Seven. The sum total of years I attended undergraduate and graduate school. The name George Costanza wanted to name his child (boy or girl). The number of minutes it takes to get rock hard abs. A dope movie by David Fincher where I was first introduced to Kevin Spacey. The number of words George Carlin told us could not be said on television. And the number of consecutive years I have attended Bonnaroo. It’s really weird to think that it has been that long as I vividly remember first hearing the ’06 lineup and getting all excited to attend. The years are really starting to run together and throughout the weekend I would be speaking with someone about a memory from the past and we really struggled to determine which year it was. But it’s all good, as the 2012 festival had plenty of amazing moments as every other year has in the past. And this year, three of my all-time favorite live acts were performing.
I bought my ticket sometime during the fall which was months before the lineup came out. I thought it was pretty early, but nowhere near as early as the group of tickets that were sold just days after Bonnaroo 2011 had ended. Though I would argue that the lineup itself is almost irrelevant and that I’ve always had a good time no matter what my initial reaction was when I first read the lineup, there is something to be said for the experience of first seeing a band you are totally down with. And that was where I found myself at the faculty meeting I was sitting in when I checked my phone to see people talking about the lineup. And I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. Radiohead, Phish, and the Avett Brothers?! I think at that moment, I was the most excited as I had ever been upon hearing the lineup. The icing had been put on the cake and I was officially amped.
We had a big crew this year with many veterans. Uncle JB, his buddy Marty, cousins John, Shea, James, and Johannah and the return of my uncle Billy and his kids Dan, Kevin, and Lauren. A number of friends of my cousins were there as well and most of us met up in Gainesville on Tuesday night, and for the first time in our Bonnaroo experiences, we left early the next morning. Every year it seems that they open the gates to the festival a little earlier and this year they were allowing people in at 7:00 pm on Wednesday night. We were determined to get in as early as possible because waiting in a long line to get in can be a miserable experience. Admirably, we left Wednesday around 8:00 and were on our way. We met Billy and his family at the Kimball Wal-Mart (about a half hour from the festival) around 5:00 and got our shopping done for the weekend. We then grabbed some dinner and headed out. We were pleased to find ourselves in a very short line and arrived as the sun was just beginning to set. It allowed us plenty of time to set up our site and to hang out a bit before heading to bed. Thursday provided some more leisure time before we headed out to the shows around 4:00.
I had heard a little from this somewhat eccentric indie artist, but she sounded interesting enough for me to want to check out for my first show. Unfortunately, she was not impressive at all and turned out to be one of the least inspiring performances of the weekend. She also seemed pretty angry at her past boyfriends. I just didn’t jive well at all with this performance and left after a few songs. I still think her album is good, but for some reason she just didn’t translate well live for me.
2). The Lonely Forest
This was much more up my alley. Good performance by a decent alt-rock band. I ran into Billy during this set and we stayed for a number of songs before heading over to meet the others for the Cave Singers.
3). The Cave Singers
This group was more along the lines of the Americana roots rock genre that just about everyone in our group enjoys. Billy and I made our way over to the right side of the tent where we saw our group sitting down. I didn’t see much of this performance but what I heard was good. One of the interesting things you’ll see at a festival like Bonnaroo is how so many people choose different ways to see a show, whether they are making their way through the crowd to get as close to the stage as possible or chilling on the lawn towards the back laying down, there are all kinds of ways to enjoy a show. Personally, I typically like to get as close as possible which explains why I get so tired. But when not much is going on and I’m not seeing one of my favorites, it’s nice to just sit down and enjoy the set which is what I did here. Not a bad set from a decent band.
4). Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
The first really good show I saw came from this indie rock group that I heard about through XM Radio. I wasn’t too into them but their live performance changed my mind. They came out wearing very bright colored sports jackets and put on a very energetic set. They were also good with the crowd banter as they explained how they always felt bad for the fans at these festivals since they had to utilize so many porta potties. So they made an announcement that the next day they would be placing a bottle of champagne in one of the 7500 porta potties on site for some lucky fan to enjoy. Now I have no idea if they actually did this or not but it was a pretty interesting idea. But then again, most of the people attending the festival did not see this show so the chances are that if someone did find it, they did not know where it came from. Basically, this all comes down to a “what would you do” situation. Walking into a porta potty finding an unopened bottle of champagne, could you see yourself walking out with it? Not the most sanitary of places to be leaving such an item. At any rate, they played a great mix of originals and some great covers including the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” in the Whitney Houston fashion. Great performance by a relatively unknown band.
5). Moon Taxi
Every year I seem to give out my personal award for the worst band name at the festival. I think this one takes the cake. I didn’t catch much of this set but I had a little time to kill before the next act I wanted to see so I gave it a whirl. They played some fairly chill indie type rock that wasn’t bad but wasn’t great either. I stayed for about 15 minutes and headed out.
