Creative Loafing writers Arielle Stevenson and Andrew Silverstein have journeyed north to Tennessee for the weekend to brave the wilds of the four-day fest otherwise known as Bonnaroo, jumping from stage to stage, snapping photos (the ones currently included are all by Andrew), talking to musicians on the fly (audio interviews to be added next week), and reporting back here throughout the weekend about their adventures. Photographer Tracy May is also in the field and will be submitting his own pics later as well; currently, all shots included here are by Andrew unless otherwise noted...
The following is their transmissions direct from the fest, including some photos, with more to be added later; make sure to keep checking back for updates...
Why isnt mud a four letter word? It should be. Please understand, there is quality to the earthy feeling you get knowing youre at the mercy of mother nature. The first day is probably the hardest of the weekend as the Roo-gin half of this coverage team can attest. Everyone is utterly exhausted from the drive up, and like a child refusing to nap, they continue on stubbornly.
Well, that first day of Bonnaroo has come and gone and we're ... still alive. Manchester graced us and around 80,000 others with a comfortably warm atmosphere and a slew of great, and not-so-great, but more so great acts on this kick-off Thursday. Here's the rundown on all the bands we got to catch.
Joe Robinson, 1-2 p.m.
Dont be fooled by this Aussies baby face; the 19-year-old is one hell of a guitar player. My first musical act of the festival was an unexpected treat. Wandering without a direction from our campsite towards what sounded like potentially self-indulgent 50-somethings from a far was actually the fresh face of blues and jazz guitar. In 2008, Robinson won Australias Got Talent at the tender age of 16. And he is good, really good. His back-up band, Elmwood, equaled Robinsons age and skill level, and allArielle
The Postelles [pictured right], 4:15-5 p.m.
With the kick of a bass drum and a swell of howling feedback, the Postelles made it known they were the right dudes to get the party started. Sunny and exuberant with just enough overdrive to let us know they aren't raging sissies, The Postelles played a great, energetic show that, from the looks of it, perked the ears of a lot of new listeners (including myself). "This might be the best show we've ever played," remarked lead man Daniel Balk. I think he might be right. --Andrew
Miike Snow, 7:30-8:30 p.m.
First of all, lets be clear: Miike Snow is a band, not a person. Hailing from Sweden, this indie electro pop-whatever band knows how to make some people move. Their self-titled release has been remixed by Passion Pit, Mark Ronson and Peter Bjorn & John, to name a few. Early in the evening on Thursday, when my fourth wave of adrenaline began to wane, Miike Snow took the stage at This Tent. I love their debut album and the remixes that have followed, but often groups like MiikeArielle
Local Natives [pictured right], 7-8 p.m.
Local Natives began their set to a scenic Manchester sunset and requisite relieving drop in temperature. Maybe it was the ahhh-ing comfort these elements provided or the good vibes (and pot smoke) wafting through the tent, but L.N. had me feeling fantastic by the end of their set. Rife with complex vocal harmonies, tribal-like percussion, and panged, introspective lyricism, Local Natives breathed life into a majority of songs off their debut LP, Gorrilla Manor and looked like they were having the time of their lives doing it. --Andrew
I only caught a fraction of Neon Indians set, but even so, this smidgen was enough for me to type the note download Neon Indian on my Iphone in the middle of a crazed and packed photo pit. My gripe with previous listens of Neon Indian was that they were too hushed and repetitive for the genre they seemed to be aiming for. Personal bias, but I like my dancey stuff loud, sugary-sweet, and rife with catchy hooks. Regardless, Neon Indians music pumped through gargantuan concert speakers with lead singer Alan Polomo and the rest of his band breaking it down and getting all funky to their own tunes, definitely giving me some new perspective on the matter. --Andrew
Frank Turner [pictured right], 10-11 p.m.
Mayer Hawthorne and the County [pictured below, photo by Eric Hunter], 10:30-11:30 p.m.
