Bonnaroo 2013: Day 2 - Friday Is Bonnaroo in Full Swing

Steve Leftridge
Photos: Tom Bellos

The variety of music to absorb on Friday posed formidable challenges, and navigating from one stage to the next all day is a good way to lay waste to your body, which happens to be one of Bonnaroo’s most-popular pastimes.

Bonnaroo 2013

City: Manchester, TN
Date: 2013-06-14

Friday is Bonnaroo in full swing. Eight stages pump out simultaneous around-the-clock music, first-tier comedians (Daniel Tosh, Bob Saget, David Cross) perform in the Comedy Tent, film events (the 30th anniversary of National Lampoon’s Vacation! Polyphonic Spree plays the Rocky Horror soundtrack!) screen 24 hours a day in the Cinema Tent, hundreds take part in restorative yoga or the 5K Roo Run, graffiti artists tag miles of fences around the property, beer lovers belly up at the vast craft beer tent, couples wait their turn at the giant Roo ferris wheel, and any number of other ways to get your thrills and spills at the biggest party on the planet.

The variety of music to absorb on Friday posed formidable challenges, and navigating from one stage to the next all day is a good way to lay waste to your body, which happens to be one of Bonnaroo’s most-popular pastimes. Thankfully, Friday offered a few (relatively) chilled-out music opportunities, as the big stages helped alleviate some of the crowds in the tents. As a result, This Tent, designated as a world-music venue on Friday, gave the crowd a chance to bask in the wiry grooves and dusty guitar tone of Bombino, the Tuareg singer/slinger and his band, decked out in colorful robes and heavy scarves, who were clearly taken aback by the uproarious love from the crowd. Bombino’s Stratocaster sliced through the morning sun via his Mark Knopfler-style thumb-tough fingerpicking, including a sizzling “Amidinine” from this year’s breakthrough record Nomad.

Over on the Which Stage, Bonnaroo’s second-largest, Jason Isbell fronted a six-piece, fiddle-abetted band, debuting a handful of new songs while rewarding the crowd with fan favorites like “Alabama Pines” and smoldering versions of Isbell’s Drive-By Truckers tunes “Decoration Day” and “Outfit”. With a razor-edged twin-guitar crackle, Isbell finished with “Never Gonna Change” and “Super 8”, before telling the crowd to “be careful but not too careful”, sage advice for a crowd encouraged by Isbell’s terrific set and sunny, pleasant weather to create brisk business at the beer tent.

In The Other Tent, British synthpop sizzler Charli XCX was busy making a splash. “How many of you are taking drugs this weekend!?” she asked the crowd. Subtle she’s not. But such banter was typical of a firecracker set, as she spun and whipped in a Catholic-girl skirt, camo croptop, and black platform shoes. Backed by only a drummer and a skater-boi keyboardist, Charli officially kicked the party into high gear with her Icona Pop hit “I Love It”, unleashing inflated balls into the crowd and triggering an insanity workout in the tent. She closed with “Grins”, combining all of the pop strumpet libido and punky agro-pop heart she could muster, with was plenty.

Back in the world tent, Fatouma Diawara took the stage looking stunning in a red-and-yellow headrap, seashell-adorned hair, and resplendent dress. The Ivory Coast singer and guitarist forged a gorgeous sound with her four-piece band, continuously smiling as they created regal tapestries of percolating guitar and burbling bass lines. Vocally, Diawara toggled between her lithe upper register and some alien ululations over the course of one of the day’s loveliest (albeit lightly attended) sets.

On the Which Stage, Of Monsters and Men played to an ocean of neo-folk dreamers, half of whom could barely hear the band, but who blissed out under expansive blue skies anyway. Getting to most of their smash debut, the Icelandic band’s buoyant runs through “Little Talks” and “Mountain Sound” were the jackpot the crowd was waiting to hoist their cups to, although those looking for a more intimate setting opted for the Glen Hansard tent across the field. Hansard, the Toast of Broadway these days, eschewed his ragged busker mode this time in favor of a large band complete with strings and horns. They made a joyful noise on a cross section of The Best of Glen: his new solo record (“Bird of Sorrow”), the Frames (“Fitzcaralldo”), and the Swell Season (“Low Rising”). But every Hansard set comes with emotional covers, this time Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”, played solo acoustic with machine-gun-fire strumming, and a showstopping version of “Don’t Do It”, their cover of the Band’s cover of the Marvin Gaye classic. They closed with the traditional Irish singalong “The Auld Triangle”, allowing the crowd to participate in the singer’s vein-bursting passion.

