The Murfreesboro Pulse has been a part of the amazing experience called Bonnaroo since 2003, when the name was first used. I made my first appearance in 2004 when the Captain of the Pulse, Mr. Bracken Mayo, told me he was going to some crazy field past Murfreesboro where tons of great people are there to enjoy themselves and great music all around the clock for three days. Mr. Mayo had an extra ticket and at the last minute talked me into leaving all behind and coming with him to this magical place in Manchester. I knew nothing about it. I was surprised to see Bob Dylan, The Dead and Primus among so many more great acts. Needless to say, I was hooked from the beginning. Since then I have returned to the great wide open Tennessee field every year to take part in and collect my favorite moments to share with people that didn’t get to go and for those who were there physically but not in actuality. I have seen the crowd fluctuate and grow in numbers up to its peak in 2007 and come back to the 80,000 we had this year. The type of music has evolved as well, generating a more diverse crowd every year. It was once unheard of for a group as heavy as Tool to appear there. Then we get Metallica and now the Melvins and Isis. There used to be a couple of hip hop acts and now we are blessed with Jay Z and Nas in the same year. The one thing that is always the same is that the music and the people are always amazing.
One more thing, this is not your typical review. I have been known to throw all journalistic rules aside and write about what I saw and experienced throughout the blazing hot weekend. So the good thing is that I won’t be writing about the same stuff that you see in most other places. Every year, my group goes through the main area along with the masses, to camp and fight through the crowds the real way, to see and experience this event first hand through the eyes of the Bonnaroo patrons. This way I get to connect with the real vibe and what is going on around the campgrounds. I really get to feel how hot and tough it is to maintain and try to see all that I want to.
So, here it is. Thursday. I can hardly handle the excitement as my group leaves Murfreesboro around noon. We always go the back way down Broad Street, Highway 41, Hillsboro Pike, all the way down the scenic back road straight into the little town that goes by the name of Manchester throughout most of the year. By the time we get there it is no longer Manchester, it is Bonnaroo town. The little town more than doubles its size every year during the roo weekend. Broad Street goes right to the radio station in Manchester where we have to go and pick up our press passes. This is where they ask us if we want the VIP camping area and to go in the cushy easy entrance. It sounds crazy but we opt out every year in favor of going in with the regular rooites to wait in line and find a spot to camp and take part in the spectacular land grab that happens when you park. It really is an amazing sight. People find their spots, jump out of their cars and scream in excitement the most random things that you have ever heard. Then all you can hear is zippers flying, plastic crinkling, tarps and tents rustling and being erected in a hurry to get set up for the weekend and get to the action at Centeroo. People are everywhere as far as the eyes can see, frantically setting up and grabbing their little piece of land. I have never seen anything quite like it. There hasn’t been this many people grabbing land as spastically as this since the pilgrims got here. We were fortunate enough to set up in camp Axel Foley, Eddie Murphy’s character in the Beverly Hill’s Cop saga. That was fine with us since we were right next to camp Boba Fett and very close in proximity to the entrance to Centeroo. We were usually a mile or so further on Blueberry street with the characters from The Breakfast Club.
So after the land grab of 2010, it was time to go to the new vortex of the American dream, which is appropriately named Centeroo. Surrounding this majestic zone of goods, services and people of all walks of life are many other vortices that are appropriately named: This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, Which Stage and What Stage. This is where, over the next four days, musicians of all types and genres will be performing amazing sets for thousands of insane people. The typical Bonnaroo patrons are so excited that they wait in the intense heat smashed into sweaty strangers, until the cheers of glory when the music starts and takes away all of the agony, agony that is being brought upon from things like hunger from forgetting to eat, exhaustion from trekking 30 minutes on foot to this spectacular site, fatigue from not stopping to take a break, sleepiness from not being able to sleep because you waited till the last minute to pack and get here on time, pain in feet and back from standing in the same place anxiously waiting for some amazing superhuman musical feat, sunburn because in the rush of the excitement you left without sunblock. That is how it starts. It all builds from there into countless strange tales and unexplainable situations among the thousands.
Most of the artists that you are going to read about here are probably not the ones that you have heard of. You can read about Kings of Leon (KOL) and DMB anywhere. I would like to bring you a different view of Bonnaroo. I usually see over 50 full sets by proper research and planning. I have been to too many a roo and just saw what I knew about and had heard of only to realize as time goes by that I missed some of the best music of today. That will no longer happen. Now I make sure to check out what is there ahead of time to see what is going to have potential. I weigh the options and make the most of my decisions beforehand so I can maximize my Bonnaroo experience. For instance, KOL in 2004 were mostly unheard of. This year they are on the Main Stage. There are so many fans out there who wish that they had known who KOL and others were back then to have been able to see them on uprising. I missed Amy Winehouse and M.I.A because I knew nothing about them at the time. I often find out about artists after Bonnaroo and wish that I had gotten to see them the year that they were there. Don’t let it be you, if you love new music and and prefer more band for the buck. We are lucky enough to get a gathering of the best and cutting edge in all types of music.The best experimental rock, funk, soul, R&B, hip hop, country, bluegrass, reggae and dance music of all types. I love it all and try to see and hear as much as I can.
So we are set up by 8 p.m. and begin our journey to Centeroo. Due to the inevitable lateness, I have already missed five things on my list. Two of them being The Entrance Band and Diane Birch, who are playing second sets on the Sonic Stage Friday. So the show I decided to see first was at the Other Tent. NeedToBreathe, a four-piece rock band with a southern edge from South Carolina, were set to play at 8:45 p.m. I made it there with plenty of time to get to the front like I always try to do. I love being up there with all of the fans who are excited to be there. It’s amazing how many people drive so far to see acts that most people there have never heard of. NeedToBreathe started right on time and opened up with one of their more popular songs, “The Outsider.” The audience screamed, cheered and clapped along as the heavy groove brought in the night. NeedToBreathe paid homage to their roots by doing an amazingly dirty version of “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin and then Tom Petty’s “Rescue Me.” They are aggressive at times with distorted vocals and guitars and at other times very soft and beautiful with unique harmonies and lyrics that you might find yourself humming as you leave for the next show. NeedToBreathe was a worthwhile experience.
