by Jeff Hahne
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
June 11, 2011
There came a point, now that I'm in my fifth year covering Bonnaroo, when I decided that my goal in coming to the festival was to: a) see as many bands as I could, b) see as many new bands as I can while still checking out favorites and c) giving up on some favorites for unique opportunities.
Every year, I leave with a handful of bands that I know I want to hear more from. There are always a couple that I "eliminate" from seeing again and there are some regrets that I just live with. For example, I didn't go back to try and see Dr. John last night - but I plan on seeing him in tonight's Superjam. I skipped The Black Keys, having seen them at least three times before, in order to see, for the first time, Bootsy Collins. I missed a good bit of Buffalo Springfield for the opportunity to take photos of Eminem.
I'll start from the beginning of the day with what I did catch though. My day got started with the Neil Young-esque rock style of Alberta Cross. It was actually at Bonnaroo a couple of years ago that I discovered the band and was glad to see that they're still as solid.
Next up for me was Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. I first heard them on the radio and was drawn in by the similarity to James Brown on their song "Sugarfoot." With the opportunity to finally see them live, I was immediately struck by Joe Lewis' guitar work. The Texas band has more in common with Stevie Ray Vaughn than the Godfather of Soul. Lewis tore into every solo and ripped through riffs with ease.
I then headed over to The Other Tent to catch China's Hanggai. Hardly speaking a word of English didn't stop the crowd's enthusiasm for their Mongolian brand of folk on not-often seen instruments.
After that it was The Low Anthem and their style of folk using older instrumentation. It was a little more mellow than expected in the beginning of their set, but they remain on my list of bands to hear more of.
Next in This Tent was a "Battle of the Bands" involving two groups looking for votes in order to win a coveted spot on the cover of Rolling Stone and a deal with Atlantic Records. Lelia Broussard opened the afternoon with a short set with a full band. Her music is a bit pop, but her excitement at being there was infectious.
Canada's Sheepdogs were up next and appeared to have brought a lot of Canada with them. The band offered a bluesy rock that seemed a bit monotonous and plain from the few songs I heard. It'll be interesting to see who wins.
I next caught Deer Tick, who jokingly referred to themselvesas "Deer-vana" based on often comparisons to Nirvana. (The band also played an impromptu late-night set on Friday on the Sonic Stage under the name Deervana.) Not quite as grunge, the band's mellower indie rock draws comparisons from the tone of the singer's voice. Good stuff.
Chiddy Bang hit This Tent next, and I was left unimpressed. There was just nothing there to draw me into the music or lyrics. It sounded like "just another rapper."
Alison Krauss & Union Station performed on the Which Stage, along with Jerry Douglas. The entire group was full of smiles bringing their bluegrass ways to the heated crowd.
Portugal. The Man attacked That Tent next and while the set seemed to start off slow, I heard plenty about them later from fellow photographers. They've been on my radar for a while, and I hope to catch a full show by them in the near future. The band later played an abbreviated set on top of a Mr. T shaped parade float outside the Comedy Tent at 3 a.m.
While I planned to see Devotchka next, those in attendance were surprised with a quick three-song acoustic set by Gogol Bordello. Packed with a punch the brief interlude was a great preview of the night to come.
Devotchka hit the stage and I wasn't quite sure what to think. It was one of those moments when I need more info before making a complete decision.
Mumford & Sons drew a massive crowd in front of Which Stage to rival that of The Avett Brothers crowd last year. The sing-alongs were plentiful, to say the least.
Loretta Lynn took the stage for some classic country sounds in That Tent.
There may have been a delay of over an hour for Bootsy Collins to start his set, but it was well worth it when the funk master hit the stage in his signature star-shaped glasses and brought the funk with a fury.
Buffalo Springfield took to the smaller of the two main stages, with Neil Young announcing, "We're Buffalo Springfield. We're from the past." While the music wasn't familiar to many in attendance and the harmonies were pretty solid, but it was clearly the dueling guitar work led by Young that shone brightest. As the set went on, Young unleashed solo after solo. Even a quick thunderstorm didn't dampen a thing.
Eminem was the night's last headliner and played a bevy of hits for roughly an hour. He hit the stage with intensity for "Won't Back Down." He did a brief bit of "My Name Is," before spitting most of "The Real Slim Shady," followed by "Without Me." He wrapped up the night with an encore of "Lose Yourself."
A long round of fireworks shot off after his set was finished.
The late night got started with Dr. John joining the Meters for a rendition of Desitively Bonnaroo. The Meters opened the night with a set of their own.
I left there and headed out to see the camp fun of Scissor Sisters. The two flamboyant singers were all over the place, gyrating, dancing and singing their asses off.
STS9 got a bass and electronic-heavy set going in That Tent until the wee hours of the morning. While the schedule said they would play until 4, those around the stage said 5 was more likely.
Girl Talk was in This Tent at the same time, but the biggest party of the night had to belong to Gogol Bordello. There's no telling which group was more rowdy, the ones on stage or the collective audience. Guesses had the set lasting until dawn, but I'm sure I'll hear or read later how long it lasted. Twitter messages mention 4 a.m. and red wine being poured on the crowd.
That's one of the other difficult choices I make while covering Bonnaroo. While a part of me wanted to stay and watch every moment of Gogol Bordello, another part of me told me to go to sleep so that I could wake up (three hours later) and write this blog.