Preview: AJ On The Way to Bonnaroo

Five years in a row I have flown into Nashville International, rented a car and driven south to Manchester. Five years in a row I have stopped in at Wal Mart to stock up on a lot of supplies I’ll give to the nice people camped next to us. Coolers, camping chairs, those foam rubber thingies you put under your sleeping bag so you don’t wake up all grumpy. These are items I will not carry onto the plane, ship home and pick up later, pay, what, $50.00 to check an extra friggin bag at the airport? Screw that, we pay it forward. Leave the people near you (assuming they are nice) something to remember you by. There’s a group of kids outside of Dallas, one of them had recent knee surgery, that got it all last year, right down to the tarp/canopy that provided twenty five square feet of precious shade and the cooler on wheels that will hold fifty cans.

So, what can I possibly be looking forward to? I mean, after four years in a row, what could be new? (Duh, Springsteen! Two Phish sets!) I thought I would whet your proverbial whistles by revisiting the musings of Bonnaroos past. What follows are the last two posts from the previous two Roos. There’s still a few tickets left . . .

2007

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It’s been three years I’ve been telling you to get to Tennessee in mid June for Bonnaroo. This year, again, you should have listened to me. What a weekend!

Bonnaroo has been around for six summers. In a hay field sixty miles southeast of Nashville, Bonnaroo becomes the fifth largest city in Tennessee. 80,000 like minded souls venture to Manchester Tennessee for four days of music and fun. Bonnaroo has literally something for everyone. From a massive “Kid space” to an air conditioned movie tent that operates 24/7.

There’s a comedy tent that featured Lewis Black, Dave Attel, David Cross and Flight of the Conchords this year. There is a salon, featuring makeovers for the ladies. Major league baseball brings batting and pitching cages for the athlete in you. Last year, a certain German auto company sponsored the “Band Garage”, a three car garage set up with drums, keyboards and guitars for anyone to pick up and jam.

Jamming has always been the foundation of Bonnaroo, and this year was no different. Imagine going to see Gov’t Mule at midnight. Now imagine Michael Franti getting on stage and belting out a four song set. That would be cool, right? Now, after a couple of Mule tunes, Bob Weir hops up, plugs in and breaks into “Sugaree”. He stays for a few songs and cedes the stage back to Warren Haynes and the band. In the middle of their next song, Lewis Black jumps on stage and riffs hilariously about the lyrics (or lack thereof).

Now here is where it gets interesting. Someone in the crowd, probably thinking he’s doing the rest of the20audience a favor, hurls a beer bottle (plastic, of course) straight at Lewis Black and nails him in the forehead. Lewis Black improvises a five minute standup routine about not throwing stuff at entertainers. With a couple of expletives and flashing fingers, he too leaves the stage and Gov’t Mule gets back to their instrumental. That leads to a Matt Abst drum solo (“Drums”). Matt is a great drummer and doesn’t disappoint tonight. His solo segues into “Moby Dick” and as the band comes back onstage, you notice a new bass player.

You poke your neighbor in the ribs and ask, “Is that John Paul Jones?” and before he can answer, four Zeppelin classics roll out before you. J.P.J. ambles from bass to keyboards and back and you think you are in music heaven. They take a short break and get back in fifteen minutes. Two songs into this set, Warren welcomes Jack Casady, Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Mitterhoff of Hot Tuna. They extend several songs into ethereal sonic head trips, hug and say goodbye.

You got to be thinking that this cannot get better. Warren busts loose with the opening guitar riff of “War Pigs” from Black Sabbath and over twenty thousand Bonnaroonians sing the words. Before long, Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars joins the Mule and simply blisters the guitar strings, trading licks with Warren till they are both dripping with sweat and grinning from ear to ear. The lights come up as the band leaves the stage. You are both exhilarated and spent at the sam e time. You couldn’t have asked for a better show. But you suddenly hear a piano tinkling behind you as you leave the “This Tent”. It’s Gov’t Mule’s signature song, “Soulshine”. Warren says they couldn’t leave without playing this song, cause it reminds him of the “Bonnaroo vibe”. You turn in place and experience this classic from fifty yards away. You look at your watch, it’s 3:45 in the morning.