6). White Denim
I had heard some stuff by these guys and was pretty excited to see them. But like EMA, I was left fairly disappointed. After a few songs I realized that they were little more than an indie-jam band who hardly sang at all during their performance. Now I don’t necessarily dislike jams but when there doesn’t seem to be any direction it can get very wearying. The songs they played seemed very frantic and disorganized and it seemed like they were just trying some groove for a minute or two and then totally changed directions to a very different groove. For me, I just couldn’t get settled or into their set. I’m not quite sure what the attraction here is.
Now this was more like it. I heard some of this group’s songs on Spotify and was immediately taken by their atmospheric psych rock and I shortly learned after that they are from Saratoga, NY which is near and dear to my heart. They put on a very fun and engaging set and I left wanting more. I can certainly see myself listening to this band more over in the future.
8). Alabama Shakes
Every year at Bonnaroo there seems to be a band that I learn about shortly before the show that somehow blows up in the few weeks between the discovery and the actual performance. This five piece from Alabama play a great mix of rock, blues, and country and lead singer Brittany Howard has an amazing voice and is a great front woman. This was the band I was most looking forward to seeing on Thursday night; however, it appears this was true for just about everyone else and by the time I made my way over to their tent, I noticed how insanely packed it was. Not only that, but it was very dark out and it was difficult to make my way through the crowd without stepping on people or causing major disruptions. So I stayed back and watched this set from afar and though they were very good, it was just difficult to get down with this set as I was so detached. They actually came out of the chute playing their most known songs first so it kinda gave me a license to leave early and prepare for the rest of the weekend. In the end, this is a very solid band and they could have a very bright future ahead of them.
9). The Kooks
When the lineup first came out, I was very excited to see that this Brit-Pop band was going to be in attendance. I first heard of them through my friend Jon in grad school. I picked up their second album Konk back in 2008 and fell in love with their sound. It’s one that has always stayed true for me but is also one that is becoming harder to find in the wake of rock going the generic or indie routs. There seems to be less of a market for this type of music which is why I was so excited to see them. I was somewhat surprised they were given such an early billing at 12:15, but that just meant I would have to start my day a little early. I decided to leave the campsite about 30 minutes before the show started but in hindsight I should have left about 30 minutes before that as the line going into the festival was the longest I had ever seen in all seven years of attendance. The line was moving very slowly and it took about 15 minutes for me to realize why. It seemed that a lot of people were walking past the line and were basically cutting as they approached the entrance. It was a perfect example of watching a social contract fall apart before your very eyes. People had been waiting a fairly long time in line and others were just cutting it. Some around me decided to cut as well and I was left with similar feelings to the girl behind me who kept saying “Respect the Line!!!!”, but it was also clear that this was not going to happen. Finally, I decided to cut ahead a bit, but it was too late. By the time I got to the Kooks show, it was 30 minutes past their start time, and of course, they ended about 15 minutes early so I barely got to see them. Again, if you are given an hour long timeslot, then freaking play the full hour. The few songs I saw were pretty decent, but I was disappointed that I barely got to see a band I was so excited for.
I was very interested in seeing this group which is basically the brain child of Merrill Garbus. And there is no way you could listen to her singing and think she was not a dude. I heard some of her songs on the radio and while the DJ kept referring to Garbus as a female, I somehow still did not believe it. Their songs are very out there and unique but melodic enough for me to want to check out this set and I’m so glad I did. The band consisted of Garbus, a bass player, and a few horn players but most of the music came from Garbus as she looped several vocal and drum tracks to create the majority of the sounds on each song. She also played the ukulele as her other main instrument. Though her music is a little out there for me, I thoroughly enjoyed this set as did many others around me and you could tell that Garbus was appreciative of the crowd. It got me to thinking that playing Bonnaroo must be very special for a small time artist as it gives them an opportunity to showcase their music to so many potential new fans, and when the crowd is as receptive as this one was it must be a very satisfying feeling for the artist. I’m not entirely sure I’ll listen to this band in my spare time all that much, but they sure did put on a great show.
11). Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
This group has played Bonnaroo many times before but I never made my way over to catch their set. Though they are the perfect example of a live act that I think just about anyone could get down to. They blend a mix of soul, funk, R&B, blues, rock, and jazz into what is a great live performance. Jones at 56 years of age is a great performer and seems to know how to get the most out of her band, which is one of the coolest you’ll ever see. I don’t know much of their material but everything I hear I like and it was a great show to catch for a while.
12). Two Door Cinema Club
I really wanted to stay for Sharon Jones longer, but I also didn’t want to miss this indie rock group that I thought would be a lot of fun to see. I considered skipping it, but at the last minute opted not to and I’m glad that I made that decision. They put on a very solid performance and played some really good catchy indie rock that translated well live. This is certainly a band I could listen to more frequently and not feel bad about it at all.