For me the next show was a guy that goes by the name Mayer Hawthorne. He would be gracing us at That Tent with his traveling band the County at 10:30 p.m. Mayer Hawthorne and the County came out looking like some doo-wop group from some other time period. The whole band was dressed in white suits as the set started right on time. They opened the show with their song “Easy Lovin,” and the crowd started dancing immediately. Hawthorne and the County continued to please the crowd with song after song from their new album, A Strange Arrangement,which is a modern ode to Motown and classic soul. The sound is much more impressive live than on CD. Hawthorne is a high-pitched, White Barry White. Most of the tunes are love songs reminiscent of the early R&B and soul music of the ’50s and ’60s. It is a great throwback with a modern twist. The fresh ears in the crowd were impressed. I heard many people say that they were going to get the CD now that they have seen the live show. There was a stage next to That Tent playing the Finals between Boston and Los Angeles. Mayer Hawthorne kept asking what the score was throughout the set. Then he proclaimed, “I grew up in Detroit so I am a die-hard Pistons fan. I am lovin’ Los Angeles now. When LA made it to the finals, some of my friends were like, you’re not gonna root for LA in the finals, and you know what I said to them? I looked em’ dead in the eye and was like, Wo-ooa-oo- Maybe So, Maybe No.” As he segued his statement into the song “Maybe So, Maybe No,” resulting in one of the best performances of the evening. The game results came in through the crowd eventually that the Celtics had won and their keyboard player from LA got upset as Hawthorne rubbed it in like sports fans often do. Later on Mayer Hawthorne professed his love to hip hop and did an ode to some of the greats by making the crowd sing along to Biz Marquee’s “Just a Friend.” Then he explained that he used to be a hip hop DJ and acknowledged all of the great hip hop that was going to be happening this weekend at Bonnaroo. At the beginning of a slow song, he asked every guy to grab a girl and dance. That was a great ice breaker as strangers everywhere met for the first time in dance. One of the last songs Hawthorne and the County did was the single “Green Eyed Love,” as the crowd melted. Mayer Hawthorne said that this was a big weekend for hip hop. He was definitely right.
There were a lot of people there strictly for the hip hop this year. We are lucky enough to be graced with Jay Z and Nas, who are to many, the greatest hip hop artists of all time. We also get performances from the lesser known underground king of rap, Jay Electronica, and the newcomers Kid Cudi, Wale and B.O.B. I caught each performance and they were all worth waiting for in the humid heat. I have seen some great hip hop at Bonnaroo including The Roots, Jurrassic 5, Cypress Hill, Public Enemy, Blackalicious, El-P, Lupe Fiasco,Talib Kweli, Snoop Dog and Erykah Badu. Bonnaroo has truly become a stomping ground for great hip hop every year. We are so lucky. These acts rarely set foot in Tennessee otherwise. So I waited till the crowd cleared up a bit and pushed in closer, since one of the hip hop acts named Wale was set to play after Mayer Hawthorne at the same spot. I decided to take advantage of a perfect opportunity to move closer at the end of the set when people leave to go elsewhere. This is one of the oldest festival tricks in the book. It works. I love the confusion as people are rushing out after the set as others are rushing in.
Wale is a rapper from Washington, D.C. He is a new artist with one record out called Attention Deficit.(It is not pronounced like the mammal, whale. It is wah-lay. Why he doesn’t use a pronunciation symbol, I don’t know.) Wale’s career is mostly kept out of the mainstream, but he has built quite a name for himself with his mixtapes and work with the legendary Roots crew. The show was set to start at midnight and the clock kept ticking as the crowd got impatient. The band was on stage but still no Wale. At 12:45 a.m., Wale made his appearance, claiming that he underestimated Bonnaroo’s ability. He said that he was sleeping in his tent and figured that there would be no one out there to see him this late at night. Little did he know there were 2,000-plus impatient fans packed in like sardines awaiting the beats and lyrics associated with the D.C. rapper. Wale said in amazement when he came out, “Wow, you guys must really love hip hop,” as he proceeded to spit rhymes of fire like a dragon that needs no training. The set was full of hip hop sing-alongs and people waving their hands. Also, there was the ever so popular call and response parts like, “When I say this, you say that.” Wale also talked about the great hip hop at the roo and on the horizon, claiming, “This is the period of hip hop.” Wale did an ode to Jay Z to get the crowd ready. He also took a picture to send to Jay Z with his back to the crowd with their diamonds in the air. Wale then proceeded to do a piece of “Run This Town,” the first single off of Jay Z’s new album, to hype us even more. Wale’s voice was weak due to the sound in the tent and eventually he was trying so hard to be heard that his voice got strained more and more. It was still awesome because the crowd made up for it by singing along to every song. It is truly amazing to be around thousands of people that have similar musical interests. Back in my hometown, I don’t know anyone who knows who Wale is besides the ones that I have told. The set was still going strong at 2:45 a.m. when there was a pause, and we thought that this might be the dreaded goodbye. Wale said, “Whoever is doing a write up on this show I am gonna be real with you. Go ahead and write this.” So I got out my pen and paper. He continued, “My keyboard player has to pee so we are gonna have some fun as we stall.” I laughed and wrote this down. While the keyboard player was relieving himself Wale announced, “We are going to play the song “Pretty Girls” and we can’t do it without some on stage.” So 20 or so ladies rushed to the stage to dance the set away as they played the appropriately titled song. They did one more even though they were told to quit after that one. Who is really going to come up and stop a show that 2,000 people are going crazy at and make these girls get off of the stage? Throughout the night, he did the rarities from his mixtape era and most of the cuts from the new album until it was time to go.
