Yesterday the New York Times printed a review of Bonnaroo. If ran about 800 words, and managed to mention about thirty acts that played the festival. My apologies to all of you, but I won't even try to match The Old Grey Lady. I will, however, offer a recap of my own Bonnaroo experience. It was, to say the least, a damn good one.
There is a common saying that many things in life "are what you make of them." Whether cliche or not, I'm inclined to say it certainly applied to Bonnaroo. With a diverse lineup and a wide array of genres and styles on the bill, festival-goers had much to choose from. I chose to fill out my festival menu with goodies that will hardly surprise any of C&T's regular readers. Here's how I spent the weekend, in chronological order:
Cinema: Mayor of the Sunset Strip, Walk the Line
Comedy Tent: Morgan Murphy, Jon Reep, Tom Papa, Demetri Martin
This Tent: dios (malos)
Comedy Tent: Patton Oswalt, Jasper Redd
That Tent: Toubab Krewe
That Tent: Andrew Bird
Which Stage: Ben Folds
That Tent: Nickel Creek
That Tent: Cat Power & the Memphis Rhythm Band
What Stage: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
That Stage: My Morning Jacket
This Tent: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Sonic Stage: Gomez
What Stage: Elvis Costello & the Imposters featuring Allen Toussaint
What Stage: Beck
What Stage: Radiohead
That Tent: SuperJam (Trey Anastasio & Mike Gordon, Phil Lesh)
Sonic Stage: Matisyahu
Sonic Stage: Andrew Bird (solo)
Comedy Tent: Upright Citizens Brigade: "Air Conditioned Acid Trip"
That Tent: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
Comedy Tent: Lewis Black, Kjell Bjorgen
I'm going to have to leave a lot of details out of this, but I'll try to hit the high points.
One aspect of a large festival that can make or break the event is the atmosphere created by the organizers and concert-goers. Although this was my first Bonnaroo, I'm a veteran of several such festivals and dozens of Phish shows so I had a good idea what to expect. I have to say that my expectations were exceeded. The lines getting in and out of the venue were orderly and efficient; the same can generally be said of lines for concessions and vending. It's evident that the organizers learned a great deal from past experience. Even the johns remained relatively clean. For those of you who haven't been to one of these festivals... that's nearly a miracle.
Logistics aside, the atmosphere was good. The organizers provided a ferris wheel and a number of other attractions to keep festival-goers fat and happy. The Sonic Forest, ample lawn art, a large fountain, giant bobblehead dolls, and other sights provided plenty of amusement aside from the musical acts. The cinema (showing cult movies and music-related films) and comedy tents were also great alternatives when one needed a break from the music or some welcome air conditioning. I certainly took full advantage of the comedy tents, as you can probably tell. As for the crowd, it seemed to be in good spirits. Most people were friendly and respectful. While that wasn't universally true, very few people seemed to be acting like massive asshats. No doubt that helped a lot with regard to maintaining an enjoyable festival atmosphere.The Sonic Stage
Among the various attractions other than the "big" shows were musicians on a number of smaller stages throughout the festival grounds. I only made it to one, the Sonic Stage. That stage was set up for stripped-down and acoustic acts. While I'd heard that the Sonic Stage was a sort of "secret" near the beginning of the festival, I don't know how that could be the case unless the other 80,000 attendees happened to be illiterate and unable to read the schedule. I caught an abbreviated set by Gomez there on Saturday and longer sets by Matisyahu and Andrew Bird there on Sunday. It was a nice chance to see the bands play in a smaller setting. While each of these sets were enjoyable, Andrew Bird's stood out to me as the most impressive. Letting him go at it solo on a small stage showcased his violin and whistling skills. I had already been highly impressed by his Friday set, but that show made me even more eager to see him again.The Tents
The majority of music I saw last weekend took place in the tents that were set up on the festival grounds. Each held a good number of people, although I'd be lying if I said I had a good estimate. Several thousand, perhaps? Particularly impressive among the bands I saw in the tents were Andrew Bird and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. While I've been a fan of Bird for quite a while, I've only known of Potter and co. for a short time. Bird's whistling and violin theatrics were very impressive and he played my favorite songs from The Mysterious Production of Eggs
. Grace Potter rocked the tent with her country-blues-rock stylings, and her crowd swelled and escalated in volume as the set went on. I'm sure I'll be writing about her a long while to come. The gal rocked the place with her B-3 organ and wailing guitar backed by her able band. In fact, she rocked so hard that she accidentally kicked off one of the galoshes she'd worn on stage with a wicked kick. The other soon followed. I'll conclude by saying that the first thing I did when I got home is check their upcoming tour dates. They were that good.
