" were superb and to watch Dylan onstage is still mesmerizing and an absolute pleasure. Ever the joker, when bassist Tony Garnier experienced some technical problems and switched to a stand-up bass, Dylan told the crowd, "We're having some bass trouble, you might have to wait around for a few minutes." This was funny because Dylan's set started late for no apparent reason and his set-list was aloof enough to perplex fans listening for familiar versions of his classics. It would be special to be transported back to 1964 to see Dylan and his guitar, but this is 2004, and Dylan is making the music he wants to make. He is one of our national treasures and the fact that he is still mixing it up after 40 years is reassuring. America needs the music of Bob Dylan more than ever. A timely start would have been nice though; ­ there was way too much music happening to waste time waiting for Dylan.

-Forrest Reda



String Cheese Incident :: Bonnaroo 2004 by David Vann
STRING CHEESE INCIDENT
When SCI opened with "Dudley's Kitchen," I was pleased with my tough choice of what to witness at this dicey time slot on around 7:00 p.m. on Friday. Without the loss of a single beat, the tempo of the music increased and we found ourselves marching into the intro to Michael Kang's own "Desert Dawn." After a quick break, Kyle Hollingsworth dropped the keyboard funk of "Lost," a song that tells us if we slow down and take everything in patiently, we won't be lost. After some fine tunes we finally got Kang to pick up that violin. When Kang fires up that fiddle it's hard not to hoedown--with or without a hula hoop! Suddenly we were all pushed into the eerily omniscient sounding "Sirens." The contrast between the dark "Sirens" and the bluegrass number "One Step Closer" was very striking as the hot Tennessee sun started fleeting. The combination of the retreating sun and the amount of new fans rushing to the Which Stage inspired some audience participation. I wouldn't necessarily call it a group hoot, but it was pretty darn close. After the "hoot," it was time to move on. They played "Way Back Home" and followed that up with a nice "Joyful Sound" > "Valley of the Jig" combo.


Bill Nershi :: Bonnaroo 2004
By Adam George
Coming out of this was the monster, "Outside Inside" which would prove to be the first of three knockout songs to close out this monumental Bonnaroo set. I realized that it was the beginning a few special tunes when the first few notes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers "Give it Away" slid right out from under "Outside Inside." In all of the novelty covers I have been lucky enough to see from any band, this would rate pretty high up there. Not only was it exciting to watch SCI bounce around, they did a pretty darn good job of emulating the Chili's energy. Sure, there were a couple flubs, but "Give it Away" is a hard song to sing, even for someone holding the lyrics. My personal highlight of the medley was when "Give it Away" ever so smoothly became "Rollover." This fine song passes back and forth from a very simple melody into a delicate style of reggae, calypso, jazz, and rock. This had been the first time "Rollover" was presented to the Bonnaroo masses, and it aimed to please. Complete with a fully funked-out jam, this extended dance version kicked the first night of Bonnaroo into full swing for everyone in attendance. After a quick stage departure, SCI returned for two more cuts before Dave and Friends began owning the first night of Bonnaroo. Nershi and the boys played a two song encore. "Good Times Around the Bend" was the first selection and the second song dealt with the law in a small town of "Texas." To please the crowd though, Nershi managed to rearrange the words once in the chorus from Texas to Tennessee. Fitting.