Nursed on classics like the Police, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Barry White and Queen, Detroits Mayer Hawthorne is repackaging soul and R&B for todays generation. Hawthorne, who spent a few minutes speaking with CL, says his passions fall into several genres but he spent the majority of the past few years in the hip-hop scene. His latest album, A Strange Arrangement, mixes soul, R&B and cabaret into a vintage sound extravaganza. Since discovering him a little over four months ago, I became obsessed with A Strange Arrangement.
After watching him perform last night, I am fairly certain that Hawthorne could be the resurrection of blue-eyed soul but perhaps with a dirtier mouth. His voice is silky but power packed and can hit highs and lows with ease. In a tailored white and blue pinstripe suit, complete with matching bow-tie, Hawthorne slinked about the stage and meandered from tambourine to keys with ease. And he pulled two of my favorite cheese-ball moves -- a shout out to the ladies in the house and slow jam to get the lovebirds percolating. His pseudo-James Brown interaction with audience was utterly charming, ranging from shout outs to his hometown Ann Arbor, just outside of Detroit, to his persistent questioning of the Lakers game score. Hawthorne totally won over the crowd and his impromptu jam to Biz Markies Just a Friend turned even the most cynical music snobs to putty. Hawthornes performance Thursday night ran like a well-oiled Vegas showcase steam train. (Check out cltampa.com/bonnaroo next week for the complete video interview...)
The xx [pictured right], 11:30 p.m.-12:45 a.m.
STAY TUNED FOR: A Q & A with Mayer Hawthorne on vinyl, hip-hop and playing the bass, and Dr. Dogs Frank McElroy on their new album, plus lots more photos.
Andrew Silverstein: Day 2; Done-zo. Chronologically, were burrowed deep in the meaty center of this gargantuan festival and, to be frank, its fucking disgusting; feces-speckled port-o-potties (my bare feet discovered this the hard way), sneaky patches of ankle-deep mud, blistering sunlight and the requisite sweat, the neverending sweat. The drugs are available aplenty, but even without them, your mind will take you to some blissfully weird places when its sleep-deprived and super-saturated in an audible vat of todays best music. Heres the run down on some highlights from day 2.
Gaslight Anthem, 1:45-2:45 p.m.
Gaslight leadman Brian Fallon [pictured right] should write the book on how to be a genuinely captivating frontman. With a dimple-pushing grin and an overall kid-in-a-candy-store demeanor, Fallon and his bandmates came bursting out of the gate with gracious strum through their newest single American Slang from the same titled upcoming LP. Without skipping a beat they launched into a slew of tracks from their debut LP, 59 Sound including Great Expectations, 59 sound, and Meet me by the Rivers Edge. While the boyish charisma is great, Fallons also got a resonating, gruff voice and a pocket full of beautifully tragic lyrics swimming beneath the happy surface. If this is where American rock n roll is headed, Ill be content.
She & Him, 5-6:15 p.m.
I only caught a snippet of She & Him. Word to the wise; dont try to bum-rush the too-packed photo pit or youll get booted by Brett Michaels leathery, emaciated twin. Outside the pit any, opportunity to really see the band was thwarted by a never-ending sea of sweaty bods. From the two songs I listened to, their sunny, 60s era pop complimented the sunny, youd-almost-think-was 60s era atmosphere of the Roo quite nicely. But seriously, if you cant gawk at Zooey Deschanel, whats the point? (Just kidding, Zooey. Marry me?)
In a fest environment, the National are different. Not necessarily better or worse per se, but theres something about a band thats so inherently city-at-night-themed playing during the day amidst this loud, dirty, shitshow of a festival. Even so, they delivered a well-balanced mix of tracks from their latest, High Violet, and older songs from the back catalog with the gracious poise and delivery theyre so well known for. If anything, the set just got me more pumped to see their October show in Orlando. When you hear the phrase his/her voice fills up the room youll know exactly what it means when you hear the baritone croon of Matt Berninger radiating throughout the club: Chilling.
Dawes [pictured right], 8:30-9:30 p.m.
Kings of Leon, 9:30-11:30 p.m.
