When I set foot on the grounds of Bonnaroo this year, it all seemed quite familiar and comfortable -- almost like I never left. Of course, if you've read the blogs at qcvibes.com, you probably already know this. In case you missed them, or wanted more info, here are the highlights and lowlights from four days in Manchester, Tenn.
Check it out: Last year, I walked away from the festival raving about groups like Rodrigo y Gabriela, John Butler Trio and Cold War Kids. This year, I had a new group of discoveries. San Diego trio Grand Ole Party may be new on the music scene, but they're building quite a buzz around them. Singer/drummer Kristin Gundred has a Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) vibe about her – less wacky, more multitasking.
The next Clapton?: Back Door Slam's Davy Knowles may be the best guitarist you've never heard of. The band from the British Isles played a number of covers, but Knowles' talent was undeniable. Each member of the trio is in his twenties – it may be a long road, but Back Door Slam is in a fast car.
Bold Battles: When I listened to Mirrored, the debut album from Battles, I thought it was good ... people called it math rock, I just wasn't too impressed. That all changed after the first night of Bonnaroo. Drummer John Stanier, formerly of Helmet, joins a short list of the best drummers I've ever seen in person. Sure, there are guys like Alex Van Halen that have a huge drum kit and can hit them at a decent pace, but Stanier uses a minimal kit, with a really high cymbal, to conjure up beats of varying speeds that don't just time the music but become a part of an intricate song. Watching the band live -- looping, singing, strumming, hammering -- it's a band I can't wait to see again.
Amazing Avetts: I've seen The Avett Brothers a few times – their recent New Year's Eve show and The Echo Project among them, but neither came close to the show they put on at the 'roo. As I stood in the photo pit, taking photos and soaking in every moment, I found myself getting chills. The energy behind these guys is infectious – they had a bigger crowd than Levon Helm! Hundreds sang along to every word ... and so did I.
Cover to cover: I'm not a fan of cover bands ... yet there's a big difference in my eyes between Dark Star Orchestra and Zappa Plays Zappa. Maybe I feel like one is in it for the money and the other is trying to recreate music that not enough people got to see live. See you at the Zappa show, I'm in it for the music.
Long Waits: I wasn't impressed with Scarlett Johannson's album of Tom Waits covers. I've never been a big fan of Waits' own growl, either. HOWEVER, the set of Waits covers performed by Les Claypool, Gogol Bordello and Kirk Hammett played during the Superjam was jaw-dropping. The ability of them to take the songs and make them into something completely new and fresh while infusing enough of each players own personality was musical genius. If only they'd record together ...
I don't get it: From the unintelligible ramblings of Sigur Ros, to the generic rock of Death Cab for Cutie; from the monotonous beats of M.I.A. to the sleepy style of Drive-By Truckers ... they draw huge crowds, but I still can't figure out what it is that causes such a frenzy.
Kanye who?: Regardless of the reason, Kanye West should have apologized for his two-hour delay during or after it happened.
For future reference: Instead of simply bringing along bottles of water, freeze a number of them before putting them in the cooler. This was my best idea of the weekend. I'd take a frozen bottle with me as I walked the grounds and, as it melted, I had cold water for a couple of hours.