Cat Power and Stephen Malkmus also played nice sets. Chan's set was remarkably upbeat for the most part, although there was a bit of a lull in the middle as she played through several quiet songs and the Memphis Rhythm Band played one of its own tunes without her on stage. However, her cover of "House of the Rising Sun" and a rousing end of the set backed by her band got everyone screaming again. I only caught the first 40 minutes or so of Malkmus, but he and the Jicks were fun to see. I realized during the set that I haven't seen him on stage in about 7 years. Damn. I also saw Nickel Creek in a tent, but at the time I was so tired and cranky that I left early to go find something to eat. I hear they covered a Radiohead song later in the set. D'oh. I also stumbled into the Toubab Krewe set on Thursday night and was blown away by their precise drumming and African rhythms. Not normally my thing, but I'll have to see them sometime if they ever come around Atlanta.
Also in the tents were late night sets by My Morning Jacket and the SuperJam, each of which started at midnight. It was the first time I'd seen MMJ since they opened for Doves at Cotton Club a while back (2003? 2004?) and I was eager to hear them play their more recent material in a live setting. I enjoyed it a great deal; it didn't hurt that Andrew Bird sat in for much of the set. They also covered "Head Held High" by the Velvet Underground, which you can imagine made me a happy camper.
You can download the My Morning Jacket set as .flac files here
Saturday night's SuperJam was highly anticipated, but I must say I was a bit disappointed by it. When it started I was quite excited, as Mike and Trey from Phish were on the stage with a keyboardist and drummer I couldn't identify. I assumed that the SuperJam would function as it has in years past with guests coming and going from the stage and the musicians jamming on various songs and standards. However, the set actually seemed to be a "secret" set by Trey and Mike's new touring band. The only guest I saw come on stage was Phil Lesh, with whom the band played Dead classics "Casey Jones" and "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad." I left after about an hour, but was told the next day that no more guests ever joined the SuperJam on stage. I suppose if I were really jazzed about Trey and Mike's new band it would have been a wonderful thing to catch, but I'm not. Oh well.The Headliners
While all the aspects of the festival discussed above were enjoyable, the headliners on the main stage were obviously the biggest draw. I caught Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on Friday night, and then had a loaded Saturday night with Elvis Costello, Beck, and Radiohead. As you might have already read elsewhere, it was pretty effing awesome.
I had never seen Tom Petty live before, but like most rock fans I've grown up with his hits. Lucky for me, I heard just about all of them on Friday night. His set was a testament to his longevity and successful career. He played songs written thirty years ago that still hold up even after years of being overplayed on the FM dial, as well as a couple new songs and covers of both the Yarbirds' "I'mA Man" and Van Morrison's "Gloria." It struck me during the set that it was the first arena rock show I'd seen in a long, long time and the first by a classic rock staple I'd attended since seeing Paul Simon and Brian Wilson about 5-6 years prior. It was fun and polished, but I guess it ought to be given that they've been playing most of the songs for decades. One special treat was that Stevie Nicks joined the band on stage, sharing vocals with Petty on "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" and singing lead on "I Need to Know." She left the stage afterward, but later came out and provided backup vocals for the duration of the set. It was a good time, and I was glad to see Petty live since I'd probably never pay to do so at an arena or amphitheater.
