Bonnaroo | 06.14-17.07

bonnaroo3Even if a slice of pizza costs $6, under certain circumstances, I will throw down and burn my mouth and claim that it was the greatest thing I've ever eaten.

 

 

 

 

 

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Manchester, Tenn.

I'm still wearing my big yellow sunglasses and coughing up dust. That's how much Bonnaroo 2007 has stuck with me, and I don't foresee putting on pants anytime soon (I will admit, however, that my tennis shoes are currently in quarantine). This year's festival (now officially a four-day festival!) was less officially the Year of the Dirt, not to be confused with ‘04's Year of the Mud. A dry spell meant that sweaty campers didn't have to try to get covered in a thin layer of sooty film, as cross-camp trekkers and hippie-baggin' Mounties alike were stomping up enough dust clouds to put even the sober crowd in a foggy haze. With the only relief being a 15-minute sprinkle in the middle of Kings of Leon's (or Hot Chip‘s) Friday afternoon set, ‘07 was doomed to be a hot one, but not unexpectedly. For those of us with veteran accreditation, or for those rookies with foresight or a guiding light, staying cool and vertical were the only obstacles to what would prove to be one of the better Bonnaroos (as if they could be bad). So without further ado, here's what PLAYBACK:stl witnessed on the extended weekend journey that was Bonnaroo 2007.

 

Day 1 (Thursday)

This year a five-car convoy (personal record?) departed on Thursday morning for an early-afternoon arrival in the dirt-y South. Manchester was just like I remembered it, and the bumper-to-bumper line into the campgrounds moved a little slower than in years past, but the ubiquitous, ticket-less hippies were out in full force, begging for change with signs like "We need a miracle." In the spirit of Bonnaroo, I hope they got in.

After being herded into the nowhere land of Camp Jeff Spicoli, tents were erected, beers were cracked, and anticipation reached a Craig Finn level of excitement (i.e., almost disturbingly giddy while clapping/screaming, despite the fact that no one can hear you). In years past, Thursday mostly meant exploration, as the bands were usually more ambient filler than anything. However, the shiny new (official) four-day Bonnaroo brought a little more oomph to opening night, and those ambitious enough to get settled before dark were able to see the likes of The Black Angels, Mute Math, and Apollo Sunshine, among others. I was amped up for The National, though, and the Brooklyners (via Cincinnati) started the festival off right, mixing strong musicianship with a little extra enthusiasm as Matt Berninger's baritone stretched beyond his usual murmurs to fill a greater space with emotive howls. The rest of the band was impressively solid, and after a taste of Rodrigo y Gabriela, I went to bed on Day One with more energy than I ever had at previous ‘Roos.

 

Day 2 (Friday)

drdog Woke up with that, "Oh yeah, it's 85 degrees at 8 am feeling," wiped the scum from my eyelids, and reveled in the shade, guessing which one of my crew would go too hard today and burn out. A little bit of Uncle Earl, with a guest appearance from John Paul Jones, led into the Cold War Kids who weren't necessarily spectacular, but sounded good enough. "Hospital" went over pretty well, but the rest wasn't quite fit for a scorching afternoon affair. I missed The Richard Thompson Band, which I heard was excellent, but this little disappointment couldn't bring me down. (Side note: if anything brings you down at Bonnaroo, you have fun problems.) I chilled in a hammock and listened to the Brazilian Girls, hydrated, and headed out into to sun for Kings of Leon. After seeing the Kings at one of the tents a few years back, then at the second main stage, it was nice to see them graduate to Bonnaroo's main stage (What Stage). Singer Caleb Followill acknowledged this fact, and needless to say, the native Tennesseans knew this was a big gig. Thus, it was pretty disheartening when the power cut out on the guys mid-set, after which Caleb seemed pretty ticked off and a few fans moved on. Those who stayed were treated to a solid set, though, and it seemed like KOL went to sneering/swagger school, posing and strutting like rock stars who knew they were rock stars. I had to bail out on the encore, but it was for a good cause, as I was able to recharge my batteries while meeting up with Toby Leaman and Zach Miller of Dr. Dog. Here's what we talked about:

Me: You guys were here a few years back, right?

