Today was a sad day for old J.P. My Bonnaroo buzz finally wore off. For those of you keeping score at home, it officially takes three and a half days to come down from the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
I was zoned into a task at work earlier and, once finished, looked around and just didn’t feel it anymore. The day had turned back into another normal day at the office. No more Bonnaroo for another year, no more good vibes coursing through the veins, back to the same old routine.
But what better to way to revive the good feelings and recapture some of those good vibes than to remember all that was great about Bonnaroo 2007? I’ve been looking forward to writing this one all week. So here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the Best of Bonnaroo (as experienced by this humble reporter).
To start things off, suppose it’s only fitting to designate the ...
John Paul Jones – This guy was everywhere last weekend. Everyday someone would come by and tell of a new John Paul Jones sighting. He jumped up with six different performers by my count, and I’m sure there were some I missed. Feeling good that people were talking about him again (as much of Led Zeppelin’s sound belongs to him as it does Jimmy Page or Robert Plant), Mr. Jones seemed ready and willing to sit-in with whoever would have him. Since he had no band of his own, he was basically a free agent, and free agents with this pedigree don’t spend much time waiting around. It was pretty great to discuss the merits of Led Zeppelin and then go watch one of the dudes on your album cover--even better when he popped up out of nowhere. Congratulations, JPJ. You certainly earned this.
Widespread Panic – And this one wasn’t even close. Tool and the Police no doubt hopped back in their jets the minute their sets ended, but had they stuck around they would’ve had the pleasure of watching a band who knows how to handle a headlining gig at something like this. Good times and happy people ruled the night on Sunday, something that couldn’t be said for the other two headliners.
Best cheap way to sort of freshen up:
Water trailers next to the $7 showers – If you really needed to feel the sensation of taking a shower each morning, you could waste seven bucks and let the kind folks at Garnier Fructis take care of you. Otherwise, if you can handle a bit of grime, you could grab some kind of container, stand in line for a bit, and soak/splash yourself all over with chilly water that woke you up and sent you on your way with a swift kick in the ass. Refreshing, free and a surprisingly good time, crammed in the trailer with 20 of your fellow festivalgoers.
Best sanitary miracle:
The condition of the port-o-johns – Thank you, Bonnaroo, for keeping on top of the waste situation. Each night they cleaned those babies as best they could, and some even retained toilet paper for the duration of the festival. They lucked out not having to deal with rain collecting in the stalls, but regardless they did a bang-up job keeping relatively clean toilets for 80,000 people in the middle of nowhere.
Best cigarette smoker:
Matthew Followill – This guy is why people try to outlaw smoking on television, and why it’s already been outlawed in advertising. Dude smokes a mean cigarette. Kings of Leon’s roadie walked out to give lead singer Caleb the news about the power outage Friday afternoon, and before Caleb could even start flipping out Matthew had already put his guitar down, leaned back against his amp and fired up a fresh smoke. Something about lead guitar players and cigarettes go together, and Followill is a perfect example why. While we’re on the Kings …
Best, most expensive haircuts:
Kings of Leon – These guys love their image. If they didn’t rock so hard, we’d have every right to completely dismiss them as image-obsessed pantywaists. As it is, they’ll rock your face off and have slept with more models than most of us will ever see in person. There’s something to be said for the way they do business.
Best looking out by the Bonnaroo staff:
Air conditioning in every spot they could manage – The comedy tent, jazz tent, cabaret tent, movie tent, public computer tent and every other enclosed space on the Bonnaroo grounds had A/C hooked up, cranked to the max. Hot as it was every minute of each afternoon, these were life savers. I probably wouldn’t have sat in the Bonna Rouge cabaret tent for half an hour had they not had the A/C blasting; as it happened, I thoroughly enjoyed myself cooling off while having no concept of what it was I was hearing.
