It's 8:15 on Sunday night. Death Cab For Cutie
is still onstage playing a not very exciting set for people who now have no other stage to turn to--that is, until 8:45, when Widespread Panic
takes the mainstage and closes out the 2008 Bonnaroo at around 11:30 p.m. Already, you can see things being shut down and dismantled (most importantly, no more free beer at the Yahoo Tea Tent).
All in all, it's been a pretty incredible day. The weather was spectacular--hot but no humidity and a constant breeze. Musically, the offerings were more interesting (at least to my tastes) and a good mix between large and small stages. This was the final day and there was a feeling of "release" in the air. The festival was a success around, the weather held out and the pressure was off.
We started out by giving the Coup
another chance. And it paid off. On the festival's smallest stage ("Sonic Stage"), the duo had to pare its act down to two vocalists (Boots Riley and DJ Pam), a guy planning drums and percussion on a Roland synth and the group's manager playing acoustic (always a bad idea). Anyhow, the format worked (save for the manager) and helped focus attention on the politically charged lyrics--which is what the Coup is all about.
Another pleasant surprise was Senegal's Orchestra Baobab-
-not so much for the gentle Sunday mid-morning vibe (that was expected)--but for the total lack of people. With just a thousand or so people--where 30,000 or so were less than 12 hours before--there was plenty of room to move or just lay down and enjoy.
Moving about, I stopped by to check out the Dirty Dozen Brass Band
. I've heard the group dozens of times (so to speak) and, through many personnel and updating of its style I'm happy to report DD is still on its game and more intense than ever. Led by trumpeter Greg Davis, it is still the most traditional of NO's most popular touring brass bands and not to be missed.
I'd checked out the Lee Boys
earlier. From Miami, the group is part of the Sacred Steel family and, while not as well known as Robert Randolph
, it is perhaps more intense. But later, as I walked past the stage where Randolph was performing, I had to stop. Not as gritty as the Lee Boys, Robert Randolph's Revival filled the stage with six or so musicians--and the tent with incredibly tight and full arrangements that segued from one groove to another, gradually building to soaring frenzy. T-Bone Burnett
was sitting in--and not really doing much of anything but looking cool with his Bo Diddley-styled rectangle guitar.
Randolph then called out Kanye West for being a pain in the ass the night before (he was supposed to go on at 2:15 a.m. but didn't start until nearly 4 a.m.). Leading a chant of "Kanye sucks," I think it's safe to say the feud is on. The sentiment was catchy and when Randolph quit, people took up the chant as they left the area.
But in my humble opinion, the day belonged to legendary soul crooner Solomon Burke. I made the no-brainer choice of passing up Yonder Mountain String Band (on the main stage) for Burke's set.
Playing to a crowd that grew steadily smaller (no accounting for taste), Burke's set amounted to a textbook class on how to put together an R&B revue--and how to deliver a class (and classy) performance. Weighing in at no less than 450 lbs., Burke had an 11-piece band in tow (dressed in tuxes) with a pair of comely background singers (his daughter and granddaughter) and an announcer (the ubiquitous Beatle Bob). As the Souls Alive Band vamped, Burke's daughter wheeled him out in a wheelchair (looking considerably older than his 68 years) dressed in a nappy, three-piece suit. Waiting for the "King of Rock 'n' Soul" was a giant throne with the initials "SB," and adorned with capes, bunting and Mardi Gras beads. After running through "How I Got to Memphis" and his trademark "Cry to Me," Burke asked the audience to text him with requests. No s**t. He had a computer monitor onstage and took song requests and dedications via live texting.
Giving a shout out to Father's Day (he informed the crowd he has 21 children, 89 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren), he directed and cajoled the band from his thrown. He tried once --unsuccessfully--to get up to take a bow.
Running through standards like "Mustang Sally," "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," "A Change is Gonna Come" and "Wonderful World," Burke exudes the kind of style and class that contemporary performers seem to think is demeaning or out of style. He reminded the audience a number of times that this was "their show" and wanted them to enjoy the experience. He also took the opportunity to dis West's behavior.
Next, he invited dancers to the stage and before long, 20 or so people took him up on the offer. In between each song, his daughter tended to him--wiping his brow, bringing water, taking off his tie and helping unbutton his vest. Burke closed his set with "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." Oh, and did I say that his voice--even singing from his throne--was phenomenal? He hit every high note with conviction and let out some hair-tingling screams. Wow.
So, the verdict from a first-timer is that Bonnaroo is a pretty great event. It helped immeasurably to have a place to retreat to (the press trailer and the Yahoo Tea Tent), but by festival standards everything was completely under control and pretty tame. You could feel comfortable taking your kids (there were a fair amount of babies present) or even your mom. Surprisingly, everyone seemed to stay clothed, there were very few seriously over-indulgers and, at least as far as I saw, absolutely no trouble (except from Kanye West--and he was paid--probably way too much--to attend).
So... see you there next year, and remember: The only thing lamer than writing a blog is reading one.
The 2008 LIVE webcast on the AT&T blue room was available from June 13-15. For more info on Bonnaroo, click here.