Bonnaroo 2011 was hot — and we’re not just talking about the temps. Asheville guitar god Aaron “Woody” Wood played scorching sets that garnered national radio time; local b-boy crew Fresh Trix wowed crowds with their funky body contortions; locally based music marketing company Music Allies ran a huge backstage operation, and countless other peeps with local connections worked, played and partied hard just down the road in Manchester, Tenn.
They were joined over the course of the epic weekend (June 10-13) by more than 80,000 music fans from across the country, and an overwhelming list of top national acts such as Arcade Fire, Eminem, Buffalo Springfield and Mumford & Sons.
Xpress took in as much of it as we could, and as we get back to town (and internet service) over the next couple of days, we’ll be updating this post with dispatches from what went down at the summer’s biggest fest.
And if you made the journey from Buncombe to Bonnaroo, we’d love to hear your view too — what were the highlights (and lowlights) of your weekend? Share your stories in the comment section below, post them to our Twitter feed using the hashtag #avlroo, or email us your thoughts (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Views from the ‘Roo: Woody Wood in the house
Aaron “Woody” Wood and his all-star band of Asheville musicians — Josh Blake, Kellin Watson, Debrissa McKinney, Josh Rinehart, Mike Rhodes and others — rocked the ‘Roo hard. In addition to their Sunday evening public set (more on that coming soon), and their Radio Bonnaroo performance (which was broadcast across the country), they held court backstage with several impromptu jam sessions under a tree near the press compound. Here’s a few videos and photos of the band’s jams (and other revelry).
Longtime WNCW music director and DJ Martin Anderson was at Bonnaroo broadcasting and enjoying the Woody Wood sessions:
The band gave away hand fans to market themselves to the masses. With temperatures rising well in to the 90s each afternoon, they were a big hit; here’s a safety worker backstage who appreciated the gift:
And here’s Woody and his manager, Jessica Thomasin, demonstrating how to use them (kind of):
Later, Woody and his posse looked like a band of marauding bandits as they wondered the dusty backstage roads (they claimed the bandannas helped filter the dust and that they were NOT actually preparing to rob anyone, but as of press time, those claims weren’t confirmed)
Views from the ‘Roo: Keeping it Fresh
Asheville b-boy crew Fresh Trix was one of the hardest working groups at Bonnaroo, performing several brilliant sets of physically demanding breakdancing that had the crowd turning their heads. They were joined by the masterful DJ Brett Rock on the 1s and 2s and also participated in a round of Q&A sessions with the crowd. Here’s a slideshow of photos from their sweltering Saturday afternoon show and discussion:
Views from the ‘Roo: Asheville Represent!
Here’s a few more shots of random Asheville-related people and happenings.
Molly Kummerle of Paper Tiger was regulating at the backstage radio compound, which was run by marketing company Music Allies (where she works when she’s not playing music herself):
Meanwhile, Sallie Ford (of Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside) was cooling off in the air-conditioned guest lounge:
A proud Asheville High grad, Ford grew up in Asheville but moved to Portland, Ore. in 2006. Since then, her jazz, blues and soul-influenced band has been blowing up, touring across the country and opening for the Avett Brothers. She performed at Bonnaroo on Saturday afternoon.
That evening, we spotted Arnaldo Alvarez and this crew of Asheville ladies dancing to Wiz Kalifah:
And later that night, we found president of the Asheville Pizza Company, Mike Rangel, strolling through the campground wearing his party hat:
We also ran in to Ashevillean Jay Lively getting down at the Dr. John show:
Lively shared a story about going to high school in Kentucky with My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James. Apparently, Lively and James were both on the high school wrestling team together. Lively refrained from saying who was a better wrestler, but he did report that James was a “nice guy” and a “cool dork.”
—Words and photos by Jake Frankel
Bonnaroo is a lesson in sacrifices. With half a dozen shows happening simultaneously, relentless heat and shoulder to shoulder crowds, it’s impossible to see every performance one would like. Luckily, there’s still time to catch more music in four days than the average concert goer would witness in as many months. Here are some favorites from this year.
• During an early-afternoon set at This Tent, Jessica Lea Mayfield was joined by her “best friend and brother,” David Mayfield, for a stellar acoustic rendition of “River of Jordan.” Delivered beneath an enormous tent in the rural Tennessee field, this gospel traditional incited an enthusiastic clap-along that instantly brought to mind a Southern tent revival. Closing the set as she sipped a large glass of wine, Mayfield noted the blistering heat: “I’m wearing SPF 20 like a sweater! This is the most I’ve been outdoors in years.”
