Maximum Performance

Bonnaroo ’08: Feats, Fine Wine, And The Son Of Zappa

Maximum Performance

Sat evening

After a gentle rain that lasted a good bit of the evening and through the night, the Weather Gods were again in sync with Bonnaroo. For the better part of Saturday, the rain held off and a welcome cloud cover kept the sun from blazing (although when it did, it seemed to cause the Tennessee mud to dredge up the smells of many pre-Bonnaroo cow pies).

We arrived at the site around noon and by 1 p.m., huge streams of people were passing through the gates. The size of the crowds at each stage seemed almost double from Friday.

And if there was a feeling that Friday's lineup was a little weak (which actually made it easier to decide on a listening schedule) Saturday's rooster was an ADD's dream--and cause to get down to some serious planning.

We started out with a quick dose of Little Feat. I pretty much knew what to expect but I couldn't resist. One of my favorite groups (at least through Feats Don't Fail Me Now), the band has continued to play long past the point when humility and good sense would say to call it quits. Still, I was drawn by some misguided nostalgia. Things started out encouragingly enough when Paul Barrere and Co. opened with "Fat Man In The Bathtub" but before long they were throwing choruses of "Get Up, Stand Up," Dr. John's "Gilded Splinters" and the Dead's "Fire On The Mountain" before descending into jam band hell. As we walked away I heard them launch into "Spanish Moon"--which sounded better the farther away I got (mixes plagued by bass-loving sound techs have been a pretty consistent problem).

Next, we sauntered over for a moment of Abigail Washburn and her Sparrow Quartet. I was surprised at the size of the crowd--but assumed Washburn's partner, Bela Fleck, was the draw. Of late, Washburn's music has become more interesting: her voice is noticeably stronger and her compositions have become more ambitious, dense and atonal, bordering on the avant garde. I didn't get a chance to see how those pieces played with the Bonnaroo crowd as she (wisely) stuck to more bluegrassy and Appalachian songs.

Under the title of "Zappa plays Zappa," Dweezil Zappa was our next stop. After teasing the crowd with the intro of Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger," sax and guitar took up a Zappa melody that I believe I recognized from Hot Rats, and Dweezil's wah-wahed guitar solo was eerily reminiscent of his dad. For "City Of Tiny Lights," Dweezil introduced Ray White, who toured with his father in the '80s. White's voice was as strong as Dweezil's guitarwork and turned the seven-piece band into as tough an R&B outfit as you'll find--and the twin guitar leads would have made the Allmans proud. I heard the set included "King Kong," which I the luck of hearing live at the Miami Pop Festival in 1968 (aren't you envious?).

Finally, on the way back to the press trailer (and Yahoo's tea/beer tent), I stopped to hear a bit of Iron & Wine, and Levon Helm's Ramble On The Road. I&W singer/songwriter Sam Beard's pastoral tunes, with assists from members of like-minded Calexico (the two bands collaborated on the '05 release In the Reins) made for the ideal soundtrack to a beautiful late afternoon.

As we approached "The Other Tent," Levon Helm's craggy voice was unmistakable. Complete with full horn section, his trademark drumming gave the band that same loose 'n' lazy feeling as his alma mater The Band (which he paid tribute to with "Ophelia").

Now it's time for some dinner--and more music. On tap for tonight (at least for me) is Dumpstaphunk, the Coup, Sigur Ros and, if I can last, Kanye West.

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.

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