-Mark Oxborough


Yo La Tengo :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Jeremy Jones
YO LA TENGO
I love Bonnaroo. Where the hell else am I going to see Bill Laswell, Buckethead, Wilco, David Byrne, Femi Kuti, Gomez and Yo La Tengo? And that's only the ones off the top of my head. Anyway, Yo La Tengo. Another band I've wanted to check out for some time, yet simply haven't found the right moment. And in many ways that is the beauty of Bonnaroo. There are many bands that one may be familiar with on record, or maybe you've simply heard the name, or better yet perhaps it's a totally new band that one simply stumbles past, Bonnaroo can serve as a taste test for what you want to pursue. I wasn't able to catch all of Yo La Tengo's set, but I know enough to spend the dough and see them next time they come through my town. The first thing to strike me as I watched this Hoboken, New Jersey trio is the manner in which they switch up instrumentation. Lead man Ira Kaplan plays a scorching guitar drawing images of Lou Reed at one moment and switches to soaring keys and soft vocal harmonies the next. His wife, Georgia Hubbley, is an insane drummer. She's awesome, damn near stole the show... well, her and Ira both stole the show. When I see someone with such touch and deliberate drive on the drums able to sing such gorgeous lead and back up while drumming, I am forced to break out my little black notebook and record such feats. Yo La Tengo was full of these moments. The choreographed singing/dancing song made me think of the Talking Heads, but it was the feedback freakout moment that stopped me in my tracks. At one point Ira started swingin' his guitar around in the air and pushing it against his amp. Eventually he let the axe drop to the stage as he threw his pedal past the drums on his way over to go noise happy on distorted keys. This was when I turned to my boy and said, "This is the best shit we've seen." He clearly agreed.

-The Kayceman



Dave Matthews and Friends :: Bonnaroo 2004 by David Vann
DAVE MATTHEWS AND FRIENDS
After a long hot day of 90-plus degree heat, Dave and Friends let the craziness of the day fade to black as Bonnaroo's first night of music rolled in. While Dave and pals performed many traditional favorites like "Trouble" and "So Damn Lucky," they also threw in some covers that had the crowd howling. "Up on Cripple Creek" appeared halfway through the first set, just as the sun was setting and the sunburned skins finally cooling. It was a lazy summer tune that brought a welcome feeling of togetherness to the crowd. Dave then went solo for a moment on "Some Devil" before letting Tim Reynolds go absolutely nuts on "Dancing Nancies." Dave fans enjoyed the new song "Thing," an improv/scat tune apparently done just for the occasion, where Dave let loose and got into the Bonnaroo vibe where anything goes. A rousing "Tell Me Something Good" brought the set to a close.

Dave Matthews and Friends :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Adam George
For this writer, the encore was what made the Dave and Friends show. While it's always good to hear Dave do Phish tunes, Dave and Trey's quiet rendition of "Waste" felt extra special on this hot Tennessee night. The magic of 90,000 people singing, "doo doo doo" and screaming, "We love to take a bath!" during "Bathtub Gin" was a rush that remains indescribable... as if that was the moment we had all come for and it was only going to get better from there. Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You" was a fitting close to Bonnaroo's first headlining act. Dave danced wildly on stage encouraging the fans to do the same... and the party only got crazier from there.

-Sam Hanford


Vida Blue :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Jeremy Jones
VIDA BLUE
Vida Blue's late-night set showed several thousand Bonnaroovians how it should be done. The midnight show got the late-night scene started right with an energetic "Most Events Aren't Planned" and stayed funky until the wee hours of the morning. The Spam Allstars sat in for the entire set, adding a tremendous energy to the already powerful combo of Page McConnell, Oteil Burbridge, and Russell Batiste. Bringing horns and percussion beats to the mix gave the music that New Orleans Jazz Fest-type vibe that seems to suspend time and makes 2 a.m. feel like the middle of the day. The show was energetic from start to finish and utilized a plethora of loops and electronic tricks to spice it up. The horn section moved rhythmically together at times while at others they let loose and got funky on their own. A perfect combination of great weather, good music, and great energy in the crowd made Vida Blue a definite weekend highlight.