Now imagine you have been watching different bands since catching the Old Crow Medicine Show on the Which Stage at 12:45 the previous afternoon. That’s fifteen hours of music today alone. You’ve been at this for three days and have another left ahead of you (Sunday featured John Butler, Bob Weir & Ratdog, Wilco, Wolfmother, Pete Yorn, The Decemberists, The White Stripes, Feist, David Bromberg, the aforementioned North Mississippi Allstars, T-Bone Burnett and Widespread Panic, among others. More about Sunday later).

Bonnaroo is all about the music freak inside you. You can indulge your most extravagant aural fantasy at any of eleven stages, for four days, from before noon till just before sunup. It’s about living in the moment. And, there are a LOT of moments.

Leaving PDX at 6 AM on Thursday, I met up with my brother, Ed, at the Nashville airport. We hopped in a rental and headed south to Manchester. We detoured into a Walmart for supplie s (can’t take beer and a cooler on the plane) Normally a one hour drive, the line for entry into the Roo was over eight miles long. We finally set up our tent at 9:00 that night and met the neighbors. We grouped up and headed into Centeroo. Centeroo is the main venue, separated from the campgrounds.

It’s about a mile walk to the stages. We get to The Other Tent in time to catch the last two songs from Apollo Sunshine. At 11:30 we crossed the field to This Tent to see Clutch. I enjoyed their first few songs. We needed to hustle to That Tent by midnight to catch Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Along the way we managed to see one song by Tea Leaf Green. They are Bonnaroo veterans. Rod n Gab were great, by the way. There were easily 20,000 people in That Tent till beyond two in the morning. It was a long day (we still had to walk the mile back to camp) but, considering the two hour time difference, not exhausting. this was, however, day one.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Now, I need to tell you something which seems like common sense, but you really never consider it if you live in Portland. what I need to tell you is this: June in Tennessee is hot. June in the middle of a hay field surrounded by 30,000 cars, inside a tent, is positively Hellish by 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning! So, I am up and astir by then, taking the leisurely 700 yard (I paced it off) t rek to the port-a-potty bank. Not as bad as you might think, but, it is only day two and really early. There is a semi trailer with waist high troughs on either side. there is a water pipe running the length of the trailer just above each trough with spigots set up every couple of feet. This is our “shower’ for the next few days. There are actually real showers to be had, for $7. But I don’t want to stand in another two hour line. Besides, it’s so hot that the cold water running into the trailer trough is very welcome, even when washing the stinky parts. Nest to the trailer is a “Misting Tent”. It is like one of those big white party awnings, with water pipes spraying a fine mist. Very refreshing (unless you wear glasses, then it’s refreshing and annoying). By ten am the misting tent stands in a two foot deep mud puddle. Good times.

Friday is a good day to get your bearings at Bonnaroo. In Centeroo there are many booths along the lines of Saturday Market, leaning toward the hippie vibe of tie dye and patchouli incense. There is also a record store, a cell phone charging booth, a micro brew tent (I don’t drink, but Ed swears the 420 Ale from Atlanta was the best). There are also lots of awareness booths. Clean Vibes, biodiesel, global warming etc. Lots of food booths, too. I recommend the Gator Jerky, catfish po boy, and toss in a funnel cake for dessert. There is also a giant fountain for general romping and cool ing off. But let’s not forget why we are here. Music is out there.

With so many stages going, it is rare to see a complete set. There are tough choices to be made and we covered a lot of ground. First on the bill was the RX Bandits. We saw most of their set till we slid over to the Other Tent for the Richard Thompson Band. We left there early to catch a glimpse of The Brazilian Girls on the Which Stage, on the way to That Tent for Paolo “New Shoes” Nutini. Then we bounced from Kings of Leon, past The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave), caught a likeable new band called Hot Chip and settled in for the last hour and a half of Michael Franti & Spearhead. Now it is getting close to Six and dinner time. We cruise by The Roots on the What stage as we head back to camp. Plopping down into a camping chair doesn’t sound so good till you’ve spent a day like we did. We cooked up some burgers, compared notes and rested up. We still had another five or six hours of music to experience.

