BonnaBlog

With Bonnaroo in full swing, Honest Tune's editor-in-chief and dutiful reporter Tom Speed will be posting his thoughts, observations and conundrums on the biggest festival in the country. 

Keep checking back for updates! 


Bonna-Review: Sunday Provides Opportunity For Reflection On The Hard Rock & The Heat 

 

The final day of Bonnaroo ’07 offered no solace from the sun, or the dust. But there were constant reminders that this was a Sunday, a day of reflection that represented the end of the long journey of the weekend and the opportunity to asses the underlying connective tissue of what had just taken place. On the whole, the weekend was characterized by the presence of hard rock and heavy metal, due in no small part to the presence of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, who drove the Friday night Superjam, sat in with Gov’t Mule for a series of Zeppelin tunes and would on Sunday play mandolin with the ladies of Uncle Earl, whose new record Waterloo, Tennessee he produced. Also adding to the hard rock theme was the headlining performance of Tool on Friday night, and the retro heaviness of Wolfmother and The White Stripes. Sunday headliner Widespread Panic did their part by reconnecting with their Dark Side by covering Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots” with neck-snapping intensity.

But Sunday started slow and easy, offering the chance to identify these trends while bound together by the desire to soldier through the soaring temperatures and swirling dust. After three or four days of oppressive heat and breathing in the earth, you really have to re-dedicate yourself to get through the final stretch. I did so by starting off early and head-first with the opening set of the day with The John Butler Trio on the What Stage. Butler is an impressive guitar player whose groove-heavy live show carries an inspired energy. A maestro of the 12-string slide guitar, Butler featured raved-up renditions of tunes from his recent Grand National record, working “Daniella” into frenzy and taking “Used To Get High” to its limits.  His oft-noted political consciousness was mostly obscured by his deft musicianship, but his pleas for the crowd to join together in meditation and prayer to end the current wars and pray for world peace while he played his beautiful and lilting instrumental “Ocean” seemed far more heartfelt than preachy, a notion that seemed to typify most of the early Sunday-afternoon shows (while I was witnessing Butler, Mavis Staples was witnessing herself with a high-energy gospel set at the Other Tent).

My next stop was in the That Tent for the near 80-year old Charlie Louvin’s set of gospel country tunes. Louvin joked with the crowd about the heat and regaled us with tales of his storied career. He even cautioned against the potential controversy of a tune like “The Christian Life” but the folks in attendance at his set were more interested in reverence that reviling this legend. He followed up with a rousing “Long Journey Home” that seemed to relay a special relevance.

I then took a quick trip from songs about the Prince of Peace to riffs that evoked the Prince of Darkness. Australia’s Wolfmother presented fuzzy and faithful takes on tunes from their self-titled debut, lead singer Andrew Stockdale (sporting a huge afro, no shirt and jorts) jumping on stage monitors to strike rock star poses as retro as his bands’ ‘70s styled thump.  This excursion caused me to miss the first part of Bob Weir & Ratdog’s show on the main stage, but I arrived in time to see  “Hell in A Bucket” morph into “The Other One.” Following their faithful take on “Come Together” the closing sequence of “Throwing Stones>Franklins Tower” into the requisite Sunday “Sampson & Delilah” was fun in a comfortable familiar way. Something about dancing with tens of thousands of other folks to these classic tunes made the high nineties degrees temperature seem much more normal and palatable than it did mere hours before.

Next up on the main stage was Wilco. After a brutal and sweltering weekend of oppressive heat, the sublime soft beauty of the current Wilco repertoire was the perfect relaxing antidote to provide a respite (aided ably by the fact I managed to find a nice spot of shade from which to witness Tweedy & company). Wilco worked though a typical setlist that leaned heavily on the recent Sky Blue Sky, with a few tunes from A Ghost Is Born (the rocking closer “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”) and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (the Tweedy-encouraged sing-along “Jesus, etc.”). The band sounded great, and seemed to be having a relaxing good time. It was contagious, and re-fueled my soul for the home stretch.

That home stretch starting by shuffling through the dust back to the That Tent, where I found the North Mississippi Allstars engaged in a blistering version of “Hear My Train A Comin’.” I’ve been watching Luther Dickinson play guitar for a long time, since his teenage band DDT used to come to Oxford to play gigs in bars he was too young to gain entrance to, but I’m continually impressed by his guitar mastery. His showcase solo on this tune was the kind of performance that places his among the all time greats in my book. They closed out the set with the classic “Snake Drive” assisted on keyboard by Memphis musician Curt Clark, who has worked with Three Six Mafia.

