Bonnaroo 2011 Preview

By: Wesley Hodges

Bonnaroo 2010 by Dave Vann
After all the scintillating, big ticket performances (Panic in ’02, Radiohead in ’06, MMJ in ’08, and Jay-Z last year immediately come to mind), strolls through the mud, epic late nights (STS9 in ’05, Nine Inch Nails in ’09) and subsequent sunrises, and once-in-a-lifetime SuperJams (G.R.A.B. with Phil Lesh in ’06, John Paul Jones, ?uestlove & Ben Harper in ‘07), it’s hard to believe this thing has been around for 10 years now. The story of the festival’s formation is already the stuff of rock & roll legend. Selling out the initial allotment of tickets on word-of-mouth advertising alone to a music festival set in Middle Tennessee for a 3-day event in the heat of summer seems impossible now (without the benefit of hindsight). As many of you know by now, that’s exactly what happened when Superfly Presents and AC Entertainment decided to put on the very first Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN back in 2002.

Therefore, it’s fitting that for this year’s 10th anniversary, Bonnaroo has once again enlisted the services of the trustiest-band-in-all-the-land Widespread Panic to perform on the gigantic What Stage for a record eighth time (no other band is even in the same ballpark). From top-to-bottom, this lineup is as diverse and rock solid as any other year, and the usual surprise lineup bust-outs made it into the mix, too, including the Original Meters and Dr. John on Saturday night, where he band will be joined by Allen Toussaint and will play the festival’s namesake album Desitively Bonnaroo in its entirety. Also, Buffalo Springfield has decided to hit the road for the first time in 43 years and will be playing Which Stage before Eminem headlines the main stage at 11 pm. An odd pairing in any other setting, but these kinds of jaunts between the two large stages are what makes Bonnaroo a special endeavor worth pursuing despite the enormous crowds and oftentimes intense heat.

If you aren’t a fan of the big crowds or temporary sleep deprivation, then Bonnaroo probably isn’t worth the trip. But, a good attitude, some close friends and the willingness to immerse one’s self in the festival’s spirit for four days will pay dividends in the end. Follow the good road to Manchester next week and be sure to take these recommendations with a grain of salt, because, as everyone knows, there are millions of different ways to slay this beast of a festival. As a fellow JamBase writer said recently, “The most dominant player at every summer festival is Mother Nature.” No truer words have been spoken, but in the end, rain or shine – as MMJ showed us in 2008 – this year’s Roo should be a memorable and exciting weekend of music, comedy, arts, cinema and general weirdness.

Since most are familiar with the Bonnaroo pedigrees of acts like Widespread Panic, Galactic, The String Cheese Incident, and Primus, we’ve opted to point you to some bands that may not already be etched on your Zoltaroo plan-of-action quite yet.

11 Bands to See in ‘11

Thursday, June 9

Futurebirds :: 4:15-5:00 p.m. :: That Tent
One of the first bands performing at one of the five major performance venues in Centeroo is Athens, GA’s own Futurebirds, a young band with a great deal of momentum coming into the festival after the three-week Bonnaroo Buzz Tour with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. These guys may just be poised to inherit the legacy of Classic City icons R.E.M. and Widespread Panic one day and this set should serve as the first of many appearances in Manchester. Leanings towards Neil Young are prevalent and comparisons to At Dawn-era My Morning Jacket are often made, but these guys follow an entirely newfangled muse. Their critically-acclaimed debut album, Hampton’s Lullaby, arrived at this time last year and has helped the six-piece Americana outfit gather themselves a solid following, particularly in the Southeast. However, it is their live reputation that scored them a slot at this year’s Bonnaroo, and the duty of helping kick off America’s greatest music festival is not something these boys will take lightly.

Deerhunter :: 11:30 p.m.-12:45 a.m. :: That Tent
Bradford Cox, the mysterious mastermind behind Deerhunter and his solo act Atlas Sound, isn’t your everyday frontman. Diminutive in stature, sheepish and aloof, he doesn’t quite carry a performance in the same way as a Robert Plant. However, what the frontman lacks in pizzazz, he more than makes up for with imagination and the ability to bend atmospheres with his intoxicating blend of noise, ambient rock, psychedelia and occasional punk rocker streaks. Last year’s marvelous Halcyon Digest is still in heavy rotation for me and this intriguing Thursday late night performance is on a shortlist of sets I am most looking forward to.

