Sunday, June 18, 2006


Bonnaroo reconsidered

With Bonnie Raitt finishing up her set ("Bad Case of Lovin' You") on the Which stage, Phil Lesh & Friends are the last band to go at Bonnaroo 2006. They have the final set, starting at 8:30 pm. It's still unclear who Phil's "friends" are tonight (my guess is Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon and the Benevento-Russo Duo - the same group he played with late last night at the "Super Jam").

Just an hour ago, I was sitting at a picnic table watching Sonic Youth bring the noise when none other than Lesh drove up in a golf cart (he had a driver) with several friends (perhaps his wife) and sat there for a few minutes. I imagined Phil riding around all day. checking out his favorite bands or hot new ones he's been wanting to see. That's a great way to see Bonnaroo - unfortunately, we all don't have chaffeur-driven golf carts at our disposal.

I stopped complaining today and made sure I saw everything I wanted to see - and more. Brothers Past opened the Which stage (there are 5 main stages that overlap bands) with some compelling guitar rock. I caught at least 10-15 minutess of Soulive (funky jazz), the Refugee Allstars (reggae/high life from Sierra Leone), the Streets (UK hip-hop), Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (jazz-grass), Matisyahu (the Jewish reggae star drew the biggest crowd today), Steve Earle (earnest singer-songwriter, solo), Sonic Youth (experimental grunge), moe. (seasoned jam-band rhythmists) and finally Bonnie Raitt (the one, the only slide-guitar diva with the golden pipes).

Earlier in the day, Raitt sat for an interview on the Solar Stage in Planet Roo. "Let's focus on the wind and sun [for energy]," she told the eco-conscious crowd. "Festivals like these give [these issues] a lot of press." She praised other activist-oriented artists like "Little Steven" Van Zandt ("he's a powerhouse") and Bono. On the fly, she laughed, "Bono - Roo!"

Bonnaroo can be hard to get a handle on. Do you get up early and wear yourself out for the late sets? Do you hit all the stages? When should you take a break to eat? Do you have time to stop at any of the smaller tents? How do you fit it all in? Do you even have time to hang out with friends? So then, Bonnaroo is more or less what you make it. When you're stage-hopping, do them in order so you don't have to keep criss-crossing the crowded field. Stick with bands generally no more than 30 minutes, though 10 to 15 is more advisable. Keep moving and drinking liquids (the less beer the better). Eat a slice of pizza. That's pretty safe. Have a smoothie. Skip the press conference (like I did today) if you have to. Had I been in the press tent, I wouldn't have known about the Bonnie Raitt interview (my friend Ed, whose company Sundance Solar is set up in Planet Roo, tipped me off).

Musically, all the bands of course are quite good; they wouldn't be selected to play if thery weren't already at a high-quality level. That said, one guest just told me that this year's Bonnaroo "was a schwag lineup," claiming today was the best day. When I doth protest too loudly, he amending his support of today's lineup: "Maybe that's because I'm higher today."

Bonnaroo is shifting musically. It's beyond being a jam-band festival, that's clear. It's closer to Coachella now, making Bonnaroo and Coachella the two premiere 3-day music camp fests in the US. Coachella accomplished that by catering to alternative rockers and electronauts. With the hippie audience its back pocket, Bonnaroo is not so gingerly moving in that direction. Radiohead's performance last night was the biggest indicator of that. This something-for-everyone programming mentality is surely the best way to go. But when you cross-over you do sometimes lose some of the uniqueness that got you there on the first place.

Bonnaroo is hardly afraid of its counterculture roots. It bleeds tie-dye through and through. But it should allow NORML and High Times to have tables at the event. These groups, especially NORML, are notably absent in an evironment that's at least partially sustained by marijuana. Let the pot-leaf flag fly at Bonnaroo.

And feed the press - and then I'll be completely happy!

I hear a roar in the distance for Phil Lesh. First song: "Uncle John's Band." Gotta go...


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