31) Smith Westerns:
I woke up Sunday morning fairly rejuvenated and made a promise to myself that I would have a much better day than the day before. I found myself getting back into the groove of trying to see as much as possible and for some reason I wasn’t as tired as I was on Saturday. The day started off by a set from this new band that consists of two brothers who are roughly 19 years old. I had read some articles about them and bought their debut album Dye it Blonde which sounds like MGMT only with a little more rock/folk than dance/techno. The lead singer also seems kinda pompous and arrogant (his closing remarks were: “If you didn’t like this set, Fuck You!”) but as I mentioned earlier, if the music is there, that’s not such a bad thing. They put on a decent set and I was off on my last day.
32) G. Love and Special Sauce:
I think these guys play just about ever other Bonnaroo and I had never seen them until this year. I had some time to kill before the next show and I was glad to have caught some of it. It’s not my favorite type of music but it is pretty fun and is one of those bands I like much more live than I do on their albums. While I was there, I noticed some guy walking around with a large bag draped over his shoulder. Inside the bag were a number of smaller plastic bags containing something I couldn’t make out, but people were jumping at the opportunity to receive one of these free items from this strange man. I found myself raising my hand to try to get my own free item when I then realized what it was…… pistachios. I’m not a big pistachio guy and as soon as I saw what it was I retracted my arm and hoped I would not receive one. But it got me to thinking about how people get all kinds of excited when someone else gives something out for free. Regardless of the item in question, people love getting free stuff and I saw myself falling into that trap at the G. Love show. Are we really that materialistic that we’ll jump at anything if someone is willing to give it to us free of charge? It certainly appeared so at this particular gathering.
33) Ryan Bingham:
My buddy Bryan first introduced me to Bingham with the statement that if I liked the Avett Brothers, I should check him out. While his style isn’t necessarily that of the Avetts, he does play a very good blend of roots rock and country. I stayed for most of his set but was surprised that it ended so early. I then looked at the program and noticed he was only slated for a 45 minute set and I don’t even think he lasted that long. I’m not sure why that was because he has enough material to last that long and it made me wonder how they decide if an artist is to get 30, 45, 60, 75, or 90 minutes. It probably has something to do with how big the band is, but 45 minutes just doesn’t seem like enough for anyone.
34) Neon Trees:
This was an OK set by a fairly unknown band, though I did recognize their song “Animals” from XM radio. Nothing spectacular happened during this set which I did find a bit disappointing. The lead singer seemed like he was going for the punk look but the songs and antics just didn’t seem to match up. And he also did that cool rocker live performance thing where he held the microphone out for the audience to sing some of the parts. I don’t necessarily mind this, but when you do it all the time and always do it during the chorus, it annoys me. If that happens, my guess is the singer has no voice left or can’t hit the notes for some reason. I don’t know if the crowd ever sounds better than the singer does. Overall, not a bad set, but not all that great either.
35) Amos Lee:
I caught Amos Lee’s large stage performance which was pretty good but I’d have to say that I enjoyed his smaller set the day before. This time he had a band behind him and it was nice to hear a fuller sound come from him. But since I was further back and slightly tired, I just didn’t get that into it. He’s still a very talented guy and has some great songs, but I think by this time in the day I was starting to lose it a bit.
I think I would have enjoyed this set more had I not been so tired (I’m noticing a theme this year, I think I’m getting old). This band plays a mellow/atmospheric/tranquil type sound that would have been much more appropriate in an evening setting. While I enjoyed some of their songs, I found myself getting a little bored towards the end. I was also getting annoyed by the dude smoking a cigar in front of me. Being at Bonnaroo you have to get used to all types of smells in a crowded tent area including sweaty people and the things that they’re smoking. While I’m quite used to and tolerant of cigarette and pot smoke, I just can’t condone cigars. Take that nonsense somewhere else.
37) Iron & Wine:
I was expecting more from this band that has been getting all kinds of good press over the years. Front man Sam Beam has created some very good albums and songs and the newest album Kiss Each Other Clean is very good. Though he didn’t seem to play much from that and he opted for a fairly mellow set. While he was pretty good, I wish he would have sped it up a bit more since I was in need of a pick me up before the last show of the weekend. He did end the set very well with a much more upbeat and rocked out track and I saw more into what was possible with his group.
38) The Strokes:
It wasn’t until the last timeslot of the weekend until I came across the greatest conflict of the weekend. The organizers somehow managed to schedule the Strokes at the same time as Explosions in the Sky, Beirut, and the Superjam combo of Dr. John and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. I had narrowed it down between the Strokes and Explosions but it wasn’t until the end of the Iron & Wine set that I made my decision. The Strokes were scheduled to play the same stage and I had a very good spot for what would no doubt be a very crowded show. I decided it would be worth it to just stay there in the crowded area towards the front for one of the bands I was most excited for when the lineup was announced. I waited about an hour for them as they were late coming out and front man Julian Cassablancas later admitted they were watching the beginning of the Beirut show. He also noted the conflict and thanked the crowd for making the decision to see them, but it almost seemed like he was thinking that we had all made a mistake.