13). The Avett Brothers
Part one of my trifecta of must see shows came from a band that I have truly seen their growth, if only for their Bonnaroo shows. They first played the festival in 2006 in one of the smallest tents after Radiohead’s blistering headlining set. Though the tent was very crowded, it was clear that they weren’t a top billing. Two years later thy played one of the larger tents which has been one of the best Bonnaroo performances I have ever seen. Two years later they played the second biggest stage and this year they were billed for the main stage. If this progression stays true, then I predict the Avetts will be one of the headlining acts in 2014. I absolutely love the Avetts and if you’ve ever read any of my blogs or know me at all, you are well aware of this. However, I’m going to be that guy. While I am very happy for their success and that so many of my friends and family dig them, they’re just not as good live as they used to be. And this is through no fault of their own. They are still just as energetic as they were and are still excellent performers. But due to their success, their larger shows on bigger stages just can’t compare to the days when they played smaller intimate clubs where you could get right up front and feel more connected to the show. I think this is true for just about every band, so I can’t blame the Avetts at all. And it’s not like I don’t enjoy their shows anymore as that is far from the case. I think I just got spoiled because those first few shows I saw back in 2005 or 2006 were soooooo good that any comparison to them now is simply unfair.
Having said all that, it was really nice to see them play such a large stage in front of so many people. And it was also good to see bassist Bob Crawford back with the group. He had missed many shows over the past year or so due to the illness of his young daughter who has been battling brain cancer. Really sad but it did look like he was enjoying himself during the show. They did a great job of mixing up their catalogue and hit up some really older songs to go along with their latest. I only wish that I had been able to find my group so that we could all watch together, but for the life of me I couldn’t locate them amongst the sea of people there. I swear every year it seems that there are more in attendance than the year before.
I had a lull in the action after the Avetts and there was nothing I was dying to see. I opted to head over to Feist’s set and get some food (bacon wrapped hot dog with a fried egg and cheese………unreal) while I waited for Dawes. I’m not the biggest fan of Feist and found that Remainder album to be fairly boring. I know a lot of people lover her but I’m not one of them. Her set was fine and all, but was more of a breather for me.
Few bands have grown as much traction with me over the past few years as this foursome from Southern California. Their sound is very reminiscent of the Band and Jackson Browne and they have some of the best harmonies I’ve heard in some time. By the time I made my way over to the tent they were playing, I saw my group front and center and I joined them for a great spot. The band was great and you could tell how much they were enjoying themselves. Front man Taylor Goldsmith is an excellent songwriter and writes some amazing lyrics (more on that later). I really hope things work out for these guys and that they continue making music as there is few songs they have I don’t enjoy. Drummer Griffin Goldsmith also takes lead vocal on some songs and there is something that always gets me about that. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to concentrate on drumming and singing at the same time but he makes it look so effortless. His facial expressions while he plays are also phenomenal as with just about every other beat he seems to be shouting out in emphasis. He looks like Animal from the Muppets up there.
Damn you, Bonnaroo. You scheduled Foster the People in a time slot that ended just as Radiohead’s set began. I would have loved to catch that set as they were one of my favorite break out artists from last year and put out an album of some of the best indie pop I had heard in quite some time. Initially, I was very excited to see them but when the moment came to make a decision; I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. I knew that it would be packed and I missed securing a good spot since I saw the entirety of the Dawes show, and I also knew that I would have to leave the Foster show early to get enough time to make my way over to the main stage for Radiohead and find a good spot there. As I started walking from the Dawes show the wheels began turning and it didn’t take long for me to make a decision. I’d just have to skip the Foster show entirely. I only had 30 minutes before Radiohead and there was absolutely no way I was not going to be there for every second of the show from my favorite band. It actually wasn’t a difficult decision either. Once I accepted this as the necessary course of action, I felt not one shred of regret. Foster will just have to happen another time.
By the time I made it to the main stage for Radiohead, it was dark out. I had toyed with the idea of getting up to the front pit but it was way too crowded to see where the line even began for the pit. I didn’t want to have to figure it out so I made my way to a decent spot to the left of the stage and waited for the band to appear. I had seen them earlier in the year in Tampa for a Leap Day show and they were spectacular. Last year’s release The King of Limbs just may be my least favorite of their albums, but when they play it live, it takes on a different identity. Since the record relies so heavily on the beats and computer generated sounds, the band needed to take several months off in order to restructure the songs so that they could be played live. They brought in an extra drummer (Portishead’s Clive Deamer) and found a way to play the heavily produced album on regular ordinary instruments. And while I absolutely love the way they play these songs live, as well as their elaborate lights show and various screens they have set up, I was left slightly unimpressed. For the most part, they were awesome, but I could have sworn that there were some parts of their show where they got lazy. Some of the guitar parts and more intricate aspects of the songs fell a little flat. They didn’t seem to have the tight quality that they normally do. It didn’t happen frequently or throughout the whole show, but I distinctly remember some parts where I was thinking that they were leaving something out. Granted, I am nitpicking here, but it’s just how I felt. Their set was fairly predictable and drew heavily from their last two albums. I was super stoked they played my favorite “Paranoid Android” as well as “Karma Police”. But they didn’t play anything from The Bends which was slightly disappointing. However, when they were on, they were great. And before playing “Supercollider” Thom Yorke dedicated it to Jack White, for reasons that we will find out later, thus hinting that there might be some sort of side project or recording that might be released where they collaborated together. Words cannot describe how happy I would be if this turned out to be true.