Wow, what a great way to start this year’s Bonnaroo experience. I got back to camp at 4 in the morning and slept until 9. Thursday used to be a bonus day for Bonnaroo. It was Friday through Sunday. If you wanted to show up early and set up you could. If you were lucky, you might get a surprise performance if you made the trek to Centeroo on Thursday, but nothing used to be on the schedule. The second year I went, Les Claypool made an unscheduled appearance on Thursday. Now Thursday is jam-packed with greatness on the schedule every year. It just gets better and better.
About 9 a.m. Friday morning, the heat in my tent became unbearable and it forced me to get up and get going. I felt fine considering the three hours of sleep and the exhausting Thursday that I made it through. There is no time to sleep at Bonnaroo. There are always amazing things in the air to be a part of. It is really best to stay up as long as you can and just sleep when you get home. Now it is Friday, a big day. I have 12 acts on my to-do list today and the first is set for noon at the Sonic Stage.
The Sonic Stage is a neat experience that I highly recommend. This is a tiny stage set up in the Sonic Village near the heart of Centeroo. This is where many of the acts that played at the Tents come back for a shorter, sweeter, more intimate set and then usually proceed to the autograph tent. It is a great opportunity to loosen the schedule up or catch a little something that you missed at a previous time. For instance, I was supposed to see the Entrance Band at This Tent and Diane Birch at That Tent on Thursday, but late arrival hindered that. Lucky me, they are both doing small sets at the Sonic Stage today. It is not like I could have slept in anyway due to the heat. So I got my things together, washed up, brushed my teeth and headed out of the campgrounds early at 11:00 a.m. with no intention of coming back till 5 o’ clock in the morning. How? I am not sure, but it was worth a try.
The Entrance Band was starting as soon as I walked up to the Sonic Stage. The Entrance Band is a three-piece, experimental, noisy but beautiful independent rock group from LA. Guy Blakeslee is the singer/guitar player with a voice like no other and guitar abilities that surpass most of the players of today. The bass player is the beautiful Paz Lenchantin, who was also in the band A Perfect Circle. Paz’s bass playing is ruthless and unforgiving as she moves in perfect sync with the music. Her whole body moves throughout the entire set, even in the midst of the midday heat and humidity, with no problem at all. All of this is happening as Derek W. James pounds exuberantly on his drum kit like he is smashing his entire life belongings to pieces. Some call The Entrance Band stoner rock but that’s because they are probably stoners themselves. They can be whatever type of rock you like: mushroom rock, acid rock and crack rock. Probably not the latter since you probably don’t have any records, CDs or any other personal belongings and time for music if you smoke crack. The sound is unique and therefore is somewhat scary upon first listen. It’s because you have never heard anything like it. That is what novel is, it should be new, unheard of and crazy. That is how the alleged envelope is pushed, people. If it is instantly catchy and sounds like something you are familiar with, then it is probably most likely unoriginal and not long lasting. Sorry, side-note. Anyway, these guys will catch you off guard at first but if you try to understand it or let yourself get it, then you will crave it and nothing else will do unless it takes the aforementioned envelope further, as that is how it should be. It was awesome. I have a feeling that they will be back to Bonnaroo in the years to come. They did songs from their abstract avante garde noise album from 2008 titled Prayer of Deathand songs from the 2009 self-titled release, including the anti-government/conspiracy song “M.L.K.” and the guitar-driven “Lookout” that they just made a video for. The crowd danced and cheered as Blakeslee sang the meaningful lyrics, “they depend on your fear for their control.” What a great way to start the day. How unfortunate that I couldn’t see them both times and that hardly anyone saw them either. Check them out.
I gathered my thoughts and jotted down my notes after the Entrance Band as I stayed close by to see another short set on the Sonic Stage by a girl named Diane Birch. Diane Birch is also a newer artist. Birch just released her first album titled Bible Beltand has had several TV appearances and some successful touring. Chances are that we will probably see her here at Bonnaroo again at a better time and place. The Sonic Stage set at 12 : 45 p.m. on Friday morning was short and sweet as she did her most popular songs including “Valentino,” which she said was about her imaginary friend as a child. She also did her take on an old pop favorite, “Baby Don’t Hurt Me.” It was just her and her piano for 30 minutes and it was very moving. The day before she had a full band and a longer set at That Tent that I wish I could have been there for.
The first big decision for me was at 1:45 pm Friday. Jay Electronica was at This Tent and Carolina Chocolate Drops (CCD) was at That Tent. It was an easy but unfortunate decision because when I saw that CCD was going to be there I was very excited. I had heard a lot about the live shows and l am a fan of the jigs that they have out. When I saw the schedule, I cringed in pain as I saw that they were playing at the same time as Jay Electronica, a strange man from New Orleans that raps about important topics, who has no records out to purchase and rarely plays shows especially in the near vicinity of Tennessee. I am pretty sure that CCD will be back to Bonnaroo before Jay Electronica, considering the type of music that they play and their history and the festival’s history of traditional roots music constantly reappearing.
So I made it very early to the front of the crowd to wait impatiently with other patrons that knew how lucky we were that this was about to happen. I was almost as excited to be around people that know hip hop and the facts as I was to see the man who was about to bring us all together. I had some of the best conversations of the weekend waiting for Jay Electronica to grace us with his presence. It was very surreal as Jay Electronica walked on stage in broad daylight with his intro, which was the song, “I’m Doing This For You,” and all you could hear were screams of the crowd singing along as he encouraged it. After the intro he said, “My name is Jay Electronica. I appreciate your time and energy and I will not take that for granted. I heard about this place so I drank a bunch of Jack Daniel’s before the show. I hope that’s alright with you.” It definitely was. This was as excited as I had seen the people this year.
