BONNAROO 2006: A CITY IN THE HILLS

The unintentional parade of costumed people that passed by This Stage was a neat curiosity. Couples in fishnets and top hats made their way to the Balkan Beat Box/Bindlestiff Family Cirkus/Dresden Dolls, while freakier, more random assemblages of finery headed towards the Masquerade Ball in the Cinema Tent, where a mystery group of Bonnaroo All-Stars only reveals their identities at the end. Admittance to that one is contingent on arriving at the door costumed. The only sad part was how few folks stopped to enjoy Dr. John even for a few minutes. While not an easy grab, this music had a sultry, mysterious allure that culminated in a nasty "Right Place, Wrong Time."


G.R.A.B with Phil Lesh by Dave Vann
Across the field we could hear snippets of the Superjam, which turned out to be code for Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, and the Benevento/Russo Duo (with a little bass bombage from Phil Lesh on "Casey Jones" and "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad"). Since the festival I've heard recordings of this performance, and by gum it really does recall 1995 Phish, though the most exciting parts were the new material written specifically for this quartet.

It took only seconds for Dumpstaphunk to capture me. They combine the party politics of Parliament- Funkadelic to New Orleans funk like The Meters. "We're layers of funk. Just when you think it's as stanky as it can be it gets mo' stankier," offered bassist Tony Hall. Declaring themselves "funky as a UFO," Dumpstaphunk makes you move while probing righteous anger at the state of a world gone mad. Ivan Neville is in fine spirits, hammering his keyboards with a black-eyed ferocity. An especially hopped-up Skerik (saxophone) joined them all night, blowing like the hell child of Maceo Parker and Ben Webster. They expanded their small catalog of originals with inspired covers like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son," a working-folks anthem ripe for revisiting. One hopes when they get around to putting together a studio album they retain the dirt in these grooves. If it's anything like what I witnessed here, it's going to be a monster that eats the wicked.

Southern Accents
"I'm Tom Petty and behind me are the Heartbreakers. We're going to have a good time tonight. I promise you that," said the leader of these gentlemen rockers on Friday. Out celebrating their 30th anniversary, they're one of the only bands long-lived enough to draw serious comparisons to The Band. They look and sound just like a rock 'n roll band should, and they've got a small mountain of tremendous songs. Always more populist than Robbie Robertson and company, the Heartbreakers have an impressive knack for knowing what connects with almost everyone. If you're going to sing with 50 or 60 thousand strangers, "I Won't Back Down" or "Refugee" work fabulously.


Tom Petty by Dave Vann
From their opening chords, this band filled the big main stage area with practiced ease. Wearing serious expressions that occasionally burst into broad grins, they meant business but still clearly have a ball. They spotlighted their early influences with heavy, impressive covers of the Yardbirds' "I'm A Man" and Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," with Petty shaking a pair of maracas with youthful exuberance. Guitarist and co-leader Mike Campbell burned hard, reminding us throughout the night what a massively satisfying player he's grown into. "Saving Grace," a new one from Petty's upcoming solo release, Highway Companion, had a ghostly gunslinger growl that rode the John Lee Hooker style rumble well. They pulled out "Handle With Care" and dedicated it to "Wilburys wherever they're traveling tonight." While not quite the charmer that Jenny Lewis' recent version is, it nonetheless reminded us that Petty once sat at the same table as Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan. That's some tall company.

Mid-set they brought out their "little baby sister" Stevie Nicks to unhinged screams of delight for the California Gypsy Queen. Campbell then released one of the sexiest riffs in rock history as the whole band put their backs into "Stop Dragging My Heart Around." Nicks then took a fantastic lead vocal on a sharp version of Petty's 1978 hit "I Need To Know," as well as chiming in on backing vocals for most of the show.


Tom Petty by Dave Vann
They've been around for so long one forgets just how many singles they've put on the charts. In that rarefied field of "bands nearly everyone alive knows," there are few more enjoyable. They always maintain an unimpeachable rock 'n roll vibe that keeps them from slipping into what the Brits call "Dad Rock." "Runnin' Down A Dream" closed the main set, and I was struck by what a flawless piece of music it is – universal yet still signature Petty and his Heartbreakers. To reach mass recognition and still maintain one's identity is rare. These guys have done it, and more than a few of us at Bonnaroo were taken aback at the power after all these years.

Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa


Toubab Krewe by Pamela Martinez
With sleep calling me Thursday, I was captured by something in the night. In the distance, I heard Toubab Krewe ringing the life out of an electric guitar. It was like the dust of Ali Farka Toure blown into the wind to curl into my nostrils, bending my feet towards the music. Arriving slightly dazed but happy to be captured, I heard modern African forms given sinewy new body. If the players on Santana III had dug deeper into the Motherland, it might have turned out like this. Color me impressed.

On Sunday, the Refugee Allstars of Sierra Leone offered something more traditional. Touched by a survivor's grace (they met in a refugee camp during Sierra Leone's long civil war), they began with a "Compliment To The Peace" and stirred thousands with the sheer joy of being alive. With group vocals and hand percussion, they combine older African forms tempered by the more contemporary reggae coming out of the Caribbean. Being in their presence, one couldn't help but feel a profound sense of gratitude, and I made a promise to check out the recent documentary about their struggles.


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