Saturday was loaded, and we plopped down in front of the stage in the early afternoon to claim a spot for the evening's festivities. I wasn't overly into the Elvis Costello set, and actually dozed off sitting on the ground while he was on stage. He opened with "Peace, Love, and Understanding" but then ventured off into series of songs from his new album with Allen Toussaint. Needless to say, those didn't quite hold my attention. He wrapped up the set with several of his hits. While the Costello set wasn't bad, it did make me grateful I'd never gone to the trouble of seeing him play here in town. I'd be kinda bummed to spend big dollars on admission and then fall asleep during the set.
You can download the Elvis Costello set as .flac files here
Following Costello on the main stage were Beck and Radiohead. Both were... well... great.
I've seen Beck several times before, but I wasn't prepared for the antics he broke out on Saturday night. Not only did he play a number of killer songs, but the theatrics were innovative and downright awesome. One interesting and amusing detail is that while the band played there was a "band" of puppets resembling the band playing, dancing, and singing right along with their human counterparts. The puppet band was set up on a little stage to the right of an organ on stage and was handled by a team of puppeteers who were right on the stage. The entire setup with the puppets was quite elaborate. They had instruments resembling those of the band and were wearing the same outfits. They even had a little table for the band members to sit at and "play" just like the real band for a while as Beck played solo. That, I should add, is quite a sight to behold live. I'd heard about it during the last tour, but seeing it was terrific. Beck played several songs from Guero
and some old favorites from his several other albums. Other notable moments included a cover of Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?" and a failed attempt to play Radiohead's "Creep." The encore was entertaining as well. Before it began a video was shown on the screens on either side of the stage with Beck & band puppets exploring the Bonnaroo grounds and making hilarious comments about their surroundings. I sure hope it surfaces on YouTube or something. Interestingly, "Loser" was ostensibly played by the puppets. They played along to a recording of the song while Beck and his band remained off-stage. There was also a bizarre rap contest of sorts between two people in bear costumes that was hilarious although completely without context or explanation. Several boomboxes of various sizes, from normal size to that about that of an SUV, were also brought out as a clever sight gag during one of the encore tunes.
Never let it be said the Beck isn't an entertainer. It was a great, fun set to watch and a terrific lead-in to the Radiohead set to follow.
The Beck set can be downloaded here
in .flac format.
As for that Radiohead set... wow. I imagine it will be talked about all over the Internet this week (if it isn't everywhere already), but it was impressive, intense, and loaded. As I'm only a casual Radiohead fan, I imagine many others will do far better than I ever could. They played several new songs, all of which were terrific, and otherwise gave the crowd a long set packed with material from throughout their catalog. Here's the Radiohead setlist courtesy of ateaseweb.com
There There, 2+2=5, 15 Step, Arpeggi, Exit Music, Kid A, Dollars And Cents, Videotape, No Surprises, Paranoid Android, The Gloaming, The National Anthem, Climbing Up The Walls, Nude, Street Spirit, The Bends, Myxomatosis, How To Disappear Completely
Encore 1: You And Whose Army?, Pyramid Song, Like Spinning Plates, Fake Plastic Trees, Bodysnatchers, Lucky, Idioteque, Karma Police
Encore 2: House Of Cards
At some point late in the set Thom Yorke started picking up glowsticks that audience members had been throwing throughout the set and started chucking them back into the crowd. The band seemed to have a great time on stage, and I have to say that we appreciated the extended set they played for the Bonnaroo crowd. Here's hoping they add a southern leg to the current North American tour.
You can download the Radiohead set as .flac files here
By the end of the festival, I pretty much felt like this dude:
However, my shoes still matched. I'd certainly go back again if the lineup were as interesting as it was this year. If anybody else went I'd love to hear your thoughts as well. It was a hell of a weekend.
A ton of great pictures are available on Bonnaroo's official site