At 8:30 we head back to the What Stage for Friday’s headliner, Tool. I originally thought they might be a bit of a mismatch for the Bonnaroo crowd. But the crowd loved them and they put on a great show. Tom Morello joined in for a few songs. Lots of lasers, deep bass notes and shredding guitar solos. Just what I came here for. They wrapped up around 11:30, so we headed off in search of a good midnight show.

String Cheese Incident was on Which Stage, STS9 in That Tent, Aesop Rock in This Tent and the Superjam in The Other Tent. STS9 was where we started. They were tight and funky. Free form jamming with extra attention paid to musicality. But the draw for the early morning show was the tradition known as Superjam. Each year, Bonnaroo puts together some random musicians and sees what happens. For 2007 they put Ben Harper front and center, ?uestlove of The Roots on drums and added John Paul Jones of Zeppelin fame on bass and keyboards. All I can say is “seek out the downloads of this show, pay whatever you have to, you will not be disappointed.”

This is getting a bit long so I will finish up with Saturday and Sunday stuff soon.

Here’s the rest of the Bonnaroo weekend I promised you.

Saturday morning is every bit as hot as Friday. I don’t know why I would expect it to be anything but hotter. Tennessee is going through a drought and it shows. There is a thin coating of tan dust, dew stuck to everything, as far as you can see. We have established a route through the parked camping multitudes that passes by some colorful Bonnaroonians. Our immediate neighbors, Mark and Julia from Long Island, drove twenty hours straight to get here. Next door to them, a nice couple from Athens, GA. They camped the right way. A Honda generator was the first thing they unpacked, then plugged in the ac and fridge. At some point in the weekend, I found a tee shirt from some obscure record store in Athens. I gave it to them. They said they shopped there, but it was more of a video store. Along the route to Centeroo there was a group from Stockholm (limited English

Saturdays lineup truly ran the loop for diversity. We started with Old Crow Medicine Show, rootsy banjo rock and roll. Leaving before they finish, we get a good spot for Hot Tuna in the Other Tent. They play both electric and acoustic and sound great. We stay for most of their set. Got to get to What Stage for Ziggy Marley. Along the way, my brother, Ed, and Mark decide that they will slow down in the 420 Ale today Also along the way, we catch part of the sets of Gogol Bordello (gypsy punk) and Regina Spektor. Really liked her set. Tight and fun. Ziggy Marley was all about the music and good times. It was the first time I’ve seen him and he delivered a high energy set. Damien Rice, next door on Which Stage, was=2 0already playing when we got there. He sang and played with passion and the crowd responded in kind. It’s sorta rare for encores on the side stages, but he came out for one.

Keep in mind, we MISSED The Hold Steady, Xavier Rudd, Keller Williams, Spoon and Ween. We did squeeze in a Warren Haynes interview and acoustic two song set, a stop at the pitching cages (sore rotator cuff kept me from participating) and the ATT Blue Room to cool off in the air conditioning.

During dinner, Mark and Julie announce that he proposed earlier in the day. We celebrate with them. He got her a nice rock and everything. They’ve been talking about it for a while, and now just seemed perfect. They decide to take a “nap” before heading down to the Police show. Ed and I look at each other, grab a bottle of water or two, and head out, leaving the betrothed to celebrate in what little amount of privacy a tent in a filed with 80,000 people can afford them.

The Police put on a great show. Sting referred to the crowd as “80,000 Tennesseeans”. They played the hits, the almost hits and a few obscurities. Stewart Copeland, a Bonnaroo veteran from an appearance last year in Oysterhead (with Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio) had promised Sting would “run naked through the crowd” He wound up playing the encore without his shirt.

The midnight shows started with the Flaming Lips at Which Stage. hey arrived on stage from a apace ship, floated more than a hundred balloons and beach balls over the crowd, and were joined on stage by cheerleaders and Santa Clauses, about a dozen of each. Their trippy pop/rock kept the crowd bouncing. We stayed for a respectable amount of time, then headed over to Govt Mule in the Other Tent. As I said before, the highlight of the weekend, musically.

