Thursday, June 18, 2009
Bonnaroo is tops when it comes to music festivals - one of the biggest gatherings in the country for a 4-day weekend full of live music and car-camping. Located in Manchester, TN, only 4 hours away from home for us, Bonnaroo consistently features some of the top touring acts in the country, plus all kinds of other types of music, including many of our favorite artists. We had a great time at Bonnaroo 2007 when The Police, Tool, and some of our favorites like STS9, Galactic and Ween played.
This year the line-up was really over the top, with Bruce Springsteen, Phish, Nine-Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, Wilco, David Byrne, Elvis Costello, Ben Harper, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu (on stage in the photo above), Ani DiFranco, Lucinda Williams, Neko Case, Grace Potter, Robert Earl Keen, Merle Haggard, Del McCoury Band, Bela Fleck, Gov't Mule, moe., Toubab Krewe, and at least 50 other artists we'd never heard of, many from various sub-genres of indie rock. The music was spread out over 5 big stages and probably half a dozen smaller stages.
There's no way we could see all the artists we would have liked. Besides the fact that some of them were playing at the same time on different stages, the place is just so vast with so many people (at least 80,000!) that there's no way to get around quickly.
Right in the middle of everything was Centeroo, full of every kind of shopping and food you could ask for.
Yes, they even had a mini Whole Foods Market!
There was also a Brooer's Tent that featured 20 microbreweries from around the U.S., including a couple of excellent local breweries: Yazoo in Nashville and Good People in Birmingham.
With its outdoor seating, the Brooer's Tent was an excellent place to meet up with friends, including our good friends April and Paul from Tupelo.
Our campsite was about a mile away from the music, way off in one of the several large fields of tents that surround the festival.
Being able to camp right next to a fence was a big help for our friend Mike in finding us in the enormous campground, since he arrived a day after we did. Mike flew out from Los Angeles in full Lakers regalia and camped with us for the weekend. He could have watched the NBA Finals games in the Bonnaroo Cinema Tent, but Mike had to miss his beloved Lakers winning the championship because he sure wasn't going to miss that Phish show!
Large flags flew from points all over the campground, representing places far and wide all over the world. Of course, there were locals as well.
The first day of the Fest brought a few thunderstorms, and on Friday there were still some rather large mud puddles to maneuver around. Or not.
We eased into the music on Friday with the up-and-coming instrumental world-music ensemble Toubab Krewe. Based in Asheville, NC, these guys play a fusion of West African styles with a variety of guitar-based rock, including some reminiscent of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Definitely enjoyable, and we'd love to see them next time they come around Mississippi.
Next up was guitar maestra Kaki King. We were familiar with some of her earlier material, featuring a really folky acoustic guitar-based style. However her more recent material had a very distored electric-punk edge to it.
Her band was tight and they all played well, but ultimately Kaki King did not really win us over.
Next up was one of our perennial favorites, Galactic, on the big stage.
Much like their recent show in Oxford, Galactic had a couple of hotshot horn players with them, including trombonist extraordinaire Corey Henry. On trumpet this time was the up-and-coming New Orleans star Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty. (He actually plays trombone too.)
Galactic only played for about an hour, and everything they played was stuff we'd heard at the recent Oxford show, with lots of newer material and a couple of Balkan-style covers. Nevertheless, it was nice hearing Trombone Shorty's contributions, and we thought he was considerably better than Shamar Allen at the Oxford show. The setlist went like this:
Boban (Balkan brass band tribute)
You Can't Fly If You're Too High (Rebirth Brass Band cover)
D-Boy (with huge trombone duel, Corey vs Shorty)
FEMA (Galactic only, no guest horns)
Technochek Collision (Slavic Soul Party cover)
From The Corner to The Block
As usual, Corey Henry wanted to get up close and personal with the audience.
Not afraid to surf the crowd at Bonnaroo! The crowd was totally fired up by this point.
When they say "Get down", the crowd gets down...
...and when they say "Jump!"...
After Galactic, it was nice to have our brand new REI camping seats for holding onto our good spot and relaxing in the sun. We would be spending a lot of time in front of this stage over the next few days!
Next up was the legendary Rev. Al Green, who put on a great show.
Al played all his big hits except "Take Me To The River" and he carried roses with him everywhere he went.
After dark, the Beastie Boys took the stage and played a bunch of great stuff, alternating back and forth between their hip-hop and hardcore punk material. In the photo above, Mike D mans the kit during the headbanger "Heart Attack Man". Despite their age and the fact that they haven't toured much in recent years, The Beasties were tight and well-rehearsed, and everyone's voice sounded good.
Mix Master Mike demonstrated his impressive skills as the turntable man that makes so much of the Beastie Boys sound.
