roo report #9: Afterthoughts
There is always too much to see and too much to say about Bonnaroo, so with the dirt finally washed off my feet and the layers of sunscreen and sweat mostly scrubbed away, a few final notes:
-- If you go to Bonnaroo, do your best to get out of your tent (or your RV, for you softies) in time for the early sets of the day every day. It will be worth your while. As in previous years, the programmers kicked off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with noon-ish sets by some spectacular performers specifically chosen to get the party started. Friday brought Trombone Shorty's brass funk; Saturday, it was the Senegalese legend Baaba Maal leading a drum-driven ensemble through some fiery Afro-fusion; and best of all was the Sunday set by the Tuareg band Tinariwen, whose deep desert-blues grooves were a perfect antidote to Saturday night excesses.
-- The block programming of various tents and days created an interesting set of mini-festivals under the large Bonnaroo umbrella. There was the designation of the Latino Alternativo stage on Saturday afternoon, showcasing several Latin American rock and electronic acts. Less formal, but obviously intentional, was the progressive-bluegrass/alt-country scheduling of That Tent on Friday (Punch Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Hot Rize, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers), and the same tent's outlaw-country lineup on Sunday afternoon (Jamey Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, Miranda Lambert). If a little punk was more your thing, there was the back-to-back booking of Against Me!, the Dropkick Murphys, and Rise Against over at This Tent. Besides allowing for some obvious interplay between acts (e.g., Kristofferson inviting Johnson onstage for a shambling duet on "For the Good Times"), it gives the festival as a whole something of the sense of a giant, live record store, with different sections you can browse at your leisure.
-- Depending on the weather, every year at Bonnaroo presents some kind of physical challenge. Sometimes it's rain, sometimes it's dust. This year, it was heat. The punishing and largely cloudless 90-plus-degree afternoons made choices about which bands to see and which to skip dependent as much on proximity to the campsite and available shade as on personal musical preferences. My friends and I took to rating acts on their sunworthiness: the amount of solar power we were willing to endure for them. It also made me wonder a little why songs about that big bad melanoma machine are always so cheerful. By Sunday afternoon, "Here Comes the Sun" would have sounded like a grim, Cormac McCarthy-ish dirge to me. Fortunately, the evenings were almost uniformly lovely, cool enough to both dance and sleep comfortably.
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