I then booked over to the Other Tent to try to catch the tail end of jazz legend Ornette Colemans’ set only to learn that the 77- year old jazz legend had collapsed from heat exhaustion and dehydration (a very easy proposition to imagine) during his set. I was happy to learn later that he was treated and released later in the day from a local hospital.

The day, and the 2007 edition of Bonnaroo, closed with festival stalwarts Widespread Panic on the main stage. In every year but one (2004, the year the band took a break form touring)    Panic has been featured as a main stage headliner, and this year they proved worthy of retaining the spot, even in the face of legends like The Police. The band started slowly with by-the-numbers renditions of canon pieces like “Disco” and “Barstools & Dreamers.” But they picked up the pace considerably with “Protein Drink/Sewing Machine” from their Vic Chesnutt collaborative band Brute. Newish lead guitarist Jimmy Herring (he joined the band just last fall) has meshed his way into the bands sound ably in most cases, and was shredding astoundingly in the band’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots.”  They worked then through a flurry of their most iconic songs, including “Chilly Water”, “Driving Song” and “ Fishwater.” The band’s marathon 2 ½ hour set concluded with a three-song encore that featured two cover tunes. The first was the debut of John Lennon’s “Crippled Inside”, which the typically apolitical group recorded for the tribute album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign To Save Darfur (though their track only appears on the iTunes version).  That was followed by Talking Heads’ “Heaven” then the band’s hard-rocking set-closer “Action Man.”

And so the curtain fell on Bonnaroo 2007, a festival characterized by some of the hottest and driest conditions in its six years of existence. A weekend marked by its most diverse lineup in its history (and one which decidedly de-emphasized the jam-bands that helped to build the festival) and music that carried the tone of hard and heavy rock and roll vis-à-vis the presence of a member of Led Zeppelin, all in the face of a reunion gig by a band nobody thought would ever reconvene. A sell-out and rousing success in all ways not pertaining to weather, what could possibly top that when Bonnaroo returns in 2008? Perhaps they could combine two of those characteristics?
 

 

 

 

Sata-roo:  Wandering In The Weirdness

 

Well, things took a turn for the weird for your dutiful reporter on Saturday at Bonnaroo.  I blame it on Ween, among other lesser culprits.  Their blistering late afternoon set at This Tent raised the already devilish temperature up a notch before seemingly cooling things off, tugging and pushing the crowd from frenzy to relished contentment with each ebb and flow in the setlist.  Witnessing such a display in the daylight hours was pleasantly disconcerting.  As they whipped this sweaty crowd into a frenzy, it seemed as though the billowing cloud emanating from the smoke machine during their majestic performance of “Buckingham Green” lifted the souls into a floating haze in the upper reaches of the tent rafters, finally seeping through to cast a cool mist over the proceedings. Like I said, it was weird. Alas, even as moving as Ween’s performance was, I found myself floating away from the stage to the gentle breeze of “Zoloft.”

And that’s the grand conundrum of Bonnaroo. There is so much great music that you almost always have to miss what you’re already digging to seek out something newly digable, or perhaps redig on that which was previously dug. In two full days of taking in as much auditory input as my body will allow, I’ve yet to see one full performance by any one act. But that’s allowed me to see more acts if only for abbreviated stints. You can fill yourself up by choosing one really good item on a buffet, but don’t you always sample everything that looks good, at least a little?

Luckily, just wandering around the grounds allows one to sample bits and pieces of delicious morsels even as you walk.  I started the day with the sounds of the Wild Magnolias in the background as I did my day’s work in the press tent. I got an unexpected chuckle out of “Big Chief” not because it was a surprise that they were performing this New Orleans staple, but because Earl King’s main riff was still stuck in my head from the previous day’s Lily Allen performance, during which Silly Lily sampled the “Big Chief” riff in her tune “Knock ‘Em Out.” The Wild Mags are always fun to watch, but it was pretty good being able to listen to them play live at work.

