Over the past few hours I’ve been contemplating the best way to do a review of Bonnaroo. It’s almost impossible to convey all of the sights and sounds I took in over the past 4 days. Music echoed in my ears for 10-15 hours each day starting last Thursday evening and continued on through Sunday night. Bonnaroo is the mammoth feast that even the most starving music fan cannot take in completely. There is simply not enough time to do everything you’d like to do. It’s impossible. Yet every year I set myself up to go see a hectic music schedule and try to stick to it.
[Phish on Sunday]
Sometimes, that’s not the best laid plan for the ‘Roo. Everyone’s experience is different. It depends on everything: where you’re camped, who you’re with, what time you came in, the weather forecast and who you’re actually excited to see. Never the less, here is my attempt to summarize my musical feast.
THURSDAY – Car Carrier Blues
After a rain storm in the morning, gas-filling and car-packing I made my annual trip down to Manchester for Bonnaroo 2009. It took me a while to get setup but after meeting up with some friends I finally made my trek down to Centeroo in time for People Under the Stairs. They were a great way to start out the festival right – their hip-hop performance got everyone up, moving, and most importantly celebrating the kick-off of a kick-ass music weekend.
READ ON for more of Jennifer Kirk’s Bonnaroo 2009 review…
After a rain shower and the end of the set we headed over to the Zac Brown Band but you could see the lightning storms brewing to the south so I opted to head back to my site to baton down the hatches for what appeared to be a pretty ominous storm.
[Portugal. The Man - Sonic Stage]
FRIDAY – Home is Where You Are
Sometime through the night the storms eventually passed. My site survived, but not all my neighbors were so lucky. But it is Bonnaroo, so what would it be without rain? On Friday, I got the opportunity to bob and weave between several stages. The day started out with Portugal. The Man and The Low Anthem at the Sonic Stage. I really dug both acts, but Low Anthem’s performance was top notch.
[The Low Anthem - Sonic Stage]
Following performances by those two up-and-coming acts, I stopped by the Which Stage to catch a song from Gomez. On my way, I ran across a band I had never heard, Everest, and was pleasantly surprised by both what I heard from the band and the way better designed Troo Music Lounge.
I headed back to the Sonic Stage – because it’s the most intimate setting at Bonnaroo to see your favorite artist – and got to witness Patterson Hood & the Screwtopians first ever live performance. The show was raw and rocking. So much in fact, I’m hoping to catch their full show this Thursday at Mercy Lounge in Nashville to kick off their tour in support of his new solo record. During the afternoon I did a little exploring and happened upon a tent for the one and only Jim Pollock. If only I had an extra $1500 to spare I could’ve walked away with a print of my very own. He was actually in the tent and very approachable. It was really neat to get to see him work. His design for the Bonnaroo poster wasn’t too shabby either.
Another thing I noticed while in Centeroo was something perhaps borrowed from Rothbury, or perhaps a trend we’ll see in the festival industry to come. Either way, Bonnaroo had volunteers called “Trash Talkers” stationed at receptacles around the venue to explain the difference between landfill, recyclables and compostable materials. They also had water stations around Centeroo which was another very welcome addition.
More walking was followed by a quick bite I headed back to the main stage for a fantastic performance from the one and only Reverend Al Green. The performance was jaw dropping and something I’ll never forget. After watching the first part of Green’s performance I wanted to show some love for the middle Tennessee music scene and headed over to the Troo Music Lounge for Murfreesboro’s own, The Features.
The Features have been around for a while and have been modestly successful on the indie music scene. They featured (pun intended) several songs from their new album Some Kind of Salvation including Whatever Gets You By and Lions. I followed up their straight ahead rock & roll performance I headed to check a song from Lucinda Williams before heading for one of Bonnaroo’s most anticipated performances – The Beastie Boys.
I’ve wanted to see the Beastie Boys since the release of Hello Nasty and as predicted they did not let the audience down. When Sabotage started up a friend and I opted to go and check out some of David Byrne’s performance. It was an awesome experience to walk away from Sabotage into Life During Wartime, two of my most favorite songs performed side by side by the original artists – something you could only pull off at Bonnaroo.
[The Features - Troo Music Lounge]
I’m not even sure where to start with Phish. I was a bit upset in the song selection since many of the songs had been performed at the previous two shows that I got to see (Asheville & Knoxville). At the same time, they were the show stoppers songs that had to be played to the largest audience they’ve performed in front of since Coventry. Golgi, The Divided Sky and Harry Hood just HAD to be played at Bonnaroo.
Earlier in the day I was wondering if they were going to perform Velvet Sea. Seeing Page break down in front of the audience at Coventry was a very humbling experience. I think they performed this one at Bonnaroo as a way of overcoming an obstacle. Here was the largest audience since the band got back together and it was something they needed to do, something they needed to get out of their system. It seemed more than appropriate.
