Live from Bonnaroo 2011, Part 2

The 4 p.m. press conference didn’t pack nearly as much star power as the one held earlier in the day, but it was loaded with much casual insight about the inner workings of Bonnaroo and the different artists’ experience playing at the festival. The second press conference panel of the day featured Hayes Carll, Ben Sollee, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and members of The Sheepdogs and Phosphorescent.—-

AltCountry chanteuse Mayfield looked like a lost little girl auditioning for the school play, as her far-away eyes scaled the press tent ceiling and her attention seemed preoccupied with events on another plane. Her records may have taken me a few listens to really appreciate, but the sight of this casual space cadet tilting her bleach blonde head like a curious animal with a smile that occasionally revealed her retainer was immediately endearing.

As they so often do, it was a comedian who stole the show at press conference No. 2. Hannibal Buress pondered the sign language interpreter that was by the stage during his performance in the Bonnaroo tent, wondering what deaf person would spend $300 on a ticket to Bonnaroo. He said, “Don’t get me wrong, cuz I think it’s cool. Nobody should be deprived of my poop jokes.”

We’ve met up with friends old and new here at Bonnaroo, including a needle-in-a-haystack discovery of our new friend Hailey reclining in a hammock not far from the Other Tent. The hostess we met in a Murfreesboro restaurant last night was chilling with her beau Shaggy after checking out the Silent Disco. That’s where dancers don headphones and dance to music that no one else can hear.

Sometimes a previously unheard of Bonnaroo moment will surprise even those of us who have been here a few times. Case in point: Shaggy and Hailey told us that when they were grooving in the Silent Disco the DJ put a guy on the mic who proposed to his girlfriend.

Cincinnati’s Walk The Moon put on a 4:30 p.m. performance in Café Where that was packed to the rafters. There was easily a couple hundred people jammed in the tiny tent, as Walk The Moon raged through some of the most infectious Power Pop that I’ve heard since the Interpreters. It was a pleasant shock to discover that this band from Cincinnati has very quickly developed a much larger audience outside their home turf than perhaps many of us were aware. They’re even slated to play the main stage at Lollapalooza later this year. They were rocking out, pouring sweat, grinning from ear to ear and young girls were singing along with every song. These guys are already beyond needing any help from me. Check ‘em out before they get big. Shit. I wonder if it’s already too late?

It’s weird how the ebb and flow of the mob can send certain sociological signals and force you to improvise here at Bonnaroo. Unexpected currents in the massive waves of people pouring into the area in from of the What Stage forced me to catch only a few minutes of The Decemberists’ set. I had fought in vain like a salmon swimming upstream through the oncoming crowd to get to This Tent for Atmosphere’s performance a little earlier and the end result was frustration and the eventual realization that I wouldn’t catch much of their act. Other times I see small crowds in front of stages that I would expect to see much more crowded.

There was a surprisingly small turnout, for example, at the Other Tent in the minutes leading up to the performance by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band there at 7:30 p.m. But as they struck the first few notes of “The Band’s In Town” the crowd gathered, swelled and began dancing. Everything old was new again as the 12 musicians of the Del-Pres combo wove magic with their blend of Dixieland and Bluegrass. Every note of it living history.

As promised, I can now divulge that Chuck & I were invited to a very private performance by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals in the Wheat Thins Crunch Den. The small tent held no more than 100 people and the band was there to film a video. Miss Grace’s star is really rising of late and this was a rare opportunity to see her and her band in a very intimate setting. Their four song mini-set included a version of “I Love Rock And Roll." My understanding is that a number of bands will perform in a similar setting this weekend, all of them contributing their version of the Joan Jett classic for some kind of Wheat Thins commercial. Not sure how I feel about that, but Grace and her band were so smokin’ hot that I can forgive a lot.

After a brief respite back at our campsite, I caught a few minutes of Primus unleashing a freaky Funk storm on the Which Stage. Les Claypool is like some kind of shaman to Bonnaroo Nation. Whether performing with Oysterhead, his Flying Frog Brigade or this reunited Primus, he never fails to conduct the masses in a collective seizure every time he plays here.

Just a moment ago on the What Stage, My Morning Jacket wrapped up a set loaded with special guests including members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. They probably didn’t even set down their instruments after performing with Del McCoury, surely jumping onto golf cart transport to deliver them thusly.

Within the hour, Arcade Fire will take the What Stage. Later still, well after midnight, there will be performances by Lil Wayne, Bassnectar, Big Boi, The Black Angels and more.

Photo of Walk the Moon by Chuck Madden

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.