Jump to content

Bonnaroo Review


Recommended Posts

Here's my Bonnaroo story.. This will probably be long, rambling and not articulate enough. I'm tired, crabby and coming down! It was an amazing week. We had a 4-car caravan heading down to Manchester.. My car first drove to Chicago last Tuesday night to pick someone up there.. Got in early morning, slept a bit, then walked around Chicago for a few hours during the day. Great city, nice Frank Gehry designed public ampitheatre and footbridge being the highlights. We left Chicago around Midnight on Wednesday night so that we could meet with the other cars in Manchester on Thursday morning. Getting to our campsite took around 4 hours or so if I recall.. For AD and Dima, we were stationed in section 9, pretty far back, sorta in the north-east of the site. A good 15 minute walk to the rainbow entrance gate. All 4 cars were able to caravan in and we had a big camp set-up which was sweet.

I am thoroughly impressed with the high level of organization at Bonnaroo. They run a tight ship and have taken everything into account: waste management, water points, food availability, spacing between stages, sound quality, art installations, availability of staff onsite, entrance/exit strategies into/out of the festival, watering the main roads during the hot mid-day to reduce dust, etc etc etc. The effort put into it all is obvious and admirable. The scheduling on the 4th day was a little confusing, as the Bonnaroo Beacon (the daily newspaper) and the official Guide had difffering schedules and neither of them seemed to be exactly correct.. Leading some of my friends to miss Israel Vibration. The only other thing is that they could've used another bathroom station or two inside Centeroo (the area where all the stages and everything else is). One to the left of "The Other Tent" would have been a good spot for eg.

Onto the music!


Nomo >

Group Fantasma >

Battles >

K'Naan >

Dark Star Orchestra

The very first act that I caught turned out to be one of the highlights for me. NOMO played in the tiny Troo Music Lounge in the early evening on Thursday and took the crowd by surprise with their massive powerful New Orleans style horns section layered on top of a steady afrobeat rhythm and song. They did a good job getting the audience dancing and participating. I believe JayDawg has these guys coming to Toronto in the next week or two and its only like 10 bucks, very highly recommended!!

Then it was onto GROUPO FANTASMA at the much larger "That Tent". They were great as well and a Thursday night highlight for a lot fo my friends, but for me they paled in comparison to what I'd just seen with NOMO. I'm way more partial to Afro rhythms than to Latin American ones by default though. Anyways, everyone danced and they were tight.

I grazed the outside of the BATTLES set and they were making some seriously weird noises, really pushing the audience I bet. I didn't engage for long but they sounded intriguing. I heard lots of good reviews later... Caught a song or two from K'NAAN and wasn't really feeling it, so kept on walking.. Then caught DARK STAR ORCHESTRA for my first time. They were tight, sounded good, and yes that guy looks and moves just like Bob Weir. At this point I was feeling the 2 sleepless nights and 18 hours of driving and starting nodding off.. Didn't see all of their set, but enjoyed what I saw.


Drive By Truckers >

Umphrey's McGee >

Bluegrass Allstars >

Swell Season >


Started off the day with DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS. I've never actually listened to them before but had pretty high hopes mainly cuz of NewRider's endless praises, and they did not fail to impress. It was a good day time set, but with the oppressive heat and my location not entirely at the front, I wasn't givin'r too hard. But they were givin'r pretty hard. I'll definitely be checking out their albums and live show next time they come around. They had SPOONER OLDHAM sitting in - a great session player from the South, often tours with Neil Young.

Next I saw UMPHREY'S MCGEE, whom I've never listened to except for a live tape that Tonin gave to me about 7 years ago, which I thought was pretty good at the time. This was probably the only full out jam band I saw all weekend - that's a loaded term of course but I mean they were the only ones I saw doing songs where they change genres like 3 times within one song, change time signatures all over the place, play really hard to play technical compositions, etc etc. They were playing a pretty heavy metal influenced kinda set.. I didn't think they were particularly good at playing heavy metal. Some people were loving it, but I took off after 3 songs or so, so I could get a good spot for The Bluegrass Allstars. On my way over to the next stage, I popped my head into the cinema tent to see what it was like and get some shade for a minute and found Les Claypool doing a Q&A about a movie he has just made. Found out there that he would be in on the Allstar Jam alongside Gogol Bordello. Then it was on to..

THE BLUEGRASS ALLSTARS -- Bela Fleck (banjo), Sam Bush (mando) , Jerry Douglas (dobro), Edgar Meyer (standup bass), Luke Bulla (fiddle), Bryan Sutton (guitar). I managed to get a good spot about 10-15 heads back from the front. Wow!! This was the highlight of Friday day for me. I felt truly priveledged to see so much talent on one stage. Edgar Meyer has moved up to one of my favourite bass players for sure, so much talent and soul. Bela Fleck was his impeccable self, and also debuted a new song or two at the show. Sam Bush provided short bursts of inspiration on the mandolin and his stage banter was hilarious. I love that guy. He also did a good job of taking the piss out of Jerry Douglas, whose stage presence gives the impression that he is a kind of intense/serious kinda guy. Luke Bulla -- I've never heard of this fiddle player but I recall making a mental note to look into him further because he was playing some very inspired music. Bryan Sutton - good but not memorable. Overall a great set, high spirits and high energy, one of the weekend highlights.