SATURDAY – Wherever You Find It
Saturday morning started out with a trip to my friend’s RV for some bacon and biscuits – a great way to start out any morning at Bonnaroo. On the way over I heard the one and only Jimmy Buffet doing a stellar version of Scarlet Begonias. I wish I had the energy to join the Parrotheads, but it wasn’t in the cards. Next up was a trip to the Which Stage to witness the one and only Booker T with the backing of the Drive-By Truckers. This was perhaps one of my favorite shows of the weekend. Green Onions was a show stopper, Hey Ya instrumental was a fun little ditty and Let There Be Rock was more than appropriate for the DBT’s to perform with one of rock’s legends. When it ended we ran to the Other Tent to go catch the last song of the Tony Rice Unit.
Next up was Gov’t Mule. It’s a little hard for me to miss a Mule show at Bonnaroo because of the possibility of sit-ins. Their set was chocked full of covers including takes on Radiohead’s Creep, The Dead’s St. Stephen, Neil Young’s Southern Man and One by U2. Following the Mule, I headed over to the What Stage to catch Wilco. Wilco did not disappoint – opening with Wilco (the song) and a rocking version of Handshake Drugs then it was back to the Other Tent for the David Grisman Quintet.
I always love being over by the Other Tent during the late evening. The sunset behind the stage while listening to some bluegrass is beyond description. We opted to go into the tent and I managed to get heat exhaustion. So after a performance of Grateful Dawg and other classic’s from Grisman’s catalog I headed back to my tent for some rest.
Bonnaroo is a marathon and a nap turned into full-blown sleep pretty quickly. I slept right through Bruce’s performance – though I do recall hearing Dancing in the Dark – as well as the late nights. I know, I know, rookie mistake. Give me as much guff as you want, here was an artist that I’ll probably not get the opportunity to see again (or for that cheap, relatively speaking with band to ticket cost ratio) and I missed it! The late nights too! I was disappointed in myself, but I will admit the 12 hours of sleep served me well for Sunday.
SUNDAY – We Can Stage A Runaway Golf Cart Marathon!
Sunday morning I woke up refreshed and ready to go, spending the morning packing up what I could because it appeared we had more storms heading our way. I had purchased too much food for the occasion so I decided to cook all the breakfast food I had and offered it to my neighbors. Moral of the story: bacon is a great bonding tool.
I headed down to Centeroo early, because I didn’t want to miss A.A. Bondy’s performance. I arrived just in time to hear him perform Black Rain – a little ironic since a potential storm had just broken up minutes before. A.A. Bondy pulled off a phenomenal performance and was one of the only shows (sans Phish) where I stayed for the entire set.
After some good Americana music I opted for some more singer-songwriter music from Todd Snider. Todd Snider is one of my favorite musicians that I’ve never seen live. Snider showcased some of his best work including a rip-roaring version of The Ballad of the Kingsmen. Next, I headed to the HeadCount tent because I was a finalist in their music and political trivia game they launched at Bonnaroo called “Reality Check.” Sadly I lost – but it was a great success for HeadCount and it’s really great to see them trying to combat the illusion that people my age aren’t knowledgeable about politics, issues and current events.
I followed the trivia game by meeting up with my friends at Robert Earl Keen which was probably the most rocking set of the day that included a White Room opener, a version of Dreadful that was interlaced with China Cat Sunflower, Selfish Pride featuring a Todd Snider sit-in sit in and a scorching rendition of Crossroads to close.
Seeing as how the CMA Country Music Festival was taking place in Nashville the same weekend as ‘Roo I made an effort to go see the more country-tinged music that Bonnaroo had to offer. It seemed to me that Bonnaroo probably overshadowed CMA in the fact that they had what I’d call “real country” with the likes of the one and only Merle Haggard. Calling upon the spirit of Johnny Cash he performed a great rendition of Folsom Prison and that old ditty Mama Tried. His performance at Bonnaroo was not to be missed.
After getting the country music out of my system we opted to see Snoop Dogg. I saw his performance at Rothbury last year and was expecting more of the same show. He got the crowd going with his classics and a surprise sit-in with Erykah Badu for the sing-a-long Lodi-Dodi which got the joint jumping. Before ending his set he said “Are you all ready for some FUCKING PHISH!??!” As if Snoop even needed to make us ponder the question…
[Robert Earl Keen]
Phish was on for the final performance of the weekend. NICU and Jibbo really got the crowd going. The Bruce Springsteen sit-in was one of the most pleasant surprises for the festival and you could see Trey grinning ear-to-ear when he announced “Bruuuuuuuce.” To see the guitar licks being traded back and forth was a site to behold. It made it extra special for me since I missed out on the Boss’ performance the night before. The second set continued with a great Rock & Roll and a crowd pleasing set closer of First Tube. I will admit though, it was a little odd seeing Phish closing out the festival since Panic has taken that honor so many times in the past.
[Some band from Vermont]
In closing, I wanted to share what is one of my favorite experiences of the festival. If you wait for the closing act to end their set and hang out by the Centeroo entrance long enough you get to witness a celebration. Every year the staff who put some much time and energy into the festival gathers up every golf cart they can get their hands on and they collectively stage their own runaway golf cart marathon through the campgrounds. It’s their time to celebrate what they worked so hard to accomplish, and every year – they deserve it.
[Community Art Project]
[Triumph the Insult Dog interviews a hippie by the port-o-lets - REAL in-depth Bonnapoop]