As far as post-mortems go, this one’s a little late, but figure that it probably takes four weeks for the mud on that Tennessee farm to dry out, or, at the very least, to separate itself from the other stuff that looks like mud during the four-day festival but ultimately proves to not be mud but rather the gastrointestinal spillings of the addled masses.
Here are observations of some of the things I can still remember, a month removed from my sixth visit to Bonnaroo in the last seven years:
*Go see White Denim when you get the chance. They’re a four-piece from Austin, and their music resides somewhere in the hinterlands between the melodic double-guitar noodling of the Grateful Dead and the virtuosity and prog-rock bombast and conceptualism of Rush. Oh, and they have just about the best rock drummer you’ll ever see (if you’re not going to see Rush). They played on Thursday night, which, at Bonnaroo, is a night typically reserved for up-and-coming-but-not-deemed-ready-for-the-weekend types, and they followed a pretty good band in Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., whose name seemed funny the first four or five times I read it but now seems stupid. Point is, White Denim owned that stage. It was their first Bonnaroo and they matched the moment with an assault of fast and faster songs. If only I had gotten there a few hours earlier and had been able to get closer to the stage … oh well. There’s always next time.
*Bonnaroo keeps getting stricter with police and security. The first time I went, in 2006, it was a mellow scene. I didn’t see many busts going on back then, but holy shit, that has changed. Cars are now being searched by police on the way in, cops are patrolling the day parking lots, and a woman my buddy bought pot from didn’t even have it separated into bags in fear that she’d be busted for intent to sell. Then again, she did have a handy little scale disguised as a calculator, so ingenuity still exists if you know where to find it.
*The funniest moment of this year’s ‘Roo came when I witnessed a man complaining to a festival staff member. It seems that the really cool, so-very-2012 feature that allowed concert-goers to virtually “check in” at sets by logging onto Facebook and then swiping their admission bracelets at a scanner situated by each stage they were attending (or something like that) was backfiring on him. “I keep getting status updates,” the man said on the first night of the festival. “It’s like it won’t stop, man. It’s starting to get really annoying.” Not for me, sir. Not for me.
*There’s a local waste management company called Keith’s that would empty out all the Port-a-Potties for the first few years I attended. You had to assume that they made their year in four days. Well, something shitty (sorry) must have happened to Keith’s, and presumably Keith, because I didn’t see their logo on any of the trucks that hover in and around the grounds all day, sending their fecal winds wafting your way when the stars are aligned just right (or wrong). One can spend a lot of time between set breaks imagining what calamities they had to perpetrate to lose out on that gig.
*I was expecting Dawes to draw a huge crowd to their Friday evening performance in The Other Tent, but it was a surprisingly light gathering. Are they already over with, a mere two years after they were the “it” band on the rock scene? Hard to imagine, although frontman Taylor Goldsmith continues to do a solid job at what lead singers do best: attracting hot girlfriends. The one he dragged along to his band’s three sets at Bonnaroo in 2010 is gone, replaced by a taller, blonder, better-put-together model.
*I’ve never been a huge Radiohead fan, but their Friday night set was one of the best live performances I’ve ever witnessed by anyone. I won’t even attempt to describe it. See if you can find it on YouTube. It just didn’t seem like human beings were creating the music. It seemed like aliens. Perfect, groovy, weird British aliens who were making incredibly important sounds and saying incredibly important things that I just don’t have the capacity to understand.
*Does anybody give a shit about the Red Hot Chili Peppers anymore? Did anyone ever give a shit about them in the first place? If the Red Hot Chili Peppers headline a Saturday night at Bonnaroo and nobody is there to listen to them, do they make a sound? (Probably not. They’d be pissed off that nobody was there to listen to them and likely just get in their helicopter and take off). But still, these are pertinent questions raised by their two-hour show, and if I had attended their set, I might be able to answer them.
*Sunday’s afternoon set by Kathleen Edwards was refreshing. On the surface, her music is pleasing enough alt-country, and she’s got a solid band. Then there’s her voice, pitch-perfect and packing a sparse kind of smoky soul that sticks to you. Then there are her lyrics, spun into tales of suffering and heartache, including one she said is about “alcohol and fucking,” that make you think she’d be a lot of fun to hang out with. Which, apparently, is what Justin Vernon of Bon Iver has been doing a lot of lately.
*I like “jam bands” less and less as I get older, but one of their ilk, ALO, sounded pretty damn good as I walked by their stage on my way to one of Bonnaroo’s newest features, hipster food trucks (is that redundant?). Melodic, soothing vocals, ethereal guitar, and the just-right attitude of not trying to be something they’re not (which, in the case of most jam bands, is some hokey, new-age version of the Grateful Dead).
*Speaking of the food trucks, as suspected, the slightly-higher-priced fare therein and thereout (made from all-organic, sustainable, compostable ingredients, I’m sure) tasted damn near the same as the food you would have gotten from any of the multitude of carnival vans around the premises. This all applies to one hard and fast Bonna-rule: Everything you eat, whether it’s pizza or jambalaya or ice cream or sweet potato fries or curried yams or arepas or corn dogs or falafel or dead pigeon scraped off a parking-lot fence post, tastes the same, which means it tastes like seasoned dirt. It’s just your basic 700 calories for a ten-spot to keep you going for the next five hours. Nothing gourmet to see here. Move on.
*That’s what I did as a gorgeously windy and cool gray Sunday turned to evening and rain started dropping just a bit. I walked over to the Which Stage and the Shins, where James Mercer stood in front of his latest hired assortment of backers like the Kevin Spacey-as-army-general he always seems to resemble, but this time he appeared to be doing something I’ve never seen him do before. James Mercer was smiling! Could it be that James Mercer was having … fun? Why, yes! He was! And that’s a good thing, because while the songs, many of which have been staples of my collection for the last 10 years, sounded just fine, there’s a dearth of energy and weirdness from the new lineup that used to be such a signature of the band’s sound. In other words, I wonder what Marty Crandall’s doing these days, even if Mercer doesn’t.
*The Beach Boys were awesome. Granted, I could have done without Mike Love or his positively revolting yellow, orange and whatever-else patterned Hawaiian shirt or his pitchman antics (I was expecting him to offer up a brand-new Plymouth with ”electric everything” somewhere between “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Get Around”) but it made my weekend to see Brian Wilson standing up there with a bass guitar. Or standing at all.
*If I had stayed longer during Phish’s festival-closing Sunday night set instead of opting to head back to Atlanta and bunk down near the airport for easy Monday-morning departure, I could have ruminated on whether Trey Anastasio’s calling up of Kenny Rogers to sing “The Gambler” was ironic or non-ironic, and if the T-shirt I was wearing during this set was ironic or non-ironic, or if I even know what ironic or non-ironic mean. I’ll leave that to the Brooklyn crowd.
Until then, ta-ta, and I’ll check in with y’all a month after Bonnaroo 2013.
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