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The Bonnaroo Chronicles
| June 21, 2009
[[link|url=]][[image|id=59|width=250|align=left]][[end-link]]Whew. Sorry for the delay on this. Just getting settled into a new apartment here in beautiful Ithaca (yes, it is beautiful in the summer)and I thought it was about time to recap the epic experience that was '''Bonnaroo Festival of Music and the Arts.''' I try not to use the word epic lightly, so let's look at this in terms of quantity... '''Duration:''' 4 days (our whole trip - from Rochester to Pittsburgh to Manchester, TN and back - lasted 7) '''Musical Acts Performing:''' 110+ (of which we saw '''36''') '''People in attendance:''' 80,000+ sweaty, enthused music fans '''Memories made:''' Countless OK so the last one may not work - unless this were a Mastercard knockoff - but you get the idea. We put 2000 miles round trip on my lightly used Civic and spent a fair chunk of dough on tickets, gas, and food. And though I would recommend bringing some of your own food if you go to Bonnaroo, it's inevitable that you'll eat once you're in the festival. And it's all really, really good. Try the arepas (sweet corn cakes with mozzarella in the middle), samosas for you fans of Indian cuisine, sweet potato fries and any of the gyro places. So! Where to the beginning. The trip itself was interesting, but in the interest of space and not putting you guys to sleep, I'll just recount my favorite shows. The drive down to Tennessee? Not bad...but the drive into Manchester from Murfreesboro (where we stayed with a friend, a bit more than an hour out - typically) took 6 and a half hours. At a certain point, we figured out that we covered a bit more than a mile an hour. Here's the daunting line of cars ahead of us: [[image|id=70|width=550]] But we left early! Thank God. So we got to our campsite - named after David Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey's character from ''Dazed and Confused'' - around 4:30 PM on Thursday. I knew people who didn't get in until 1 in the morning and missed the first round of shows...yikes. The basic setup had shows staggered at 5 different stages and tents (with other smaller ones having pretty regular performances as well). The biggest acts would play on '''What Stage''' and '''Which Stage,''' and others would play at '''This, That''' and '''The Other Tent.''' I'm not got to be so confusing when trying to track people down. But we got used to it! And, aside from Thursday, when the music didn't start till around 5 PM, concerts went from noon until 2 or 3 in the morning. The days were SO long, but we ran as much on our excitement for the music as we could. And sleeping? Well, that was in these...[[image|id=60|width=200|align=right]], which, truth be told, wasn't that bad, but they BAKE in the Tennessee sun. So you're getting up not long after sunrise, like it or not. We'd get up around then, have breakfast at our car, lather our pasty selves with sunscreen, and be off for the day. And every day seemed to be better than the last. The one hitch in weather/environmental conditions was on the first night, when it torrentially rained from maybe 7 PM until 9, then again from 11 till 1. Against all odds, the sky just kept throwing down water. Thursday night was kind of miserable, but it was so absurd that I couldn't help but laugh. So, muddy [[image|id=61|width=150|align=left]] shoes in hand, we waded through the early hours of Friday, but once the Sun got to work, most of the venues were dry as a bone. Onto the shows! I'll start with the honorable mentions then go into the best 5 concerts (we counted any show where we saw 5 or more songs as a "concert"...we probably only saw about 12 or 13 in full)... '''Honorable Mentions:''' '''Portugal. The Man -''' The second show we saw, this and White Rabbits put us in an amazing mood the first day. Portugal. The Man is really unique, jumping from hooky, soulful numbers to complex and sludgy rock - very much influenced by prog, I felt - at the drop of a hat. The vocalist, John Gouley, has this amazing, very powerful tenor that you've got to see to believe. '''Wilco -''' We were pretty far back for this one, but Jeff Tweedy and the gang are consummate performers, playing a pretty good cross-section from all their albums (and my favorite tune, '''''Yankee Hotel Foxtrot's''''' "I'm the Man Who Loves You") and engaging the crowd. Tweedy bantered pretty well, too, in between their alternately feedback and twang-inflected