After the first song, he came right into the crowd and partook in a finely hand-rolled cigar. Then he proclaimed that if weed were legal the crime rate would go down. Then he got back on stage and performed with the eloquence of Martin Luther King Jr. mixed with the poetic abilities of the most highly regarded rappers ever known. Jay Electronica is a special being. Once again this sound is somewhat unsettling to the virgin ear as it should be. It takes alot of intelligence, understanding and meditating to grasp what is happening when you are listening to Jay Electronica. Like I said, he has no CDs for sale, on purpose. Many people don’t understand this and can’t get why someone who is trying to get out there is not selling or really promoting on a mainstream level. This is simple if you listen to him a couple of times. His ideas are too big and way too revealing of today’s society to appear in the mainstream anyway. He is already there; he already has a name. He is not trying to be associated with the evils of corporate media because he knows that they don’t want what he has, which is the power, skill and eloquence to move millions and speak with and to beautiful peaceful people and help others expand their horizons to see the truth about what is happening in the country, the world, the universe and the face of hip hop. Google him.
The show was definitely intense. The sound quality at This Tent had been poor at all of the shows I had seen there so far, but luckily it didn’t ruin the show. It was almost like someone didn’t want us to hear what was being said. Jay Electronica noticed this because he was in the crowd so much and pretty much stopped the beat throughout most of the show and hushed the crowd as he would say, “Listen, let me explain this,” and then he would break it down in plain sight and sound to connect head on with the minds in the audience. Every word is placed perfectly and resonates. There is no denying what you see and hear for yourself. He was more like a preacher, prophet or soothsayer of this generation, relaying important messages in a way that we can understand.
Jay did an ode to the Notorious B.I.G. and the late J. Dilla, who he learned a lot from. He came back into the crowd several times smoking and drinking with everyone. He even bummed a couple of cigarettes. One time he came in to connect with one person at a time, making sure that they knew he was talking to them and that he knew they got it. He also let anyone who wanted come up on stage and sing along. He even encouraged the reluctant people who didn’t want to jump over the risers that they could take the stairs on the side. At the end of the set, he let his beat play as he went back into the crowd. It was hard to tell what was going on as the crowd tightened up toward that direction. It was pretty crazy as everyone in the tent was being pushed around as we all tried to move in closer to see what was going on. Jay Electronica was just taking his time taking pictures with people and signing stuff or talking about anything anyone wanted. I’m pretty sure he was just making his way to Centeroo. How awesome is that? I got my close-up pics and said my words and got the hell out of there before I suffocated. It is crazy how being crammed into hundreds of sweaty people in those hot tents can make the 95-degree temperature and 95 percent humidity just outside of the insanity perfectly tolerable. It was truly amazing and I am happy to have experienced that.
I got out in perfect time to head to the Main Stage for the first time this year to see Damian Marley and Nas at 4 p.m. I made it very close into the front section because I was so early. Conan O’Bryan took to the stage demanding “woman boobies” because it was in his contract as he announced the show. He saw boobies; we saw show. This reminds me of Groundhog Day when the shadow determines more winter or not. I have seen Damian at the second largest stage at Bonnaroo, Which Stage. Nas made a surprise appearance last year at Bonnaroo on the Main Stage doing a guest spot with the Beastie Boys. Nas and Damian Marley started the show with the upbeat hit “As We Enter” from their new Distant Relatives record that they are touring strongly behind. They have appeared all over most of the late night talk shows performing this song and others from the record. The show consisted of the strongest cuts from the Distant Relativesrecord like “Nah Mean,” “Strong Will Continue,” and “Dispear.” The duo also mixed in select pieces from both of their solo careers, including Nas’ first big hit single, “If I Ruled The World,” and “Hip Hop Is Dead.” Damian Marley did his hit “Welcome to Jamrock,” among others. Of course, Marley did a couple of his father’s songs, like “War” and “Could You Be Loved.” I am definitely glad I didn’t miss this one. However, I did have to leave a little early in hopes of catching She and Him at This Tent.
Even though there was an overlap in time slots, I still managed to push through the madness and get to This Tent and get up close to see the beautiful voiced Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward in their indie folk rock throwback group She and Him. As soon as I arrived, they were doing their rendition of the highly covered 1950s country hand-me-down, “Gonna Get Along Without You Now.” They did songs from both of their records that they have out including the appropriate “In the Sun” from their Volume 2 release that came out in February this year. They also did the pleasant and peaceful “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” from their 2008 release. They jammed out Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” Zooey was bouncing around the whole time shaking her tambourine and gyrating with the music. She and Him closed the set with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ highly covered “I Put A Spell On You.” Most of it was voices only sparsely interleaved with musical notes for support. I felt honored for that is one of my personal favorite people and pieces of music. At the end of the She and Him set, I moved in closer as the crowd thinned out again for a good spot to see Tori Amos, another show at This Tent. I had seen four shows here already. The sound was getting better at each one.
It was just Tori in her Sunday best with her piano. Eventually she played a keyboard that was behind her and the piano at the same time. She played all sorts of rarities and hits spanning throughout her 20-year career, including crowd favorites “Leather” and “Hey Jupiter.” She also did her cover of Nirvana’s “Smell’s Like Teen Spirit.” She looked like an angel on fire with her white dress and her long fiery hair. I imagine that is how an angel on fire would sound like too. Stunning.
