After two full days of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, even the grass was tired. It started to die after the consistent trample of 85,000 eager music fans survived, subsisted, consumed, danced, defecated and utterly thrived on it while the muggy, dusty Tennessee weekend wore on.
My Friday report actually ended with the Arcade Fire set which ended shortly after midnight. So essentially, Saturday’s music at Bonnaroo began then. Let’s begin there.
Cruising around backstage and relaxing in a rare outdoor lounge environment for “special people” such as journalists like this one, trying to find my face after Arcade Fire took it with them, the pulsing sounds of Lil’ Wayne made their way to my eardrums. From behind the Which Stage, I could hear but not make out all of his vocals until we stepped around front and saw what to me was unoriginal rap. It didn’t offer much to me at that point, a lot of antics, cursing, degrading women and did I mention cursing? What the fuck?! Damn, this kid is strong. Big ol’ biceps on this guy! And they’re covered with tattoos. Wait, he must be a musician! I did not care for what he has to offer but I’d certainly give it another shot.
I didn’t stay for long at Wayne’s set, also opting to stay far away from the womping bass thunder coming from across the field at the This Tent derived by the asshat that is Bassnectar. Not. A. Fan. Too loud, too selfish, too many drugs required; Bassnectar makes tons of money ripping off other people’s music and drowning it in beats, and utterly overproduced bass swirl and noise.
However much you think I hate electronic music, you’re wrong. I had been looking forward to the late-night set of solo DJ/producer Pretty Lights for awhile. His set was supposed to start at 2 am; it didn’t until after 2:30. While he uses other people’s music to launch digitized and heavily produced sounds, I felt that Pretty Lights pressed buttons in enough order and rhythm to come up with an amazing show, without it cannibalizing the artist’s intention but rather shifting it. I was on my feet and present at Bonnaroo “Friday night” until after 5 am when the sun was coming up at Pretty Lights’ set. In the middle of his 3-hour melee, I ditched back to This Tent for a quick peek at the “Shpongle Presents the Shpongletron Experience” (easily the longest and lamest band name), which is essentially yet another DJ spinning grooves and laying down the sonic bloom for tripping, rolling and other drug-filled bodies.
Pretty Lights at Bonnaroo
So “Friday” comes to an end a quarter of the way through Saturday. Needless to say, “Saturday” didn’t start for me in the concert bowl until around 4 pm, taking in Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas. Her angelic, buttery voice first came to my lucky ears in 1994 just outside of Nashville when I saw her sit in with Phish to quadruple their singing talent. I was in love. My sonic love affair with Alison Krauss has gone on for nearly twenty years and luckily we will be seeing her continue to make amazing music into the future. Her show to 15,000 faithful was no different. Battling intense heat and zero cloud cover, just being out of doors in Manchester, TN, this day was a workout. Everyone around me was sweating. The music was hot. Dobro genius Jerry Douglas offered a virtuosic match to Krauss’s subtle and soft melodies on vocals and fiddle. A big fan of Mr. Douglas, I had forgotten one of his signature solo tunes would likely come out during the set. He blessed the crowd with a purely soulful and fantastic rendition of “Little Martha,” the only song Duane Allman ever wrote.
The heat took me over and I needed to move, so took my tired legs to catch Portugal. The Man over at That Tent. They had some upbeat, rockin’ tunes and driving basslines keeping it all together. They definitely rocked but didn’t stand out. I thought I took a picture to help me remember their sound. But they were a very tight ensemble, it’s just that you have to understand, the schedule is packed! (Look at this Saturday schedule of entertainment!) A lot was going on, but I did make a point to see them based on my Ghettoblaster editor’s recommendation. And on my way to see another recommendation, !!!, I swung by the-most-packed-I’ve-ever-seen Which Stage as the Mumford & Sons serenaded an audience of no less than 40,000 with their hoedown acoustic rock. What is the buzz all about? I didn’t get it or make time to stick around; I wanted to see smaller bands doing things more intimate. This Mumford crowd was insane.
!!! was fantastic!!! Wait, who? There? No, This Tent! Which? !!!.
The established band offered a throbbing and danceable show with an incredibly enigmatic lead singer dousing the crowd with somewhat lewd dance moves. He reminded me of Richard Simmons meets Mick Jagger with all of his air kisses, body groping and the groping of his female counterpart offering up vocals and other antics. I especially enjoyed their set because the room to move within a larger personal space was provided by more than half the fucking festival going to Mumford & Sons. I would certainly pay to see !!! when they come around. I was completely intrigued!
While The Black Keys were set to start over at the largest What Stage, hunger began to set in as I realized I am human. Must. Eat. Avoid. Dust.
Grabbing dinner at the Food Truck Oasis, I ordered a cheeseburger from an unnamed Kansas City food truck. Fantastic burger, one of the best in recent memory; it was coated with swiss and had a special sauce that was chipotle-based in oil which offered a sweet tang and kick. So glad to have stopped after I met the burger to grab a pic.
Been a busy day already, huh? With the stages so spread out, I couldn’t hoof it to Black Keys. Sorry white keys and black keys, it just wasn’t in the cards. I opted to go to the more rare offering of Parliament/Funkadelic founder/bassist, Booty Collins & The Funk University, adjacent to the food trucks. Hundreds of feet versus thousands of feet. I went and waited for Bootsy to start. And wait we did. He didn’t start until 30 minutes after the time he was supposed to end! But it was epic. In selecting this Choose Your Own Adventure, we missed the majority of the highly anticipated set from hippie songweavers Buffalo Springfield. I was okay with it. Bootsy’s set frikkin’ rocked!
The set was filled with flair and pomp, from modern R&B cheese out to thick, layered funk dense with Bootsy’s tasty bass chocolate driving the sweet grooves home. The one and only Kareem Abdul Jabbar was on stage at Bootsy’s Universe, which seemed to add a neat celebrity element to what felt like a private party. The dwindled-yet-faithful crowd was one tenth the size it was before the extensive delay that eventually prompted the pissed-off festival goers to literally chant in unison “Bullshit Bullshit Bullshit” in regards to the delay. We funked it up as much as our legs could possibly funk knowing that the night still had 6+ hours remaining.
A march to Buffalo Springfield to say I saw it followed. We got to see (most folks mostly watch the jumbotrons at the two biggest stages) Neil Young and Stephen Stills reunite and rip it up with the original lineup to this ancient band. They ripped it hardcore for old guys. Young’s stage presence ensures he’ll never get old. Yes, they played the hit. It was good. They played “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” and it made me thankful I wasn’t alive in the 1960s. Music today is so powerful.
Coming soon: Bonnaroo Day 3 (part 2)