Bonnaroo 2010 Wrap Up

21 06 2010

The crowd at Bonnaroo

Bonnaroo 2010 ended Sunday night, and not until now have I had the time and brain capacity to put my thoughts about it onto paper.  The atmosphere, the people, the scorching Tennessee sun, the music, the sweat, have all been left in Manchester, but the 100,000 people who were there for the greatest weekend in music will never forget it.  I’ve decided that the easiest way to put ‘Roo into words would be to hand out grades to the artists that I saw, so here they are without further ado.

A+

  1. Thievery Corporation:  After joining about 75,000 of the 100,000+ Bonnarooers (probably a made up word, but that’s the true spirit of Bonnaroo) at the What stage for the first half hour of Jay-Z’s amazing set, I headed over to That tent for Thievery Corporation.  Despite having a good time watching Hov serve up classics like 99 Problems, I’m ecstatic that I made my way to this show because it was easily the best performance of the festival and maybe the best concert I have ever seen in my life.  Thievery Corp’s albums are usually ambient, jazzy, relaxing, and percussive, but their live show is charged, energetic, and it makes for a great late night Bonnaroo dance party.
  2. Bassnectar:  Bassnectar is really picking up steam on the festival circuit this year.  He rocked Ultra Music Fest in Miami this March, unleashed his devilish bass on Coachella in California this April, moved on to Summer Camp and Bonnaroo, and is scheduled to play All Good, Camp Bisco, and the Mile High Music Festival.  One thing about Bonnaroo is that it is full of tough decisions.  For example, after seeing the Flaming Lips’ slightly disappointing first set (more on that later), I had to miss out on their Dark Side of the Moon show, because I had been told about the kind of show that Bassnectar puts on and I just couldn’t miss it.  Sure enough DJ Lorin didn’t disappoint.  I have never seen an artist hold the crowd in the palm of his/her hand like Bassnectar does.  We hung on every note, waiting for the beat to drop with hellacious bass and fast paced breaks.  This was the second best show at Bonnaroo (a very close second), and another great dance party, although it was slightly more intense than Thievery Corp.

A (In order of appearance)

  1. Diesel Boy: After setting up the tent on Thursday night (after a 7 hour drive and a 7 hour period of sitting in the car moving 100 feet at a time) we went to check out Blitzen Trapper while waiting for the XX to come on.  Between songs my friend turned to me and said “I hear some bass, let’s go!”  I gladly followed him to the new Lunar stage where Diesel Boy was throwing down the loudest, dirtiest, dubstep DJ set I have ever seen.  Diesel Boy later said on Twitter that it was the loudest system he’d ever played on, and when you’re standing 200 yards away from the stage and can still feel the bass rumbling through your body, you’ll take his word for it.
  2. The Crystal Method: Bassnectar is an incredibly tough act to follow, but the Crystal Method did just that.  They were on the aforementioned Lunar stage, with a surprisingly small crowd (small enough to get up to the stage with minimal effort).  The Crystal Method is not your typical house music.  I found it exceptionally creative, and they put on a very entertaining, high-energy show that kept the dancing going until about 3:30 am.
  3. B.O.B: I was generally disappointed with the hip-hop acts at Bonnaroo, but Bobby Ray and B.O.B. went beyond the typical, and into the awesome.  Bobby Ray is way more than a rapper, he is a truly gifted performer, who plays guitar, sings, and flows, among other things.  His set was supposed to end at 4 am, but he went until 4:45, at which point they turned the lights off on him and basically forced him off stage.  Fans love to see this kind of dedication and respect from the artists they pay to see, and I look forward to seeing B.O.B.’s soulful show again in the near future.
  4. Norah Jones: If there is one thing I learned at Bonnaroo, it’s that I want to marry Norah Jones.  I hear she’s single, and only nine years my elder, and as Kevin Garnett knows, anything is possible.  Her voice is indescribably sweet and slow, her songs are downtempo and perfect for a lazy Saturday lounging around in the malicious Tennessee sun, and as we all know she is stunningly beautiful.  I always loved her voice, but she is an artist that for some reason I just never listened to, but after ‘Roo I am a huge Norah Jones fan.