This was an insane moment of the day. There was so much to do and so little time. I decided to head over to see Steve Martin and his bluegrass set at That Tent, but on the way saw some friends heading to see Les Claypool. They were so excited to see Les that it rubbed off on me and I changed my mind and decided to try and catch a little of both sets. So we quickly scurried over to the Other Tent to see what Bonnaroo veteran Les Claypool had in store for us this year. I have seen Les at Bonnaroo many times so I didn’t mind missing it except that I knew that it was always great, so there I was again. The show had already started by the time we arrived at 7:45 p.m. and it was very hard to see or move closer especially with my new big group of friends. So we posted up near the back and just enjoyed the wacky grooves while squinting and standing on our tippy toes to catch a glimpse of what was going on on stage. I only stayed for a couple of tunes to see what the vibe was like this year because I was still determined to get to Steve Martin, who started at the same time. I departed from my friends and left them there in hopes that they would later tell me all about the rest of the show. I went on my way to soak up some bluegrass by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. I ran into some other good friends on the way. What are the chances? They had just left the Steve Martin performance saying that it was pretty cool. I told them that that is where I was going and that afterward I was planning to head to Which Stage to see Michael Franti and Spearhead. They joined me as we stopped by to see Steve Martin and his Rangers. We showed up at 8 :15 p.m. and it was very quiet. You couldn’t even tell that the show was still going on until you got in closer. They were definitely getting on it. It was kind of dull though. Most of the people around were not bluegrass fans and were only there in hopes of catching a joke or two. Martin’s band were very talented but the songs seemed to be very similar in tempo and tone. The highlight was when they did a take on Martin’s Saturday Night Live classic “King Tut” song. I’m glad I saw that.
As if there was no time to spare, we headed over to Which Stage to see Michael Franti and Spearhead. As we arrived, it was now dark and about 8:30 p.m. The reggae feel-good group was doing the song “Ganja Babe” and there were so many women in bikinis dancing and people smoking. It was a very memorable performance as they did all of the great cuts including “Say Hey (I Love You).” I hadn’t seen this much smoke and dancing since their set in 2007.
At 9:30 p.m. I was exhausted and hungry so I changed my plans again and headed back to camp to finally eat and rest the feet. Oh the agony of da-feet. I didn’t make that up. “Agony of Da Feet” was a song by George Clinton’s Parliament from the ’70s, who also played Bonnaroo in 2003; you need to know this stuff. I listened to KOL from afar. Since they were the only thing going on at the time, you could hear the sound from all over the campground.They were here in 2004, 2005 and 2007. This year they did their hits “Tranni,” “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” like always. I overheard KOL covering the Pixies “Where Is My Mind.”
So far Friday was going good but there were more decisions to make: Flaming Lips versus the Black Keys. Both sets were to start at midnight with the Black Keys ending at 1:30 a.m. and the Lips lasting till 2 in the morning. This was a big problem for many because both groups are awesome and are both veterans of the roo and owed much respect. The Lips had appeared at Bonnaroo in 2003 and 2007 and the Keys were here in 2004 and 2007. What to do. To top it off, the Flaming Lips were doing one set of originals and then bringing out Wayne Coyne’s brother’s band Stardeath and White Dwarves to do Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moonin its entirety. I crunched the numbers and the facts one more time before I decided to head to That Tent to see the first of the Black Keys set and then head to the Which Stage to catch the end of the Lips. Then I figured that I would turn around and come back to see Kid Cudi. That was the plan.
At midnight the Black Keys approached the stage as the two-piece band that they once were. They opend up with the rocking “Thickfreakness” and led the way through all of their earlier dirtier hits like “Busted” and “Stack Shot Billy.” Halfway through the set they brought their new band members out. Since the last two albums they had been opening up new doors to more instrumentation and have a full band now. It was nice too see them as a two-piece and a full band in one night. That made it harder to leave though. They started doing song after song from their last month’s release, Brothers like “Next Girl” and “Tighten Up.” If the Lips weren’t playing, this would have been another perfect moment to stick around and move in closer, which would have been the best bet. I had to tear myself away during one of my favorite songs, “Everlasting Light,” and head over to catch the Lips doing some of the Dark Side of the Moon. I made my way through what seemed like the thickest crowds yet over to Which Stage at 1:15 am.
The Flaming Lips were still doing originals and I caught the song “Do You Realize.” The stage setup was pretty amazing as always. Tons of confetti, lights, dancing people and a great positive vibe in the air that seemed to make you float. Wayne had a camera on his face and it was projected hugely and awkwardly on to the stage. With his face taking up the whole backdrop screen he preached between songs about peace and the problems of today. He said to put your peace signs in the air and shoot all of our positive energy out of our two fingers through the sky out into the universe sending to somewhere that needs it more than us, like in the Middle East, because we are the most peaceful and beautiful motherfuckers in the world. I am not sure if I was crying or if that was sweat rolling down my face. There was a whole lot of talking from frontman Wayne Coyne during the set. Margaret Cho also stepped on stage to dance and sing along. This was all great except for one thing. They hadn’t even gotten to doing the Dark Side of The Moonyet and Kid Cudi was starting back at that tent at 2 o’ clock and I knew that if I didn’t get there early there would be no way to get up close. So I had to leave before the Dark Side of the Moon set. If Wayne didn’t talk so much I would have seen a lot more.
I made back to That Tent for Kid Cudi at 1:45 a.m. and it was slammed as we waited in anticipation for the newcomer to get up there and amaze us with his lyrical and melodic skill. These people were ready and then Aziz Ansari, the comedian who had performed at Bonnaroo in 2007 and who was back this year, announced the show as the crowd pushed up to get a little closer to the front. Aziz Ansari is better known for his role in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. He came out to abundant cheers and tried to calm the crowd down so they could hear him. This is the opposite of hyping the set like they usually do. As the fans cheered Aziz said, “Calm the fuck down. Hold up, hold up. Y’all need to calm the fuck down right now. My name is Nazo. I’m from security. I’m gonna lay down some ground rules. Number 1, nobody looks at Cudi’s face during the show. You look at Cudi’s face and you get tazed the fuck up. Number 2 rule, nobody look at Cudi’s shoes, His shoes are really shy ok. That’s it. Enjoy Kid Cudi everybody.” The exitement in the air could not be cut with a chainsaw. I had seen him before and knew he was good but this was no comparison. This guy was fully ripened and ready for the world. The set was astonishingly breathtaking as Cudi did all of his hits including “Day and Night,” “Man on the Moon,” and “Solo Dolo.” Kid Cudi also did some of the lesser known tracks from his mixtape era that made him famous. The crowd gasped in amazement at the start of every song.