I wanted so badly for Kings of Leon to fuck up. Just somewhere in their rise to superstardom, make a terribly adult-contemporary, mom-friendly song, or ride hot rods on some lame Pepsi commercial, or produce a track for the Twilight soundtrack (ehrm... Black Keys) -- just something that would negate the fact that all these dudes are complete and total bad-asses. Its no ill will against Caleb Followill and his boys. Its just rock superstardom is so rife in delusional self-perception and unwarranted, inflated egos that I wanted so badly for them to fit that tried and true narrative of the hollow, profit-driven rock star. It sure wouldve made my job easier and, coincidentally, inflated my own ego in knowing I was right all along, but really, they havent. At least not in any way thats set of the bells and whistles in this ol noggin.
Their Roo perfomance was no exception. They still play a bulk of the older, and much ballsier songs, as well as current anthems like Sex on Fire and Use Somebody. Even from a football field and a half away, the mix was near perfect with each little vocal nuance of frontman Followill emanating through all corners of the fest. Right as we were walking off, the opening two notes of the Pixies' Where is My Mind? sucked us back in like a vortex and kept our undivided attention for the whole song. It was a mesmerizing cover that stayed completely true to the still-fantastic original. The Flaming Lips should probably take note.
The Keys were born to play live. Backstage, from my very cursory perspective (i.e. passing each other, making awkward eye contact), they looked a little burnt out, like theyd rather just be strumming guitars and slamming back whiskey shots at home as opposed to doing it in front of a crowd.
My words were eaten within about 30 seconds of the Keys taking the stage. These guys are monsters; brooding, moon-howling monsters. Dan Auerbach look like a guitar man possessed by Beelzebub himself while drummer Patrick Carney appeared on the verge of pummeling his kit to a meager pile of cracked wood and bent metal. The bulk of songs were pulled from their latest LP, Brothers, and hey, thats definitely not a bad thing, seeing that it very well might be their best album to date. And to think, there were probably a few walker-byers who assumed the Keys were a good 3, 4, or 5 piece. Little do they know the wrath that can be incurred by this terrible twosome.
Arielle Stevenson: Morning never comes easy and bright light coupled with streaming heat only intensify its presence. Coffee is typically the only saving grace for these early mornings, but at $5 a pop, it seemed like there was no hope. But then Friday morning, in a mostly empty press tent, Dr. Dog turned up for their exclusive acoustic set for the media. My feet were aching and I was exhausted but listening to their sweet harmonies and heartfelt melodies were like bluebirds on my shoulder. Not a bad way to kick off day two. A little more rested and ready for the headliners to begin, the energy of the crowd was tangibly reinvigorated on site.
Tori Amos [pictured below, photo by Arielle], 6:45-8:15 p.m.
Let me preface this by saying, I am not some bra-burning femme fatale that had to see Tori Amos. I was on my way to Tenacious D with my significant other when the sound of her voice
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers [pictured below right, photo by Arielle], 7:30-8:30 p.m.
When I was about 12, my dad played Steve Martins vinyl record, and I remember a few lyrics but specifically, be oblong and have your knees removed. Martin has the ability to be extremely witty without using the crutch of obscenities, thus making him utterly charming. Last night, when he took the stage with his banjo in hand, his comedic sensibility was no
This was one of the top five shows I was looking forward to seeing Bonnaroos lineup. Glowsticks and other items which I wont mention were gathered days before hand to ready my experience. After taking my early evening nap during Kings of Leon, I arose, ready to have my mind blown. Their initial set was all Lips tunes, and it included favorites like She dont use Jelly, Do You Realize? and The W.A.N.D. Silhouettes of hands amid smoke, laser lights and snowing confetti made me feel like I was experiencing some whimsical dream in reality. Imagine Dali meets Alice in Wonderland on acid.