Sunday morning and it’s still dusty. The line for the water troughs starts too early. The Port-a-potties have been cleaned though. The misting tents are giant mud pits, with little rivers of run off trickling a few dozen feet before being sucked dry by the drought stricken Tennessee dirt. There is a light brown cloud that rises from the fields. People are wearing bandannas and particle masks over their faces to keep from breathing the dust cloud. Mark and Julia missed the Police entirely last night, but neither complains. They did get a great spot for the Govt Mule show, but left early and missed John Paul Jones.

Before we hit the venue, we take a side trip through the colorfully named campgrounds (named for movie characters from classic movies like Camp Clubber Lang, Camp Vincent Vega, Camp Zed) to Shakedown Street. Shakedown Street is an avenue of vendors in the camping area selling all kinds of stuff. Shakedown street is over by Camp Jeff Spicoli. Enough said.

That’s a smoke circle they shot up randomly during the weekend. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. A Jerry Totem and one, unnamed Bonnaroonian (or Tennesseean) giving something back to the Roo..

Musically, we decide to walk less, concentrate on the main stages. We get John Butler Trio (go see this band often!), Wolfmother (from Australia, really kept my interest) Bob Weir & Ratdog, The Decemberists, Wilco (See them at Edgefield this month. Two words. . . .”Impossible Germany”). Feist was having a good time and the crowd loved her. The White Stripes lived up20to the hype, they really rocked!

I have to admit that, by the time Widespread Panic hit What Stage, Ed and I were circling the hay field in the rental, searching for a way out without crushing anyone’s still occupied campsite. A half hour later, we are eating White Circle Burgers in a Motel 6 in Murfreesboro, arguing over who gets the shower first. You didn’t think I was getting on an airplane or two after not officially showering for four days, did you?

One more thing. We were camped next door in Camp Katinka and I can tell you from personal experience, Camp Marcellus Wallace does not LOOK like a bitch!

2008

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Random Thoughts from the yearly sojourn that is Bonnaroo:

THURSDAY

  • Continental Airlines seats are way too narrow for a four hour flight.
  • Let’s spend the extra ten bucks on the canopy tarp. I bet it’ll come in handy, if it doesn’t blow over.
  • Maybe it’s because Bo Didley just died, but it seems most bands have at least one song that uses the old “Shave & a Haircut” riff, ala “Not Fade Away”
  • “Pardon my language, but we’ve never played before this many people in the States. I’m likely to shit myself”.
  • Credit Davey Knowles with that statement, minutes before taking to the That Stage and burning it down with raw blues power. By my estimate, there were at least 20,000 people pumping their fists and following along. Simply gorgeous version of the CSNY classic, “Almost Cut My Hair”. Kudos to Adam and Ross, the rhythm section behind Davey’s magic fingers. They kept it very real. I love watching a new band hit their stride. Apparently, so did 20,000 other Bonneroonians.
  • It looks like it may blow over.
  • There’s a “420 Ale”? Where’s the beer tent?
  • Finest ‘Shine in central Tennessee, I’ll guarantee that righcheere. Twenty dollars for a mason jar full.
  • Honestly, our neighbor in the camp ground didn’t come for the music. He had set up his van with secret caches of moonshine he made in a still on his property in rural Tennessee. Just him, the old lady and her kid with two and a half acres with a crick running through it. Oh yeah, did I mention he makes moonshine in his still? Nice neighborhood.
  • It ain’t blowing over. Not yet, anyway.
  • Are you sure that’s what Grupo Fantasmo sounds like?
  • It’s still raining, but it’s a humid, hot rain.
  • If she breaks out a bow when they play “Dazed and Confused” I’ll shit myself. She did. All girl Zeppelin cover/tribute band Lez Zeppelin rocked the That Stage late Thursday night with spot on reproductions of all the hits. The crowd kept craning their necks, but Robert Plant was nowhere to be seen.
  • Let’s swing by the fountain, see who’s naked.
  • Have you tried the gator tail?
  • Matt and Margaret from Indiana had VIP tickets. They snuck in all kinds of contraband. Nobody checks the VIP ticket holders. We were offered shots of Cuervo.
  • Zeppelin tribute band or Dead tribute band? Decisions, Decisions.
  • Grupo Fantasmo, Battles, The Sword. With band names like these, are we in Middle Earth?
  • Let’s swing by the karaoke tent so I can say, “Yeah, I just got back from playing Bonnaroo”. For the record, I nailed “Monkey Wrench” by the Foo Fighters, backed by a live band.
  • What time does the sun come up in Tennessee? (Around five am.)

