Les Claypool rocks out with Oysterhead. Photo (c) Jessica Coughllin This week’s Manchester Times asked the question: what would Jesus say at Bonnaroo? The hypothetical was posed that the savior would have 15 minutes prior to Tom Petty’s performance to speak to us sinners and inspire redemption for the masses. No such thing happened last night, though I am sure Jesus would have been delighted at Stevie Nicks’ surprise appearance with Tom and the Heartbreakers.
Everyone had arrived at the site by Friday morning, gearing up for the first full day of music. People swarmed through Centeroo, surrounded by the cotton candy-colored walls, spray-painted with stencils of Janis, Jerry, and Jimi, Prince and Sinatra. Vendors selling god-awful hippie patchwork paraphernalia, cowboy hats, and festival food have been working round the clock in the hot sun. There are all manner of diversions, including batting cages, a comedy tent featuring Lewis Black, a cinema and a ferris wheel. Bonnaroo is two parts music, one part tailgate and one part country carnival. Seu Jorge. Photo (c) Jessica Coughlin Seu Jorge’s afternoon performance was a highlight of the first day. With his sweet, swinging bossa nova tunes, Jorge is a legend in Brazil and also known to Americans by his role as “Handsome Ned” in City of God, as well as for covering David Bowie songs in Portuguese on board Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. With a bare chest and dreadlocks, Jorge beamed as he blended traditional Brazilian rhythms with reggae and rock. He may easily be the sexiest musician at Bonnnaroo.
In stark contrast, former Phish bassist Mike Gordon, also one of the strangest looking men in music, followed with his new band Ramble Dove. The sound was pure honky-tonk Americana, complete with a Willy Nelson look alike on guitar. It was a great show and Mike was totally in his element, shaking up the folk songs with funky bass solos. My only gripe was the very attractive, totally tone-deaf chick on keys.
Trey Anastasio. Photo (c) Jessica CoughlinGordon’s previous partner in crime, carrot topped Phish front man Trey Anastasio, took the main stage with Les Claypool and Stuart Copeland as Oysterhead. This was the first time in five years that the group has come together to perform live. Claypool, wearing a plastic pink pig mask jeered, "Are you ready for some audio sodomy?" as the trio launched into their down and dirty, sinister jams. At one point, Trey took up what appeared to be a guitar with antlers that he tweaked to alter the sound.
Gift of Gab of Blackalicious. Jessica Coughlin (c)Late night featured several hours of music on opposite ends of the spectrum. In one tent, Lyrics Born, Common, and Blackalicious broke shit down. Lyrics Born, formerly known as Asian Born, was tight, and so was his R&B back-up shorty. Across the field, Umphrey’s Mcgee and the Disco Biscuits jammed till the wee hours of the morning. The set change kept the action going as members of the Biscuits joined Umphreys in a mutual jam. Both bands broke into a Floyd medley including "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Another Brick in the Wall," joined by Joe Russo from The Benevento Russo Duo. What followed was a high-octane trance fusion jam. Very high.
The evening's headliner was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers who delivered a show chock full of guilty pleasure greatest hits. Fitting, as the first night of Bonnaroo is always a sing along, the second night is an anticipated climax and the closing night is a bittersweet finale. Though the concert last night felt like listening to classic rock radio, shows like Tom Petty, Ratdog, or Bob Dylan are the only way that kids under thirty can experience a small slice of Woodstock. Five years old, Bonnaroo has matured into more than a festival- it is a piazza for performance and a forum for discussion. Though there is variety every year, this is a rock and roll festival. It immortalizes the legends, while inspiring collaboration and improvisation among a younger generation of rock. Today, John Popper of Blues Traveler commented, “Bonnaroo is more than a festival of the patchouli set- it is a destination.” Many here, myself included, feel that Bonnaroo has become a pilgrimage you make every summer. The Holy Road of Rock, so to speak. Wouldn’t Jesus be pleased? -Jessica