Toby: Yeah. Two years ago, in 2005.

Me: Do you notice anything different?

Toby: I've noticed a couple of things. The bands seem to be a little more diverse, which is to me, great.

Me: Oh, yeah.

Toby: It's great, though. A lot of our friends' bands are playing, and I like going to festivals, period.

Me: What about this one? Have you ever gone as a fan?

Toby: No. I couldn't. I couldn't do that. It's too big. Unless…

Me: You wouldn't want to do the camping?

Toby: Well, we're doing this camping thing [VIP area], but it's…different.

Me: How does this one compare to the other festivals you've been to?

Zach: We haven't played any other festivals, so uh…pretty good!

Toby: On a personal level, though, I usually go to…like bluegrass and folk festivals, which are totally different…much more pickin' away. People come to play. They don't usually come to see other bands.

Me: How do your fans differ here?

Toby: I don't know! I really have no way of telling. We're pretty good at drawing different types of people. We get a lot of older people, which I feel like a lot of bands don't get.

Me: Do you think that has to do with your sound?

Toby: Yeah, probably.

Me: Do you think that's why they picked you to come here, because of your diverse fan base?

Toby: Yeah. That might be one of the reasons.

Me: Is there anything you don't like about this festival?

Toby: They need to put hand sanitizer outside the bathroom. Everybody's walking around with…it's just nasty. You don't want to touch anything.

Me: Do you guys do anything different when you come to play for a festival crowd?

Toby: We should…the problem is, when we're home, we record, and when we're on the road, we're on the road. We just never practice. Ha ha. We should, though. We actually talked about, we're not actually gonna do this, but we thought…Scott, the other guy who sings and plays guitar in the band…we were in Tucson on the last leg of our tour, and we were gonna try…we have a song called "Easy Beat"…and we were gonna merge that into the Pink Floyd song "Echoes" and bring it back.

Me: Oh, that would've been sweet.

Toby: Yeah. We were game! We totally would've, but we didn't have the practice.

Me: Do you think you want to keep coming back here?

Toby: Yeah, absolutely man. It's great here. I feel like shit now, though.

Me: Have you got to see many other bands this year?

Toby: Zach and I just came back from Gillian Welch, and it was great. I love Gillian Welch. She's phenomenal.

Me: Is there anybody here that, if you could get them to play with you at your show, who would you pick?

Toby: I'd pick our friends. I'd pick like the Cold War Kids. Last time we toured, we were on stage together all the time. The Black Keys are here. That's the cool thing. A lot of my favorite bands, outside of country stuff, like Charlie Louvin and Ralph Stanley, most of the other bands that I like here are bands that are friends of ours.

Me: Are you guys here for the whole festival? To take it all in?

Toby: Yeah. As much as we can. I wanted to see Richard Thompson, but I missed that. I think we're gonna watch some of the Roots and then go over to see the Black Keys. We also wanted to see Feist, Ralph Stanley…I actually wanted to see Old Crowe Medicine Show, but they're playing at the same time as us. I'm actually kind of excited to see Tool tonight. When I was younger, I was real into that Sober album. I imagine they're probably pretty awesome. If we could stay to see the Police, I'd love to see them, too. I kind of weaned off of them, but I'd still like to see them. I'm sure they'd absolutely destroy…Apollo Sunshine is here.

Me: Yeah, Scott [McMicken] said in the press conference that he saw them yesterday.

Toby: Yeah. I saw them for the first time a few days ago, and they destroyed.

Me: I know from talking to friends of mine, that some people consider the shows here to be some of the best they've ever seen. Do you think that people come here for the spectacle, or for the possibility of seeing these great shows?

Toby: I think it's definitely both, because when it's on, it's on. It's all a matter of how you feel. You're weaning in and out of being drunk all weekend, you're hungry, it's a problem taking a shit here. You know it's like, you've got all of these other issues to deal with here.

