By Saturday, you better have developed enough Bonnaroo survival tactics to make it through the day. The key is to keep pounding water and let the music fuel your body.
Saturday’s schedule was like NOS octane pumped into my bloodstream. The day was kicked off at 11:30 a.m. on Which Stage with Rebelution, a Reggae/Rock group from Santa Barbara. The 100-something degree weather didn’t keep a crowd from showing up and grooving out to Rebelution’s soaring, heavily reverberated jams that echo with uplifting, worry free vibes — exactly what we needed as the hottest part of the day was upon us.—-
I changed gears around 3 p.m. and made my way up to the front of the stage in This Tent, awaiting Isis’ performance. Isis is an Experimental Metal group originally from Boston, named after the Egyptian goddess of fertility and healing. Their performance at Bonnaroo was particularly special due to the recent unveiling of their plans to disband at the end of this month after 13 years of writing and touring together, making this one of their final shows.
Ominous ambience spilled from their amps as Isis took the stage and silenced the crowd. After letting some anticipation build, they abruptly shifted into “Threshold of Transformation,” the last track on their fifth and final album Wavering Radiant, released in April 2009. Although their set list was limited to seven songs, it spanned their entire career and gave long-time fans a more than satisfying experience to fondly look back on.
I was confronted with the classic Bonnaroo conundrum of being torn between overlapping performances by two bands, in this case Clutch and The Melvins. I decided to wait for Clutch’s third set later that night and made my way to This Tent just in time to see The Melvins open with “Sacrifice,” a cover song originally played by 70’s Punk band Flipper. The Melvins played an extensive set of old and new material, including “Black Bock,” “Blood Witch” and the more recent “Evil New War God,” exposing us to the many faces they have worn over the course of their 20-year evolution.
Next on the bill was The Dead Weather, a groovy, Blues-inspired supergroup composed of Jack White (The White Stripes), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs/The Greenhornes). Perhaps by some cosmic coincidence, the first rain of the weekend struck as soon as they began their set, which was something that drummer and backup vocalist Jack White made certain to make note of onstage, telling the crowd to “remember who brought the rain.”
Given that The Dead Weather is relatively young (the most recent of White’s musical endeavors), their set was limited to songs from Horehound, including “Hang You from the Heavens” and “60 Feet Tall,” as well as a number of songs from their new album Sea of Cowards, released last May.
Killing time as I waited for Stevie Wonder’s performance, I roamed around Centeroo and checked out each stage. During this lapse, Bonnaroo opened my eyes to a couple things. First, I learned that people will still sing along to Weezer songs even if the live band sounds like shit. And, second, Jeff Beck isn’t human, but rather an extraterrestrial sent to blow earthlings' minds with his hypnotic guitar solos and fabulous hair.
It seemed that more people were in attendance during Stevie Wonder’s set than any other performance of the weekend. I was lucky to find a spot about two football fields away from the stage in an ankle deep pit of mud, barely able to see the television screens much less the stage. Nevertheless, his musical performance was impeccable and he proved himself, yet again, to be one of the most gifted and prolific musicians in recent history.
Jay-Z followed up Wonder on the same stage. After a comically dramatic intro, Jay-Z knocked out “Run This Town” right off the bat then delved into material like “Big Pimpin’” and “Hard Knock Life.” His performance had to be one of the highest budget stage shows and was one of the most memorable performances of the weekend.
I checked out the second half of Clutch’s set at The Other Tent afterwards, which put me in the mood to do some boozing and cut loose as the night was coming to a close.
I was well prepared by 2:30 a.m. when GWAR marched onto the stage in full costume. Throughout their set they systematically disemboweled live caricatures of pop icons with enormous foam weapons then doused the crowd with jets of theatrical bodily fluids (blood, vomit and even worse). Singer and front man Oderus Urungus thanked Bonnaroo fans in between songs and wrapped up his speech by barking “Ozzfest can kiss my fucking ass!,” adding GWAR’s flavor to the sentiment.
During the air-conditioned drive home Sunday afternoon I was transfixed by the question of how I managed to begin the night before at a Stevie Wonder concert and end up in the pit at a GWAR show. Bonnaroo has ultimately transcended the ordinary jam festival and now represents music as a whole, breaking down genre barriers and opening up a space where people can enjoy watching the bands they love and discover new bands to love.
Although some people may be critical of Bonnaroo’s evolution and call the festival a “sell out” now that mainstream acts dominate the main stage (Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, The Police in past years), Bonnaroo has the best buffet in town for good music of all genres, which means everyone is bound to find something new and appetizing.
For this reason alone, Bonnaroo is worth surviving.
(Photo by Chuck Madden; check out more of Chuck's ’Roo pics here.)