But when they launched into their highly anticipated performance of Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon, my mind was not blown. Maybe there was too much time to ponder the magic that was in store. Maybe heat exhaustion killed my buzz. Maybe I should have invested in the same mind-altering substances as the rest of crowd. Whatever it was, their performance not only left much to be desired, but was straight up dull. I was bored. Me, bored while the Flaming Lips performed of one my favorite albums of all time. In consulting others in my fears that there was something wrong with me for not enjoying it more, I found comfort in knowing that I wasnt alone. Numerous pauses between songs and a hard dose of soap-boxing rhetoric kind of killed the vibe. It was too complex for its own good. Like an all-you-can-eat buffet of desserts, it sounds good at first but soon you have a bellyache. There was just too much Lip and not enough Floyd. It was an honor and it was spectacular but perhaps over-hyped.
LCD Soundsystem [pictured left], 2:30-4 a.m.
James Murphy and his onstage musical chaos also made the list for top five bands I was stoked to see this year. When I was 16 and Myspace was alive and well, I initially discovered LCD Soundsystems Daft Punk is Playing at My House, via my neighbors profile. Flash forward to my freshmen year in college in 2007, when I heard Get Innocuous and Someone Great," on a mix CD given to me by a friend. Then
Leading man James Murphys vocals were stronger than I was expecting, and provided a huge energy boost to their sound. There was Freddy Mercury-style dramatics in Murphys voice that, when coupled with slamming instrumentals from his band, the electronic and instrumental coalesced organically in a menagerie of chest pounding sound. Fan favorites like New York, I Love You were delivered in unique packaging with a familiar twist. Everyone, and I mean everyone was dancing. Like a soundtrack to the moment of our lives, Murphy delivered an extremely moving and uplifting set. The music was bittersweet considering that their third and latest album, This Is Happening, is slated to be their last. "We aren't going away until you get bored with us," Murphy said. That could be a while considering the energy in the crowd. People didnt dip their toes into music, they dived in head first. And Murphy was right alongside them.
Looking ahead: Flaming Lips Wayne Coyne on the meaning of Bonnaroo and life, ten minutes with Ok Go and Dr. Dogs Frank McElroy talks about recording their latest album. --Arielle Stevenson
Well, were over the Roo hump. Day 3 brought us rain, some of the best acts of the festival so far, and, maybe just for me, a firm grasp on the ins and outs of this big, dirty party; a $7 shower is well worth it when your hairs so dirty it crunches, whiskey is best snuck in nestled between your crotch and your waistband (why, yes, officer, I am this endowed!), and while the whole hippie-vibe is great, going barefoot anywhere in this place is just a bad idea. Through it all though, Im having a great time. All the music, in its rich and varied glory, seems to give a lot of us the power to trudge on, tough it out 'til the end, which, in itself, is quite a beautiful thing.
.Or were just too fucked up to care.
Here are some of the best acts I saw on day 3.
The Melvins, 5:15-6:30 p.m.
The Dead Weather, 6-7:30 p.m.
Full disclosure: I hadnt heard a second of the Dead Weather before watching their set yesterday. Afterward, Im ambivalent. The music sans-vocals is pretty great. They sound like a beefier White Stripes; fuzzed-out, bluesy numbers with a tinge of Zeppelin-esque pomp. The vocals, howled from the throat of Kills singer Alison Mossheart couldve easily wrecked their set to shambles. I get the whole screamy punk delivery, but juxtaposed over this type of music was just bad. Some things just dont go together. I wouldnt want to see Kenny G come out and solo over a Slayer song (or would I?). Even so, she toned it down as the set went on. Jack White sang on a few tracks as well and I longed for the White Stripes.
Weezer, 7-8:30 p.m.
I begrudgingly decided to go and shoot Weezer. Begrudgingly because its a near-fact that their last three albums were, for lack of a better word, audible dog shit. I only say that out of love. The music of depressingly weird Pinkerton-era Rivers Cuomo [pictured left] was my childhood. It was sad and weird, but on a certain level, relatable. Now Rivers is just depressingly weird and incredibly cheesy. Songs about Patron, partying, and girls just sound head-scratchingly stupid coming from a band like this.