Zach: People are really receptive. There's so many thousands of people here.

Toby: I think a lot of smaller bands, when they play to crowds this big, definitely step it up.

Me: I think there's definitely a give and take of the fans getting off and the bands feeding off of that, and it goes back and forth.

Toby: Everyone's just so relaxed! Nobody is worrying about going home afterwards, nobody has to work the next day for the most part. In a lot of ways it's better than a regular show. It's just like playing music. If you haven't used your voice or picked up your instrument in a while, it's gonna be shitty. It's the same thing with listening. To really hear music, your ears have to be in tune with picking out what's great about it.

Me: And that definitely helps you have that ultimate experience.

Toby: Absolutely. I absolutely believe that.

[Writer's note: Shortly after I turned off my recording device, Toby let out a huge fart. In his defense, however, he apologized, albeit with a huge grin. It's Bonnaroo. Everybody's letting themselves go.]

After another 20 minutes or so of bullshitting, we parted ways and I moved on to the Black Keys, who as Toby would say, absolutely destroyed. Sporting a doozy of a beard, Dan Auerbach tore the roof off of That Tent with "Thickfreakness," and carried this soaring energy throughout a raucous set. The duo's raw, ass-kicking enthusiasm was unparalleled on this day, and those who stayed for all of Tool's set probably still can't hear. And those who made the midnight shows for String Cheese Incident, Sound Tribe Sector Nine, and the Super Jam (featuring John Paul Jones, ?uestlove, and Ben Harper), probably died.

 

Day 3 (Saturday)

Everyone knew that this year's Bonnaroo was going to be Saturday- and Sunday-heavy, so I elected to save some energy for a 14-hour Saturday marathon of watching whole sets. This turned out to be a ridiculously good idea. My new friends, Dr. Dog, took to This Tent to start the day, and displayed an impressive bit of sweating. Seriously, though, they rocked hard, and soft, and everything in-between. A great, widely influenced band. A stop by the set of quirky Regina Spektor was a nice refresher, and the crowd went nuts when she proclaimed, "You look so beautiful! Fuck!" I didn't believe her, because my feet looked like Hobbit feet, but I treaded on to get a good spot for Annuals/The Hold Steady. Don't get me wrong though, at the end of the weekend, I looked at my feet with a Wayne Coyne level of excitement (i.e., reserved jubilation at the spectacle you've created). Annuals had some problems with their levels, but turned it around when they got everything straightened out. I wouldn't have said anything negative, though, because bassist Mike Robinson looked like your older brother's jerky friend that would beat you up all of the time. I swear he kept looking at me and making mean faces.

Saturday's real treat was The Hold Steady, though. Screw whatever John Roderick says. They kicked the door down, played a tight, joyous set, and Craig Finn brought showmanship to a new level. His enthusiasm was infectious, and he noted the unifying nature of Bonnaroo, opting to ignore his signature, divisive baseball rants, suggesting instead that, "Maybe we can all agree that the Yankees suck!" The crowd went nuts, and Finn proved he wasn't a total pushover, claiming that he was happy to see so many fists pumping, as opposed to "that weird dance the hippies do." With mannerisms that suggested a tougher Pee Wee Herman, Finn never stopped smiling as he delivered crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser from every album, culminating in an extended version of "Killer Parties." At one point, Finn declared, "There's so much joy in what we do up here." I think the whole crowd felt that there was plenty of joy shared on both ends that afternoon.bonnaroo2

Some band called The Police headlined Saturday night, but it seemed like most people were more interested in seeing what The Flaming Lips had in store at Which Stage at midnight. Laser pointers were passed out pre-show, which seems like a horrible idea, but when combined with the dusty air and the Lips' usual balloon and confetti antics, they weren't the least bit distracting. A light-structure/UFO descended onto the stage, and after the band climbed down a ladder to take their positions, front man Wayne Coyne emerged in his hamster-ball bubble thingy to walk across the crowd, returning to please an antsy crowd with "Race for the Prize." The laser pointers took center stage mid-set, as a countdown resulted in everyone being told to "Shoot Wayne," after which he became a fuzzy red blur. Oh! And at some point Coyne blew up an enormous white balloon for everyone to shoot with their lasers. C'mon, Wayne! You're taking away from the Bonnaroo-psychedelics economy. The whole show might've been sensory overload if it weren't for repeated lectures about the war from Coyne. They were sincere, but the crowd didn't need convincing, and at two in the morning, lectures are a total downer.