I saw the entire set by myself as seeing Radiohead did not seem to be much of a priority to anyone else in my group. I understand why others do not like them (Uncle Billy asked me the next morning if the band was really just one guy messing around on a computer for two hours) but it would have been nice to enjoy the show with someone who cared as much as I did. All in all, it was another great performance from a band that continues to make some of the best music I’ve ever heard. No one can touch these guys.
17). Black Star
I was really excited for this show by veteran hip hop artists Talib Kweli and Mos Def (who now goes by Yasiin Bey) that my friend Pat first introduced me to about ten years ago. They have more of an organic sound for hip hop and are extremely talented. I’m not totally familiar with their work, but everything I have heard I’ve liked. But this performance left me uninspired. There were too many breaks in their songs and the flow seemed choppy and unfocussed. I couldn’t get all that down with what they were doing and I was kinda bummed by that. I remember feeling similar things when I saw hip hop artists in the past that their live shows just can’t hold a candle to their studio albums at least from a sonic perspective. They clearly get into their performances and have a lot of energy which is great, but for me, if the songs aren’t really there, I’m not going to care that much. I caught about half of their show before I headed back to the RV.
Saturday might have been the least anticipated overall day I have ever had at Bonnaroo. Very few artists jumped off the page at me when I saw the schedule and it turned out to be a very go with the flow kind of day. However, it did start out with one of my favorite performances of the weekend with a brief set by Dawes on the very small Sonic Stage which is one of the best places to see a live performance at Bonnaroo. There are a few shaded areas, it usually isn’t uncomfortably crowded, and you can get very close to the stage. You may have heard me talk about how I’m not a lyrics person and that I very rarely listen to lyrics in any song. It’s not a conscious decision, it’s just what happens. There will be times when I will hear a song for years before I actually realize what it is they’re singing about. It is only when I actually stop and think about it and try to listen that I pick up on what is being said. This happened to me during this set when they played “Million Dollar Bill” which is a song I thought was merely adequate. But for some reason I decided to listen to the lyrics and was completely blown away by how amazing they were. The imagery, metaphors, and heartache that goes into this song cannot be emphasized enough. I was totally blown away and after the set I admitted to my cousin Lauren that it was the first time I ever listened to the lyrics. She looked at me like I was crazy and asked in an extremely incredulous manner if I was serious. Sadly I was. She then pointed out how amazing the lyrics were, to which I retorted that I knew. At least, for the past 5 minutes I had known. I couldn’t find a clip of that song from this set, so I included it above when they played it on their main set the day before. However, this performance of “A Little Bit Of Everything” is one of my favorites of the weekend.
19). Blind Pilot
A few weeks before Bonnaroo, my cousin John came up with a good idea to create a playlist on Spotify where we could all add songs from artists who would be performing. It was a great way to educate ourselves more on artists we might not have been familiar with. As I listened to it in the weeks leading up to the festival, there were many times a song would come on that I never heard of and had no idea who sang it. It seemed that more often than not, whenever I would be genuinely curious as to whom it was, it turned out to be Blind Pilot. Unfortunately, their live performance didn’t live up to the studio songs I had come to enjoy on that Spotify playlist. This set was one of the most boring and lease engaging shows I saw during the weekend. I would think that for many artists that playing a festival like Bonnaroo would be an excellent opportunity to showcase a high energy show and to draw in some potential new fans. For some reason, Blind Pilot decided they just wanted to lull the crowd to sleep. I didn’t want to sleep. So I left.
20). The Temper Trap
The Temper Trap is the perfect example of a band that sounds great initially for me but quickly loses its luster in a short period of time. For me, they’re like the musical equivalent of liverwurst or tempeh. At first taste, they’re really interesting and dense and flavorful, but after a few bites/listens, it’s clear that it’s just over the top and tend to get nauseating. I didn’t have much else to see in this time slot and they were playing the main stage which has an excellent area for relaxing in during the day so I decided to check some of it out. They’re not horrible or anything, but they just don’t do much for me in the long run which is odd because they have a lot of qualities of bands I do enjoy. It was fine for checking out for about the 20 or 30 minutes I saw them. But I soon headed out for something different.
21). Flogging Molly
I have similar feelings about this Celtic punk band as I do for Dropkick Murphys which was a band I saw at Bonnaroo a few years ago. They both put on an energetic and exciting set and had I been in a bar with a number of beers in me I would have enjoyed it so much more. It is certainly a unique sound that they have and I give them credit for that, but again, it’s just not my preference of genres. But it was good to see nonetheless, and I was particularly interested in the various mosh pits that came about. Normally that is something that is saved for the very front of the crowd, but I saw a few bust out towards the back left area where I was. Some dude even made his way from way behind me to get up to the mosh pit but was bummed to see that it has dissipated. However, two minutes later it was back on and this guy was loving life. I hate moshing and think it’s dumb, but it sure was entertaining to see so many others get so much joy out of it.