FRIDAY

  • 9:15 am and it’s HOW hot already?
  • Hey neighbor, want to trade pop tarts? I got chocolate.
  • America’s oldest brewery is Yuenling brewery in Pennsylvania. The Family owned brewery’s president had a nice statement on the side of the can. The guy’s name is really Dick C.Yuelning (pronounced ying-ling). Bet he got beat up a lot as a kid.
  • I thought you brought the tp. Actually the latrines were constantly being serviced. Not really an issue, except for the hot sun later on in the weekend.
  • Hurry up; Drive By Truckers are on at noon thirty. Bonnaroo made it easy to get motivated in the mornings. On Friday our choices are the aforementioned Truckers, the reggae of Steel Train, acoustic songwriter Jose Gonzalez or the straight ahead rock of the Fiery Furnaces.
  • That is some cold water
  • What if it doesn’t stop raining?
  • Is she wearing a top?
  • Acoustic songwriter Jose Gonzalez. Check this guy out.
  • It looks like it’s stopping, but I’ll bring the ponchos along, just in case.
  • It’s 4:20 somewhere. Where’s the beer tent again?
  • Never heard of Minus The Bear before? Neither had I till this year. Sure to hear more from them in the future. Their set rocked.
  • ! ! ! is pronounced tchyk, tchyk, tchyk. They rocked, rocked, rocked.
  • Is there a better segue between the tuneful harmonies of Swell Season and the hard rock of The Raconteurs, than the craziness of Les Claypool?
  • There’s a huge line at the comedy tent for Janeane Garafalo, so Willie Nelson will have to open for Chris Rock tonight. Gotta love Willie. There’s nothing like that man anywhere else on the planet.
  • Chris Rock opens for Metallica tonight and is introduced by Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett. Chris Rock is a very funny man. He also let us in on a secret about the “N” word. Can’t tell you, it’s a secret.
  • Metallica still rocks! Over two hours of hard core rock and roll. In the pit (not moshing) I almost snagged a guitar pick, but I’m too old to wrestle for it on the ground. Not that I didn’t try, I’m just too old and wasn’t quick enough.
  • The night’s just starting at midnight.
  • Pelted by the rain during My Morning Jacket’s three hour set, we opt for the relative comfort of the Other Tent for the Superjam. 45 minutes late because of an airline delay, we are treated to a different set by Les Claypool, Gogol Bordello with Kirk Hammett sitting in and playing Tom Waites covers. Different, but not an uncommon mixture for Superjam. At This Tent was Tiesto, dubbed the Greatest DJ in the World. It was a rave on the farm in Tennessee, complete with flashing neon glow sticks, hats, bras etcetera. 10,000 people bouncing in unison as Tegan and Sara joined in for two songs. The acoustic twins definitely brought something unique to an already different type of celebration. Sorry, I never got the whole “rave culture” thing and couldn’t tell the difference between one song and the other. Bonnaroo has nothing if it doesn’t have diversity.
  • From there the Disco Biscuits regaled us on the way back to the campground with wonderful sounds while the almost full moon peeked out from the thinning clouds.
  • Back at the campground, our neighbor is freaked out by all the rain and cant stop shivering. (He mentions mushrooms as his girlfriend rolls her eyes.) He warms himself by the battery operated lantern. He feels better after a while. We watch our first Tennessee sunrise this year. The neighbors from Texas toast it with some moonshine from the other neighbor from Tennessee.