I caught the last 3 songs of THE SWELL SEASON. Walked in on a pretty dark and sad tune which took some adjusting for me, just coming from the high energy bluegrass set. Then into a song sung by Marketa (the girl), actually my least favourite song on the Once soundtrack. Then a cover of Van's "Into The Mystic", and one more song after that. These last two songs won me over very quickly. Glen Hansard's passion is absolutely infectious and that voice!! Beautiful and just full of soul. He seemed amazed and so pleased with the crowd response, kept thanking everyone endlessly. Glad that I caught at least some of their set. Marketa couldn't keep her eyes off of him, they were quite lovey dovey up there -- that better not be staged!

Thousands of people were squished together waiting for MIA to take the stage. I waited around towards the back, no way I was going to squeeze into that crowd. She came on and failed to impress me much. I took off after about 3 songs. Meh. I headed back to the camp to rest up, as I was exhausted from the heat, bodily abuse, etc etc, and had a big night ahead. I was a little bummed to have missed Les Claypool, Willie Nelson and also Chris Rock's comedy set on this day. Ah well. Had a quick nap, fueled up on food, got my drink on back at the site. We could hear the METALLICA set loud and clear from our camp site and throughly enjoyed listening. Acutally I really wish I was there for it -- they fucking ROCKED! That is no exaggeration, and I'd love to see them live some day. A well oiled metal machine from what I heard, and they barely played any new stuff, which is a good thing (for me).

Late night -- MY MORNING JACKET!!!!!!!!! The highlight of the weekend. I missed the first few songs of set one. I was far from sober and many details are shady (ie. I have no recollection of Kirk Hammett being there for One Big Holiday, but I remember jumping up and down and fist pumping and yelling during One Big Holiday and it was probably the highlight of the MMJ show for me). The middle of the 1st set featured about 6 "slow" songs in a row which I didn't mind, but a few in my crew who were unfamiliar with MMJ ended up splitting and were never turned on. Understandable sort of, as it was pouring rain super hard and 6 slow songs in a row is a lot. Looking at the setlist, this would include I'm Amazed, Thank You Too, Touch Me Pt 1, Sec Walkin, Golden, Two Halves. I'm sure some of those songs are more rockin than others but hopeflly you can see what I mean. Anyways, MMJ was on fire, just blew me away!! It was my first MMJ show. The rain was pouring down, which actually added to the show for me as I was well equipped with welly's and parka.

Set break came and we walked over to the tent where the SUPER JAM was going on: GOGOL BORDELLO and LES CLAYPOOL. I believe Kirk Hammett and maybe others were involved. This was in a tented area which was nice relief from the rain, and the musicians onstage seemed insane. I think they were doing a Tom Waits cover. I dug it and would've loved to stick around but MMJ was beckoning. We headed back to the MMJ show, on teh way walking by the TIESTO show.. He was actually doing a remix of a Tegan & Sara song and it sounded good. It was the perfect music to skip to and I walked back to the epicness of MMJ. Perfect because I really enjoyed TIESTO for the 3 minutes or so it took to walk by, but 3 minutes was just about right. As Tiesto faded out I was right back onboard with MMJ. MMJ second set.... Unfortuantely I can't recount any specifics save to say it was incredible, again the best show of all of Bonnaroo.


A bit of a slow start.. Here's what I did during the day

Gogol Bordello >

Avett Brothers >

Levon Helm >

GOGOL BORDELLO are crazy, really eclectic mix of gypsy music, Zappa, Waits, darkness and grotesque. They are high energy and so fun to watch, as they're all pretty freaky characters. Highly recommended live. AVETT BROTHERS were enjoyable to listen to under the shade of a tree. I got up close for LEVON HELM, the set I was most excited for for the weekend. Well it didn't turn out to be the musical highlight but it was so good to see Levon up there, all smiles and still rockin. He played mandolin for at least half the set. Lots from Dirt Farmer and a few oldies: Ophelia, Stage Freight (with Larry Campbell doing the Hudson intro on guitar), The Weight, Evangeline, maybe one more? Its a treat enough to hear anyone playing from this great musical catalogue, something that doesn't happen enough IMO, and to see Levon was a real treat. They also had an old blues singer up on stage for a few - Little Sammy Davis I believe.