That grueling workday done, I started to walk over to the other side of the Centeroo (the main arena which contains all of the performance tents). Again, lucky for me, that path led me right by the Which Stage, where Old Crow Medicine Show was performing their knockout rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Wagon Wheel.” So I paused long enough to taste that delicious morsel, and followed my path to take a bite of Dr. Dog before gorging myself on almost all of The Slip’s show. I’m continually impressed by the direction this band has taken, after so many flirtations with other styles as they’ve sought to forge an identity. They’ve been a jazz band, a jam band and other permutations too numerous to mention. Always an immensely talented group, The Slip seems to have finally come into their own as an outright rock band that incorporates all of their sensibilities into a sometimes bombastic swirling sound that leans on their chops while showcasing carefully crafted song structures.

I then went to visit old friends Hot Tuna long enough to: 1) Realize that even though the air conditioning of the press tent was nice , it was still a hundred fucking degrees and I was walking around a dusty Tennessee cow pasture and 2) Reaffirm the extraordinary badass-ness of Jorma Kaukonen. I had to slip away after “Bowlegged Woman” because I was wearing myself out repeatedly picking my jaw up out of the dust.

Another cool, and maybe little-known, aspect of Bonnaroo is the Sonic Stage, a small stage tucked away in the middle of Centeroo that features short, usually acoustic performances throughout the day. I caught a whopper: The North Mississippi Allstars performing a short acoustic set that in just three songs seemed to capture their full essence: hill country blues grooves, with a hint of gospel and soul.

That was all before I was floored by Ween. After floating away from Ween, I wandered towards some more weirdness going by the name of Keller Williams’ WMD’s, which was a surprise highlight of the day. Keller has long been a man in need of a band, in my opinion, and his cohort, guitarist Gibb Droll does too. They seem to have found themselves one with this group, which also includes Keith Moseley on bass and Jeff (Apt. Q-258) Sipe on drums. First of all, anytime you have the Apartment on the kit you’ve already got a good band. But he and Moseley were locked in all night with glowing enthusiasm, Keller was having fun (as always) with his new mates and Droll took some sweltering solos. It’s a rock band, and the kind of rock band that each of these guys deserves.

Somehow I managed to hear a little bit of gypsy punk mayhem courtesy of the eastern European -influenced sounds of  Gogol Bordello, hear Regina Spektor pull off a pretty decent original country tune, even though she apologized for it, and bounce a tiny bit to Ziggy Marley.  And I still missed Spoon and Ben Harper.

The buffet approach is the only way to wallow in maximum weirdness. How in the world would one choose from the following late-night performances:

#1) the theatrical over-the-top spectacle of The Flaming Lips, which as always included Wayne Coyne rolling around the crowd in a giant plastic bubble (Coyne had to correct a reporter at an earlier press conference who referred to the ball as a “gerbil ball” by saying “It’s a space ball! The Flaming Lips are from space and it’s a space ball!”)

#2) The muscle rock bravado of Gov’t Mule who hosted a dazzling display of special guests, and

#3) the genre-busting performance by Galactic that featured a preview of their upcoming From The Corner To The Block record. As on the record, Galactic was joined by hip-hoppers Chali 2na, Lyrics Born, Mr. Lif and Gift of Gab. There’s no way to choose just one of those. The only way to approach that is to float to and fro and take a bite of each.

Oh yeah, during the middle of all of that, The Police played. Turns out, they’re a damn fine live band with some really good songs.

Up today (Sunday): a bunch of bands whose names start with “W” (Wolfmother, Wilco, White Stripes, Widespread Panic) plus Ornette Coleman! Bob Weir gushed over jazz legend Coleman on Saturday, imploring all who would listen to go try to “figure out what he’s up to.” Weir’s band Ratdog also plays today. I’m gonna check that out after the John Butler Trio, on the way from Wolfmother, before swinging by The Decemberists and dropping in on The North Mississippi Allstars. Sounds like another day of wandering through the weirdness.

Click "Next" for Friday's happenings{mospagebreak} 

Friday: Smoking Hot In The Sweltering Heat 

 

Here we are in Tennessee once again, the third weekend in June for the massive musical orgy known as Bonnaroo.  It’s hot but the press tent has air conditioning, so be sure and check back here for more reports from on-site as your dutiful reporter seeks solace from the heat each day.

