Bonnaroo 2009: “The Best Yet”
“It’s not just a huge, grimy hippie fest like I thought; it’s a well respected and known festival. I actually saw it on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today.” That was what my father told me yesterday when I recounted the events of the weekend in Manchester, Tennessee. And while there may be a fair amount of “hippies” or “wookies” in the crowd, there is also an extremely professional crew of workers making the festival run smoothly, whether it be in video production, editing, or security. So where do you even start when trying to cover the musically orgasmic experience that is Bonnaroo? It’s almost like that hackneyed saying: you don’t actually know until you go. But for those of you that were not able to make it this year, here are a few of the weekend’s highlights.
The festival started on Thursday, June 11, in the middle of a thunderstorm. Campers trying to set up their tents were disrupted by the torrential downpour. The shows on Thursday were limited to the tents and smaller stages and featured Alberta Cross, Delta Spirit, Portugal. The Man, Passion Pit, Zac Brown Band, et al. Perhaps the most impressive performance of the night came from the relatively underrated Portugal. The Man. Originally from Alaska, the band has released an album every year since 2006, and their latest album, “The Satanic Satanist” is expected to be released July 21st. Actually on my way to a different show, I overheard a unique but intriguing blend of music coming from the This Tent. I decided to walk over and give them a shot and was immediately interested in the band’s indie rock style, incorporation of strange keyboard sounds, and high pitched yet fitting vocals. Portugal. The Man not only rocked out with amps and electric guitars Thursday night but also performed an acoustic show on the Sonic Stage Friday afternoon that was equally boss.
Once 12 noon on Friday rolled around, most of the Bonnaroo’ers were fed up with the rain and ready to see a full day’s worth of kickin’ live music. On Friday afternoon at the Yeah Yeah Yeahs show at the Which (Second) Stage, I captured an image that encapsulates the crowd’s mood throughout the inclement weather. One guy’s back was sunburned to a crisp except for a few white spots in the shape of hands. Obviously this guy had received a few five stars of the ubiquitous mud created by Thursday’s showers. The sun came out in full force Friday afternoon, burning a pattern in said guy’s back. The image also represents the crowd’s nonchalant attitude towards the inclement weather: screw it…it’s Bonnaroo. Well Friday afternoon boasted bands such as the reggae group, The Itals, Galactic ft. Trombone Shorty and Corey Henry, Gomez, Animal Collective, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, the “Rev” Al Green, and TV on the Radio. Traveling from across the pond, British alternative rock group, Gomez, truly lit up the early show-goers. Cited in the Bonnaroo Beacon, the daily newspaper, Gomez describes Bonnaroo as “the best festival in the States and it’s ever evolving musically.” Another impressive band performing Friday afternoon was the well-known New-Orleans style funk band, Galactic. Galactic has played at Bonnaroo since the festival’s beginning in 2002. Never ceasing to impress, Galactic collaborated with New Orleans brass player, Trombone Shorty and keyboard player, Corey Henry for an engaging and funkadelic show. As if the acts of Friday afternoon were not enough, headliners Beastie Boys and Phish performed on the main stage Friday night. While they are growing old, the Beastie Boys kept it old school and rocked (and/or rapped) out just as hard as expected. With the drummer and percussionist in cages behind Mike D and the other MCs, the Beastie Boys were seemingly effortlessly making heads nod to their hip hop/rock. A short hour after the Beastie Boys finished, Phish took over the main stage. Phish not only utilized every one of the light configurations previously set up on the main stage, but also installed a whole new set as their backdrop. Here’s a little taste:
With hundreds of balloons bouncing and thousands of glow-sticks flying throughout the crowd, Phish played 15 songs and for over three hours. The notorious, recently re-assembled jam band even covered AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. And if the Phish performance didn’t wear you out, there were multiple late night options. Paul Oakenfold DJ’d until the stage crew literally pulled the cord on him (well past 4 am), Girl Talk rolled (yes, with toilet paper) the crowd in routine fashion while surrounded by glow-stick-bearing girls on stage, and Pretty Lights evoked raw energy from a worn out crowd from 1:45-4:00 am.
Saturday featured surprise appearances, the Boss Springsteen, and a plethora of both talented and well-known acts. Kicking off the day was ILO & the Coral Reefer AllStars. But, wait…surprise! Jimmy Buffet decided to join his band, the Coral Reefers in a surprise appearance. Good ‘ole Jimmy performed a few of his big hits: Fins, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Pirate Looks at 40, etc in front of a small crowd that grew exponentially bigger. With multiple references to Bonnaroo and the acknowledgment of a fan with a parrot on his shoulder, Jimmy Buffet provided a light-hearted and delightful beginning for a Saturday jam-packed with high energy music. At 3:30 on the main stage, Rodrigo y Gabriela, an extremely talented Mexican acoustic duo, impressed the baking (under the sun, only) crowd. Other Saturday performers were Gov’t Mule, who invited Grace Potter on the stage for a cover of Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” Booker T & the Drive-By-Truckers, Wilco, The Mars Volta, and Elvis Costello. And once Saturday night rolled around, so did Manchester’s entire police force escorting the Boss Man. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rocked the stage for three hours. Springsteen performed “Out in the Street,” “Born to Run,” and included a 7 song encore featuring “Glory Days” and “Dancing in the Dark.” Once again, if the Boss wasn’t enough entertainment for the night, Nine Inch Nails, moe., MGMT, and Ben Harper & the Relentless 7 all performed at the various Bonnaroo stages for the late nighters.
Sunday afternoon featured hilarious country artist, Robert Earl Keen, and country legend Merle Haggard. Also performing was the Dillinger Escape Plan, Cage the Elephant, Citizen Cope, Band of Horses (who Bruce Springsteen decided to go watch), Andrew Bird, Snoop Dogg, and Coheed & Cambria. While the Bonnaroo-ers were obviously tired, the Sunday night show was the one to not miss. Phish graced the stage shortly after 8:30, with a crowd swimming in glow-sticks and inflatable sea creatures. After performing songs such as “Silent in the Morning,” and “Gotta Jibboo,” Phish’s lead man, Trey Anastasio, told a story about his first concert experience (Bruce Springsteen) at the age of 12. Describing the Boss Man as his boyhood hero, Trey invited Bruce to the stage. The glorious collaboration produced perhaps the best cover of Mustang Sally 95% of the crowd had ever heard, plus two of Springsteen’s hits, “Bobby Jean” and “Glory Days.” The first set was truly a spectacle as Trey and Bruce battled with solos throughout the three songs they performed together. Oh, and by the way, Phish’s last time to perform “Mustang Sally” was 1988. A lot of the people in the crowd weren’t even alive in 1988. But I’m sure they were glad to be alive and present at the final show of Bonnaroo ’09 on Sunday night.
From hipster to country to DJs to comedy to the Boss Man performing with Phish, Bonnaroo certainly represents the interests of anyone and everyone attending. Whether Merle enjoyed the Beastie Boys or Springsteen enjoyed Snoop Dogg, we’re not sure. But what we are sure of is the incredible and indescribable energy permeating the 75,000+ person crowd at Bonnaroo 2009. Excited for next year? Well, you should be. Who knows, maybe Led Zeppelin will stroll on in.