MANCHESTER, Tennessee — Questlove always has a few tricks up his sleeve, and the Roots drummer saved his one of his biggest stunts in recent history for Saturday night’s “Superjam” session at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. Just a couple hours after the Roots finished their own set on the festival’s main stage, D’Angelo joined Questlove for his first U.S. performance in over a decade.
The Superjam session (billed as “?uestlove with very special guests”) didn’t kick off until well after midnight at “This Tent,” and Quest wasn’t on the stage for long before he proudly introduced the legendary R&B singer to the crowd, telling them, “I’ve been waiting 12 years to say this: Ladies and gentleman, D’Angelo!”
After warming up with a few recent shows in Europe, D’Angelo finally made his way to a stage in the states. With the support of a nine-piece band and musical veterans like Roots collaborator James Poyser, D’Angelo joined Quest for over an hour, opening with Jimi Hendrix’s “Have You Ever Been (to Electric Ladyland)” and hitting songs like the Beatles’ ’She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and Led Zeppelin’s “What is and What Should Never Be.”
Rumors of an appearance from D’Angelo had been circulating through the music tents in Manchester, Tennessee all day, and when MTV News caught up with Questlove a few hours before the surprise set, he explained, without naming names, what his vision for the night was.
’What I wanted to do was recreate the magic of the songwriting process at the time when I was taking residency in Electric Lady Studios,” he explained, referencing Jimi Hendrix’s studio facility built in New York’s West Village in 1970. “I made that my central location from 1996 ’til about 2004, and during that time that’s where D’Angelo’s Voodoo album as created, Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides was created, and even some of Phrenology and The Tipping Point was created,” he said. “That was really the central location for our soul querying catalog, so what I’ve done [for the Superjam] is gathered a cast of characters to show what a night in that period was like.”
And what exactly what a typical night in Electric Lady Studios like? “Around 3 a.m., we would sit around bored and decide what album to re-do,” he reminisced. “So let’s say Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon album — we would get in the studio and karaoke-style do the album from start to finish. But if at any point we started playing something that sounded good, we kept playing the groove over it, then all the music would go away, the drums would still go … and it slowly morphed into another song. That was our songwriting process. So tonight, eight musicians of historical significance will be on stage and when we’re in that circle, it’s just gonna be the eight of us. I’m not even gonna look at the thousands of people watching.”
The thousands of people who were watching had a hard time believing that D’Angelo was really jamming at the late-night set, and it’s safe to say that not one of them was “bored” as Questlove joked they might be. The next time fans will be able to catch D’Angelo live is at the upcoming Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, where he’ll likely treat crowds to his own classics.
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