by Jeff Hahne
Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival
June 9, 2011
It's sweltering here on the fields of Manchester, Tenn. The plan to open gates for campers on Wednesday night appears to be a huge success not only because there were no lines to get into the festival, but also because there were a hell of a lot more people here to see all the bands.
By the time the tents started, there were large crowds soaking up every moment of sun and music.
My day got started around 2 p.m. with the Kopecky Family Band drawing a large crowd to the Solar Stage. The band often plays the Muse, but was playing to a much larger crowd here.
At 4 p.m., River City Extension started things off in This Tent. The band's energetic, multi-instrumental performance quickly won over the crowd. I can only hope that Charlotte will give as warm of a reception this weekend at Snug Harbor.
Futurebirds was across the festival grounds at That Tent kicking things off there at 4:15 p.m. The band infuses a good bit of Americana via the banjo into its brand of alt-country rock. They're one of the bands I marked down as a "needs more information" kind of review. I'd like to see and hear more before forming a full opinion.
Freelance Whales followed Futurebirds. The indie rock band seemed truly appreciative of being at the festival and all of the applause they received. There was good energy to the music, but the indie rock didn't stick with me.
Karen Elson was in The Other Tent next, and her vocals and style far outweighed that of her album. Her music is much more emotional on the album, and has a little more full-band, rock punch live. No surprise, her husband, Jack White was standing back stage watching every moment and could be seen singing along at times.
School of Seven Bells was next up in That Tent and had a spot-on performance to that which they gave not too long ago in Charlotte when they opened up for Interpol.
Best Coast was next up in The Other Tent with her brand of indie surf rock. Definitely a band that quickly draws the listener in and is worth hearing more from.
Band of Skulls hit That Tent with a solid brand of indie rock that offered the rock punch needed as dusk rolled in. No way to get sleepy when this trio's on stage.
Ah... then there was The Drums. The band hit The Other Tent and as I stood shooting photos in the photo pit, I thought, "Are these lyrics as simple and bad as I think they are?" A quick search online proved they are (see "Best Friend.") There were some 80s hints in the bands music, but really nothing to grasp on to as the riffs were monotonous and the lyrics were without any depth or substance. They quickly earned my vote as one of the worst bands I've seen at Bonnaroo... ever.
I caught a glimpse of Hesta Prynn DJing in the Silent Disco always an entertaining people-watching spot. The entire crowd inside the tent wears headphones, so unless you're wearing a pair, everyone is silently dancing the night away. Of course, there's plenty of singing along and cheering, though outsiders rarely have any idea what they're cheering about.
It was back to This Tent next for the indie pop of Twin Shadow. The band has been opening up shows for Florence and the Machine recently, and I could see where they'd be a good match to warm up the crowd.
Sleigh Bells was next in The Other Tent and quickly won my vote as the most intense, impactful performance of the day. The band hit the stage amidst a shower of strobe lights and never stopped the action for the duration of its brief 45-minute or so set. Alexis Krauss has an intense fire as the singer and radiates personality as she bounded around the stage in a tank top that said, "Slay Bells."
I caught a few moments of Henry Rollins' lone standup/spoken word set in the Comedy Tent where he shared a story of visiting CostCo. No punchlines, just solid storytelling with humor involved.
Childish Gambino was next in This Tent with his brand of hip-hop. No lyrical genius, but he gets a crowd moving with his upbeat style.
My night ended with Beats Antique a percussion group with a banjo player, a bit of burlesque and odd instruments. The name is exactly what you get, mixed with hints of electronica.
That's a wrap on day one. Sleigh Bells has left me craving a lot more from them, The Drums will be remembered for the wrong reasons and a few other bands will probably slip away by their lack of standing out. I have higher hopes for Friday's fantastic lineup.