• “I’ve always been a hard dog to keep under the porch,” admitted Justin Townes Earle early in his set, “and ain’t nothing changed.” The Tennessee native’s Friday performance lived up to that promise as the singer — donning a straw fedora, plaid blazer, black frame glasses and khaki pants that could have come straight from the closet of a depression-era shop owner — picked his way through a playful show that included shot-outs to his mother, grandfather and namesake, Townes Van Zandt, along with a cameo from cellist Ben Sollee. The Manhattan-based songwriter even capitalized on the opportunity to take a shot at Brooklyn, calling his former neighborhood of Crown Heights a “shit hole” before the opening chords of “One More Night in Brooklyn.”
• Iconic punk outfit NOFX was the biggest surprise of this year’s lineup. After all, the band makes no secret of its distaste for hippies and even wrote a song celebrating the death of Jerry Garcia. Not surprisingly, the notoriously blunt and crude California natives seized every opportunity to antagonize the Bonnaroo crowd, poking fun at hippies, jam bands and even Tennessee whiskey (“You know where the best whiskey is made?,” they mused from stage. “Ireland!”). Nonetheless, the groups lightning-fast percussion, screeching guitars and nasally vocal harmonies had the Bonnaroo crowd bouncing, moshing and crowd surfing in reckless abandon for nearly two hours, especially after guitarist Fat Mike traded his guitar for a trumpet near the end of the set.
• My Morning Jacket was one of the the most anticipated performances of Bonnaroo X, but it seemed frontman Jim James was the most excited to be there. “I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight,” he began. “It’s truly amazing to look out into this ocean of humanity. We’ve had our minds blown at Bonnaroo so many times over the years.” The band has appeared at the festival at least three times before, but Friday was their first at the massive main stage, and the added production took the festival veterans’ set to a whole new level. Fresh off a VH1 Storytellers appearance, James was captivating and confident before the crowd of 20,000 plus, at one point donning a cape and slipping into a howling alter ego who pounced theatrically about the stage. The band’s headlining slot proved that My Morning Jacket is a highlight of any festival at which it appears and a Southern rock band Southern rock fans can be proud of.
• Though the band didn’t perform its official set until Saturday, Deer Tick arrived early to surprise the late-night crowd with an unannounced set of Nirvana covers (performed as Deervana) at Bonnaroo’s tiny Solar Stage. A few hundred lucky fans were fortunate enough to stumble into the raucous tribute that included crowd-pleasing tracks like “Serve the Servants,” “School,” and “Molly Lips.” I’ll never have the opportunity to see Nirvana live, but Deer Tick’s renditions were so heartfelt and accurate that it was sometimes easy to imagine Cobain himself screeching and wailing onstage.
• The Low Anthem‘s early set was the perfect start to a hot and somewhat miserable day. Slow, gentle and breezy, the band (who rotated instruments throughout the performance) eased drowsy fans back to life with its gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies and irresistible indie-folk sensibilities. The highlight of this performance was the band’s sparse and melancholy tribute to the father of evolution, “Charlie Darwin,” and a cameo from Ben Sollee, the most prolific Bonnaroo collaborator.
• Nashville-based Tristen played one of those out-of-the-way shows in a tent you’d only find if you meant to. Surprisingly, a lot of people meant to find this show. I used to catch the band at house parties and bars when I lived in Music City, and I always wondered why Tristen hadn’t taken off. I don’t have to wonder any more. Backed by a four-piece band, Tristen was a commanding presence even on the tiny Brewer’s Stage, delivering her catchy narratives and witty lyrics with refreshing spunk and vigor. Remember this band. You’ll be hearing more from Tristen.