But, alas, they played a fantastic set Saturday. Greats like Undone" and Say it Aint So transported me back to listening to the Blue Album on the school bus. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, Weezer made me realize. Judging by the smiles and sing-alongs, Im sure a few others were taken back as well. Now that hes, for the most part, only the singer (drummer Pat Wilson plays guitar now and a new drummer took his place), Rivers is an absolute nutcase on stage. They ended with a cover Kids by MGMT with Lady Gaga's Poker Face throw into the mix somehow. Overall a very fun and incredibly entertaining set.
Stevie Wonder, 8:30-10:30 p.m.
Man, Stevie did not disappoint. I walked into his set a few minutes late thus missing his opening keytar diddy, but even so, got to witness a rare musical journey from a living legend. While many artists lose it as they age, Stevie showed no signs of slowing down. Every high and low was belted out in crystal clear form, the keys were sharp and lively, and Stevie was a master crowd-pumper. At numerous times hed get us chanting a melody and then segue into whatever song he was playing from there. Ive never seen so much artist/crowd interaction at a concert. Greats like Higher Ground, Superstition and
Jay-Z, 11:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m.
I stayed to shoot Jays first two songs and then split to go watch Dan Deacon. Run This Town I recognized and was bass-thumpingly great as Jay nailed every rhyme with the same fervorous energy as the album. If the rest of the set followed suit, I'm sure it was a damn good time...
Dawn was kissing the skies when I rolled into camp after LCD Soundsystem. Less than two hours later, the sun was up and Bonnaroo was back in action. After hours of writing, interviewing and transcribing, I escaped the comforts of the air conditioned press tent and ventured into the wilds of day three at Bonnaroo. A strange high takes over when your body goes without sleep for too long. Every drug, including many that I had never heard of, were at my fingertips, but absent of organic or chemical substances, one will still find themselves in an altered state of mind. Additionally conducive to this altered state of mind is not knowing what time it is. In the grind of life, time dictates everything. But at Bonnaroo, music is the chiming bell tower in the town square. There are no numbers on the clock, only a soundtrack for the moment.
Weezer, 7-8:30 p.m
Reasons why I love this band:
2. They write great love songs. Only in Dreams is scientific and romantic. Desperation for the woman you love likened to the elements of the periodic table? Be still my beating heart.
3. For a band that takes songwriting pointers from Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys, these fellows know how to get loud. Like 1950's prom music performed in a trash can.
I havent been front row at any of the weekends shows until Weezer. The Blue Album was and still is a staple of my everyday musical rotation. Though my enthusiasm for their music has waned since the late '90s, the place they hold in my heart has only grown. Cuomos stage presence was undeniable; climbing the massive scaffolding and singing from the rafters, his voice innocent, but gritty. Buddy Holly, Island in the Sun and Hash Pipe were gloriously woven into their hour-long set -- fan favorites that got the 80,000+ crowd throwing their arms in the air and screaming every lyric. It should be said that this was my first Weezer show, but I am fairly certain that Cuomo was experiencing some mind-altering substances. Saturday, it appears he indeed had his hash pipe.
Whilst gaining a major pop presence, Weezer has been successful at maintaining a peripheral attitude towards society. They may be situated in the music scene but they proved their dedication to flipping mainstream society the bird with Pork and Beans, which was anthem to Saturdays crowd: Im a do the things that I want to do. I aint got a thing to prove to you. The encore was an unexpected dueling cover of MGMTs Kids and Lady Gagas Poker Face," complete with Cuomo donning a platinum blond wig. Pressed up against the barricades amongst the masses of strangers, I felt at home with those beside me as we shouted into the abyss. It was everything I was hoping for and more.
Music festivals are often lessons in letting go. Even the best laid plans can fall through, and in a rush of 100,000 people, this is bound to happen. And it did to me on Saturday after Weezer. So I chose to wander, aimlessly, and caught Harper Simon (Rufus Wainwright but less brooding and more down home), Stevie Wonder (at the height of boy bands, when my girlfriends were fawning over Nick Carter and Justin Timberlake -- the Jerry curl year -- I discovered Stevie), and Jeff Beck ("Lilac Wine") ...
