Today is Bonnaroo recovery day. Even though our set wasn’t until Sunday, we were there from Thursday night on, soaking up the culture and listening to great music… like many of you, I hit the Walmart (one of the Walmarts, anyway) between Nashville and Manchester TN to stock up on bottled water and beef jerky, pitched a tent in the mud at the venue, piled my crap on top of your crap in the port-o-potties, and ended up with mud-caked shoes on my feet and mysterious bruises on my body at the end of the weekend. Like many of you, I had to be careful not to step on passed-out wookies on the way to the various stages.
Unlike many of you, I had a laminate that gave me access to an air-conditioned artist hospitality tent with fruit, cookies, open bar, and all-you-can-drink vitamin water, which really isn’t water, but that’s a topic for another road journal altogether. So when the going got rough… when the monsoons swept in… when the afternoon heat became unbearable, I kicked back on a fuzzy couch with a plate of pineapple, a microbrew, and a bunch of people who had just taken showers in their hotel rooms. It was a wonderful way to experience Bonnaroo, but I wasn’t keeping it real by any stretch of the imagination.
Special thanks to those who showed up for our set on Sunday… there was an incredible energy in the tent and it felt great to be back on stage. In general, Bonnaroo crowds are super receptive to bands, friendly to each other, and a big part of the reason why the festival is such a success. Here’s what I chose to see in my 72 hours at Bonnaroo:
Galactic: I hadn’t seen these guys in years. We befriended the Galactics on the Horde tour in 1998 but haven’t crossed paths much since. Maybe because we’re a pop-rock band and they’re a funk-jazz band. In any event, those guys only get better and Stanton Moore is one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen. He was the highlight of the 48 minute drum jam that took place when Galactic and Guster opened for Widespread Panic somewhere in Florida in 1998. I was the guy tapping my djembe and wondering how it was possible that the jam wasn’t over yet.
Wilco: It’s fun to see your favorite band, even when it’s 94 degrees outside in the middle of the day. They’re a six-piece now and sound bigger and better than ever. “At Least That’s What You Said” brought me to the brink of tears. The brink. I didn’t cry. At the end of “Spiders/Kidsmoke” (I skip it on the album but I loved it live!) Tweedy threw down his guitar and walked off stage. There were two more songs on the set list. I don’t know what was wrong. They sounded incredible, but the crowd was comatose from heatstroke. I kept thinking that if he wasn’t schvitzing in that denim jacket the whole time we may have gotten to the last two songs. Oh well.
Gillian Welch: I like Gillian Welch. But after two songs I went to see Yo La Tengo. Life is full of difficult choices.
Yo La Tengo: This band made an album called “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One” in 1997 and my life hasn’t been the same since. I got there in time to hear “Stockholm Syndrome” and then they went on a five song binge of very mellow and/or experimental jams that lost a chunk of the crowd. It’s a two-sided coin for me… on the one hand you want to hear the songs you love and on the other hand you want bands to remain adventurous, defiant, and experimental… you know, to keep practicing the things that make them artists and lead to new terrain. So it was hit & miss for me. They went in to “Deeper Into Movies” and never looked back. Twelve minute version of “Nuclear War” blew me away to close the set.
Calexico: This was the best band I saw all weekend. I’d heard the albums and liked them but wasn’t prepared for a live show that infectious. I couldn’t believe it. Go see Calexico. If every song on the next Guster album has a trumpet on it, now you know why.
My Morning Jacket: My Morning Jacket were the band on stage when the first monsoon of the weekend swept in. They were having a good set with a big crowd when giant black clowds rolled in, loomed overhead, and winds started gusting. For a song or two everyone was just waiting in anticipation, stage techs scrambling to cover guitars and electronics… and then you saw it… you could *see* the rain before you could feel it… coming at you like a swarm of bugs. When it hit, the crowd let out a roar but stuck around, and the band kept on playing while their guitar pedals and drums got soaked, bringing the energy up to the point where everyone knew they were witnessing something special. It was a great moment. The only thing that ruined it for me was seeing some guy in bermuda shorts with chicken legs running around the stage taking pictures with his camera-phone (Ryan Miller).
Grandaddy: They played a great set list, including covering “Here” by Pavement (with the introduction that they were playing a song by a band with the good sense to bow out gracefully — I loved that), but the sound never quite came together for them during the set. Don’t get me wrong, I love this band with all my heart and would jump in front of a bus for them, but I’ve heard them sound a lot better.
David Byrne: Yeah, so we all had our visions of kicking into Nothing But Flowers only to hear a roar from the crowd as David Byrne (surreptitiously souped-up with a set of in-ear monitors and a wireless mic from our in-on-the-secret crew) ran on stage and took over the first verse for Ryan, but there was no such luck. He was getting ready for his set on the big stage with a string section, horns, etc… he closed with “Life During Wartime” and he’s still one of my heroes. He sounded fucking great.
Beth Orton: I was surprised by how much I liked her — from the songs to the affable British accent to the choice of M. Ward as extra guitarist. She covered “Buckets of Rain” by Bob Dylan and let M. Ward sing every other verse. Back stage in the air-conditioned artist hospitality tent I didn’t have the balls to talk to either of them. What do you call him, Mr. Ward? M?
Medeski Martin & Wood: This is Sean’s favorite band in the whole world and he was packing up my drums while I was watching them. (Is there no justice?) Like me, Ryan and Adam, Medeski, Martin and Wood play music for a living. That’s about where the similarities end. These guys are musicans on an entirely different level. They float around in a musical universe where Joe might be allowed in. I love watching them interact and communicate on stage too. They just know each other so well, musically.
Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven: I didn’t actually see their set, but as I was being golf-carted past their tent en route to our gig, I heard David Lowery singing “Victoria” by The Kinks and it made me happy. What a great tune.
Ween: I made my way over to Ween at about 1am when the Dead started their drum jam. I caught the last two hours of their set and wished I hadn’t missed the first hour. Two hours just wasn’t enough. I can’t think of another band as versatile as Ween… every song has such a unique identity. I used to play the shit out of their first album (God – Ween – Satan) in college, though I don’t think they played anything from it in their set. They closed with “Poopship Destroyer” and it was beautiful.