The Strokes are an odd band and it’s clear that they’re not very close at all. And when they perform live they don’t seem like they’re having much fun. They play some of the best rock/pop out there and their hooks are so infectious sometimes that you have not choice but to dance and sing right along. But the way they stand there just makes it seem like they’re more concerned with their image as cool rock guys with a strong sense of fashion than they are about playing the music that made them so famous in the first place. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. is the only one who gives off the slightest sense of enjoying what he is doing. Having said all that, the crowd was still very into the set as was I. Cassablancas was kind of funny at times. At one point he noticed famed Baltimore movie director John Waters off to the side of the stage and said “Oh, shit! John Waters! Right on!”, and while trying to begin the next song, he looked back at drummer Fab Moretti and Hammond talking back and forth and said “Oh, I’m sorry. Don’t let me interrupt”. Overall, it was a very good closing set, but like many other artists, they stopped short of their hour and a half schedule and did not play an encore. I like the Strokes a lot and think their new single “Under Cover of Darkness” is the best of the year, but each one of them could take the ego and hipster thing down several notches. It’s almost nauseating.
39) Superjam featuring Dr. John and Dan Auerbach:
Since the Strokes finished early I had time to catch the end of this set while eating some delicious pad Thai for dinner. The set was pretty decent but what I will always remember from it is the conversation I had with some concert goers near the table I was eating at. Someone had left a to-go box on the table and had written on it “Please eat me. Sunday, 7:00”. I did not look inside the box but did wonder if anyone would take the box up on its generous yet somewhat sketchy offer. Sure enough, a couple of stoned out younger hippie dudes walked up and pointed at the box and asked me if it was mine. I told them it wasn’t and that I didn’t know whose it was, nor did I know what was in it. One of the guys opened up the box and inside found a ton of food including slices of turkey and ham along with potatoes, some veggies, and what appeared to be chocolate pudding. The guy then asked me and some others standing around if he should eat it. I told him that it was up to him and then made the comment that someone probably had a camera and microphone on us to see what would happen as some sort of sociological experiment. This got others to chime in with similar comments and finally the guy asked me what time it was. I looked at my phone and informed him it was 8:15, a mere hour and fifteen minutes after this box was claiming to have been abandoned. Of course, that is if you trusted that the box was telling the truth. As soon as I told him the time you could almost see relief come over the kid as if an hour and fifteen minutes does not even come close to the threshold of how long the food would need to be stagnant before it would be rendered inedible. I actually wonder how much time would have needed to pass before this kid would decide eating it would be unacceptable. He then opened the box and dove in quite enthusiastically as did his friend, much to the disgust and disapproval of the girls across from us as their faces made painfully obvious. I couldn’t help but laugh as they continued to chow down on this free food (further proving my point about people and the thrill of anything that is given away free of charge, even if it’s mysterious food that was touched by God knows who) and seemed quite happy with their decision. I soon finished my food and then started to make my way back to the RV, for the weekend had come to an end. As I left, I told the two kids to take care and to be sure and not get sick. I’m not even sure if they heard me. Either way, it was a very comical ending to an extremely full and busy weekend.
We took a while to leave our campsite as there was some cleanup to do around the area. We were originally going to drive to O’Reilly’s house near Atlanta and spend the night there but plans changed and we ended up getting a hotel in Chattanooga. The ride home was fairly uneventful. I spent the majority of the time watching all three Back to the Future movies that my cousin John brought with him to play on the TV in the RV. Incidentally, my cousin John absolutely loves that trilogy. And while I myself very much enjoy it, as does just about everyone else I know, he takes his love to a different level. For while most will say how much they like those films, he would go so far as to say they’re some of the greatest of all time. And he means it. As I watched them again for the first time in several years, I came across a lot of interesting observations that I will have to save for another time. But I can say with some degree of certainty that they still hold up. We made it JB’s house near St. Augustine and I then had a three hour drive back to my place. I arrived home around 11ish and then had to get up the next morning to go to work. It was kinda sad but also very fulfilling, for another year was in the books.
After reading all of this again, I realized there are several parts where it seems like I was complaining about the acts, or being too tired, or not being into a show for one reason or another. I do not mean to come across like I did not have a good time, for the actual case is quite the opposite. I still think seeing live music is one of the greatest experiences ever and even seeing a show that is merely OK is still a much better way to spend your time than many other ways. Maybe I’ve come to expect too much from certain bands and their live performances. Maybe the novelty of Bonnaroo has somewhat worn off with this being my sixth consecutive year. Or maybe I’m just getting old and hanging out in an extraordinarily crowded venue in 90+ degree weather is getting more difficult. Any way you look at it, it still is a great deal, to pay a few hundred dollars to see tons of bands in one place with people you really like hanging out with. I still plan on going again in the future, but I also think it would be nice to mix it up at some point and check out another festival like Austin City Limits, Coachella, or to check out Lollapalooza again. If anyone is down, let me know. I’m sure we could work something out.