After a full day and night of making the rounds of most of the stages and kiosks, the enormity--and organization--of Bonnaroo came into focus.
There are dozens (and dozens) of trailers filled with ice, beer and foodstuffs and an equal amount of golf carts, fork lifts and trucks to keep the vendors in supply. Behind the main stage are lines of stealth-looking tour busses with blacked-out windows, and RVs for the acts and crew. In short everything you need to keep a city of 80,000 party people sated.
As one act finished and another set up, waves of people moved from stage to stage. The midway became the gigantic intersection of "Planet Roo" with hundreds of people converging from all directions and heading to the different stages.
One of the best things about a festival that features as many bands as Bonnaroo is that, no matter how you plan your day, there will be surprises. And today was no exception.
I can't say I was surprised that the Raconteurs
were good but I was surprised that they turned in one of the best--if not the best--sets. Great vocals (from Brendan Benson and Jack White) and most importantly a great set of tunes that stayed rooted in R&B/rock but ventured into moments of guitar psychedelia.
!!! (pronounced "chk," "chk," "chk"), an eight-piece, dance-punk group from Sacramento, CA, had a bio that boasted "!!! is still one of the most exciting live acts in the world." You don't have to be a seasoned critic like me to be suspicious of such a lofty claim. But I gotta say, thanks in part to totally energetic and oddball frontman Nic Offer who careened about the stage in short-shorts, the band put on one of the best and most intense shows of the day, easily whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
New Orleans pianist Henry Butler
offered up a couple of shows at the "Somethin' Else" tent and showcased a band that played as tough as it looked. The late afternoon crowd was thin--less than 20 (enthusiastic) people. Too bad for Butler but the venue was dark and cool and the lack of bodies made for a nice change. Both the bassist and guitarist were given plenty of space on an extended cover of Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round In Circles."
On the down side, there was the expected mediocrity. Punk-folk duo Tegan and Sara
were little more than insipid, sibling pop while Rilo Kiley
, a pop-rock group from L.A., fared better but a little went a (very) long way. Les Claypool
, always taken with his cleverness, gave new meaning to the word self-indulgent (plus, there's always trouble when a bassist fronts a band) and crusty old Willie Nelson
, a festival favorite, did little more than stumble through the motions. At times it seemed like more of an living room rehearsal than a show (which has its charm) but you gotta love the Nelson family--and everyone did.
Miraculously the rain held off save for a light drizzle and Chris Rock
turned in nearly an hour-long set. The most hilarious bits were about the presidential election--which is comedy made to order. After skewering Hillary and Bill ("Do you really think that Hillary would work in an office where Bill got a b**w j*b? No amount of redecorating will make that s**t OK"), he turned to Obama. Clearly a supporter, he pointed out the obvious with some brutally funny quips ("When white people hear a name like 'Barrack Obama' they picture a ni**er with a spear standing on top of a lion").
After a short set change, Metallica
mounted the stage. Say what you like (did someone say geezers?) but Kirk et al are still the real stuff--and could teach the kids a thing or two. We retreated to the Yahoo Tea Tent, commandeered an over-stuffed couch, got some complimentary brews and caught the set on a large screen with near-perfect sound. Ah... music festivals in the 21st Century.
Remember: The only thing lamer than writing a blog is reading one.
Catch the 2008 LIVE webcast on the AT&T blue room June 13-15. For more info on Bonnaroo, click here.