B

  1. Lotus:  I was really torn between seeing Wale and Lotus at this time slot on Thursday night (not to mention the XX were still in the prime of their set).  But after about 20 minutes of a terrible Wale performance, my decision was easy.  Lotus is a new breed of jam band.  At first it may seem as though Lotus is typical guitar driven jam-rock, but the real fun comes when they launch into their upbeat, disco-rock dance breaks.  After seeing a bit of them, I was even more upset with Wale, whom I was really looking forward to, but more on that later.
  2. Trombone Shorty:  There isn’t much to say about Trombone Shorty and his New Orleans Jazz Band besides that it’s an incredibly fun and upbeat show, much as one would expect from a New Orleans jazz band.  His rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” was a welcome treat for Friday morning’s heat.
  3. Umphrey’s McGee:  This progressive jam-band was near the top of my list of acts to see coming in to the weekend.  It is definitely guitar-driven jam rock, but unlike Phish or (insert jam band name here), Umphrey’s skips the jangly hippie noodling, and takes their jams into new, unexplored and often intense territory.
  4. The Flaming Lips:  As I mentioned before, I only got to see the first of two sets by the Flaming Lips.  Their opening set (the one that wasn’t the Dark Side of the Moon), was typical Lips: absurd visuals, confetti launching, big balloon bouncing, good old fashioned psychedelia.  So why a B?  I blame this mostly on Bonnaroo itself.  I was quite close to the stage for this show, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t loud enough.  After seeing Diesel Boy the night before, I knew what the sound systems on these stages were capable of, and it really takes you out of the moment when you cannot feel the music.
  5. Jimmy Cliff:  Reggae shows at Bonnaroo seem to always be great.  The Itals were a highlight last year, from what I’ve heard from NPR’s streams Nas and Damien Marley were great this year, and Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff was also incredible.  His version of “I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone” had the crowd up and dancing, and I feel lucky to have been able to see a living legend who doesn’t tour much anymore.
  6. Jeff Beck:  Another tough choice for the weekend was whether to see Jeff Beck or Weezer.  I’ve been a fan of both for a while, but I knew I had to take the opportunity to see the guitar legend while I had the chance.  Beck was simply incredible.  The show was jazzy and downtempo, but still enthralling.  Beck moved from originals, to Beatles covers, and more, all the while taking the breath away from the crowd with his virtuous guitar playing.
  7. Deadmau5:  I’ve heard a lot about this guy in recent months, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, because my taste in electronica tends to lean towards darker stuff like dubstep, glitch, and bass music in general.  I’ve always been a pretty harsh critic of house music and its simplistic “four to the floor” style, but Deadmau5 takes this style of music to a new level.  The coolest part of this late night show was definitely the light show.  Deadmau5 stands elevated above the stage, behind a triangular podium made completely out of LED lights.  He also has his signature mouse head to match.  He came on late, so it was a shorter set, and my main complaint with his show is that his drops are unpredictable, and sometimes left the crowd confused and disappointed instead of dancing.  All in all this guy is a great DJ and it was a very fun (and disgustingly sweaty) show.
  8. Regina Spektor:  If my bid for Norah Jones’ love should fail, I would gladly accept Regina Spektor.  Her set was delivered with a dose of attitude, and her comments between songs were quite entertaining, but the true enjoyment came from her amazing voice.  I was excited to hear her play “Samson” because to me it is one of the best written, most beautifully delivered songs that I have ever heard.  This was another great show to lay in the shade and relax to, and though I wanted to make up some sleep from the Deadmau5 show the night before, I liked Regina’s performance too much to doze off.
  9. Dave Matthews Band:  I have been an enormous fan of DMB since Under the Table and Dreaming came out when I was six years old.  They were the last ones to play, and despite the fact that half of the festival was heading home, and the other half was sapped of all liveliness and energy, they put on their typical energetic show, and the crowd followed suit.  I wish they would have played more of their older stuff, but their new songs greatly exceeded my expectations for them live, and now I might have to go back and give Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King another listen through.  As for the older stuff, they did play the best version of Jimi Thing that I have ever heard, and staples such as Tripping Billies and Two Step were great as usual.  The encore of Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done (Dave solo) and All Along the Watchtower were a great way to close out another great Bonnaroo.

