I’ve written about this lone venture in the Tennessean already, but I wanted to share some photos and talk about some of the music I experienced there. Afterall, it is all about the music.
The first night kicked off well with Real Estate playing a ton of great songs from its newest album “Atlas.” The album tends to feel very laid back and more like an easy listening rock album, which is why I never understood the comparisons to groups like Kurt Vile or The War On Drugs. But live, there’s a spark of those jam band roots while combining it with those highly melodic riffs.
On the same night I was blown away by BANKS and tossed around like a sack by Cloud Nothings, whose drummer is fierce and lived up to all my expectations. White Denim was also a nice cherry on top of Thursday’s shows.
I could hear Pusha T as I left the grounds and it only reinforced my decision to skip out on the performance for a little extra sleep.
Friday was by far one of the busiest days for me as I still had stamina to run around to all my favorite acts and there were just so many of them. It kicked off with St. Paul And The Broken Bones who just killed it with wailing gospel vocals and Georgia-church style dance moves.
Not knowing much about Dr.Dog, the group really didn’t catch my attention, much like Cake the next day. But Sam Smith and Jake Bugg both got a healthy amount of attention.
Until I heard Bugg cover “Hey Hey My My” by Neil Young, I never realized how similar the to artist’s voices were. They have that high pitch Americana gruff to them that I’m really attracted to, and it’s what made this set one of my favorites of the weekend.
After Head And The Heart things start getting fuzzy from exhaustion. Neutral Milk Hotel, Kanye West (who I should really devote a whole blog post to), the blues Super Jam and Chance The Rapper all followed. Sadly, I was too tired to see Die Antwoord at its 45 minute late show, and also missed The Orwells on the night.
That’s one of the things that’s frustrating about Bonnaroo, you have to make so many concessions for artists and miss out on great music for trivial things like sleep, water, food and bathroom breaks. People are right when they go on and on about how big Bonnaroo is. Yes, there’s 80,000 people, but it’s the massive back-to-back scheduling of acts that had me overwhelmed with the size. In that sense I prefer a more laid back experience at mid-sized music festivals. Bonnaroo feels more like a chore than an escape at times, but I suppose that’s how you attract so many acts.
There’s also far less discovery of bands at these huge festivals. You go to the big headliners because that’s all you have time for. There’s very little down time to try out something new when you barely have time to eat between these huge groups.
So, Saturday and Sunday I tried to relax a bit more. I missed Valerie June and Drive-By Truckers because of it, but I still caught the surprising Damon Albarn, who impressed me immensely, not only with the Gorillaz hits that he knocked out with Del The Funky Homosapien and De La Soul, but also the material from his new album which I was not initially fond of. “Heavy Seas Of Love” in particular has brought me to rethink the album as well as his use of the euphonium in his live performance, which has such a beautiful tone to it when combined with these introspective songs.
One of those special Bonnaroo moments came shortly after Albarn’s performance, when James Blake took the stage in the Other Tent to play one of the loudest and mesmerizing sets of the festival. That special moment came when he covered Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You,” which had me floored with its sheer beauty and modernization.
Then came the highlight of the festival — Jack White. If you have the time I highly recommend downloading the whole performance off Reddit and give it a watch as it’s nearly two hours of pure bombastic, unadulterated rock. Even the crappy country songs off his new album seemed more energetic and layered. His rants were insightful and made me think about life in new ways and he ended the regular set with a cover of my favorite Led Zeppelin song — “Lemon Song.” He changed up the songs so much from their original version in subtle but appreciated ways, which in my opinion is the mark of a spectacular live performance. Jack White at Bonnaroo is certainly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
Sunday I was done. I missed four acts I had hoped to see including Those Darlins. But it was all about Elton John in the end and he didn’t disappoint. He came out of the gate swinging with some huge hits, catering to that college age crowd that came to hear “Benny and the Jets,” “Rocket Man” and, my personal favorite, “Tiny Dancer.”
Through the exhaustion, expenses, heat and general loneliness, it was worth it, and I would do it again — with friends next time.