Friday, June 10

Justin Townes Earle :: 2:30-3:30 p.m. :: Other Tent
Justin is a rising star in the Americana universe with the talent and stylistic range to have already caught a lot of people’s attention outside of the niche market. It’s rare that an artist has both the desire and ability to create new music that sounds like it could have been made decades ago (M. Ward is also on the short list of Americana folk singers who also fits into that mold). Justin Townes Earle’s highly-acclaimed newest album, Harlem River Blues, has received high praise from a broad array of sources, garnering 4 stars from Rolling Stone, “Best of 2010″ recognition from NPR, and high marks from the discerning customers on Amazon. His knack for the art of crafting metaphysical conceits is arguably innate and engrained into his being as the son of one America’s greatest songwriters, but Justin is building his own legacy, and at 29, he’s still got a lot of stories to tell. The setting under the hot Tennessee sun on Friday afternoon should be a tailor-made for Earle.

Del McCoury Band with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band :: 7:30-9:00 p.m. :: Other Tent
Nashville meets New Orleans somewhere down Interstate 24. This pairing of classic Nashville bluegrass and Dixieland jazz will be a sight to be seen. And who knows if we’ll ever get the chance to see it again.

The Black Angels :: 12:30-1:30 a.m. :: That Tent
Not since the Secret Machines has a psychedelic hard rock band seemed to me to be more perfect for the late night scene at Bonnaroo than Austin, TX’s Black Angels. The set will be dark, dramatic, and at times, heavy, giving fans an opportunity for a standard late night freakout session before heading over to the raucous party that will likely ensue at Weezy’s set. Plus, being sandwiched between Big Boi and Bassnectar ensures that the crowd should be fairly navigable. I have full expectations that this will be one of the best sets of the weekend.

Saturday, June 11

Alberta Cross :: 12:15-1:00 p.m. :: That Tent
This band’s debut LP, Broken Side of Time, landed on almost every music publication, blog, and discerning fan’s list of favorite albums in 2009, which makes you wonder how this band hasn’t quite taken off yet. Nevertheless, get out there early on Saturday, because this classic rock minded band from Sweden-by-way-of-England-by-way-of-Brooklyn will open your eyes and get your day started in the right direction.

Hanggai :: 12:45-1:45 p.m. :: Other Tent

To be blatantly honest, I’d never heard of these guys until yesterday when I received a standard form press email laying out all the reasons why we should go see this Beijing 7-piece. While their roots lay in traditional Mongolian grassland folk music, the band cites influences that stretch from Rage Against The Machine to Radiohead to Neil Diamond. After a listen to the band on their Bandcamp site, curiosity is piqued.

Man Man :: 5:15-6:30 p.m. :: This Tent
Instructions: Put Gogol Bordello and Frank Zappa in a blender, press crush button, and pour over low-grade tequila and you’ll end up with Man Man. This band is hell-bent on inciting chaos onstage and in the crowd, and therefore this afternoon set oughta be one of the rowdier happenings of the weekend. Bring your party shoes.

Dr. John with the The Original Meters and Allen Toussaint :: 12:30-2:00 p.m. :: That Tent
It doesn’t get any more quintessential Bonnaroo than this folks. After years of in-fighting, legal battles and time on the shelf, the Original Meters are back together for this extra-special one-off performance (and select summer fest dates) as the backing band for recently-inducted Rock Hall-of-Famer Dr. John and New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint for a performance of the 1974 album Desitively Bonnaroo. New Orleans music and late night shows go together like, well, red beans and rice. The hour-and-a-half slot should give this supergroup ample time to hit on a few Dr. John and Meters staples, too. To reiterate, THIS IS A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME SHOW, so get there early – dat tent gonna be rockin’. Le Bon Temps Roo!

Sunday, June 12

Mavis Staples:: 1:15-2:30 p.m. :: What Stage
Sunday at Bonnaroo can be a rough day but don’t let it take you outta town early because the organizers usually save many of the best daytime performances for the festival’s final day, and this year is no exception. The new decade has seen this legendary gospel/soul singer enjoy a great deal of critical acclaim for her Jeff Tweed-produced album You Are Not Alone. Whomever you bow to, this Sunday set will surely be righteous enough to lift a tattered soul.

Explosions In The Sky :: 6:45-8:15 p.m. :: This Tent
Something about seeing a band like Explosions In The Sky during the daytime seems a little off. However, Particle disproved the notion that a nocturnally-based band can’t prosper in the sunlight when they invited out the Fresh Oil Gospel Choir for a number of Sly Stone songs in 2005. What’s more, this intense, instrumental Texas band’s sounds are sprawling enough to fill the air of the 700-acre Bonnaroo farm. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ve got anything out-of-the-ordinary up their sleeve to grab folks attention away from the huge acts performing around them. If nothing else, their music should provide for a nice soundtrack for your emotive, reflective inner-montage of your four days in Manchester.

Drink Water. Have Fun. Be Nice to Your Neighbors. Happy Bonnaroo 2011!!!

JamBase | Primed
Go See Live Music!


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