MANCHESTER, Tennessee — The inaugural Bonnaroo Music Festival
treated more than 70,000 fans to three days of camping and music this past
weekend, proving that the reality of successful large American rock
festivals did not burn down with the fires that engulfed Woodstock ’99.
While that festival three summers ago culminated in frightening scenes and
utter chaos, Bonnaroo offered an entirely peaceful weekend of eclectic music
featuring performances by Jurassic 5, Widespread Panic, Ben Harper and Jack
Johnson. With a lineup of 42 artists that brought together almost all of the
marquee acts in the jam band universe, the festival went off smoothly,
turning a 500-acre farm in Central Tennessee into a virtual amusement park
for music lovers.
Given the jam band scene’s penchant for collaborations, naturally there were
many, and the artists appeared to be having the time of their lives playing
to enthusiastic crowds with their fellow musicians. The result was a weekend
of high-energy performances from performers like Southern rockers Widespread
Panic and Warren Haynes’ Gov’t Mule. There was groove-laden funk supplied by
scene favorites such as Galactic, Soulive and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.
Hip-hop artists Blackalicious and Jurassic 5 earned new followers among the
tie-dyed fans with blistering sets that many thought were the highlights of
the weekend. Jurassic 5 brought down the house, even trying out some cuts
from their upcoming Power in Numbers, due in September.
Those who wanted to simply sit in the sun and relax with some tunes were
treated to a rare acoustic set by Harper and a solid performance by rising
star Johnson, whose chilled-out acoustic cuts from his recent bluesy
Brushfire Fairytales were the perfect complement to the tasty
microbrews on hand.
Those more inclined toward electronica could enjoy the Disco Biscuits, who
will release their fourth album this fall, Senor Boombox.
California-based newcomers Particle brought their intense “space porn funk”
to the ballroom stage on Saturday afternoon but returned for what the
“Particle people” were really hoping for later on — an unannounced set
that started around 5 a.m. and ended at 8.
Bonnaroo also made sure not to disappoint fans of those acts typically
associated with the jam band movement. Although the Grateful Dead and Phish
are not currently touring, they were well represented when Phil Lesh and
Friends with special guest Bob Weir took the stage Sunday afternoon followed
by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio’s new band.
Lesh and Weir jammed through Dead classics, keeping them fresh and full of
energy. As the opening notes of “Franklin’s Tower” echoed throughout the
massive venue, faces in the dancing crowd beamed with smiles. Perhaps it was
during those two hours that Bonnaroo seemed most perfect, as the music that
started it all was enjoyed live under the late-afternoon Tennessee sun.
Guitarist and reigning jam band king Anastasio and his nine-piece band
closed the festival with two sets of material largely taken from his recent
self-titled solo release. The new material is firmly rooted in a mixture of
Afro-beat and psychedelia, and although his live show recently blew away
crowds at smaller venues like New York’s Radio City Music Hall, his music
seemed almost too sophisticated and complicated for the concert field at
Bonnaroo. The glowstick wars initiated by the crowd didn’t complement
Anastasio’s new tunes the same way they did during Phish shows. Nonetheless,
festival-long anticipation of Anastasio busting out some Phish songs or even
reuniting with Phish at Bonnaroo was met by his encore solo acoustic
performances of Phish favorites “Wilson” and “Bathtub Gin.”
Perhaps as remarkable as the music, however, was the fact that organizers
managed to stage the biggest party in America last weekend while maintaining
a peaceful vibe throughout. Around 3:30 in the morning on Saturday, Denson
begged the massive crowd to shout back at him a refrain from one of his
band’s infectious, groove-laden numbers: “If it’s all right with you,
suddenly it’s all right with me!” Everyone yelled it over and over as loud
as they could as the fireworks that had been exploding all weekend
continued. Denson’s refrain might as well have been Bonnaroo’s motto.