Now in its sixth year, Bonnaroo is becoming part of the fabric of American music.  It’s not just an event, or a party.  It’s both arbiter and reflector of what’s happening in the rock music landscape.  As such, it becomes fatuous to continually compare the festival to years past.

That said, Bonnaroo ’07 easily features the most diverse lineup yet, including the biggest name bands and legends, along with up and coming acts—and lots of it.  Lots of everything.  The scope of the event is astounding.

The first full day (Friday) provided a shining example of the broad diversity that has now typified BonnarooFrom the beat-heavy afternoon to evil, prog-rock heavy metal of Tool, the full gamut was run in just one day.

With the sassy ska of Lily Allen (who had fun swigging Jaegermeister on the stage), the positive vibrations of Michael Franti & Spearhead and the conscious hip-hop rock of The Roots, the early afternoon featured a highly danceable atmosphere in sweltering heat.

Allen played a fun set that focused heavily on her recent album, Alright, Still, though she did include a cover of The Specials. She cracked jokes about having sex in tents, cowboy hats and the blistering heat.  It was good fun.

But if the afternoon was lighthearted and fun, things got decidedly dark when the sun went down.  Tool pounded the crowd with head-banging ferocity, featuring a mind-twisting visual show.  Lead singer Maynard Keenan never graced the stage, singing from somewhere in the wings or backstage, underscoring the band’s egoless attitude of letting the music (and the trippy light show) speak for itself.

Keenan teased the previously predominantly hippie crowd (though it was very apparent that Tool brought in a fair number of metalheads and Goths to the grounds), opening the show by saying: “I smell patchouli!”  He taunted the crowd later, recounted the bands’ “nice hot shower” and “air-conditioned trailer,” luxuries that most festival-goers are not afforded.  Later, Keenan stated, “I assume you are all on the marijuana, and the LSD. So this is for you.” 

But there wasn’t much good-natured banter beyond that.  It was Tool pummeling 80,000 eardrums in workman-like fashion, and at one point they brought Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello up on stage for a guest appearance.

The heavy vibe continued with this year’s “Super Jam,” a tradition sprouted from festival organizers Superfly series of Jazz Fest night concerts back when they got their start in New Orleans.  This year’s installment included John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin on bass, Ben Harper on steel guitar and vocals, and The Roots’ ?uestlove on drums.  They had joked at a press conference earlier in the day that they hadn’t had much time to practice and that we should “lower our expectations.”

But the overflowing and packed crowd at “The Other Tent” got what they wanted, even with heightened expectations.  And that was a rip-roaring ride through the Zeppelin catalog, meshed together with heavy exploratory jamming.  A blistering version of “When The Levee Breaks” kicked if off and the band barely stopped for the next two hours, weaving their way in and out of “Dazed and Confused”, “Good Times, Bad Times”, “Communication Breakdown” and a nice flirtation with “Immigrant Song.”  

The set was stretched out and heavy on improvisation, most of the jams led by the very energetic Jones. Harper handled vocal duties but kept them to a minimal, wisely opting to replicate Robert Plant’s patented vocal moans and wails on guitar.

Meanwhile, The String Cheese Incident was performing a late night set on the “Which Stage.”  I’d intended on spending some time with them as a means of saying good-bye, given the recent announcement of their dissolution.  I hung around long enough to see Keller Williams come on stage to help the band tackle a goofy take on the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” but the sound wasn’t loud enough for me–perhaps it was an effort to prevent bleed over from to and from the other stages, or more likely I’d just come from seeing Tool and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin turn it up to eleven.  Regardless, I was done and called it a night.

As I said, it’s really hot here, again.  There hasn’t been much rain so it’s pretty dusty.  But even that’s kind of fun because it means a lot of folks are walking around with bandanas pulled over their faces like roving bands of bandits.  And that’s got to be the least weird sight, what with the body paint, rampant nudity and highly creative costumes spotted around the concert grounds.

Today promises to be a good and diverse one too, with my tentative itinerary looking something like this: Railroad Earth>Old Crow Medicine Show>Dr. Dog>Wild Magnolias>The Slip>Hot Tuna>The Hold Steady>Ween>The Police>The Flaming Lips>Galactic. You can’t do it all (trust me, I’ve tried) but I’ll let you know what I can manage.

‘Til tomorrow, your dutiful reporter signing off from the sweltering, sweaty throngs in Tennessee.

 

–Tom 

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