numbers, about how "woo" was an acceptable answer for anything Bonnaroo artists talked about. '''St. Vincent -''' Annie Clark kicks ass. Period. Frontwoman and primary songwriter for St. Vincent, all I had heard from them was "Marry Me," a plaintive, sweet little tune that displays her doe-eyed, subdued side. But she let loose at our show, roaring, cluttered guitar and all, and we all left with smiles plastered to our faces. '''Jenny Lewis -''' She's a tremendous vocalist, and if you haven't heard 2008's '''''Acid Tongue,''''' well, man, you're missing out. Warm and often riotous, she has country roots in her solo career (though her work with Rilo Kiley shuffles through indie pop and disco influences without so much as blinking) and her show was a lot of fun. The mellower numbers really grabbed me, the sun waned on that Saturday night, her sleepily romantic tunes were the perfect accompaniment. '''Brett Dennen -''' In contention for one of the most fun shows of the festival, Dennen's sunny, reggae-kissed pop was perfect for the middle of the day, getting people up and dancing and communing a bit more with music and with each other. [[image|id=62|width=150|align=left]]'''Beastie Boys -''' It doesn't matter who you are, there's some major nostalgia at play when seeing these gents from Brooklyn. We were incredibly far back, and the crowd was packed in pretty tight, so we watched the screen, but they put on a hell of a show. They still run around the stage and played a fair number of their rockier tunes - guitars and all - without catering just to the hits. But "Body Movin'" takes the cake for one of the biggest crowd pleasers we saw. Oh...and they brought '''Nas''' on stage. It still hasn't sunk in that that probably doesn't happen regularly at all. [[image|id=63|width=200|align=right]]'''Yeah Yeah Yeahs -''' We stuck around for this whole show, in spite of our exposure to pretty intense heat, because it was just so good. Karen Oh's histrionic wails, stage presence, and killer zebra leggings made them just about the most impressive power trio I've ever seen. Encore of an acoustic version of "Maps" showed that the band knew how to ease a crowd down just as easily as they ramped them up (with "Heads Will Roll" only a few songs earlier). [[image|id=64|width=150|align=left]]'''Bruce Springsteen -''' I can't, in good conscience, put this in my top 5. Although it was really great, and he tries just as hard as the lesser-known performers - though he has nothing to prove - the Boss just isn't my favorite artist. His catalogue is enormous and his band, including Mr. Max Weinberg of Conan O'Brien's studio band, is remarkably tight. Very short breaks in between songs - literally counting off "1, 2, 3!" - and a handful of requests proved that they can do pretty much ''anything.'' And when Bruce did take the chance to talk, he engaged the crowd really well...see below for quotes. For 59, he rocks like no other. Our guess is that he does one-handed push-ups with Little Steven Van Zandt on his back to get psyched for his shows. '''The Top 5''' [[image|id=65|width=200|align=left]]'''5. Bon Iver:''' Led by charismatic frontman Justin Vernon, this band - soft and haunting on their studio work - took it up a notch live and really impressed us. "Creature Fear" showcased the band's spot-on harmonies and single "Skinny Love" drove the crowd mad, but closer "The Wolves, Pt. I & II" - perhaps one of my favorites, from debut album '''''For Emma, Forever Ago''''' - got crowd participation like nothing I've ever seen. As we chanted the devastating line "What might've been lost," the band built up the energy to a fever pitch, and it culminated in an enormous, really empowering shared catharsis. I get chills just thinking about it. '''4. Phoenix:''' This Versailles-based electronic pop group knocked one out of the park with their recent release, '''''Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,''''' and their block of music - right before '''Crystal Castles''' and '''Girl Talk''' - was exactly what every indie kid, dancer, and hell, even some ravers were waiting for. Phoenix didn't disappoint, ploughing through much of their synth-heavy masterpiece with gleeful energy, and we were actually so tired at the end of the set (around 12:30 AM on Saturday) that we headed back to camp. [[image|id=67|width=200|align=right]]'''3. Okkervil River:'''I probably harp on these guys too much, but see them live and you'll forever be a fan. They played to