Greetings from the tail end of a brain-draining 13-plus hour overnight car ride. Im about to hibernate in my lovely, air-conditioned abode for a couple of days. Hope you dont mind. Heres a quick recap of my experience on the last, bittersweet day of the Roo.
In the A.M. I got a chance to sit down with Against Me! bassist Andrew Seward. Amongst other topics, we discussed A.Ms relationship with the Tampa Bay area, the biggest influences of their new LP White Crosses, and the finale of Lost. Stay tuned for that as well as their upcoming show at the Ritz later this week with Silversun Pickups ...
Lucero [Ben Nichols pictured right], 2-3 p.m.
Luceros one of those bands I keep hearing fantastic, nay amazing things about, but always seem to forget when Im prowling for new music. Im really glad I waited to see them in all their glory live. Armed with a troupe of horn players and band mates that looked like they got plucked straight out of a truck stop, Ben Nichols' raspy vocals wretched and writhed over a rich blend of heartfelt, Southern-flavored tunes that got the whole crowd gawking or cheerfully singing along. This is the point I realize Id be digesting A LOT of new music in the next few days.
Aziz Ansari, 1:30-2:45 p.m.
Bonnaroo had a stellar comedy line-up this year. Only problem? The comedy tent is tiny, like uber-tiny. Every show was sold out before, or pretty close to, the time I woke up each morning. Luckily I got word at the last minute that they had some room for a few media people at Azizs last show. I booked it over and made the show just in time.
Aziz is, hands down, one of the funniest dudes in show business today. With a set chocked full of anecdotes on 50 Cent, the pitfalls of porno videos, and his like a shooting star, but fat, brown, and on the ground cousin Harris, Aziz took hold of the crowd and didnt let go till the end. Ill just say I wiped tears from my eyes plenty of times during his set and leave it at that.
Creedence Clearwater Revival were some of the greatest southern rockers to grace the planet and Fogerty was at the helm. That was around 40 years ago. Did he still have that unmistakable high-range Southern twang?
Absolutely; and the ability to absolutely shred on the guitar like a man gone mad. Hits like Down on the Corner and Have You Ever Seen the Rain were played with full force and a still-astounding presence from the rock legend himself. Throw in a fiery rendition of Roy Orbisons Pretty Woman and youve got a damn good set from a rocker who seems to be aging like a fine wine.
Phoenix, 7:15-8:45 p.m.
What it is that draws people to Bonnaroo?
Certainly it isnt the idea of going days without sleep, a hot shower or a soft bed. We travel hundreds of miles from our respective locales into a bedraggled little valley in the mountains of Tennessee, surely for some greater reason. Musical festivals have experienced a rebirth in the current youth, and I am no exception to its magnetic pull, my first festival Lollapalooza 2007 at 19. Certainly the concept of a congregate of the most influential entities of one's formative years is a factor. But I am not convinced I came here for the music alone. Perhaps its the constant control of everyday life. Schedules, responsibilities, dirty laundry and deadlines. Its all so modular. Henry David Thoreau said that most men live quiet lives of desperation. If that is true, perhaps Bonnaroo is the fix for our quest for fulfillment. In a post-war generation, those older have branded us as a lost cause. But if the lives of those which came before us were lead in quiet desperation, why would we want that too? The new American dream is yet to be discovered but its predecessor seems to be overwhelmingly benign. There is no revolution and despite having every amenity and opportunity we fail to make something of ourselves. There is no quiet desperation at Bonnaroo; if there is any desperation, it is more like a scream than a whimper.
We may not be dying for a cause but we are certainly living examples of what was fought for. No, it isnt the golden age. The economy is bad but we know what is important -- living with passion.
Jack Kerouacs 1968 classic, On the Road, said the only ones for me are the mad ones.
Lost? I beg to differ. I think we could finally be found.
Stay tuned later this week for a TON more photos from Tracy May as well as a full fest recap from Arielle and Andrew. Till next year, Bonnaroo!