Bonnaroo. The word elicits in me both terror and delight.
There is no place like it in the world. Think about the freakiest part of the freakiest city you know. Now go freakier. It’s an amazing amalgam of 80,000 dirty stinking hippies, dozens and dozens of great bands, lots of illicit drugs, and a strong dollop of Tennessee June heat and copious amounts of choking dust or mucky smelly mud, depending on the year.
This year was my third. I’m a glutton for punishment.
A buddy of mine and I drove down together (his second ‘Roo) and hooked up with some of his brothers-in-law and assorted friends, seven cars in total. It was a superb group of folks to hang out with and get funky.
We scored a most excellent campsite (for those who were there, right by pod 3 and not far from 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street). We could hear both of the big stages very well from the campsite, which was helpful for pacing myself (a key to survival in the Tennessee sun).
Music I checked out (in addition to dozens of other tents I wandered into and out of at random, one of the awesome things about ‘Roo):
Very pleasantly surprised. I’ve never seen him before, and this dude can play. It was mostly just him, sometimes with a drummer, playing guitar, didgeridoo, and harmonica, amongst others. Definitely a great show.
These guys simply rock. Dean Ween on guitar engages in musical masturbation on stage (and I mean that in the best way possible). Gene is a great showman. They were tight, and they rocked the house. It was at my first Bonnaroo in 2005 that I first saw these guys playing a midnight show, and it made me into an instant Ween fan. This show didn’t disappoint… except that it was during the afternoon, and I had to leave early to make sure to acquire an excellent vantage point for the next band I would see that night…
I love these guys. I think they are hugely influential and made some of the best music ever, mixing up styles and genres masterfully. It was these guys headlining at Bonnaroo this year that made me definitely want to go. Too bad they fucking sucked.
Stewart Copeland was great on drums, coming out with an infectious energy. Andy Summers was more than adequate. Sting, however, was a total wanker. In the 30-45 minutes before I left the show, he was completely forgetting lyrics, missing cues, and generally fucking up. They also had an annoying habit of extending the song with the same melody droning on and on. Jamming is great when someone is changing a familiar riff into a series of jazzy interpretations. It is pathetic when you simply play the same notes over and over again.
Also annoying was when Sting tried to get the crowd to all clap in unison. There were eighty thousand people there. The main stage is massive. A little googling on the speed of sound will tell you this shit just won’t work in that venue. Go back to your VH1 easy listening crap and get off the stage.
If this had been their first show since breaking up, that would have been one thing. This looks to have been the 11th date on their tour. No excuses for this. These guys may have been an incredible live act in 1979. Thirty years later they are not. Save your money if you’re planning on shelling out $200 for tickets.
(I probably wouldn’t follow that advice, myself. I would have to take the opportunity to see them.)
Fortunately, I was able to hear them very well from the campsite (and actually, they weren’t bad from there), where I spent a couple of hours resting up for the midnight shows.
The Flaming Lips
Another band I knew bupkus about until I walked into their show. They’re known for one catchy hit in 1993, She Don’t Use Jelly, and that’s all I knew of them.
Musically, the show was not always very accessible and sometimes droned on too long. However, they put on an incredible show to go along with the music. Their stage includes a UFO into which the band ascended to end the show. The show also apparently started (I missed it) with the lead singer being passed around the crowd in a giant gerbil ball. They also passed out thousands of laser pointers and later had the crowd light up a giant balloon with them, which was pretty freaking cool. I’ll definitely check these guys out again if I can.
Just fucking great musicians. They showed how a band can play a big venue well (unlike The Police). They simply got up and played their asses of, competently. Just really a very good performance.
The White Stripes
A very popular show on the last night, on the second largest stage. The place was packed, and they played a good show. Meg White is an adequate drummer… perfectly appropriate for the sparse, simple, rock they play. Jack White is a great guitar player. No one was up there but those two, and they did a great job making enough noise.
Photos / Video
As for media I gathered, here is a very small slice of some of the Bonnaroo scene. Unfortunately, I ventured out armed with the camera only during the day and only for short jaunts, so the pure wonderful weirdness and orgy of music is hardly captured herein.
This is a hastily-edited cut of some shots on the way there, the campsite, and inside:
And this is a clip of a grifter running the shell game. I’m pretty sure I saw this same guy back in 2005 as well. Notice the earpiece he’s wearing; I’m sure he had lookouts around keeping an eye out for the man.
Hey, if you’re one of the folks I met down there, send me an email (and/or leave a comment!)