Here's what the Beasties played:
Biz Us Nuge
Time For Living
Super Disco Breakin
No Sleep Til Brooklyn
Shake Your Rump
Pass The Mic
Too Many Rappers
Something's Got To Give
So Watcha Want
3 MC's and 1 DJ
Heart Attack Man
Finally, somewhere around midnight, the moment we were waiting for...Phish took the stage!
Despite having seen lots of Phish shows, it had been more than 5 years since we'd last seen them. After their farewell tour in 2004, it seemed that Phish was finished. Fortunately, Trey went through rehab and seems to be playing much better now. It was fantastic to hear him so focused, with minimal flubbing, and the band was tighter than we'd heard them in more than 11 years!
It was also great to see the fantastic light show, synced to all the musical stops and starts and twists and turns, thanks to lighting engineer extraordinaire, Chris Kuroda.
How wonderful to hear those 4-part harmonies again, all those stylistically diverse and wonderfully quirky Phish songs! The band played a solid two-and-a-half hour set full of epic favorites, monstrous jams, and a few brand new songs:
Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan (new)
The Divided Sky
Down With Disease
The Wolfman's Brother
Kill Devil Falls (new) >
Wading in the Velvet Sea
Highway to Hell >
You Enjoy Myself >
You Enjoy Myself
The "Wilson" in the middle of "You Enjoy Myself" was totally impromptu. At the beginning of the jam in "You Enjoy Myself", Trey inadvertently played something suggestive of the opening notes of "Wilson", and the crowd picked up on it immediately and chanted "Wilson!" Trey started giggling, then played the notes again to an even louder response. At this point there was no going back, and they charged into "Wilson", somehow finding a way to segue out of the end of it back into the jam from "You Enjoy Myself"! Awesome!
After a good night's sleep, thanks to overcast morning skies that kept the tent from heating up until after 10am, we made our way back to the big field at the main stage. Here we caught an excellent set of Wilco, who sounded much better than at their recent show in Oxford, thanks to Bonnaroo's multi-million dollar sound system. Highlights from Wilco's set included "Impossible Germany", "Hummingbird", "Hate It Here", and an epic version of "Walken". Here's the whole setlist:
You Never Know
Hate It Here
I'm the Man
Another act we caught Saturday afternoon on the main stage was Rodrigo y Gabriela. This duo from Mexico City play a fusion of traditional flamenco with a dose of Metallica. In fact, they even do a few Metallica covers, including "Orion" from the "Master of Puppets" album. They're both incredible guitar players, with Rodrigo playing most of the lead guitar, and Gabriela playing everything else.
Gabriela's guitar-playing simply must be witnessed to be believed. She creates such a dense tapestry of rhythm with her various hand techniques, including a variety of drum sounds that she gets from slapping the guitar body.
The headliner Saturday night was the legendary Bruce Springsteen, and he played a 3-hour set. We sat at the back of the field and rested for most of his set, but took no photos.
Later that night we witnessed the final Nine-Inch Nails concert ever in the United States, as Trent Reznor announced that he's hanging it up after they finish their tour of Europe and Asia this summer. They played a long set of their unique angry electronic post-industrial dance music that finished around 3:30am. Meanwhile we missed a reportedly epic night of Upstate New York-based jamband moe that went until 6am, with several appearances by Grace Potter.
On the final day of Bonnaroo, we again slept past 10am thanks to cool overcast morning skies, then made it over for an afternoon of R&B and hip-hop with sets by Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg. It would have been a great afternoon for a glass of gin and juice, as Snoop made sure to play the hit song about his favorite drink. (That big metal thing on Snoop's hand in the photo above is actually a giant ring that spells out "Snoop" in diamonds!)
And finally, to close out Bonnaroo, Phish was back to put on a full two-set show on Sunday night.
How many other bands get Bruce Springsteen to sit in with them? At the end of the first set, Trey announced that he saw his first concert when he was 8 years old and was blown away by the energy, the performance, everything about it. He'd been disappointed after that to learn that not all concerts were so exciting. Turns out that Trey's first concert was a Bruce Springsteen show, and he acknowledged The Boss as a life-long hero as he welcomed him to the stage.
Bruce stayed out and played 3 songs with Phish, including "Mustang Sally" as well as his own "Bobby Jean" and "Glory Days".
Trey and Bruce got into a few back-and-forth jams, but ultimately Trey played circles around Bruce and cranked out some seriously smoking solos, especially on "Glory Days".
Overall it was another epic Phish show, and we are so glad that Phish is back...REALLY BACK! They are seriously playing better than they have in a really long time, and we look forward to seeing more of them as soon as possible.
Punch You In The Eye
Character Zero >
The Horse >
Silent In The Morning
Run Like an Antelope
* Mustang Sally
* Bobby Jean
* Glory Days
Rock and Roll >
Light (new) >
Limb By Limb
Backward Down the Number Line (new)
Monday morning we rolled out of the Bonnaroo campground around 9am, more than satisfied as we set off on the 4-hour drive back to pick up Rowan and move into our new house. Ahh, life is good!
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