Best chance to catch a band whose show you may have missed:
The Sonic Stage – The stage area wasn’t very big, and the female MC was pretty annoying by the end of the weekend, but before any artist hit up the autograph tent they stopped and played for half an hour on the Sonic Stage. Positioned at the end of Centeroo and between That Tent and Which Stage, the Sonic Stage sat at a perfect intersection to catch random passersby. North Mississippi All-Stars, Warren Haynes, Elvis Perkins, Annuals, String Cheese keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth and many others stopped by at some point over the weekend.
Best idea at any festival main stage I’ve ever seen:
Clearing out the front pit after every show – Apparently last year, the day of Radiohead’s performance, some fans sat down in front of What Stage all day long doing nothing but saving space for the headliners. This year, the area immediately in front of the stage on back about 50 yards was cleared out after each show and opened 30 minutes before the next one. Yes, this was yet another line to wait in, but in all honesty it’s also the only fair way to do this.
With this system, I could get up front for Kings of Leon and Wilco without having to worry about stepping on anybody’s toes or listening to people bitch about how long they’d been there. Hardcore fans for each act could get close to their favorite bands, and the bands in turn could feed off that positive energy instead of being face-to-face with bored people waiting on them to finish. Two security guards sat at the pit entrance with a clicker, monitoring the flow of traffic and preventing things from becoming too congested or out of control. Trust me, soooooooo much better this way.
Best set decoration I can imagine:
The Flaming Lips’ UFO – So Wayne Coyne talked a little too much during their set (in all fairness, it’s not as though these guys jam out, and they were pegged for two and a half hours). But the real story about the Flaming Lips’ late-night set was the massive UFO they lowered from the top of Which Stage at the beginning and end of their show. Upon “landing,” the band came out of the bottom and Wayne and his space bubble came out up top.
Once the show started, the UFO tilted back, hovering over the band and unleashing a trippier-than-usual light show on the crowd. Eventually it rose back to the top and made room for their signature triple-image video screen, only to come back down after the third encore to take them “home.” (You want to know what’s difficult? Trying to describe the stage decorations at a Flaming Lips concert. Give it a whirl, it’s hard as shit). They make their live show a complete sensory assault, this massive rock spectacle that is hard to describe in any coherent way, and with this UFO idea they pushed that envelope farther than I really thought possible.
Most pleasant surprise:
The Cold War Kids with Elvis Perkins – Saturday I got to the grounds just after 11:00 a.m., wrote and filed a post for you dear readers, and headed back to the press tent to snag some free water and see what time the press conferences were that day. The white board featuring that day’s schedule read, “12:00: Press-only show featuring Cold War Kids with Elvis Perkins in Dearland and Alec Ounsworth from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!”
This is why it’s a good idea to take actual notes, not just mental ones, when receiving e-mails from the people in charge of Bonnaroo. Two seconds after I sat down with a warm bottle of water the music started, and the two bands traded songs and instruments and sang back-up for each other over 20 minutes for the gathered press corps. There’s nothing like stumbling upon a show with members from three of your favorite bands to start your day at Bonnaroo.
Most popular cover:
“War Pigs,” by Black Sabbath – At consecutive shows Saturday night, first the Flaming Lips and next at Gov’t Mule, I bore witness to covers of the exact same song. The Lips played their version 45 minutes before their show was scheduled to begin, telling everyone to “Pretend it’s just a sound check,” though the cued-up background video showing rapid-fire pictures of the Bush administration told us otherwise.
I don’t know if Warren Haynes heard about this and figured, “Hey, we know that song, too,” but it sure seemed like it. You can imagine how the two versions differed (guess which one was more bombastic? Guess which one had the searing solo?). This goes back to yesterday’s Most Obvious Target award, but hey, at least these bands were playing these songs and not just talking shit. And anyway, that song rocks live. Nice and angry.
Wow, I really do feel a lot better. Thanks for going through that with me, everybody. For the rest of my life, I know how to recapture the feeling of my first Bonnaroo. It’s a simple enough process: think about all the cool things that happened, remember the feelings triggered, bask in the warmth produced.
Or blast “War Pigs,” dump a gallon jug of cold water on myself and think about UFOs. It’s one or the other, and probably going to be a game time decision in each particular instance.