I had seen these guys play Bonnaroo on a Thursday night in a jam packed tent. They are fairly out there playing an experimental type of indie rock and create some pretty substantial noise. I also love how the drummer’s main cymbal is set so high up that he has to reach way up over his head to hit it. They clearly get into their set and while it’s not my favorite type of music, it’s really interesting and fun to see live. They don’t really sing either and any vocals heard are pre recorded, and oddly enough they have a screen behind them with the images of some dude lip synching to the lyrics being sung. At one point one of the band members addressed someone in the crowd, and though I couldn’t hear the response of the audience member, it was clear what the guy in the band saw before him as I heard him say: “How are you doing?...........Yeah you are!!!............I must look like an angel to you right now”. I couldn’t help but laugh. You can hear this exchange on the video below.
I absolutely loved this set by an artist I don’t know much about but had enjoyed any song I heard of hers. She put on a great performance of pop/rock/rap/reggae songs and she carried herself very well on stage. She had a few dancers to go with her performance and though the act was very choreographed and planned out, it still made for more of a unique performance for the weekend. At one point she invited the crowd to run up on stage with her to dance. She told us all that if you come up on stage the only rules were that you had to dance, that you couldn’t take any pictures, and that you couldn’t hump her dancers. Evidently, she does this often but there were concerns about her being able to get the people up on the main stage, so it kinda started out as a trial run but it didn’t take long before people all around me started to dart for the stage area. Within a minute, the stage was covered with what seemed to be hundreds of people just dancing their faces off. I considered doing this myself, but then I realized that I hadn’t had enough beer to make the charge. But it was funny to hear the people behind me who had a friend up on the stage because they kept on laughing and pointing out his crazy antics as they saw them unfold on the main stage. I also noticed a security guard put some dude in a head lock and drag him off the stage. I guess he tried to hump one of the dancers. As the song ended and the crowd started departing the stage, Santigold expressed that she had never witnessed such an large group take her up on her offer and called them all crazy. I later learned that my cousin James was one of the ones who made it up on the stage, which is the second time he’d done that during one of her sets at Bonnaroo. This set was a blast from start to finish.
24). Jukebox the Ghost
I didn’t know much by this band but many in the group wanted to see them and since they were playing in a small tent towards the back of the field of the main stage area where I had just seen Santigold, I decided to check them out for a bit. I wasn’t right up front and it was hard to see the band, mostly because the stage they played on did not appear to be raised at all, so for the most part, I just sat down and listened to about three or four songs before I headed out for the next show. John later said it was one of his favorite performances of the weekend and that they played a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” which would not be the only time that song would be showcased during the weekend.
I have known about this Scottish indie rock outfit for a number of years but it wasn’t until last year that I really started listening to them. I very much enjoyed last year’s release Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will and was excited to see them. It’s interesting because they are pretty much an instrumental band and have almost no vocals at all. Typically this throws me off and I can tend to get bored with such music but I’ve never really felt that way with them. And I’m glad to say that they delivered during this set which made it difficult to make the decision to leave early, as I wanted to catch a decent amount of the Roots. It’s also worth noting that this was one of the loudest shows I would see over the weekend which was a little annoying at first, but my ears soon adjusted and I was treated to a very solid set. But as I said, I love the Roots and wanted to make sure I got in a good chunk of their show so I cut out here about 15 minutes early.
26). The Roots
I’d have to say that the Roots are most certainly one of my favorite acts in hip hop. They consistently put out good albums and put on a very entertaining and engaging live show. The band is huge and includes members playing all kinds of instruments including the tuba. They put a lot of energy into their shows and there is a lot of interaction with the crowd which always gets people moving. Even though I missed about half the show (including this tribute to the Beastie Boys), it was still a lot of fun to see.
27). Red Hot Chili Peppers
Over the years, my interest in the Chili Peppers has gone through a roller coaster type cycle. I absolutely loved Blood Sugar Sex Magik, was luke warm on One Hot Minute, enjoyed Californication, had no interest in By The Way, and found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the double album Stadium Arcadium. Now I’m back on the “I don’t really care” bandwagon and Saturday night’s headlining performance did nothing to change that attitude in my mind. There are many things about the Peppers that I love, mainly the fact that they are so passionate about music and so appreciative of each other and their fans. When I saw them get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, it was great to see how humble Anthony Keidis and Flea both were when they accepted their award. It just seems that their approach and attitude towards music is unique and I totally respect them for that. I will also always hold a special place in my heart for them because Blood Sugar Sex Magik pretty much was my freshman year in high school. But yeah, this show was not that great for me. While they put plenty of energy into their set and are phenomenal musicians, it just didn’t do much for me for some reason. Maybe because they played a bunch of new songs I didn’t know or that they didn’t play much that I approved of, but I just didn’t get down with them. I’m glad I saw them live and had that experience, but I think it’s pretty safe to say I will not go out and buy tickets for a show of theirs in the future.