Afterward I did the ol’ festival trick again and moved in at the end of the Kid Cudi set. I was not alone; there were a lot of fans there to see both sets and I barely made it any closer. B.O.B. aka Bobby Ray came out a little late and made some people upset. They almost Kanye’d him. It turned out to be worth waiting for. The set was supposed to start at 3 a.m. and did not get going until 3:30 or so. I was still excited and having enough of a good time to forget how long of a day it had been, so I was ok. Throughout the night B.O.B. kept the people partying with songs from his newly released LP, The Adventures of Bobby Ray,with radio hits “Airplanes” and “Nothin’ on You.” There were also appearances of the older songs that did not make it on his major label release but that helped create his buzz like “Created A Monster” and “I’ll Be In the Sky.” The tent was full and going crazy from 3 to 5 in the morning so I guess that Mr. Ray was doing all of the right things. B.O.B. has a special way of tapping into a bigger market by appealing to true hip hop fans and people that thrive only on the radio cheese of today. Most true hip hop fans know that the goods can’t be found on the radio or the TV, but in this rare case of B.O.B., who made it by being good, he has gotten the attention of both types of listeners and patrons. B.O.B. can also rap like a mad man and has tremendous singing skills. He played the guitar and sang several songs which you hardly ever hear. This guy is definitely different and I think we will also see a lot more of him in the future, hopefully at the roo in two years. At one point in the show, B.O.B said, “I don’t know what time we are scheduled to stop so we are going to party till the sun comes up.” The crowd roared as I thought to myself, wow, I am really not going to get any sleep tonight. I was ok with that.
The music of B.O.B. ended at about 5 in the morning and I made my way out very slowly. I ran into some friends and reminisced for a while and headed back to camp to clean up and sleep. It was 7:30 before I slept and was once again blasted awake by the blazing temperature at 9:30 a.m. Surprisingly, I felt fine after my hour or so of sleep. I guess the fact that today was going to be just as big as the day before, with 11 acts to see, helped divert my attention. I had plans to be at a show at 11:30 am. So for the next three hours I took it easy, ate breakfast, gathered my things and took off. I went through the search line quickly and through Centeroo heading to the far opposite side known as Which Stage just in time for Rebelution. The California-based reggae band got the day going off just right. There were thousands of people having a great time in the sun singing along and moving with the music as sweet smelling smoke took over the smell of sweaty people. There was a nice breeze that the band seemed to have in its control that kept the crowd cool for the most part. The shade was the place to be if you could find any. Tons of people come very early just to find a spot to post up and sit and listen to the morning’s music. They played their Internet hit “Safe and Sound” and songs from their newest release, Bright Side of Life, including “Outta Control.”
After the Rebeluiton show was over, I left toward the main stage heading over to Cafe Where in the back of the What Stage area. The security was still blocking the way. Apparently the main area hadn’t been opened up yet so the few that were there to get in waited in the shade by a tree till 12:45 when they finally opened up the barricade. Everyone took off running in hopes of finding a good spot for Big Sam’s Funky Nation at What Stage or Imelda May for a short set at Cafe Where, where I was headed. It was perfect with chairs, shade, good people and music. I watched sitting from very close as she ripped through her rockabilly set. Imelda May is from England and has a band full of expert musicians. The stand-up bass and reverby guitars were a great backdrop for her strong voice. She covered the song “Tainted Love.” I overheard several people say that this was there favorite set so far.
As the tent cleared out from the Imelda May show and her people packed up to do a set in just a couple of hours at the Sonic Stage, I headed down to the shady area right in front of the stage for Big Sam’s Funky Nation. These guys ended up playing several sets at Bonnaroo, more than anyone in one year. Not to mention this isn’t their first roo. Talk about determination. They jammed the songs that got the early morning crowd moving. The bass solo was absolutely phenomenal. That guy was insane. They called him the best bass player in the world and I believe it. Actually I told one of my friends after the show that if we were ever to make contact with aliens we should give them a video of that bass solo and tell them that is what humans can do. This was a major accomplishment for the human race.
I didn’t have to go far to see the next thing on my list. Norah Jones was about to start right next to me on the Which Stage at 2:30 p.m. I caught up with some friends and we went looking for a comfy spot to enjoy this laid back set. We luckily found some other friends that had claimed some territory by the fence in the shade so we all sat and talked about how amazing the weekend was so far and how excited we were to see Nora Jones. She was at the first Bonnaroo. She played mainly from her newest release, The Fall, including the song “Chasing Pirates.” She threw in a couple of crowd favorites like “Don’t Know Why” and “Sunrise.” She also did “Cry Cry Cry” by Johnny Cash and “Strangers” by The Kinks. Her bluesy soulful approach was perfectly placed this hot evening when we all needed to just chill and let her soothe our sensations. But at some point I had to go and catch an early spot for Isis at This Tent.
Isis was scheduled to play at 3:30 pm so I arrived a little early to chill and wait for them in a good spot. This was going to be a special show for the Bonnaroo crowd considering that this laid back metal band is on the verge of its break up. They are playing six more shows after Bonnaroo and that is it. By the time you read this it will be over and all you will have left is the memory of a band that helped change the face of experimental metal rock music. With their nine-plus minute songs, they led us on a trail of mystical proportions as they conjured up the heaviest grooves in rock history mixed in with the most beautiful things that you would ever hear a band do. Metal or not, these guys are going down in history for many reasons. We are gonna miss them. It was time to decide if I was going to stay there and wait 45 minutes for the Melvins or go to the Avett Brothers for 30 minutes or so of their folky cool country set. I had seen both before. I saw the Avett Brothers in 2008 at Bonnaroo but not the Melvins, and as a matter of fact, I would have never guessed in a million years that the Melvins would be here. I know the Avett Brothers are coming back. So my decision was made.
