Which, What, This, That and The Other is how Bonnaroo named its stages six years ago. Now those words have become more of a mantra for the whole experience. The New Orleans-based creators of this giant Tennessee tent party have sought to keep the lineups as diverse as possible, This year’s lineup brought a slew of first-time acts out to play the 600 acre site in Manchester, Tennessee.
Friday afternoon offered eight bands I wanted to see in as many hours: The Cold War Kids, (who will tour with the White Stripes this fall), The Brazilian Girls, Tortoise, and Michael Franti were all out in the tents, while The Roots and Manu Chao were all playing the main stages before the sun went down. After some technical difficulties during sound check, the crowd at Manu Chao was already jumping before he took the stage. The only show I liked more was DJ Shadow’s. He began by explaining that everything about to be heard was something he created, a good bit was from his 1996 album, Endtroducing. The massive screen behind him projected some of the weekend’s best visual displays. It was a big second day, full of big and bigger performances with plenty of things to do in between.
The comedy and film tents, as well as the jazz lounge, offered an enjoyable air-conditioned escape to fans who fought the miserable heat and dusty conditions. On top of the day’s incredible musical lineup there were performances by comedians David Cross and Lewis Black. Somehow the festival setting provided for a wealth of new material, which may not work elsewhere.
The press conferences were good for a laugh as well. Mixing up the artists with a huge representation of media got mixed results, The Friday panel featured an interesting assortment including Lilly Allen, Quest Love, Nathan Willet from Cold War Kids, comedian David Cross, and others. Cross made his dislike of hippies clear, while ?uestlove from The Roots, said they pay his bills. All stereotyping aside, the press tent offered artists a chance to weigh in on the impact of the weekend. Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips discussed the role music plays in bringing people together and described the communal benefits of the whole affair as being, “actually worth [the hazards involved].”
On Saturday, I had three interviews with artists who hadn’t quite made it out to the site. The shaded area behind one of the press trailers I found was crucial. Chali 2na and Mike Relm were both relieved when they saw my private and shady confines behind the monstrous What stage. The heavy vibes emanating from Ziggy Marley’s made for an extra chill interview setting during my rap with Chali 2na. Both he and Mike Relm were excited to be there and looking forward to checking out some music.
The Police headlined Saturday night and opened with “Message in a Bottle.” I couldn’t hang with the enormous crowds and chose to listen to the rest from camp. My neighbors were the Hunab Kru Breakdancers and Asheville Brewing Company, a combo which made the perfect spot to relax before the late night shows. Lateef mentioned he’d be available to talk between his performances, so I caught his set with the Mighty Underdogs (Gift of Gab and DJ Headnotic) just around midnight. Fellow Bay area MC’s Boots Riley and Lyrics Born also shared the stage at the hip-hop garnished Galactic show.
Sasha played an incredible show last year and topped it by bringing John Digweed this time around. Their nearly five-hour set thumped straight through till sunrise, with an enthusiastically demanded encore. Needless to say the two DJ’s appeared to enjoy it, smiling all night and even taking pictures during their set once the sun came up.
Sunday was ridiculously hot, and I paced myself for the White Stripes show. It was the first time I’d seen them and, in my opinion, they gave the best performance of the weekend. People climbed fences just to get a better look and steady stream of crowd surfers going up into the air. They played songs from their new album such as the title track, “Icky Thump” and a great version of “Blue Orchid” before a slower version of “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” The duo’s 90 minutes on stage was heavy and hard hitting rock that will have people talking for years to come.
Words & Images: Blake Styles