It’s hard to believe that Bonnaroo was almost a full month ago, but for entertainment value, I offer you my notes from Saturday–highlighted by Bruce Springsteen and of course MGMT. The day started off with the last-minute line-up addition of Jimmy Buffet, who I heard from across the fair grounds while waiting in line for a shower, but which was nonetheless unmistakable. Though it was a late start on the day, Paige Smith and I had Bon Iver and Of Montreal as background music for a trip to the Brewers Tent, which houses about a dozen “small” breweries which offer samplings and full cups on a pay-by-the-ticket basis. It was great to see such a representation of small, local, independent breweries, from Pisgah Brewing, to Asheville Brewing Company, to Michelob and Bud Lite.
…Alright, so maybe the range of breweries was more important than the degree to each was “indie”. Much to their credit, Magic Hat had set up a bean-bag-toss tic-tac-toe board, offering various Magic Hat items as prizes. With a little luck and inspiration I was able to pull off some lass-toss heroics, but we’ll save that story for now.
After the Brewer’s tent we headed to the Cinema tent (another new experience) to watch a new film by and interview with Don Hertzfeld (most well-known for his film “Rejected”). While I didn’t make it all the way to the Q&A, it’s hard to imagine what kind of questions one would ask Mr. Hertzfeld, other than those born from pure bewilderment.
And then there was Bruce Springsteen, making his three and a half hour set at THE Bonnaroo (as he referred to it), launching what was in my mind the most professional show of the weekend. Though wild stage antics are amusing, and can certainly captivate the audience if used effectively, the timing and unity of a band as practiced and experienced as Springsteen and E-Street is difficult to top. Even when Bruce is at his wildest, climbing around the audience or otherwise putting stress on his 50-some year old body, the band stays in perfect time, and there is no hesitation (just as James Brown or Sharon Jones emphasize, the frenzy and energy of the leadman or leadwoman only stands out if the best of the band is a background, restrained, allowing the start to shine).
It seemed that while the average Bonnaroo-er wasn’t exceptionally well versed in Springsteen songs, his show was viewed as one not to be missed, and for the die-hard Bruce-fans of course it was just frenzy. I, like many others I’m sure, got most of my Springsteen exposure through driving around with my Dad, and around Christmas when Bruce’s “Santa Claus is coming to town” was a necessity. With this said, it was certainly a historic moment for me when Bruce honored “Santa” as the first request, despite the heat and the time of year. After playing another two hours after that, he pulled out the all the top-hits to end on, Thunder Road, Glory Days, Born in the U.S.A., Dancing in the Dark…reminding everyone there that the Bruce Springsteen show is still one of the finest shows around.
An abrupt departure from the classic rock of The Boss, the next big act of the night was MGMT, at That Tent, drawing out the hipsters instead of the Jersey-ites. Though it turns out The Boss himself was watching MGMT (maybe they could start another project together…Board of Directors? CEO? SuprVizers?),
the fans that packed in proudly wore their pink and purple body paint, ties around the head, and torn up trendy-wear. Despite being somewhat tired of the E-d up couples chewing eachothers faces off, MGMT put on a great, action-packed performance, and revealed three new songs in the midst of running through their new infamous lineup of Kids, Weekend Wars, Time to Pretend, etc. The two new songs they revealed before their encore (all set to come out on the 2010 album)
were very poppy, more so than their electro-pop hits off of Oracular Spectacular, but potentially just as catchy. The new song revealed in the middle of their encore, called “Celebration”, was quite different, and had more of a “jam” feel than the tightly-constructed pop-model.
Their show was great fun, though I do pity whoever the girl in front of me called during “Electric Feel”–and who she proceeded to shout all the lyrics to. Ah, hit me like an electric feeeeeel..
As Sunday morning came around that the week of mayhem and music known as Bonnaroo was near its end, everyone was a little slower to crawl out of their tents, the layers of mud and grime began acquired while rolling around the mud during last nights trip no longer seemed so life-changing, and in general the 70,000+ audience was realizing that before long they would have to again enter the real world. And yet, for me the morning started out unreal, as I heard, rolling over the fair grounds, a song that is trademark to the Rebirth Brass Band and almost every other New Orleans band, “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up”. Checking the schedule, I couldn’t figure out who was playing it, or where, but Paige Smith and I raced towards Centeroo in hopes of getting a little dose of N’awleans. Of course, as soon as we reached the stage they finished their set, as they had been a list minute add-on (another argument for keeping the computer/internet handy during the week…). Having just missed that, the day began musically with singer/songwriter Brett Dennen (who I first saw in New Orleans, coincidentally, and who toured through Chapel Hill last fall). While he has certainly changed his image some, Mr. Dennen continues to fall in the soft/smooth indie pop that Jack Johnson rules the throne of. What Mr. Dennen probable had not realized, however, was that he had captured the frat-boy crowd as well.
Trying to find something a bit more upbeat than Brett Dennen, Andrew Bird, and Band of Horses, Paige Smith and I decided to try out the Silent Disco, which had too long of a line leading up to that point. The DJ for the afternoon was Motion Potion, who did a fantastic job–combining mash-ups, transformations, drop mixes, with ease, and (in my mind) creating a more dance-able blend than either Girl Talk or Paul Oakenfeld had on Friday night.
