Bonnaroo 2010: Getting There

(Editor's Note: For the 2010 Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn., CityBeat dispatched a team to cover the event. ’Roo vet Ric Hickey returned, joined by newcomers Adam Sievering and photographer Chuck Madden. We'll be rolling out their reports here over the next several days. Here is Hickey's first dispatch.)—-

It’s been a couple years since I last attended Bonnaroo, but it’s still the most fun you can have in America in a crowd of 80,000 people with your clothes on. Though the Tennessee sun is so hot that many people forego clothing anyway!

Scheduling issues with my travel companions caused me to miss Thursday’s stellar lineup of cutting edge Indie Rock bands. But my Friday was so packed with great live music that my head is still spinning as I type this.

My friends and I pulled into the parking lot and, as is almost always the case, got bogged down in the process of setting up camp. No major hassles there. It’s just difficult to pitch a tent with any grace or speed when the late morning sun is blazing and temperatures have already reached the 90s.

By the time I found the press compound backstage I had missed both the 11 a.m. press orientation and an 11:30 acoustic performance by Dr. Dog. Disappointed but still excited to hit the ground running, I caught a few minutes of Gaslight Anthem’s hotwired Jersey Pub Punk on the Which Stage before scooting over to That Tent for some fiery jugband Bluegrass by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Slowly assembling for an hour before the band took the stage, a huge crowd gathered to groove to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros in the Other Tent at 2:30 p.m. Their infectious gypsy caravan lovefest was clearly one of the most anticipated sets of the day. Singer Alex Ebert wasted no time in bridging the gap between stage and audience, singing as he climbed over the barricade into the waiting arms of the crowd. Girl singer Jade Castrinos is the Keely Smith to Ebert’s Louis Prima. Quite a mismatch they are: Ebert full-on Jesus hippie and Castrinos in a white dress more suited to first communion. But they sing together and to each other like a couple truly in love. After their set, my face was hurting from smiling so much. Walking away from the stage afterwards I was in a state of emotional shock. A big stupid grin on my face, tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. No kidding.

Another big highlight of the day was the mad Funk weirdness of Umphrey’s McGee playing to a tremendous throng in front of the Which Stage. A little later in the day, I was surprised to see a much smaller turn-out for Umphrey’s mini-set on the tiny Sonic Stage. I was chilling in the shady tent of the Caffeination Nation coffee bar as Umphrey's began their set when somebody handed me a full plate of grilled seafood salad.

There was big dose of Hollywood in the Friday lineup, as Bonnaroo featured performances by Steve Martin with his Bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers; starlet-turned-chanteuse Zooey Deschanel’s duo with M. Ward, She & Him; Jack Black’s madcap Metal band Tenacious D; and Conan O’Brien.

Friday’s press conferences were fun, as always. The 1 p.m. panel included Sarah Jarosz, Margaret Cho, Scott McMicken from Dr. Dog and Jesse Baylin. McMicken looked uncomfortable in the press conference setting as Cho swung and missed with a weak joke about trying new and different drugs every year at Bonnaroo. Later in the day at the 4 p.m. press conference, comedian Jeffery Ross elicited huge laughs from the assembled press with his dilemma of trying to choose from all the things going on at Bonnaroo.

“I don’t know if I should see Dave Matthews or take an Ambien,” he said.

Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips was his usual loquacious self at the 4 p.m. press conference, refusing to divulge what secrets the band had in mind for that evening’s midnight performance of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Coyne said he felt like everything he and the Lips do is experimental, happily admitting that many of their onstage experiments fail. He tried to issue an off-handed complaint about how comedians at Bonnaroo get to perform in an air-conditioned tent while the bands have to play out in the hot sun. But comedian Ross was having none of it, saying, “Yeah, but you guys get all the pussy.”

The midnight slot Friday presented the first big Bonnaroo conundrum. As The Flaming Lips take the Which Stage to perform Dark Side of the Moon for only the second time ever (and possibly the last, Coyne cryptically muttered at the afternoon press conference), The Black Keys were playing a few hundred yards away in That Tent. Adding to the dilemma was the one-off gig featuring the unlikely Other Tent pairing of Daryl Hall and electro-funk duo Chromeo. As I type this, Hall and Chromeo entered the press tent for a round of late night interviews.

Click here to check out our photo gallery from Bonnaroo shot by Chuck Madden

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