• I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Buffalo Springfield show, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a turnout that rivaled even the largest Saturday crowds. The iconic ‘60s folk rockers were noticeably quieter than previous shows at the Which Stage, but there’s nothing like watching Neil Young and Steven Stills performing together at sundown before a dusty, half-naked crowd in the tens of thousands. Bonnaroo already feels like a trip back in time to Woodstock at moments, and the feeling was never stronger than during this set. However, as pleasant as Buffalo Springfield’s mellow performance was, for me, the highlight came when Young took center stage and cranked up his axe for a blistering rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
• Gogol Bordello is nearly impossible to categorize, other than to say the group’s performances are a spectacle like no other. Which was perfect, because Bonnaroo is nothing if not a spectacle. This year, the band brought its theatrical gypsy punk to the festival at 2:30 a.m., presiding over an all-night party that stretched as far as the eye could see and ran well past sunrise. After an exhausting day of sweaty crowds and debilitating humidity, Gogol Bordello’s super-charged set was a much-needed shot in the arm that kept fists pumping and feet taping longer than any of those fists or feet could have imagined hours earlier. .
• Girl Talk can be a polarizing figure in the dance and electronic scene. Yes, he only plays mash-ups of other people’s songs, but anyone who’s had the pleasure dancing in the throngs of elated fans at a Girl Talk show will attest to the fact that it’s a powerful experience; the kind where you forget where you are and lose all concept of time. His Bonnaroo set was no exception, and witnessing Gillis hold dominion over the mood and pace of 10,000 people with the push of a button was something to behold.
• Much like The Low Anthem the day before, Seattle-based indie folkers The Head and the Heart opened Sunday’s schedule with a stellar set of male/female harmonies and traditional-leaning tunes that inspired the sunburnt masses to power through another day at Bonnaroo. The band has a knack for building percussive folk songs to an explosive climax, and it’s closing track, “Rivers and Roads,” drew the crowd to its feet for a swaying sing-along beneath the shade of The Other Tent.
• Perhaps the heat was just too much to bear, but Iron and Wine‘s mid-afternoon set didn’t draw the crowds one would expect at a festival like Bonnaroo. That, however, was fine by those who did attend, because it offered a chance to sit down and relax during the band’s two-hour show. “It’s great to be back at Bonnaroo,” said Sam Beam as he appeared onstage in a black suit and jacket. “We’ve got a lot of music to play, so we’re going to get to it.” From there, the band cycled through mostly newer material, neglecting older tunes for a full-on rock set that found Beam soloing through chaotic jams and even milking feedback from the amps. A laid-back set of banjo-fronted folk songs would have been nice in the shade, but the band has already done that at Bonnaroo, and it was a treat to see a heavier side of Sam Beam.
• Sunday night’s schedule was a labyrinth of impossible choices (Beirut, The Strokes and Explosions in the Sky all overlapped) and Beirut began the three-hour window of chaos. Unfortunately, the band appeared 15 minutes late, ruining fans’ best laid plans and inspiring auditory complaints from the anxious crowd. Nonetheless, those fans stuck it out for what may have been the most awe-inspiring performance of Bonnaroo. Beirut’s sublime mix of indie rock, Latin jazz and world folk music was unlike anything else at the festival. The sound was impeccable, the crowd was manageable, and the echo of accordions, trumpets and tubas through a breezy Tennessee field was surreal.
• Woody Wood‘s official Bonnaroo set came at an unfortunate time, late on a Sunday and up against the previously mentioned labyrinth of must-sees. But Wood appeared undeterred, blazing through solos, milking the modest crowd from atop the stage monitors, singing his lungs out and generally rocking like a headliner. His new material was gritty and soulful, his older material just as powerful as ever, and though the turnout was light, those lucky enough to catch the Asheville native’s set were visibly impressed. At one point, after a particularly ferocious jam, a spectator yelled, “that was awesome!” and indeed it was. Wood may have only performed for 30 people, but he won 30 die-hard fans with his red-hot set.
• For many exhausted fans, The Strokes were Bonnaroo’s final stop. By now, things were winding down, but the New York garage revivalists offered one last bang with their fuzz-laden set at Which Stage. As the sun set over the festival for the last time and friends said their goodbyes, Julian Casablancas led a charge of material from the band’s new album, Angles, and chatted warmly with the crowd, empathizing with the “tough choices” of the afternoon (Casablancas had been sidestage at Beiruit until minutes before his own show began). “They always do that at festivals,” he noted, “Thanks for being here. You made a tough choice, and I respect that.”
– Dane Smith
A look back at the ‘Roo (Podcast)
On the Sunday afternoon drive back to Asheville, Xpress reporter Jake Frankel, local visual artist Galen Bernard and Fresh Trix performer Matt Atreau Mercer shared stories and discussed the weekend’s musical highlights. Here’s a podcast of their musings on Woody Wood, Lil Wayne, Primus, Arcade Fire and much more: