Live from Bonnaroo 2011, Part 5

Our third and final day on-site at Bonnaroo was no less crazy than the previous two. I took occasional breaks during the day, sometimes in the air-conditioned press tent, and other times back at the campsite where I’d snack, get off my feet for a few minutes and pour water over my head.

The day began with an 11:30 a.m. press-tent panel discussion on changes in the concert industry since Bonnaroo’s inception 10 years ago. The panel included Bonnaroo founder Ashley Capps who reminisced about the festival’s early days. Capps and crew intentionally booked bands for the inaugural festival who already had direct contact with their fan base via the internet. By tapping into this pre-existing network, they were able to sell out the first Bonnaroo in just 18 days.—-

Apparently a huge success from its earliest days, the first Bonnaroo festival sold out before anyone in the mainstream media had even heard about it.

I started my day with G. Love & Special Sauce on the Which Stage at 12:30, then made the long walk out to the Other Tent to see Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea. Located on a far corner of the festival grounds, the Other Tent does not garner many curious passers-by. While the other stages lure in casual listeners, the Other Tent is a destination stage. That said, a number of artists seem to draw smaller crowds there than bands playing elsewhere at Bonnaroo.

There wasn’t a huge turn-out for Atkins, but the folks that were there were hardcore fans who seemed to know most of her material. Her recent Mondo Amore CD is a throwback to vintage ’70s Hard Rock, packed with theatrical shifts in mood and meter, tension-and-release drama and Atkins’ soaring vocals.

After a brief respite back at the campsite I caught a few minutes of Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub performing in This Tent. In addition to virtuoso drummer Brian Blade, Black Dub features singer and multi-instrumentalist Trixie Whitley, daughter of the late Chris Whitley. Small in stature, with short blond hair, Whitley looks like a wicked child onstage, but she sings in a husky passionate howl that seemed to reverberate with several lifetimes of grief and fury.

To no one’s surprise, Bonnaroo Nation positively mobbed That Tent for Greeg Allman’s 5 p.m. performance that included a number of tunes from his latest record and some Allman Brothers’ classics, as well. As an instrumentalist, he is best known as a pianist and organ player with the Allmans, but for some reason it was strangely satisfying to see Gregg playing quite a lot of guitar in his Bonnaroo performance.

From there I made brief stops at the campsite and press tent to catch up with my travel companions before wandering out into the huge field in front of the What Stage for Robert Plant’s 6 p.m. performance. Plant’s sporting a graying goatee with his trademark mane nowadays, but he’s aging well physically and musically. Accompanied by his Band Of Joy, including Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin, Plant calmly and coolly sauntered through a set that included songs from his solo records and some re-vamped Zep classics. Plant & Co. spinning their take on Zeppelin’s “Houses Of The Holy” was one of the highlights of the weekend. “Ramble On” got the whole crowd singing along.

Plant seems to be exploring his lower register with the material he’s choosing these days. But tonight when he went up there for those high notes we all know him for he did so with measured confidence and more than a little experimentation. The crowd went nuts, but Robert himself was very obviously not going for the easy applause as he played with accents and cadences within phrases from classic songs we’ve all heard hundreds of times. He had the crowd eating from his hand and he didn’t even break a sweat.

The 7 p.m. Super Jam in That Tent was a funky summer groove-a-thon featuring Dr. John, Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Elsewhere, The Strokes raged for a giant crowd at the Which Stage as Widespread Panic prepared to close out the festival with their Sunday night headlining slot on the What Stage.

It’s a fitting conclusion to the tenth Bonnaroo festival, as Widespread was on the bill at the very first Bonnaroo in 2002 and has appeared here several times since.

Photo of The Strokes by Chuck Madden. Check out more of Chuck's photos from the fest here.

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