By Jon Stone | @jwstone - June 19, 2010
Day two here in Manchester was absolutely fantastic. I think on Friday, everyone starts finding a groove, figures out how to navigate the farm, makes a couple of friends, and – if the typical Bonnarooian is anything like me, hears some favorites on stage. Today three of my favorite bands – played. Almost back to back. I have a feeling I’ll be talking about much of what happened today for a long time—meeting both Bob Boilen (of NPR Music’s All Songs Considered) and Matt Berninger (of the National), for example. Incredible. What a day.
One thing I stressed a lot about before getting here was coping with missing bands because of conflicts. While this is an inevitability, Bonnarro is set up much better than other festivals I’ve been to (Lollapollooza, Newport Folk) to bounce between stages. It’s a little like a live mixtape, or deli tray or whatever– you can hear a few She & Him songs, for example, and be on your way to hear the National. No big loss. And it’s only a five minute walk from one place to the next. Catching one or two songs of a band is sometimes a perfect introduction.
Here’s a quick rundown, of who I heard and what I thought on Friday:
11:30 – Dr. Dog: acoustic set in the press tent. I kind of stumbled into this, as Dr. Dog played for the press assembled for an orientation. They played three or four songs on acoustic guitar, banjo, and steel resonator. Suitcases were banged on with floor pedals and, I think, they made fans of everyone there as soon as they opened their mouths to sing the first three-part harmony chorus. It was my first time seeing them, and that was surely the case for me.
12:00 – Trombone Shorty: As I mention above, sometimes Bonnaroo is best approached as a sampler – I caught the opening song as I walked from the press area to what would be the bluegrass tent for much of the day. Funky! Great horns (that’s the whole point, right?), really groovy wah-wah guitar, and I was dancing as I made my way past.
12:15 – Punch Brothers: Chris Thile’s band is my favorite bluegrass act playing right now, and probably in my top five favorite bands period. Thile has great stage presence –quipping easy one-liners between songs and what a crowd! I loved that there was so many fans there – we nearly filled the tent. They played songs off of all three records and drew heavily from their new record Antifogmatic (which comes out Tuesday and is great, by the way). The best thing about Punch Brothers is that they make technical and masterful playing look spontaneous. The set also included several covers, including “Reptilia” from the Strokes and Radiohead’s “Morning Bell.”
1:20 – Jill Andrews: I missed Jill Andrews when she came through Champaign and immediately regretted it. She played a small stage under a tent, café style with tables and chairs and presented the perfect moment to sit, chill out a bit and eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Jill offers a lovely combination of country infused folk, and I can’t wait until her first record. I couldn’t wait so much that I picked up her EP on my way out the tent.
3:00 – Punch Brothers pt. II: Sorry—I can’t get enough of these guys and jumped at a chance to see them playing again at the smaller “Sonic” stage. It ended up being an ironic name because the set was marred with audio difficulties, forcing the band to gather old-time like around a single microphone in the middle. They didn’t play any repeats, and I was lucky enough to hear them play their version of Radiohead’s “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” – and while the sound problems kept it from sounding as good as it could have, I am still amazed at the way they imitate all those Thom Yorke percussive taps and pops with various parts of their acoustic instruments. Brilliant.
4:00 – Hot Rize from the Chase Lounge: My brother has access to this little non-descript tent they’re calling the Chase Freedom Lounge. It’s for Chase card-holders only and they pipe in video feed from two stages, have lemonade, computers, clean bathrooms – it’s a freaking oasis. We sat and watched Sugar Hill’s incredible veterans of bluegrass joke and jibe their way through a country/bluegrass set . . . in the air conditioning. It almost felt like a sin. Almost.
4:30 – Dr. Dog, regular set: I was so impressed by the earlier set from Dr. Dog that I was anxious to see them again. Their main-stage set ended up being completely different than the morning stuff and showed the versatility of this really great band. I really enjoyed the dirty rock sound countered with sweet Hammond organ and great vocal sound, from both lead singers. I came to Bonnaroo having listened casually to Dr. Dog and will leave excited to see them again and explore their records more intently. This is what festivals should do.
5:00 – She and Him: I really just wanted to catch a glimpse of Zooey and Matt before moving across the farm to get a good spot for the National. They had the biggest crowd assembled that I had yet seen, and I think that this is due to both Zooey’s star power/name recognition, but also to the relative universal appeal of her sunshiny pop. When she (and him) came out she danced through their first song and I was glad that brings a decent presence to her stage, rather than just standing and singing. (It would be great if M. Ward shows up somewhere else today or tomorrow playing, but I doubt it’s gonna happen)
5:45 – The National: Wow, what a set. The crowd wondered out loud if Matt would take the stage as per usual in a suit. When he came out wearing a dress vest, we grinned. It came off after the second song. We grinned again. The National is tough to sum up in a little log blurb like this, so here are a few highlights:
- Matt found his way into the crowd on three separate occasions.
- He tossed his wine glass to the audience early in the set, only to ask for it back, fill it again and then supervise its return to the person who caught it.
- They played a long set, covering songs from their entire catalog with a healthy chunk coming off of High Violet.
7:30 – Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers: I tweeted about how crazy it was to go from the National to Steve Martin. Only at Bonnaroo could such emotional sonic opposites be encountered within minutes of each other. It was fun to see Steve Martin, to play along with his shtick, and enjoy his amazing back-up band. Martin can really play that banjo (it’s not just a gimmick! The Grammy was [probably] justified!]. At one point he talked about how he’s shooting a moive with Jack Black right now and then Jack Black himself, fresh off his Tenacious D set, stuck his head out from back-stage. The crowd went nuts.
8:30 – Dawes: And the awesome music just kept coming. Dawes blew me away once again. Instead of playing to a crowd of Edward Sharpe fans like they were last week when I saw them, this time they were playing to a small but intensely devoted group of their fans. It made such a difference. Everybody was singing along, dancing, and having an amazing time. They closed the set with a really sweet song with the repeated refrain, “I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be alright” and brought out members of the Magnetic Zeros for support. Notably, Jade and Taylor sang the chorus arm in arm. It was awesome. Dawes is very quickly becoming my favorite band of the moment and I make no apologies for going to see them again today in about an hour on that same small Sonic stage I mentioned before.
After Dawes I made my way back to the camping area to get some dinner, get cleaned up, and sit down for a while. Kings of Leon played a set to what was surely most of Bonnaroo and I was, frankly, happy to miss it.
We went back at midnight to see the Black Keys, and watched about half of their set. It was alright. I love that huge guitar sound, but – and this comes after spending several weeks listening to the records almost exclusively – the set got a bit repetitive and after being wowed by Dawes and the National, it was tough to stick around. We wandered a bit more, saw the massive (and I mean massive) crowd assembled to watch the Flaming Lips spectacle and made our way back to crash. What a day.
Today is going to great too. Hoping to catch Mumford & Sons, a bit of the Avett Brothers, Dave Rawlings Machine(!), and of course the mighty Stevie Wonder. Here we go!