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Saturday at Bonnaroo: Jack Johnson Draws a Crowd

Maybe I should've been prepared for this, but things got a couple degrees weirder on Saturday. And I'm saying that about the attendees, the musicians, and the music itself. 

The first act I saw on Saturday was James McCartney, obviously the son of the Sir himself. He played at the Miller Lite New Music Lounge (there were bean bags to sit on!), and drew a pretty sizable crowd. I have listened to a couple of his songs, and his sound is definitely in the singer-songwriter area. He played with no band--just himself on guitar. First of all, he has a great voice, and he's obviously an extraordinary guitar player. His melodies are very acoustic-pop, and they reminded me of a smarter Jason Mraz. Very cool.  Instead of saying "cheers" at the end of his set, he said "Rock and Roll!" 

The next show I went to was Death Grips. I have to admit to not being in the loop about Death Grips. In fact, the only familiar thing about the whole show was the Buzz Lightyear balloon floating around (obviously a DO). But the crowd was huge and really pumped. There were some intense synths and bass going on, which was cool. I think vocalist MC Ride's mic could've been turned up, because I didn't catch everything he said. Wu-Tang Clan they were not, but the influence was there in the aggressive approach. Pretty cool. Keep an eye on them.

Here's a thing I saw at Death Grips: a group of dudes wearing plaid button-downs and sarong skirts. I haven't decided if it's a DO or a DON'T. I suppose if things need to be aired out, it's a DO. 

Next I saw Beyoncé's sister Solange on the Which Stage. She was great! I am a fan of her sister's, and Solange has an equally good, but different voice. Actually, her whole sound is different. She sings more in the vein of R&B than hip-hop or pop, and whoever plays bass in her band is excellent. I was most impressed with Solange's high notes. The woman has GOT them. They sounded effortless. Here's the first weirdest musician comment, courtesy of Solange: "I know it's hot out there, but if I could see y'all grinding a little, that would make me feel good."

I saw many more sunflower-printed clothes on Saturday, which I considered a DO. I think they should be the next polka dots. Also a DO: lace shorts! I didn't think I'd like them, but I did.

The Tallest Man on Earth was next, at This Tent. He is actually Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, and he's only 5'8". I've been a fan of his for about two years, and finally seeing him in person was cool. His voice has a really soulful, but crackling sound. I guess you could say he sounds like a campfire. Anyway, the crowd was huge and also really into his show. It was great. He mainly kept it very acoustic, strummy, and rhythmic, but would occasionally add some electric fills on top. Everyone sang along on "The Gardener."

I saw John Gourley, co-founder and lead singer of Portugal. The Man at a press conference earlier in the day, and had listened to some of the band's tunes. I was still not sure if I actually liked them. But I went to their show on the Which Stage anyway. They've been described as a psych-rock band, and I can see that. The keyboards were alternately hazy and whirly, and always sounded very '60's-influenced. But when the drums and guitars came in, all I could think was that they sounded like Weezer's older cousin. Also, Gourley wore a hooded jacket throughout the set. I was a bit worried for him. But after they played "Modern Jesus," they segued into a nifty cover of "Helter Skelter." And I was sold. They just iced the cake by ending on the "na na na" fade-out of "Hey Jude."  

Here's a DON'T: weed leaves printed on socks. I saw a marijuana leaf tattoo at Local Natives on Friday, and that was probably worse, but why do you need weed socks? Just buy hemp socks! A DO was a small tattoo of Seattle's Space Needle on one woman's ankle. Cute. 

Ok, next show was Matt and Kim at That Other Tent. Here's where things probably started climbing the weird charts. I generally think of Matt and Kim as a Portlandia version of the White Stripes, with more electronic elements. I still think that about their music, actually. But I remain unconvinced that it wasn't actually Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen filming a Portlandia sketch as Matt and Kim. Matt introduced Kim as his "partner in crime" and "partner in sex." Ok. Then Kim said to the crowd, "At Bonnaroo, freaky [stuff] always goes down. If you want to crowd surf while having sex today, go ahead. I love that [stuff]." I wish I was making that up. 

Cat Power played on the Which Stage next, and she was brilliant. Her voice is awesome. It's as strong and confident as it sounds on her albums. The crowd was big, and really into the show. There was some epic festival dancing going on. Basically, it was everything you'd expect from a Cat Power performance. 

I hopped over to Dwight Yoakum at That Tent, and found all the older people. Yoakum plays really good country without veering into pop like a lot of country artists do (ahem Chesney). There were a lot of sequins going on in the band, but Yoakum kept it simple in denim and a Stetson. And the guy sounded great as he ever did. He kept the banter to a minimum and just played good tunes.

Beach House was possibly the peak of weird over at This Tent. Singer Victoria Legrand has the coolest voice, and you can hear the textures even better live. If I had to compare it to a fabric, I would say it's a lot like taffeta. Not silky, but still smooth. But then she said she'd basically gotten a contact high from the audience's energy and that she was seeing silver snakes in the air. Ok. Still, the dreamy synths were lovely. 

The Lumineers were next. I'd planned on leaving their show early, but decided to stay till the end since Mumford and Sons had to cancel their headlining appearance. They were good. They make the most of their mainly acoustic band, and really make an effort to connect with the audience. And none of the singers ever falter while singing. Just great voices. They sound like they live in the forest. My only complaint was that they took longer between songs than any other band I've seen, and bantered very little. Their fans were great, though, and sang along to almost every song, including relatively deep cuts like "Charlie Boy," and a cover of the Violent Femmes' "We Like American Music." That was cool!

And over to Jack Johnson we all went. It was really crowded! People really love him! He played a lot of new songs, but also classics like "Upside Down," "Sitting, Watching, Waiting," and "Better Together." Very nice. Again, the crowd sang along to almost every previously-released song played. And for scraping together his band and learning some chords on the fly, they sounded great. 

I'll wrap this up by saying that Bonnaroo is a lot like what your parents told you college would be like. Everyone of every stripe is here, and they're all really nice and just here to have a good time. More tomorrow from the real world. (And happy fathers' day to my dad and everyone else's father or father figures!)

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