C

  1. Jay Electronica:  I mentioned earlier that I was somewhat disappointed in the hip-hop acts at Bonnaroo this year (note: I did not get to see Kid Cudi which was a huge let down to me).  My issue was that all these artists focused too much on showmanship, and not enough on music.  Too much “Put your hands in the air and wave ’em side to side” and not enough rapping.  When Jay Electronica was spitting a cappella, it was wildly entertaining.  His rhymes are insightful, inspired, and intelligent.  When he wasn’t rapping though, it was terribly boring and disengaging.
  2. OK Go:  A while ago on this very blog I praised OK Go for their new album, and I still love it.  The live show however, was less than great.  The biggest problem I noticed, is that the album is full of big arena rock guitar sounds, which they failed to recreate live.  I think if they toured with an extra guitarist this show could easily move from a C to B+ or A- territory, because the songs have a lot of energy and are great to dance to, they just lacked the energy and punch of the album.
  3. Ween:  I didn’t quite know what to expect of Ween going into this show.  I hear their name all over, and I couldn’t remember if I’d actually ever listened to them, so I was interested to see how it would go.  The result?  Better than I thought, but still not great.  Some of their songs were actually funny and gave the crowd quite a good laugh, and the more serious songs were still pretty good, just not for me personally; for whatever unknown reason it is that people don’t like perfectly good things.
  4. Wale:  I’m going to preface this with a caveat.  I’m going to give Wale a C because I like him, and because I didn’t see the whole show.  Also because no one at Bonnaroo deserves a D or an F; that’s just not the spirit.  What I saw was the epitome of my point about too much showmanship.  Wale decided to be nice and let Bonnaroo in on a secret: a new song.  The catch?  It was just the hook.  The hook which consisted of maybe 10 words, and which he performed, on loop, for what felt like 25 minutes.  He broke it down, and picked it back up, and did all the things one does with a normal song, except his song was just the hook.  Then he proceeded to have the DJ play “Run This Town” by Jay-Z, while he made everyone “throw the rock up” with their hands in the air, and proceeded to take a picture to send to Jay-Z to let him know that Bonnaroo was ready for him.  Then he did one verse of “Diary”, one of my favorite songs, before cutting it off and moving on to something else.  It was at this point that I left to go see Lotus.  I’m sure Wale had some strong points in his set, but I didn’t get to see anything, and that was too bad.

A few closing comments:

There is hope for the world still!  At Bonnaroo every person you meet is the nicest person you’ve ever met.  People apologize profusely for the smallest bump while moving through the crowd, everyone shares their food and especially their water, and the general attitude of the community is one of inclusivity and unconditional love.  Spending the weekend in this environment has reaffirmed my belief that anything is possible through music, and although many brilliant ideas get overshadowed by glowsticks shining through marijuana smoke, at Bonnaroo many great ambitions are formed, and many friendships are born which will last a lifetime.  I look forward to returning to the farm in Manchester every year until I can no longer able to stand the heat, and I hope you decide to join the fun.

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2 responses

8 09 2010
Jack Archin

Bonnaroo 2011 cant come soon enough! It’s the 10th anniversary too so you know it will be good…maybe I’ll see you there!

8 09 2010
Nancy

JEALOUS about Jeff Beck! Who would possibly go to see Weezer instead?

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