Here I was at This Tent once again where I was about to see one of the most important and awesome rock groups of my lifetime up close at my favorite festival and I was perfectly calm. As they started, the crowd pushed in closer and tighter as the Melvins began bombarding us with their intense dirty and heavy songs. The Melvins built a wall with their massive distortion on the bass and guitar with their two drummers pounding in perfect time together. Bonnaroo was lucky enough to get the only rain we had during the Melvins. It was a little drizzle but enough to cool us down until the sun came back out and quickly dried us off.
I wanted to see the Dead Weather on the main stage at 6 p.m. but had to see the rest of the Melvins and head back to check on camp since it had rained. I needed to eat too. I was planning on staying out all night but I needed to sit down and prepare for the long night to come. So I ate some sandwich wraps while hanging out at camp listening to Weezer go through their array of hits. I heard a lot of new songs from the new Raditude album like “I Can’t Stop Partying,” which was too perfect for Bonnaroo. They did all the fun stuff like “Buddy Holly.” Soon enough I was heading back into the madness at What Stage to prepare for Stevie Wonder. The general consensus was to see Stevie and stick around for Jay Z afterward. The field at What Stage seemed to be slammed more than I have ever seen it. Two huge legends in one night once again. The crowd was definitely more unanimously exited at this moment than any other this year.
Stevie Wonder broke out all of the hits one after another like “Superstition,” “Higher Ground” and “In the City.” The crowd followed Stevie’s every move and sang along for him several times. Stevie sat behind his Clavinet most of the night but did manage to rock the keytar. He did things with the talkbox that I did not know were possible, all leading into the funkiest version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” I have ever heard. He also jammed on funkmaster George Clinton’s Parliment hit, “We Want The Funk.” Wow. He did a couple of new songs with some people from all over the world on some crazy instruments and came back for an encore and then let them jam. The excitement up front in between Stevie Wonder and Jay Z was unmatchable.The screens at Which Stage started a countdown at 10 minutes as the crowd frantically pushed in closer to the largest stage set at Bonnaroo. I was in line to get into the sectioned off front area. There were more people in the line to go in there than I have ever seen. The patrons were freaking out and confused on whether to stay in the line and risk not getting in or calling it quits and finding a spot elsewhere, especially when the countdown started. I stuck through and at three minutes left made it in to the pit area right in front of the stage. The anticipation here was immense.
Finally the crowd counted down the last 10 seconds as Jay Z’s intro music started. After a minute more of anxiety Jay Z stepped onto the stage, rapping about Stevie Wonder and about how Bonnaroo was the best weekend ever. Right at the end of the intro Jay Z said with a smile on his face, “I can’t wait to tell my mama that Stevie Wonder stuck around for my set.” Then the crowd put their hands in the air in the diamond shape as the beat for “Run This Town” started. Everyone was into it singing and smiling. The sound quality was crazy. The bass hit harder than I have ever felt. The highs were pristine and all else was perfect. The entire stage background was a video screen that showed clips of the show in real time mixed with video footage and other miraculous displays of amazing proportion. The intensity of the lights, sound, songs and crowd got bigger and better all night.
The set was ruthless as Jay Z slammed the crowd with his nonstop arsenal of hits from throughout his 20-plus year catalog. The crowd went wild song after song as the favorites rolled out: “Can I Get A,” “Big Pimpin,” “Brush Your Shoulders Off,” “Jigga What” and many more. Of course the self-proclaimed king of hip hop did all the hits from his newest release Blueprint 3, including “Death of Autotune” and “On To The Next One.” Eventually in the set Jay Z called Bonnaroo his second home and then the jiggaman showed us his first home as he brought New York to Bonnaroo. This is when the super high quality million dollar backdrop turned into the Big Apple for his hit “Empire State Of Mind.” The sound up close was enough to knock the breath out of you. It was the best sounding and looking set I have ever seen at Bonnaroo. Then there was the encore when Jay Z himself said, “Wow” in amazement as he asked the crowd to put up their lights, phones and glowsticks in the air as he started “Forever Young.” It was a truly touching moment when that field in Manchester looked like the sky full of stars as the crowd sang, “I wanna be forever young.” It was another unanimous moment of history at Bonnaroo. Wish you were there.
Then came another realization that this is a festival and that other things were going on at that moment, like Thievery Corporation’s very special performance at That Tent. I rushed off as soon as Jay Z would let me to get back into Centeroo to catch what was sure to be another great Bonnaroo moment. These moments remind me of what Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips said at a press meeting on Friday. Coyne explained, “I want them to say all of those groups were there. To think it’s about us just seems silly.”
Thievery Corporation are a duo of DJs from Washington, D.C., in the simplest terms. What they specialize in is a blend of dub, jazz, reggae, hip hop, trance and downbeat awesomeness. They bring in guest vocalists for their albums from all over the world to sing in many different languages on their LPs. On their newest release, Radio Retaliation, they took this method to the extreme and brought in people from 11 different countries, including. Nigeria, France, Africa and Brazil. The reason for bringing all of these great musicians from all over the globe together is to highlight how we all share the same message of positive awareness, goodness and care for the people of the world. They are not on tour right now and we were very lucky to have them come visit. I knew it was going to be good and I was anxious to find out who they had with them on this spectacular evening. They pulled out all the stops and brought in the whole crew from all over the globe and played classics like “The Richest Man in Babylon” and the best pieces from last year’s Radio Retaliationincluding “Sound The Alarm,” “33 Degrees,” and “La Femme Parallel.” Thankfully the show started later and went longer than scheduled. I would be so mad at myself for missing all of that one. This show was definitely one of my best Bonnaroo experiences ever.
