Bonnaroo Day Four: Not Fade Away

Bonaroo Arts and Music Festival
Manchester, Tennesee
Day four: June 18, 2006

Official Bonnaroo Logo. Jessica Coughlin (c) 2006

Today Manchester will return to a sleepy town in Coffee County where the biggest attraction is wholesale fireworks and the nearby Jack Daniels distillery. The pink wooden walls surrounding Centeroo are now covered with elaborate graffiti and the stenciled images of music gods gone by have been given cartoon thought bubbles, such as Janis Joplin musing, ““Reality is a condition caused by the absence of Bonnaroo.” An exodus of biblical scale is now occurring as throngs of dirty, tired, and hung over people pack up their cars and leave what once was a vast tent city.

Victor Wooten. Kevin Borgia (c) 2006

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones took the main stage Sunday afternoon for a riveting performance of avant-garde jazz. Victor Wooten, resident bass god held court as Professor Fleck schooled the audience with his meticulous musicianship on banjo. Every one of The Fleck tones is a conservatory trained musician of the highest order, which became abundantly clear as each man took inspired solo interludes. Jeff Coffin wailed on two saxes simultaneously and percussionist Futureman dazzled the crowd with his drum-tar (a drum machine played like a guitar).

The Streets. Kevin Borgia (c) 2006

The Streets delivered their brand of crisp British hip-hop with uncharacteristic English extroversion. They worked the crowd, taking the piss about the world cup and pandering to the pretty girls in the audience. To keep spirits lively, a brandy dispenser had been attached to the drum set and a kid from the crowd was invited to come drink directly from the bottle.

Dr. Dreidel himself appeared across the field, clad in classic Hasidic garb in spite the stifling heat. Matisyahu has come into his own following his performance at last year’s Bonnaroo and the fans went wild for old songs and new, confirming that he has popularized Kosher reggae.

As the sun set over the white peaked tents of Centeroo, everyone staked out their spots for Phil Lesh and Friends, the festival’s grand finale. A set list of feel-good Grateful Dead tunes was a given and John Scofield dropped in on guitar, but the delight of the evening was Joan Osbourne joining the band. The Grateful Dead’s music has always longed for the perfect female vocalist and Donna Jean Godchaux’s flat screeching in the seventies left much to be desired. Osbourne looked nothing like the pop star with a nose ring we once knew, dancing around in a short hippy slip with braids and twigs in her hair.  Osbourne glowed as the perfect hard headed, softhearted blues woman with a sweet, soulful voice that The Grateful Dead always needed and never found. Her presence also compensated for Phil’s aging voice.

Phil Lesh and Joan Osbourne. Jessica Coughlin (c) 2006

The rain that had miraculously held off all weekend finally poured down and the band began The Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” as the audience ran for cover. It was only a short shower and the crowd reemerged for a last dance to “Not Fade Away”. Fireworks and glow sticks lit up the night sky as Lesh said, “Lets all make a date to come back next year.”
The cynics can deride hippies, write off jam rock, and scoff at Bonnaroo all they like, because I don’t give a shit. This was an incredible weekend of music. Yesterday, Matisyahu commented, “Music is a spiritual tool. It uplifts people and inspires them to transcend their boundaries.” This festival is a manifestation of that exact phenomenon- musical revelation. For a few short days, the rest of the world does not exist. The southern hospitality doesn’t hurt either- I was cheerfully offered fried alligator and strawberries soaked in moonshine- and can be quite a refreshing change from snarky northeastern sarcasm. I met the love of my life in this very field last year during The Mars Volta, so I know first hand how magic can occur.  There’s my two cents.

Next year in Manchester, Tennessee, next year in the holy land.


Jimi grafitti. Jessica Coughlin (c) 2006

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