SATURDAY

  • Thank God it’s still raining. Without the sun it stays cool enough to sleep in till 10:30.
  • It’s my third day without coffee. And yes, I always shake like this.
  • Instead of breakfast, we need to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Sweet soul and a tight band.
  • Little Feat, Bonnaroo virgins, put on a steaming set as the clouds burn off. The floor of the Other Tent was a muddy mess, but no one was sitting anyway.
  • I can’t get my cell phone charged. The operation is much smaller than last year and they don’t have a charger for my phone. I am welcome to bring my own charger and plug in to their  ;power strip. Or I can be on vacation and turn the damn thing off.
  • Was that an Olsen twin? Actually, they spent the weekend in the VIP area celebrating a birthday. I’m pretty sure I saw at least one of them on the side stage platform during B.B. King.
  • B.B. King has still got it. Yes he’s 82 and reminds us of this several times during his late afternoon set. And, yes, he needs to sit throughout the ninety minutes. But he brings the blues with him and hasn’t lost a lick. He received the key to the city before he started and was truly touched.
  • Eddie Vedder joined Jack Johnson for a touching version of “Constellations” during what I thought was a mediocre set by J.J. Sure he played the hits, flawlessly I might add. But it seemed tame, almost Vegas in it’s presentation.
  • My musical highlight of the weekend was Pearl Jam on the What Stage. Three hours of the tightest I’ve ever heard this band play. We were up front and got up close and personal with them during an intense set.
  • My musical highlight of Pearl Jam’s set was a romping version of the Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” from “Quadrophenia”. Seek out this download. It will weaken your knees.
  • Phil Lesh & Friends was already playing by the time Pearl Jam finished up at about 1:30 am. It’s like an unwritten rule of Bonnaroo that a Dead alumnus must play each year. We vacillated between Phil and Sigur Ros, whose singer has made up a language to sing in.
  • We went back to the What Stage for Kanye West’s 2:45 am set. It had been rescheduled to this early hour at West’s request so that the show could be a) Seen in total darkness to take advantage of the great stage set. b) On the main What Stage like he thought he should be, a headliner. c) Playing alone while the rest of the stages were silent, like a headliner. Whatever the reason, West incurred the wrath of most of the crowd by not beginning his show until 4:40 am.
  • To add insult to injury, West’s futuristic space farce was more Disney than gangsta. They should have put it on skates and called it Space Kanye on Ice. I totally lost respect for West as a musician and left after twenty minutes. The sun was coming up anyway, so it ruined any effect the “amazing” light show was supposed to have on me.

SUNDAY

  • The final day of the festival would start with the psychedelic rock of Rogue Wave.
  • This day seemed to fly by. We checked out Ladytron, reminiscent of Blondie or Gang Of Four in their new wave punk songs delivered by two dark haired beauties.
  • Robert Randolph had a few unkind words for Kanye West during his set. He has got to be the most under rated guitar player around today. He brought up T-Bone Burnett (with a Bo Didley red box guitar) for the last two songs. He riffed a few led Zeppelin songs but couldn’t coax Robert Plant from the wings to join them. That was okay. Randolph rocked just fine while Plant danced, stage right.
  • We spent the next forty minutes or so talking to Flo, a security worker on break, while waiting for Solomon Burke to take the stage. Burke was running late, but Flo was an engaging conversationalist. Living in Alabama, she worked part time for a company that busses in security and stage hand workers for festivals all across the U.S. She makes more at this job in three months than she makes the rest of the year as a teacher. They put her up in a hotel. She gets a per diem and free food. She also thinks 70-80 % of the audience is high on something. Her break over, she misses a chance to see Solomon Burke from the front row. So do we.
  • On a tee shirt “HOW’S MY DRINKING?” CALL 800-MGR-ITA.
  • Next up, and next to last on my schedule, is the pairing of Robert Plant and Allison Krause. With legendary producer/musician T-Bone Burnett leading the crackerjack band, we needed to be up front. Into the pit once again.
  • Nothing short of amazing, Plant and Krause harmonize like they had been singing together since birth. The stunning Krause was in fine voice and her fiddle playing improves every time I see her. Burnett changed arrangements on songs from Plant’s solo and Zeppelin careers, wavering between the mid-eastern raga Plant has leaned on in the past, and the bluegrass roots music that Krause lives and breathes. The combination was magical. This set alone was worth (mostly) the price of admission.
  • Last on the agenda, Death Cab For Cutie. I’ve never seen these guys put on a bad show. Tonight was no different.
  • Lets’ walk by the fountain and see who’s naked.

Rock on through the Tennessee, moonshine fueled fog,

AJ Crandall

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