a crowd of adoring fans and kept the energy high for most of the show, Will Sheff showing off his deft wordplay and solid songcraft as the band played with abandon through the giddy opus "Unless It's Kicks," the tragic singalong "Westfall" and the Cars-inflected "Pop Lie." Sheff is a performer and a songwriter at heart, even if he isn't the world's best musician - or the smoothest frontman...his attempts to dance with the mic stand ended once in collapse - but he plays with the sort of abandon that ten other musicians couldn't muster. A+. And the slow, melancholic version of "A Stone," that the band did? Achingly beautiful, and all the more affecting with a lone trumpet sorrowfully leading the dance. [[image|id=66|width=200|align=left]]'''2. Elvis Perkins in Dearland:''' Having not heard from these guys (though heard of them) before Bonnaroo, they're probably my favorite discovery. Get his second album - self-titled - '''now.''' The songcraft is there, his warbly tenor has one of the most dynamic ranges I've heard in a while, and the instrumentation is always interesting. Accordion and horns abound, and they win the prize, hands down, for best closing song, with the tongue-in-cheek "Doomsday." Riding high on a marching band cadence, all it needed was a drum major with a baton. Bon Iver joined Elvis and Dearland on stage to flesh out the percussion and harmonies, and I give a million points to the drummer for playing with a bass drum slung around his neck, cymbals above and tambourine in hand. He jumped around with all the playfulness one might expect of someone with a much lighter instrument, and I couldn't help but smile. [[image|id=68|width=200|align=right]]'''1. Passion Pit:''' If these guys don't become massively successful, there is no justice in the world of music. I knew single "Sleepyhead," a frenetic and unusual blend of falsetto, electronic loops and eerie backing vocals, and I was pretty into it (thanks to Kara). But this show made me a full-fledged fan. From 11 to midnight on Thursday night, Passion Pit entertained a crowd of thousands as if it were a private party. They jumped around, they yelled and screamed and danced for us. I wouldn't be surprised if they bled for us. Their infectious, synth-heavy pop is all I've been listening to for the last few days, and if you ask anyone, they'll tell you that '''''Manners''''' is one of the best albums of the year. That about wraps up my first ever Bonnaroo experience! A few more things of note: '''Best Covers''' 1. Jenny Lewis - Handle with Care (orig. Traveling Wilburys) 2. Springsteen - Hard Times (orig. Stephen Foster...this song is 150 years old) 3. Gomez - Bron-yr-Aur Stomp (orig. Led Zeppelin!) '''Bonnaroo Quote Archive:''' (Shirtless Man) "Hey, you're showing off your tan, I'm showing off my fat." (Christopher, a nice young man we met from Tennessee, while eating from a Cajun food vendor) "I like eating alligator, I feel like, hey, it's a tough animal, and I'm tougher than IT." (Girl at the Passion Pit show, to me) "You'll like them, if I know you, and...I KNOW you." (Disclaimer: I did not know her.) (Drunk man to friend) "Dude just trust me, I know where it is I'm...I'm like...Magellan." (Man walking through crowd of people laying down/sitting at the first Phish show) "Please don't be stepped on, person wearing all black at a night concert." (On a cardboard sign held by two musicians performing right outside the festival) "Need money, family captured by ninjas." (Two girls, presumably about a guy they had just met) "Let's go stalk him." (Boyfriend pleading with girlfriend; clearly he had done something wrong) "No, honey, you're the coolest! The coolest person wearing...a green shirt. In this area." (Bruce Springsteen) "You'll never forget the night you saw the earth-quakin', booty-shakin', Viagra-takin', history-makin' Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!" (And again) "We're gonna build a house of love, my friends, a house of sexual healing...tonight!!" And, finally, in perhaps the most momentous, earth-shattering colliding of worlds, the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers (/Generation "Next"ers?) joined in solemn reverie as Bruce took the stage with Phish on Sunday night for a reprise of "Glory Days." Here's him and Trey Anastasio: [[image|id=69|width=250]] So...yeah. Bonnaroo was...epic.
Share Your Thoughts
Jordan from NYC | June 23, 2009, 9:54pm
This report was epic!
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