28). Alice Cooper
This was pretty much a must see for at least part of the set. I actually own a copy of Cooper’s 80’s hair metal album, Trash on cassette and though I’m not a huge fan of his or anything, you gotta respect his accomplishments. The dude is 64 years old and sill brings on a great rock show. I’ve never seen a drummer positioned so high on the stage as I had for this performance. He pretty much had to walk up a staircase to get to the kit. I didn’t hear many songs I knew which was slightly disappointing but I’m glad I got to see part of this set. I did notice that the crowd wasn’t all that big and it was fairly easy to get to a good vantage point. Kids these days. They just don’t respect their elders.
29). Superjam featuring ?uestlove with very special guests
This year’s Superjam wasn’t really much of a Superjam as the only people involved whom I knew were ?uestlove from the Roots and D’Angelo who does absolutely nothing for me. Normally they have a couple of bigger names to play together, but maybe this year they couldn’t book anyone else. Or maybe it’s my fault and there really was another dope and respectable musician up there and I just never heard of him before. Either way, the set was pretty solid though I did not know many of the songs (though they did play the Beatles’ “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” which was a surprising cover). I also should note that at one point I exited this set to go check out Skrillex playing the second biggest stage nearby. It was really loud and there were all kinds of lights and graphic designs on the screens behind the stage. I’m not a big dance music kinda guy and for the love of me I have no idea what dubstep really is (though my favorite definition I’ve found states that it is the sound produced from Transformers having sex) but I thought it would be worth a brief stop by while I had the chance. It didn’t take long before I realized that it was just not going to be something I’d be down with and I went back to Superjam. Evidently I was in the minority as it seemed like 80% of the entire crowd at Bonnaroo was at that set. Kids these days.
30). GZA with Grupo Fantasma performing Liquid Swords
Another of my favorite hip hop outfits is the Wu Tang Clan which is the group that GZA performed with back in the early mid 90’s. I didn’t follow them at the time but over the years as I’ve heard their stuff, I found myself really liking it. And I didn’t know this before I saw this billing, but Liquid Swords is considered one of the best albums to come from a member of the Clan. I listened to it a few times before the weekend and again found myself really liking it. The only dilemma I had at this point was that the show was to start at 2:30 am and I was fairly tired from such a busy day. I was able to make it through though (despite the fact that he went on nearly 30 minutes late) and was glad that I did. GZA performed the whole time with Grupo Fantasma playing all instruments and using no loops or pre recorded tracks. I have mixed feelings about this approach as on the one hand I really like to see rappers use organic and live instruments as they perform as it showcases a unique spin on their songs. But on the other hand, hip hop relies heavily on solid production that comes from the studio recordings and the live performances just don’t sound as good as the recorded ones. I thought this performance was very solid overall and I totally got a kick out of how many people kept flashing up their Wu Tang hand signals and chanted the signature line “Wu Tang Clan ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with!” over and over again. GZA played right into it as well and constantly talked up his former band and how great they are. Say what you want about rappers, but they are certainly not lacking in self-esteem. I started getting tired about an hour into the set and noticed that it was nearing 4:00. I started thinking about the long final day I had ahead of me and decided to head out. As I left the tent and headed towards the exit, I felt the first raindrops of the whole weekend.
31). Delta Spirit
Sunday was pretty much the exact opposite of Saturday. Where Saturday was sunny and warm and included a number of acts I was less than excited about, Sunday was cloudy, rainy, and chock full of some of the most sought after acts and biggest conflicts of the weekend. I don’t know if anyone was intentionally messing with my sensibilities, but I suspect that must have been the case. Sunday began with one of the best shows I saw all weekend. I have followed Delta Spirit from the periphery for a few years now. They played Bonnaroo on a Thursday night a few years ago, and actually ran into some issues with their travel plans and they were not able to play during their scheduled time slot. Instead, they played after the last scheduled show and from what I recall, played a great set. This year there was no issue with scheduling and they were right on time at the second main stage for a 12:30 performance. Just about everyone in our group wanted to see this show so we all went together. As we approached the stage there was some debate of whether we should go into the pit to be up front or not. After a few opinions were tossed out, JB mentioned that we should get up front. I asked him if he wanted to go into the pit and he responded as emphatically and seriously as I had ever heard him before with a resounding “FUCK YEAH!” It’s almost as if he couldn’t believe that this was even up for debate. I couldn’t help but laugh and turn to my cousin Lauren and admit that he had a point. We made our way to the left side of the stage and entered the pit area and stood about eight rows back. Though I wasn’t as familiar with their catalogue as others, I found this set to be highly engaging and entertaining. All members of the band played with such passion and energy and the songs were great to boot. I’m not sure if this is more indicative of the performance and band themselves, or if it had more to do with the fact that I was so close. Either way, it was a phenomenal start to the best day of the weekend.
32). Kathleen Edwards
I saw this artist at the suggestion of JB. He had put a number of her songs on our Spotify list and I really liked what I had heard which was essentially great roots/Americana rock. We were up fairly close for this set as well and while I thought the set would be fairly mellow, she surprised me by rocking out quite a bit. I thought the performance and the songs were excellent and were better than I thought they were going to be. It got to the point where I was questioning whether to leave or not, and when I finally decided to check out early, a good part of me disagreed with the decision.