The true sign of this, of course, was the variety of ages groovin’ to Mr. Potion’s concotion–
After that, Andrew Bird performed at Which Stage, wrapping up the tour he began in Chapel Hill last fall with his concert at Memorial Hall in October. The premier show of “Michael and Michael Have Issues” was going on in the comedy tent during the end of Andrew Bird and beginning of Band of Horses, and that proved to be a nice way to conclude the Bonnaroo 2009 experience, before walking around one last time and taking in the sights and smells (for better or worse) of a Manchester farm transformed to music-festival capitol of the world.
Until next year, keep on keepin’ on Bonnaroo, and we will see you soon.
As pre-festival volunteers, I and fellow attendee Paige Smith had been at the Bonnaroo site since Sunday afternoon, preparing hundreds of RV beds for VIP’s, high level staff members, and celebrities. While this may sound like ludicrously easy work, it’s important to point out that the AC was not on in these RV’s, resulting in inside temperatures around 110 degrees. With six beds in each RV, it was not a fast job, and resulted in some frustration–but overall, I give a big thumbs up to the Bonnaroo volunteer program. Though it’s hard to believe that Bonnaroo really gets much out of it, the experience itself is a good time, and serves as an excellent orientation to the wild days ahead.
While Thursday brought the beginning of the music and the continued onslaught of 70,000 campers, my first job was to find a way offsite to the local Manchester radio station in order to retrieve my much coveted Media Pass. While in the van off the Bonnaroo grounds, the thunderstorm that had been threatening all morning broke and dumped its contents all over the freshly prepared campsites. Somewhere, a certain tent was being flattened and soaked…but that’s irrelevant for this story.
After waiting out the storm at a hotel, Paige Smith and I made it to the radio station, and began the wait to pick up the credentials. I felt rather out of place in this line of reporters, photographers, and official “press” folk, all tweeting, texting, and emailing away–but a grilled cheese sandwich, sweet tea, and fries with honey mustard put all my fears to rest.
We managed to enter Centeroo not long after it opened, and were able to enjoy the various activities scattered around that are generally over crowded. The “Fuse barn” was offering vinyl records (hey, that’s us!) to turn into spin art, a paint company was offering temporary tattoos, and most importantly: Paige Smith and I both had time to experience and graduate from the Bonnaroo “Scratch DJ Academy”. While all of these activities were a little silly, getting to partake in them without the usual crowd was great fun.
But what you care about is the music, which began a few hours later. Thursday at Bonnaroo seems to routinely pick out bands on the rise, and this seemed to be the case once again with Hockey, Chairlift, and Passion Pit all playing at This Tent.
The lead singer was by far the most fun to watch, though he may may have taken it a little too far when he managed to unplug his own microphone in the midst of “Learn to Lose” (disaster averted, however). Hockey’s full length album “Mind Chaos” is set to be released August 25th, off of Virgin Records, and will receive a full review on Vinyl Press as the release date nears.
Following Hockey was Chairlift, known best for their song “Bruises” which was featured on an iTunes commercial. Featuring a drummer, guitarist, and the front-woman vocalist, Chairlift
did demonstrate an impressive range in song composition and textures. From songs that sounded like they were straight from the 80′s (synth guitar and wispy female vocals), to traditional “indie-pop” songs such as “Bruises”, to songs with rapped versus which utilized a drum machine rather than the standard drum kit.
Both Chairlift and Hockey broke into rap verses at times, with the each song temporarily derailing in order to encompass a more “hip-hop” percussive quality and offer the each lead singer a beat to rap over. Is this the new direction of indie-rock? The heavy bass and drum machines featured in ultra-indie bands such as Animal Collective (or Hockey and Chairlift) proves the hip-hop influence to some degree, while simultaneously many new hip-hop releases such as Rick Ross’ album feature “synths” that come from the electro world. What does all this mean?
Well, it’s hard to know, but my night ended with a visit to the Dutch DJ’s Kraak and Smaak (who, if we’re really seeking to make cultural connections, made heavy use of the hi-hat rhythm traditionally found in Baltimore Club tracks).
Next up…Friday! With Gomez, Animal Collective, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, TV On the Radio, Phoenix, Crystal Castles, Girl Talk…
Saturday’s Bonnaroo Updates from Vinyl Records field reporter (Mixtur)Reed Turchi
TurchiTweet4.0 (9:56pm): “Phoenix gets a thumbs up, Crystal Castles was outrageous and stole my soul, Girl Talk was out of control and repeatedly unplugged. Tonight is The Boss and MGMT!”
TurchiTweet4.25 (9:58pm): “Crystal Castles was really another world. A guy fell 8ft onto my ankle at Girl Talk, so I struggle on! Of course aided by the one and only Paige Smith.”
TurchiTweet4.50 (11:05pm): ” ‘We’re about to build a house of sexual healing in this field, right now,’ says The Boss. Long live.”
TurchiTweet4.75 (11:36pm): “Request time begins with ‘Santa is Coming to Town’. “
Relevant Grateful Dead quote of the day:
“The fields are full of dancing, full of singing and romancing, ’cause the music never stopped.”