Thursday was Bonnaroo 2011’s lightest day, but it was a prequel worthy of celebration. Tens of thousands of people gathered in central Tennessee to watch the festival’s tenth edition come to life under a gradually filling moon, and most were treated to an above average day of entertainment. Scattered eruptions of cheering could be heard from inside the Bonnaroo Cinema as the NBA Finals continued and huge names dominated the Comedy Tent. Besides those diversions, the music lineup featured plenty of intriguing possibilities.
was one of the first acts to get things going in the tents. Referred to by one writer as “Bonnaroo’s Mr. Irrelevant” earlier this year (a reference to his placement at the very end of the lineup), Carll proved that he deserved no such banishment. His hour-long set flew by in a flash of rollicking Americana and country music variations, and it was anchored by the politically wry, boot-scootin’ title track of his latest record, “KMAG YOYO.” Carll can spin a lovelorn country yarn with the best of them, and there’s plenty of that spirit in his music and personality. “Beer,” Carll quipped after a hearty swig. “Keep it simple.” Selections from his 2008 record Trouble in Mind, including a cover of Tom Waits’ “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” filled out the set.
Attending a comedy show at Bonnaroo is a dubious proposition for a music addict. There are at least a couple of hours of waiting time involved with gaining entry, thus many veterans and greenhorns alike have never even seen the inside of the air conditioned theatre. A great opportunity presented itself in the form of Henry Rollins’
performance. I found myself inside the theatre for the first time after a very tolerable wait with background music provided by The Knux and J. Cole at the adjacent stage. Rollins was supported by veteran Tig Notaro and newcomer Nate Bargatze, who suffered the indignity of having his name misspelled in the Bonnaroo schedule. Bargatze was fair, drawing big laughs only during the final few minutes of his set. Notaro was quite the opposite, saving a few so-so audience interaction bits for her finale while captivating the crowd during the first part of her act.
Rollins strolled onstage, assumed a forceful stance, and barely moved from that spot for 40 minutes while addressing the crowd. Comedy it was not, though it was funny and, at times, revealing. As deified as Rollins is, he’s really just a normal, very angry dude who must endure the world’s idiocy just like everyone else. The mere thought of Rollins visiting a Costco store induces chuckles, so it’s no wonder that he was able to fill a large chunk of his set with anecdotes from his recent visit. He dusted off his George W. Bush impression, rattled off a list of dozens of items not allowed on flights to India, talked about going to see Led Zeppelin with Ian MacKaye, and offered a great story about him and Joe Strummer meeting Johnny Cash.
Back outside, the four guys in Deerhunter
found themselves in front of a huge crowd. Lots of people had shown up during the day and Centeroo vibrated with nightlife. Polished and profound yet noisy and indulgent, Deerhunter unfurled the expansive “Desire Lines” early in the set and enveloped the crowd in their intrinsically experimental, confusingly catchy pop sound. Leader Bradford Cox wrung desperate peals of sound from his heavily effected guitar, entrancing the audience before moving on into more of their disparate material, such as the languid “Don’t Cry” and the jittery “Nothing Ever Happened.” Based on the quality of the opening round, it looks like Bonnaroo X is going to be a long, grueling, and rewarding battle for the farm’s temporary residents.