33). The Black Lips
I wasn’t that familiar with this band either but what I heard I really liked. They played one of the larger stages and by the time I got over to see them they were well into their set. I was bummed to leave Kathleen Edwards, but a few seconds into this set, I was glad to be there. The Lips play a great blend of a 50’s/60’s garage rock band sound with a little punk to boot. The sound is fairly distorted and their songs were not very long. I wasn’t impressed all that much with the members bantering back and forth with each other and the crowd (they seemed to be pretty full of themselves) but the music was spot on. And the bass player played a Hoffner bass which is the exact kind Paul McCartney plays so they have that going for them.
My original plan was to see Here We Go Magic during this time slot but shortly before the weekend I heard a lot of good things about this band and I decided to check them out, especially since I had already seen Magic a few years earlier. They played a great blend of pop/indie rock and were really lively. The tent they played was pretty packed so I didn’t get all that close but I stayed long enough to hear their big hit “Tongue Tied” and then began to head out. As I did, I wondered why they played their hit song as early as they did. But then they started busting into Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and I could not help but stop in my tracks and turn around to listen. Maybe it was a calculated effort to get people like me roped back into seeing their set, or maybe it was just a coincidence, but it certainly kept me there a little longer and I have no doubt it had the same effect on others as well.
35). The Beach Boys
Like just about every other classic rock band from the 60’s or 70’s, the biggest attraction here was to just see the band that had such a huge influence in modern rock/pop music. I’m not a huge fan of the Beach Boys but you have to give them respect as they have an unbelievable amount of hits. I actually saw them play last year after a Marlins game in Miami, but the only original member was Mike Love. Instead, John Stamos was there playing drums and guitar and singing and doing all kinds of stuff. And the way Mike Love kept saying “Ladies and gentleman……John Stamos!!!!” you’d think Uncle Jessie wrote Pet Sounds. I walked away from that performance amazed at how I had forgotten just how many great songs the Beach Boys had. This performance at Bonnaroo was special because all living original members were present including Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and the mad genius that is Brian Wilson. I give the Beach Boys props more so for the fact that everyone else does. Personally, their music does not do that much for me. Their pop songs are great and catchy, but I would never sit down and pop in one of their albums for kicks. The only one that I do own is their seminal masterpiece Pet Sounds which was created as a response to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. And that album blew McCartney’s mind so much that it inspired him and the rest of the Fab Four to record what is considered by many to be the greatest rock/pop album of all time Sgt. Pepper. Now say what you want about that assertion (Pepper is actually one of my least favorite Beatles albums, and Pet Sounds doesn’t really do all that much for me either) but you have to respect what was done at the time it was done. These guys changed the game and upped the ante to make recorded music a thing of an art and beauty much more so than anyone had done before them. And it was for these reasons that I was excited to see the Beach Boys more than anything else.
Anytime you go to see these living legends of rock and pop, you have to take it with a grain of salt. These guys are old and just not capable of putting on the types of performances that they used to. Now I’m not saying the Beach Boys do not sound good live, as they surprisingly sound very good especially when they lay into those layered harmonies. But they also have a bunch of younger musicians on stage who were no doubt carrying a large part of those harmonies. At any rate, it was really good to see them perform live together. And even though Mike Love just may be the musician I despise the most (every time he spoke to the crowd between songs I just stood there with an incredulous look on my face unable to comprehend the nonsense that was emanating from his mouth), it was still nice to see him and Jardine and Wilson all playing together and seemingly enjoying themselves. It’s certainly not something I would pay for as a solo show, but seeing them play Bonnaroo was a great experience.
36). The Antlers
I jetted early from the Beach Boys to catch this indie rock band I had heard on XM Radio. I enjoyed their sound and wanted to catch them live and I’m glad I did. They put on a very solid performance of some pretty mellowed out psych indie rock.
37). Ben Folds Five
I really have mixed feelings on these guys. But I think I have a good way to describe my overall thoughts as I made known to my cousin John who is as infatuated with them as I am with Radiohead. I think about 20% of the time Folds really shines as a songwriter/performer. He’s got some of the most beautiful and catchy songs I have ever heard and when he’s on, I absolutely love his stuff. Then, there’s probably another 20% (maybe even a bit more) that I just don’t like at all. Maybe it’s when he gets too quirky and incorporates that overly fuzzed out bass sound, but he certainly has stuff that makes me want to turn it right off. The other 60% is kinda just there for me. Nothing great, nothing awful, just kinda there. Many people in my group love Folds and were all sure to be in attendance for most, if not all of this show. I caught the first 30 minutes but they were not playing any of that 20% stuff I first mentioned so I decided to leave early. The band was clearly happy to be there, mentioning that this was the 2nd show they’ve played in 12 years, and while that was kinda cool, it wasn’t enough to keep me around much longer.
