Editor’s Note: Cincinnati musician and longtime CityBeat contributor Ric Hickey and photographer Chuck Madden are once again covering the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival for us in Manchester, Tenn., this week. We’ll be posting their dispatches from the fest as they come in throughout the weekend. You can pretend you're there with them (minus the bugs and camping and stuff) by watching the live stream at Bonnaroo.com.
Insects crawl across my keyboard as I type this in the Bonnaroo parking lot. A vast expanse of several hundred acres of rolling green countryside blanketed with cars, tents, campers, tarps, trailers and people ready to party down, these Tennessee hills are alive with the sound of music.
Returning once again with my old friend and photographer Chuck Madden for our No. 1 favorite assignment, we dig in for the long haul. After all, four days of car-camping and toughing it out in the summer sun is no easy feat. But every year, with several heavy bags of electronic gear, cameras, lenses, recording equipment and laptops slung over our shoulders, we embrace the madness with big silly grins on our sunburned faces.
A couple years in a row we were able to camp in a “guest” area just behind the main stage compound. But this year it was not to be, as we were directed to join the long line of cars by the highway that were waiting to pass through the main entrance. After an hour of waiting and a cursory search of our vehicle, we drove into the massive parking lot and began setting up camp.
Kicking off the 2014 Bonnaroo festivities on the Other Tent stage was Nashville’s own Wild Feathers. The band has been all over the world since I saw them perform an acoustic showcase in the Bonnaroo press compound last summer. With three singing songsmiths fronting the band and complimenting each other’s close harmonies, The Wild Feathers put across some of the most pristine Country Rock vocal performances since CSN’s heyday. But plug ‘em in and crank it up and it becomes a different beast altogether.
Opening with “American” from their stellar 2013 debut album, The Wild Feathers fell confidently into the warm embrace of a hometown crowd that was singing along with every word. Still a young band, a year of non-stop touring has instilled in them a simmering confidence beyond their years. Their scorching “Backwoods Company” was taken at an accelerated clip that challenged the afternoon sun for heat and intensity. More than just a band to watch, I think I’d buy stock in The Wild Feathers if I could.
Elsewhere today Chuck and I took in sets by Cass McCombs, ZZ Ward, MS MR and The Preatures. Among the late night sets that I’m excited about tonight are a pair of my favorite new bands. J. Roddy Walston and The Business perform in This Tent, while White Denim takes the stage in That Tent at midnight. Their sets starting just 30 minutes apart, I’ll face my first serious schedule conflict of the weekend.