So, thankfully, I was able to catch at least some of, if not all of the things I had planned on today and was once again exhausted and ready to head back after the amazing Thievery Corporation set. Then I heard Gwar blaring noisily from the Other Tent. As I approached, there were people running away screaming sounds of terror and covered in who knows what. I heard them chant Margaret Cho is a ho and she came out and proceeded to give the lead singer some form of strange fellatio as he gave her a shower of something that resembled watery mayonnaise. It was disgusting and will probably be great for her future as a comedian. She’s got guts thats for sure, all over her. That will probably never wash off. I almost died in laughter when the singer Oderus Urungus asked the crowd, “You might ask yourself, why is this monster speaking in a ridiculous New York accent?” Then he replied to himself, “I just saw Jay Z , what can I say?” Then I saw them cut Obama’s head off and do unmentionable things to it and that is when I decided that I should head for the hills as well. This was very unfortunate for me because I heard that the whole band took over and turned the mushroom in Centeroo into a crime scene after their set. I’m sure that was mind boggling to all of the innocent bystanders taking a breather. Wish I would have seen that. Today was a good day as Ice Cube would say, and when is he coming to Bonnaroo?
I was in sleeping mode by 4 hat morning and thankfully got a little more shut eye this time around. I arose from my polyester oven bright and early at 9 a.m. Today was an easier day for me. There were a lot less acts to parade to. And the ones that were most important to me were mostly all playing on the second stage. Calexico, Regina Spektor and Ween all were doing Which Stage on Sunday this year. I figured I would just find a nice spot around some cool people and enjoy what the day would bring.
There is always a sad feeling of the end nearing on the Sunday of Bonnaroo. Some people are already packing. Neighbors are parting ways to never be seen or probably thought of again. Friends are heading home to get ready for the real world. However, there was a strong percentage of partiers there on Sunday urging people to stay for as long as they could. There were less people leaving this year on Sunday than ever before. The 50,000-plus Dave Matthews fans helped out a bit I suppose. Sunday always reminds me of the early Bonnaroos. The last day is when the root crew of Bonnaroo usually shines the brightest because the festival usually ends with one of the classic staple jam bands like Phish or Widespread Panic.
So I made it down to Which Stage at 1:30 p.m., just in time for my favorite song by Calexico titled “Crystal Frontier.” That song always reminds me of a fight scene in a Tarantino movie with its swinging rhythm and spanish instrumentation remniscent of a mariachi. The band is named after the town that borders California and Mexico. Some people call them indie rock or alternative country but I just call it awesome. They lulled the crowd with songs from their Carried To Dust album and many others from their previous ventures that date back to 1997. This was perfect for the first show of Sunday.
I remained there with my new friends to await the great quirkiness that is Regina Spektor. She was here in 2007 as well. It seemed hotter and hotter as I chased the shade around the trees. Regina was wonderful as always. She did her more popular hits like “Poor Little Rich Boy” mixed with more obscure and newer material from her 2009 album Far, including “Eet” and “Folding Chair.” This was a great way to relax on Sunday.
My shade had moved away by the time Ween started with the song “Exactly Where I’m At.” It was a good, excited crowd and the sound was nice. I had participated in the Ween set in 2007 so I decided to change my atmosphere. After a couple of songs I had to head to the Other Tent to check out Medeski Martin and Wood (MMW). Those guys are always great.
MMW were scheduled to kick their set off at 6:15 p.m. at The Other Tent, so they were on stage by the time I got there. The experimental funky excursion are also also veterans of the Bonnaroo experience, being one of the only groups to play three years in a row in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Some of the members have also shown up in various other collaborations throughout the years. There was still some dancing in the crowd but most of it had winded down to a subtle sway as MMW wooed us with their amazing and unusual musical abilities. The show ended around 8, giving me enough time to get back to camp and replenish myself of all of the things that humans need to function, like food and liquid.
Dave Matthews Band (DMB) was scheduled for 9 p.m. A massive ammont of people were hanging around to check them out. People piled in and sprawled out to enjoy the cool breeze and smooth sounds of tonight’s headliner. Right as the band started with one of their oldest songs, “Don’t Drink The Water,” candle lanterns went up in the sky forming great patterns. The lanterns floated gracefully out into the Tennessee sky until it was impossible to see them. Who knows where they landed? DMB played several cuts from from the new Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, including the jammy “Shake Me Like A Monkey.” The encores were perfect with “The Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young followed by the crowd favorite “All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan. If you stuck around it was like a cherry on top of a wonderful desert. Dave mentioned sarcastically that it smelled great there, “Like herb and body odor.” Matthews thanked the crowd for sticking around and calling the spot, “like the cheese after dinner with the wine.” This may be one of the last times you get to see them for a while because they are supposedly taking some time off.
After the encore, the crowd bid the What Stage farewell, some till next year and others to never be seen again. A huge swarm of people filed out. Some went quietly and others went out with a bang, demanding that the party continue till the last minute. I got back to camp and observed the masses moving throughout the campsite. People were lining up to get out and go home or to the next festival. Others were going to sleep to leave early in the morning. That is what I did. At this point I was sick of waiting in lines so I took a nap until 4 in the morning. When I awoke, everything was different in look and feel. The scenery around had changed drastically as I slept. I didn’t even recognize the area around me anymore because so many people had left. I packed up my tent and left all by myself with no line at all. I went back down the interstate through Murfreesbo to go home to sleep and rest my feet for a long time. After this spectacular event, I always go somewhere and eat a well needed good meal that is not four times overpriced.
What a great Bonnaroo. This festival seems to get bigger and better music every year. I hope it keeps up. I once again can’t wait till next year. They said that only 20 percent of the trash was diverted from the landfill to the recycling bin in 2009. Hopefully this year there was an improvement. One of the harshest things is looking at the aftermath of the careless. The trash all over the once beautiful Tennessee field is enough to make even the filthiest of people cringe. If you are located in the ‘Boro and haven’t yet made it to Bonnaroo, there is hardly an excuse. We are lucky to have an event of such proportions right in our backyard. It is the closest that you will get to anything like the historic Woodstock, and it occurs every year. People from all over the country drive countless hours and fly in from who knows where for this wonderful weekend and it is right down the road from us. So you should try to experience it at least once before you look back years from now and wish that you could tell your kids about the craziest people of our generation. Thanks for taking the time to read about my Bonnaroo adventure and please open your mind to new music and things that you may not know of, for those are the best things out there.