 

Day 4 (Sunday)

Saturday was worth the price of admission alone, but there was still plenty to be seen on Sunday. After we took our tent down in preparation for the long ride home, we set out for what was to be the hottest day of the weekend. Mavis Staples was plenty cool, though, and plenty entertaining. Her joy and zest for life reminded all of us music lovers why we come to events like Bonnaroo, and no one in the crowd was silent when she asked everybody to sing along on "I'll Take You There." Great start to the last day.

Stopped by Wolfmother for a change, and they were…loud. "Woman" sounded pretty sweet, but it wasn't enough to keep me out of the shade, and a stop by David Bromberg's show led to a little bit of Elvis Perkins, just in time to see him joined onstage by Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. I got a pretty good spot for The Decemberists, and I was appeased with a full version of "The Island," so I didn't feel too bad leaving a little early for Wilco. This wasn't my first Wilco experience, but it may have been my best. Jeff Tweedy actually looked like he was having fun (witnesses may recall what I will forever refer to as the "Tweedy-running-in-place-‘cause-I-don‘t-have-any-dance-moves dance"), and Glenn Kotche absolutely ripped up on the new and old Wilco songs. Tweedy admitted that he hasn't yet been to "front man school," but he made everyone chuckle when he introduced "Jesus, Etc." as the Wilco song that "the most people seem to know some of the words to."

If Wilco made any mistakes, it was making everything look too easy. But I can't complain. Bonnaroo is all about easy goings. Some people complain that it's straying too much from its jam roots, but I love the crowds that the ongoing diversity is bringing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: My favorite people to go to Bonnaroo with are people who've never been before, because they seem to have the most fun. For the diehard hippies, Sunday night still had Widespread Panic. For the rest of you, there's bands like The White Stripes to melt your faces off. And finally, for those in Camp Spicoli, I have one word for you: "Womp."

 

A Few Things I Noticed at This Year's Bonnaroo:

  • Naked guy in front at the belly dancing class. You're everywhere, naked guy!
  • Beatle Bob. Like three times. There's thousands and thousands and thousands of people at Bonnaroo. I see Beatle Bob constantly in St. Louis. Why wouldn't I see him constantly at Bonnaroo?
  • It's impossible to see Flight of the Conchords. Unless you want to waste about half a day standing in line in the hot sun, this band basically doesn't exist in a live format, even if they play 42 sets in a weekend.
  • Even if a slice of pizza costs $6, under certain circumstances, I will throw down and burn my mouth and claim that it was the greatest thing I've ever eaten.
  • Rich white girls are always singing "Buffalo Soldier." Or so I was told.
  • Guys on hard drugs have a maximum radius.
  • By Day 3, the ladies stop dressing to impress.
  • Dirt will find places you've never found dirt before. Like behind both of your ears. Someone who was with me, please tell me what I did to make this happen.
  • The sun is hot.
  • Every single band at the festival told me to drink plenty of water. I know, dammit! See above.
  • Lewis Black can claim that Bonnaroo is the greatest thing while still sounding pissed off.
  • I wish Radiohead would replace Widespread Panic as Bonnaroo regulars. No offense, hippies. You're still my brothers and sisters.
  • Speaking of brothers and sisters, when are the Allman Brothers gonna come back to the ‘Roo and play Eat a Peach in its entirety? (Must include a Dickey Betts clause.)
  • I can't think of a time where I was at Bonnaroo and thought, "I wish I was somewhere else."

See you next year, Bonnaroovians! I'll be the guy with the big yellow sunglasses and the bigger smile. | Dave Jasmon

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