Live from Bonnaroo 2011, Part 1

Howdy folks! It’s your loyal, intrepid Bonnaroo correspondent Ric Hickey. Once again I am pleased and honored to be covering the big festival for CityBeat. We’ve been on-site for barely four hours and already this is shaping up to be one of the best Bonnaroo experiences that I have ever enjoyed.


First thing this morning we had an unbelievable stroke of luck when by sure persistence of curiosity we managed to find what is essentially the back-door festival entrance. After picking up our press credentials and wristbands at will call, we ignored the directions they gave us to the main entrance and simply followed our gut instincts around the back where “guests," VIPs, and artists enter the festival grounds. Amazingly, this was done simply by making a right turn where our directions suggested a left.

Our hunch landed us in a guest camping area that I have suspected has been here all along for those in the media crafty enough to ferret it out. Long story short, we set up camp under a big shady tree near a perimeter fence behind the main stage that’s just a stone’s throw from the press compound.

After setting up our tents, photographer Chuck Madden, freelancer Greg Gaston and I walked to the press tent. This was a leisurely five minute stroll, instead of the usual 45-minute trudge through the massive parking lot clusterfuck. There we met up with local music blogger Nate Rosing and had to settle for catching the tail end of the 11:30 a.m. press orientation from outside the overcrowded press tent.

Making our way out into the festival grounds for the first time, we headed straight for the Sonic Stage where we caught the New Orleans All Stars featuring Ivan Neville on keyboards. They opened with a funkified version of “Shakey Ground” that was the perfect launch for this writer’s Bonnaroo weekend. P-Funk filtered through the French Quarter live at Bonnaroo = Heaven on earth. I was still shaking my head in blissful wonderment when the band busted out the Robert Palmer classic “Sneaking Sally Through The Alley." It was not easy to walk away. Picture if you will, a loopy, lanky, loose-limbed figure grooving with rhythmic remorse as he dances away from the source of his happiness. That was me, tearing myself away from the Sonic Stage for the first of today’s press conferences.

Sometimes the stars come out early in Manchester, Tenn. They sure did today with the assembled constellation for the 1 p.m. press conference panel, including Bela Fleck, Justin Townes Earle, Abigail Washburn, Warren Haynes, Grace Potter, Lewis Black and Slug (Sean Daley of Atmosphere). This press conference was the typical Bonnaroo love fest, with the assembled performers gushing sincere overtures to one another throughout the 30 minutes they were assembled for the Q&A session.

Later, after I’ve had time to pore over my recording of the press conference, I promise to regale you with some juicy quotes.

Chuck was kind enough to get to the press tent early enough to snag me a front row seat and I got a very palpable sense of mutual love and respect coming from the stage. Of course, even a hardened curmudgeon like Lewis Black has no defense for a Rock Goddess like Grace Potter. Seated by her side, you could tell he had trouble mustering the full bluster of his confrontational humor.

But Bonnaroo is, first and foremost, about music. And after leaving the press conference I was immediately submerged in a variety of sounds.

Kylesa brought their brainy Metal force down like the hammer of the gods in That Tent, while Phosphorescent soothed the This Tent crowd with cool waves of soothing southern AltRock. Wandering through Centeroo among tens of thousands of people, I saw the usual array of food vendors and smaller tents offering a variety of ways to beat the heat. Some offer a selection of microbrews from around the country. Other tents are simply water stations with fans and misters cooling the faces and red limbs of those who wander in. Some are corporate sponsors with elaborate structures built just for this weekend and equipped with A/C and electrical outlets for charging phones.

On my way back to the campsite I catch several minutes of Bela Fleck and the original Flecktones, reunited just a few days ago and playing their first shows together since 1992.

Still to come on this fine Friday are performances by the Warren Haynes Band, Wanda Jackson, Cincinnati’s Walk The Moon, Atmosphere, Ray LaMontagne, my new favorite band, The Decemberists, and dozens more. Above all today I am most excited to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band performing one of their very few tour stops when both bands play together. Later tonight there will be headlining performances on the main stages by Primus, My Morning Jacket, and Arcade Fire.

Let you in on a little secret? Chuck and I got invited to a private show by Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, to take place in a very small tent near the press compound. If I am unable to offer details on things going on elsewhere around the festival between 6:30-7 p.m., now you know why.

Watch clips and live performances from Bonnaroo here.

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