Night time:

Pearl Jam >

Sigur Ros >

Phil Lesh >

Ghostland Observatory >

Kanye West

After a break at the camp, went back and caught the 2nd set of PEARL JAM. This was my first trip to the main stage and I don't really get into gigantic shows like this one very much. But PJ put on a strong performance. It was all about Eddie. He did a good rant on voting and Obama and change and whatnot. Long set, lots of classics from Ten and Vs. Then to SIGUR ROS, who were playing the most beautiful music of the weekend. Any "post-rock" musiicans should have been taking notes. Beautiful, intense, cathartic music was unfolding and the crowd was mesmerized. Saw a few teary-eyed people in the crowd. They had a full horn section too who would play when it was called for. I had a terrible spot for this - right at the front but way off to the side. Really nice music though, it was hard to pull away from it but Phil was on. I only saw 2 songs from PHIL LESH. He stopped abruptly, informing the crowd that the schedule had been changed to accomodate the Kanye West show. Which didn't make sense to me because Kanye was on a different stage. Anyways, thats when the Kanye bashing started, among the Dead heads. Phil sounded good from what I saw though - I danced around to Truckin. Then went to see GHOSTLAND OBSERVATORY. Awesome light show, really oddball high energy electronic dance music, really good. At this point it was late and most of my friends split but I kept wandering around. Watched the silent disco a bit; which was cool to see. Heard a bit of Chali 2na from J5 playing still.. Then started wandering back. I was just at the entrance gate to Centeroo and noticed that thousands of ppl were leaving, and pissed off, and found out that KANYE WEST had not showed up. I found it pretty hilarious, as I couldn't care less and didn't plan to see him anyways. But it was perfect timing for me, as the lights went down onstage just as I was walking by. I decided to check it out, even though it was already just about 5am and I was kinda tired. Walked wayyyyyyy up to the front and couldn't believe how empty the place was compared to the PJ set earlier in the night. He had a big fancy stage set up but I found his music very uninspiring, and couldn't believe he wasn't saying anything to the crowd after coming on 2 hours late! Also the set involved him doing a lot of acting, an art that I don't think he is particular good at. I didn't see any booing going on while he was onstage, though apparently there was lots of booing in the lead-up (which I wasn't there for). Anyways, stuck it out for about 3 songs and decided I'd had my fill.. Got to bed as the sun was coming up.


Israel Vibration >

Broken Social Scene (small set on small stage) >

Orchestra Baobob >

Yonder Mountain String Band >

Bombadil >

Phil Lesh acoustic >

Broken Social Scene (big set) >

Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi

ISRAEL VIBRATION were a real treat, and actually maybe the highlight of the day. BSS played a very slow and laid back 30 min set on a small stage, the highlight being them taking the piss out of the crowd and creating a little ditty that goes "Put down the bong and vote for Obama; You know that you gotta" which they demanded that the crowd or else they would stop playing. They did all stuff from You Forgot It In People for this set I think. YMSB were good.. Main stage + mid-day heat were 2 strikes against them, but they were good, as I expected they'd be. No surprises to speak of. The PHIL LESH ACOUSTIC (with Larry Campbell, Jackie Greene & Teresa Williams) was really nice. I was blown away by the voice of Jackie Greene.. Who is this guy? Great voice, kind of reminds me of Ryan Adams a bit. The 2nd BSS set was pretty good, but I took it in from on the grass in the back. They did the Bong/Obama song again and threatened all of America that Canada will take them to war if they elect another Republican. Some of the stuff he says, I tell ya.. (Kevin Drew, that is) Its all pretty hilarious but in a sorta cynical/pompous kind way. Damn rock stars! I sat down and waited for the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi set, and fell asleep.. Woke up and they were playing and I was utterly exhausted and not particularly digging the gospel/r&b kinda set and called it a day.

Drove to Nashville and crashed for 5 hours in a cheap hotel (had a shower, ate Waffle House), then woke up at 6am on Monday and drove 19 hours (Nashville > Chicago > Toronto).

That's it! If you've read this entire thing, send me your address and I will mail you a medal. :)


Edited by Guest
Link to comment
Share on other sites

nice review, looks like you saw some good stuff

mine is coming, haven't attempted to write anything yet.

we were stationed in section 9, pretty far back, sorta in the north-east of the site. A good 15 minute walk to the rainbow entrance gate.

heheh, we were in Thunderlips, about a 30 second walk to the arch. During 'One' in Metallica's set I went back to my tent twice.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Excellent review!


I thought this was funny..

Disco Biscuits Get Busted En Route to Bonnaroo

Posted Jun 17th 2008 5:30PM by Benjy Eisen

Filed under: News, Exclusive, Bonnaroo

The Disco Biscuits took their late-night set to new heights on Friday at Bonnaroo, performing straight on 'til daybreak. A three-hour marathon that went more than an hour past their 4am scheduled stop, the Biscuits had special encouragement to play their hearts out -- it was a direct order from Tennessee's Cumberland County police department, who stopped them en route, searched their tour bus, and wrote citations to certain members of the band and crew for carrying personal amounts of marijuana.

During the song 'Nughuffer,' bassist Marc Brownstein recounted the events with his typical humor and flair, claiming the officer hugged him and told the band to "play the best set of their life," even after confiscating their pot and writing citations. Brownstein then asked the officer if he could have just a small amount of it back so he could twist one up for the final 90 minute stretch to the festival. When the cop obviously said no, Brownstein told him he was going to do a search of his tour bus twice as hard as the police because he was sure he could find something left, somewhere. We're pretty sure he was right.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was pleasantly amused, thanks for sharing... I always love happy ending stories when it comes to pot and the police...gives me shimmers of hope that it will be legalized one fine day...

Thanks for the review KevO, great job...glad you had a blast.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...