-Sam Hanford


Umphrey's McGee with moe. :: Bonnaroo 2004 by Adam George
UMPHREY'S McGEE
From start to finish, the Umphrey's McGee late night set was absolutely rocking. Taking the stage at around midnight (to an ENORMOUS crowd chanting "Umphrey's! Umphrey's! Umphrey's!") and not leaving until about 4:30 a.m., this was a triathlon of music. Umphrey's played 98% original music most of which was from their new album Anchor Drops. Their covers are usually amazingly right-on and really fun but the band wanted to show Bonnaroo who they really are. The word has definitely gotten out but I'm sure you'd like to hear it again. As Umphrey's was jamming out "The Triple Wide," a familiar group of guys rotated onto the stage--five guys named moe.. moe. rocked out for about a half hour (with a visit from Michael Travis on percussion) and then the best thing happened. James Hatfield came out and sang Metallica's "Enter Sandman" with moe.! Ok, it wasn't really James Hatfield--it was Vince Iwinski, Umphrey's manager--but he NAILED it! After that all hell broke loose with Kris Myers running out to take over the drum kit in his Speedo and the rest of the Umphrey's boys assuming their positions. Just when you thought they had to be bringing it to a close at some point, they played for another hour. The encore was the scary yet gorgeous, "Miss Tinkle's Overture" > "Mulche's Odyssey" which sent the Bonnaroovians into the early morning with Umphrey's pounding in their minds. The Umphrey's boys looked like they were having the time of their lives on stage and their sound and communication with each other is better than ever.

-Super Dee



Praxis :: Bonnaroo 2004 by David Vann
PRAXIS
If there was one person I was coming to see at Bonnaroo it was WITHOUT question Bill Laswell. Sure there were other people I was excited to see, but Praxis and Material were all you had to say and I was booking planes and taking days off. This is the glory of Bonnaroo: where the hell have you seen the names, Praxis, Material, or Laswell? That's right--you haven't, and you probably won't. Bill Laswell is an underground god (not even really underground, you just have to be paying attention). No time for a history lesson now, let's just say it would behoove you to do some diggin' if the name isn't household in your lil' domicile. It's Friday Late Night and there are some big acts going down (albeit acts I can and will catch in a matter of months as they inevitably land at another festival I'm at, or perhaps swing past San Francisco), which happened to make it all the more sweet at Praxis. Finding a nice spot up close for what was about to go down I was ever so pleased to not see one microphone on stage... gimme the instrumental freak out! At this point Bernie Worrell (P-Funk, Talking Heads, etc) comes out and sits down at the keyboard for a wonderfully weird solo intro. Next thing you know there's Buckethead, all seven-plus feet of him, white mask, huge hands and of course the KFC bucket. A quick note on Buckethead: he may be the best guitar player I've ever seen. Such claims are entirely impossible to quantify, but one thing is for sure--Buckethead is in a class all his own. His mastery and control of the instrument is unparalleled, and he continuously melted my head on several occasions at The Roo.

Praxis :: Bonnaroo 2004 by David Vann
As Bucketfreak is doing the nasty all up and down his pristine white tricked-out Les Paul, Brain the skin basher comes out and just as smooth and eerie as any of the hundreds upon hundreds of albums he is responsible for, the man, the myth, Bill Laswell slips on stage dropping the low end theory from moment one. Throughout their late night engagement there were hints and teases from my childhood. Little notes from cartoons or nursery rhymes kept popping up, but by the time I could even get a word out to hombre number one to my left, or homegirl number two to my right, it was gone. These four masters absolutely blew the late night shit up. It was one of the most impressive pieces of music I've ever seen. So much to the point where words ceased to be needed and were really of little value. I would just look over my shoulder at my crew and the eyes said it all, "Yes this is insane. Yes this is beyond my scope of vocabulary! Yes, now get your fuckin' eyes off me and back on that shit up there!" From heavy hip-hop beats to a prog-rock attack and all types of sonic anomalies, this was out of hand. I clearly remember thinking, "I don't care if Trey and Fishman are sitting in with Page at Vida Blue, there is NOWHERE else I could even consider being." To add to this insane evening was the young lady on electric violin doing "Maggot Brain." Yeah, you heard me, Buckethead and some Jean-Luc Ponty lady doing the "Maggot Brain" up in your ear... I simply cannot say enough about Praxis, it was Friday night and I already got my money's worth.

-The Kayceman


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