38). The Joy Formidable
I didn’t know much by these guys but my friend Kevin hipped me to them a while ago and I really liked their overly distorted and heavy sound that was also very melodic. I also liked the fact that they have a female singer which for some reason adds a level of depth for me that male singers do not. At any rate, I absolutely loved this show, and it turned out to be one of the best of the weekend. They played with such passion and energy and the crowd was very much into it. They must have had their amps turned up to 11 too as the sound was one of the loudest around. To top it all off, they had a few large bass drums strung up behind them and banged on them not only with their drum sticks, but also with their guitars. Finally, they trashed their instruments at the end which prompted the crowd to roar with approval and I left that show as amped as I had been all weekend.
39). Bon Iver
I was enjoying the Joy Formidable show so much that I decided I would skip out on Bon Iver. But they went ahead and finished 15 minutes early so I had more time than I originally thought so I headed over. I’m not a huge fan of Bon Iver, but I really did like their self titled second album that was released last year. It’s really mellow and has been noted to put many to sleep (most hysterically by Justin Timberlake in Saturday Night Live) but I think the music is beautiful and great to listen to while relaxing. They played the main stage and I was all prepared to just lay down on the ground and chill while waiting for the Shins but to my surprise, they rocked out on a few songs which was totally different than anything I heard them do before. I didn’t stay very long, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear such an energizing set.
40). The Shins
This might have been the time slot with the biggest conflicts, which is interesting because I remember saying the same thing about this timeslot last year. There must be something with Bonnaroo trying to end on such a high note on Sunday evening which is too bad since I missed a number of bands (The Civil Wars, Fun., and Young the Giant) I would normally have wanted to see. While my group all was amped to see Fun., I just couldn’t do it as I was really excited to see the Shins. I have been a fan for nearly ten years whereas the other bands I just knew on the periphery. I also didn’t like the fact that the dudes from Fun. came out before the weekend and talked about how their performance would be a once in a lifetime performance and that they’d do things that people would remember forever. To me, this just sounded like a desperate attempt to draw a larger crowd. I wasn’t buying it. And from what I heard from my group later on, I didn’t miss anything all that groundbreaking (unless you count a set closing cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as being “groundbreaking”). Now I freely admit, the Shins performance wasn’t all that spectacular either, but I was much more familiar with their songs and it’s always special to see a band you like for the first time. Though the only original member remaining is James Mercer, I thought they did a good job of mixing up the old with the new and I got to hear a lot of personal favorites. They sounded great and I would have loved to catch more of it, but I left early to get a good spot for the festival closing Phish show.
The weekend ended for me with one of my favorite live acts. I know these guys take all kinds of flack from many of my best friends, but I’m not gonna pretend like I wasn’t really excited for this. I had a few beers at the Shins show and headed towards the main stage where my thought was that I’d grab one more before the set began. However, when I got there I saw the line for the pit and noticed that it wasn’t particularly crowded. I thought it might be a good idea to hit up the bathroom before the show began but as I turned for to head towards the porta potties, the pit line started moving. I made a spontaneous decision to join them so I scrapped the bathroom idea which was unfortunate, but I thought I’d be OK. It was fairly uncomfortable being smashed up against that many hippies but after about five minutes of slowly inching towards the small line leading into the pit I started moving faster. Then it got worse when I realized how muddy it was getting, and I was wearing flip flops. I don’t even want to think what was in there. Eventually I made it through and headed towards the back of the pit area as the front area was pretty much all muddy and I wasn’t about to deprive some dirty Phish hippies of the pleasure they’d not doubt derive from kicking it in the filth. Before the set began the crowd entertained themselves by bouncing beach balls up into the air and throwing corn tortilla shells like Frisbees. Finally the band came out and ripped into “Down With Disease” and it was on.
It was great being that close to the stage for me and I was even there a few songs in when they brought out Kenny Rogers to sing his biggest hit “The Gambler”. But it wasn’t too long before I started to get that urge to use the bathroom. I’ve been cursed with a small bladder and with a fast metabolism to boot, those two beers I had earlier had started making their way through me. It was only about 30 minutes into their 4 hour billing and I just tried to focus on the music and not on water. I’m not gonna lie, the thought of wetting myself right then and there had crossed my mind. I was wearing a bathing suit and it was lightly raining out anyway. There were not people in my immediate area and the ground below me was wet. Plus, I’ll bet a number of those hippies had already wet themselves so I’d just be joining the club. But alas, I could not do it. I hung around for another 15 minutes before I finally took off for the bathroom. On my way out of the pit, I noticed a security guard and I explained my predicament and asked if I could come back in when I was finished. Sadly, I was turned down so I just accepted the fact that I’d have to deal with only 45 minutes in the front area. When I returned from the bathroom I found a good area to see the rest of the show from and while it wasn’t as good as the pit, it was still a great spot. The show itself was upbeat and a lot of fun. After about 90 minutes the band took a 30 minute break and then came out to play for another two hours. I was familiar with just about every song and it was an excellent way to finish out the weekend. I headed back to the RV around 11:45 and by the time I got there, just about everyone was asleep. I had made it through another year and it seemed to go by in a flash, as most things that do that are so much fun.
Until next year!