Back in the world tent, blind Malian duo Amadou & Miriam kept that particular dance party going, as Amadou leaned into a golden Telecaster, matching the couple’s gold lamé robes. In their usual tight formation, the couple harmonized on songs about Africa over slinky, richocheting guitar and percussion. Amadou is a nimble guitarist, and his watery runs alongside two percussionists uncorked an organic pastiche for the folks who chose the world-hopping That Tent over the supersized indie-pop of Passion Pit over on the main stage.

Once Foals took the stage in early evening, fleshing out songs from their new album Holy Fire, the band proved why they’ve burned up the charts in their native England. “Milk & Black Spiders” and the single “My Number”, both played early, updated New Romantic grandeur with art-school ooze, but it was “Spanish Sahara”, with its sensuous pulse that drew the crowd close before the band busted loose with cavernous tonal colors and spiky synth-and-guitar grandeur.

Wilco had both the honor and challenge of playing the What Stage as thousands were trying to secure real estate for the Paul McCartney show to follow. Opening with a three-pack of some of their skronkier numbers -- “Poor Places”, “Art of Almost”, “I Might” -- Tweedy’s setlist didn’t quite connect with the tens of thousands of the apparently uninitiated on hand. As if to prove that indie-rock royalty need not win the crowd over early and experiment later, Wilco, in time-honored Wilco fashion, took the opposite approach, letting the early songs fall apart into crap-noise mess-and-strew. The band eventually got to more festival-nuzzling fare, like “California Stars”, backed by members of Calexico on horns, and the band turned Nels Cline loose on “Impossible Germany”, always a treat. A final run featuring many of the band’s best-loved songs (“Jesus, Etc.”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, “I’m the Man Who Loves You”, “Shot in the Arm”) finally established some late momentum during what was otherwise a generally sleepy set.

No one was going to miss McCartney, but Wu-Tang Clan attracted a massive crowd on the other side of the festival, taking everyone back to 1993 by playing almost the entirety of Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers over half of their ruckus-bringing 90-minute set. It was a crowd that was intimate with these tracks, and the Killa Bees gave them lots of opportunity to participate on “Shame on a Nigga” and “Clan in Da Front” as the ten MCs on stage bobbed and weaved in a relentlessly menacing and uproariously fun show. It took a while for the audience to get their bearings -- identifying Ghostface in yellow, RZA in the denim vest, Raekwon in the sequined cap -- but eventually Ghostface and, especially, Method Man took over. Method, for his part, was a man possessed, the group’s best live verbalist and most charismatic performer -- his grizzled solo turns on his eponymous song and solo hit “Da Rockwilder” were thrilling moments. No ODB hologram surfaced, as had been rumored, but the collective led altered-state sing-alongs on Dirt’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Brooklyn Zoo” while the audience threw Ws in the air and finished off whatever they had loaded in their CamelBaks.

When Paul McCartney shed his jacket after a smashing opening of “Eight Days a Week”, “Junior’s Farm”, and “All My Loving”, he announced, “That was the one and only costume change." It was as if to declare his intention to bring it straight to the 100,000 crammed onto the vast lawn, which he did over nearly three hours and 38 songs. It was, risking superlative overkill, a breathtaking set, given the perfect weather, the scope of the party, and the fact that Paul, at age 70, looked and sounded terrific. Flanked by mile-high video screens, Sir Paul led his iron-horse four-piece band on a set overflowing with more Beatles and solo hits than the crowd could keep up with, and those W’s in the air that stood for Wu-Tang an hour before, now stood for “Wings”. Selections from that era -- “Listen to What the Man Said”, “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”, “Mrs. Vanderbilt” -- helped many in the crowd get back although with most of the audience under 30, those songs were also a break from the crowd screaming along on the Beatles tunes.

It was a welcome sequence when Paul played material that the crowd was less familiar with (“My Valentine,” dedicated to his wife, “Here Today”, described as “a conversation with John that I didn’t have”), a moment of active listening opposed to the euphoric sing-alongs that otherwise defined the night. The other curveballs came with a stray cover -- a snippet of “Purple Haze” (complete with a story about hanging out with Hendrix and Clapton) and “The Midnight Special”, plus meticulously reproduced tunes that Paul had never played live before this tour, including “Lovely Rita” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. The pyro was quintupled for the titanic stage, so that during “Live and Let Die”, it was unclear if the band would survive the onslaught of fire and bombs on and above the stage. Paul took a moment to soak up the crowd, to read some of the hundreds of signs in the audience, and even after three hours of heart-swelling, grown-men-crying musical euphoria and an encore that included “Yesterday” and a brass-knuckled “Helter Skelter”, the audience was still trying to burn the image of McCartney into their brains as the legend waved goodbye a final time.

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Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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