Bonnaroo 2011, a summary by Bernie Mac
Bonnaroo is on its way to becoming a holy pilgrimage for music and arts aficionados nationwide, drawing in tens of thousands seeking salvation each year through unforgettable shows and an inspiring sense of community. The problem is that many don’t have the spare change to spend on a pass, let alone travelling to Tennessee. Worry not, faithful and financially humble XYC subscribers! We’re looking out for you. With the same funds we used to send a DJ over to England for a Kate Bush interview, we sent one of our own, DJ Bernie Mac (née Michael Balot), to cover the event. His experience was a bit more, um, real than Kate Bush interview, but it’s still the wonderful, exciting stuff dreams are made of. The following are Bernie Mac’s feverishly jotted notes in the heat of the action and adventure that was Bonnaroo 2011:
Futurebirds- kicking off the festivities was Georgia’s own Futurebirds. They play a mix of southern, good-timey, country-infused rock. They were a fitting opener to the festival in that there performance was loose and smiley, but it was not a showstopper.
Wavves (photo by Kevin Hartmann) – Wavves is the not the first band that I think of when I think of festival-friendly music. Nathan Williams in not a strong vocalist, and the instrumentation is more fit for a small, claustrophobic club than the open-aired This Tent. The first couple of songs of the set did not go over very well with the crowd considering the sound mix was very low (a theme for the week). It took until Wavves pulled out their cover of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown” to get the crowd moving. I got frustrated from being in the back of a large crowd of uninterested people so I crowd-surfed my way up to the front, where the real fans were. I’d have to say that overall, Wavves put on a good performance considering their unfit environment.
Best Coast – Best Coast was Best Coast. Not bad, not amazing. I sang every word, received weird looks from girls who would probably never have sex with me. She played some new songs, and she covered Loretta Lynn (respect).
Sleigh Bells – packed crowd, short set, kind of awesome, but kind of a disappointment. I’d be more excited to see them if they had more than a handful of good songs in their arsenal.
Walkmen – I caught a couple of their songs and they sounded really good!
Childish Gambino – Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, has gathered quite a following in the past years and a half. On Thursday night, he packed the This Tent with a crowd of enthusiastic followers. Despite most of these songs simply being released on his blog, a good bit of the fans in attendance knew the lyrics. It was obvious that Glover had been influenced by buzzwhore Tyler, the Creator by Glover’s short shorts, ironic t-shirt, and his climbing of a tall amplifier. Unlike Tyler, Glover did NOT break anybody’s nose that night. Glover really hit his stride towards the end of the show, rapping over Kanye’s “All of the Lights”. I had major doubts about how CG’s would hold up in this setting until I saw it in person. Childish Gambino is the real shit.
Dam-Funk – damn funky set
Sharon Van Etten – beautiful, early morning set at the large Which stage. She is just a great songwriter, and the few that were in attendance Friday morning caught a pitch-perfect set.
Matt and Kim – a comically large crowd showed up at the This Tent to witness the smiley duo. They made jokes about dicks and vaginas. People loved every bit of it.
The Arcadia Fires – Some strange people from Canada with weird haircuts played some 15th century pop standards. I hear these guys are popular but I have no idea why.
GIVERS – Best set of a non-headliner at Bonnaroo 2011! These young people from Louisiana almost didn’t make it to the ‘Roo (trailer caught on fire), but I am sure glad that they did! They played pretty much through their recently released debut “In Light” with an unworldly energy. They play a mixture of Dirty Projector instrumentation with Vampire Weekend percussion and hooky songwriting. Regardless of being placed on the smallest stage in the festival, they played as though it was in front of 100,000 Bonnaroo freaks. The skillfulness of the instrumentation and the singing was nothing short of captivating. The girl who sings and plays drums and bells and stuff was shaking her tambourine so hard that it shattered into the crowd. Most of all, you could tell that the band was having the time of their lives playing in front of these people, and the crowd returned the favor by gathering in a massive number and dancing their asses off.
Viva la Fajita – really tasty but not enough food
Burritio Joint – fuck you. I paid ten dollars for a burrito and you give me THIS!? It made me long for the $3.33 vegitarian burrito from Cosmic Cantina.
