PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Desitively Bonnaroo: Reporting from the Land of Dust and Music (Part 3)

Tomas Hachard
Photo Credits: Jonathan Linds

You’re here to see your favorite indie-rock act, and you just so happen to have great representatives from other musical styles to explore as well.

Bonnaroo Festival 2011

City: Manchester, TN
Date: 2011-06-09

If I Headline Bonnaroo, Does That Mean I’m Mainstream?

Although there are people who attend Bonnaroo regardless of the headliners, the feel of the festival changes depending on whether it is a band like Phish playing two headlining sets (as they did in 2009) or as Eminem did for this year’s Saturday night set. It basically comes down to less tie-dye, more guys without shirts on.

This year also prominently featured two indie-rock bands that recently leapt to new level of popularity: The Decemberists and The Arcade Fire. Both their 2010 albums debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and The Arcade Fire, to the confusion of many, walked away with several Grammys.

Colin Meloy’s dry humor and ironic stage banter worked to cast The Decemberists as a group of down-to-earth outsiders who just happened to crash the big-stage party. At one point, he and the band’s lead guitarist spent a good two or three minutes playing their guitars as poorly as possible, all as part of a joke involving a guitar-picking challenge made to Bela Fleck. Then Meloy got the whole crowd to sit down before starting the next song.

The Decemberists

But even if the band’s demeanor is that of a quirky indie band, their actual music gives them away. The Decemberists’ songs, couched in an old-timey, folk and country sound, are anthems at heart. “This Is Why We Fight” and “The Crane Wife 3” never sounded so attuned to their environment.

Unlike The Decemberists, The Arcade Fire have made a career out of writing big-chorus anthems that sound exactly like what they are. In fact, the band closed their show with the euphoric one-two punch from their first album that has been a staple of their live show since the band’s beginnings: “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)” and “Rebellion (Lies)”. So it was strange when Win Butler, introducing the band’s encore, said that they had written the following song to play in front of a crowd of twenty. The song was “Wake Up”, and immediately tens of thousands of people in the audience started chanting along to the rousing, opening melody, which would be completely wasted if it was ever played for only twenty people. It was the biggest understatement of the weekend, especially coming after a set that, no matter what stage of their career it featured, made clear how much the band has always been ready for this kind of venue.

Arcade Fire

Buffalo Springfield was the main draw for the classic rock crowd, who also feasted on Robert Plant and the Band of Joy and Gregg Allman at other points in the weekend. Because Eminem was the real headliner for that night, though, Springfield got relegated to the second largest stage, the Which stage, and had to suffer through its terrible acoustics. That stage was also home to Lil Wayne and Mumford & Sons, both of whom brought out far too many people for the sound system’s capabilities. Wayne and Mumford’s die-hard fans didn’t seem to mind, though. They rapped along with the former regardless, and swooned over the brooding yet sensitive folk-rock.

The Buffalo Springfield fans were less kind at first. The first half of the set was filled with chants of “turn it up!” and “louder!”. Things got better when the band played “Mr. Soul” and Neil Young launched into one of his standard, frenetic guitar solos. Young got the loudest cheers by far throughout the set and even got the crowd to join him a couple of times in forming an “O” with their hands and waving their arms from side to side while chanting “Bonnaroooooooo”. Before the band went into the crowd pleaser “For What it’s Worth”, Young joked, “We’re going to play our hit. We have one.” In fact, any energy and levity in the set came from Young, the only person on stage who seemed to connect with the mostly younger audience and have appeal beyond his generation. The band’s decision to close the show with “Keep on Rocking in the Free World” was, even if unintentionally, an acknowledgment of this higher stature.

It was Eminem, though, that drew the biggest crowd of the festival and got the biggest reaction. The whole field by the main stage was filled with fans, each of them on their feet for the hour and a half long set. While I’m sure there were a good number of festival regulars that skipped the set out of indifference, it was undoubtedly one of the more well-orchestrated and entertaining shows all weekend. A combination of a tight live band, Eminem’s unmatched technical skills, a great hype man, and almost 15 years worth of hits made the set like a great Hollywood action movie: it never stumbled and was undeniably fun even if (or because) it was the most unapologetically mainstream of the whole festival.

The final headlining set of the festival belonged to Widespread Panic, who came to play their sixth Bonnaroo. It being the festival’s tenth anniversary, the organizers made sure to bring a lot of regulars from past years. But while My Morning Jacket – who were also playing their sixth festival – gave a rocked out, energetic set that fit perfectly between The Decemberists and Arcade Fire, and while Galactic – who have played all but one Bonnaroo – provided a perfect dance party for a Sunday afternoon, Widespread Panic’s mix of hard rock with jam band guitar theatrics was only appealing to the niche crowd that came to see them.

Widespread Panic

Bonnaroo thrives on its ability to bring together the tie-dye crew and ironic t-shirt crowd, and the fact that it’s held in the South means that it draws on that region’s deep tradition as well. This year the latter came out in a weekend-long focus on New Orleans. Dr. John’s performance of his album Desitively Bonnaroo with Allen Toussaint and The Meters, his Superjam with Dan Auerbach, and the ubiquitous presence of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band all helped pay homage to the mix of funk, soul, blues, and jazz that the city is famous for.

Dr. John

Superjam

It’s the quality of the music that makes the hodgepodge work, though. You’re there to see your favorite indie-rock act, and you just so happen to have great representatives from other musical styles to explore as well. In past years, Dave Matthews Band and Phish have represented the jam band tradition in a way that even those who are not entirely fans could enjoy. Widespread Panic did not have that same ability and it made for an unfortunately anticlimactic ending to the festival.

Desitvely Bonnaroo (Part 1)

Desitvely Bonnaroo (Part 2)

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.