Indian Samosa place – best $2 that I spent over and over and over. Delicious fried vegetables with spicy curry sauces.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – James Brown was grooving in his grave on Saturday morning as Black Joe Lewis and his Honeybears blew up the This Tent.
Black Uhuru – Despite playing on the 100,000 person capacity What Stage, the crowd for the Black Uhuru set was very sparse, but I took advantage of this and stood at the very front of the pit. Damn good reggae vibes being thrown around with touches of dub thrown in there, and I must say, after being forced to hear dubstep all week, my soul needed some true roots dub. They closed with “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”, and that made me very happy.
Buffalo Springfield (photo by C. Taylor Crothers) – After a much needed nap, I saved myself a spot for the Buffalo Springfield show an hour and a half before the set was scheduled to begin. This turned out to be a great decision. Around 9:30pm, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Richie Furay calmly walked onto the Which Stage to play their fifth show in 43 years. The one major complaint that I heard about this show was that the sound was too quiet for the people sitting in the back. This did not affect me; therefore, I had the time of my life watching these legends performing. All of the classics have not lost their touch, and the harmonies sounded just as great as I would have imagined them sounding in 1967. The group performed an extended jam on my favorite Springfield song, “Bluebird”, which extended to about 10 minutes in length. Neil Young’s guitar work was dynamite as always. There was a magical moment for me halfway through the set when it started to rain and lightning strikes were all around. I took off my shirts, stuck my arms in the air, and said to myself “All hail the power of Neil Young”. They closed the set with Neil’s classic “Rockin’ In the Free World” including a jam that must have lasted for 12+ minutes. This was my personal favorite set of the weekend!
Dr. John with the Original Meters (performing “Desitively Bonnaroo”) - “funky”, “swampy”, “legendary”, and “excellence” are all words that I would use to describe this once-in-a-lifetime set. And did I mention “funky”?
Special Screening of “30 Minutes or Less” w/ Q&A with Aziz Ansari – “30 Minutes or Less” was not worth your money, but air-conditioning and talking to Aziz Ansari was worth my time. I asked Aziz some questions that the nation is anxious to hear, I got some responses. The Raaaaaaaandy movie has not been shot yet, and Aziz and Judd Apatow are currently working on a film about astronauts. Also, Aziz’s cousin, Harris, is doing well, and he is going to college next year (fingers crossed for UNC).
Mavis Staples – The legendary singer played her early afternoon set to perfection. She told the crowd early on that she was going to make this set into a church service, and she was not exaggerating. Adding covers of the Band’s “The Weight” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, Staples proved to be one of the highlights of a stacked Sunday schedule.
Robyn (photo by Morgan Harris) – despite starting her set 30 minutes later than scheduled, Robyn left no attendee unsatisfied. It was her birthday, and she got everybody smiling and dancing with her Swedish pop stylings. Covering pretty much every track from her output over the past two years, Robyn and her talented backing band put on one of my favorite sets of the weekend. She declared after a single-song encore that the crowd was the best so far on her current tour.
Superjam (featuring Dr. John and Dan Auerbach) – Winning my attendance over Beirut, the Strokes, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, and Explosions in the Sky was the great Bonnaroo tradition, the Superjam. This year’s Superjam was comprised of Dr. John and Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) joining forces to pay tribute to New Orleans music. They threw a couple of Dr. John classics in there, and they played “Iko Iko”. This made me a happy DeadHead. Exhaustion took over so I could not stay for the whole set, but what I saw was a beautiful display of great musicians paying their respects to great musicians of the past.
Widespread Panic – This was the most relaxing of the headliner shows of the entire weekend. I enjoyed it because I could actually dance/breathe while close to the stage. I had never seen a Panic show previously, and after hearing quite a few jam bands throughout the weekend, I declare that Widespread Panic was the best of the bunch. I feel like it was really nice scheduling to put a band such as Widespread Panic to close the festival. It felt like a shout out to the origins of the festival. As I walked towards the back of the crowd, I saw married couples dancing, paper lanterns being lit, beach ball games being played, and just a general good vibe being shared by the crowd.
(Photo by Kevin Hartmann)