Bonnaroo 2011 Music & Arts Festival

Have a Nice 'Roo

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Concert Reviews, Artist Feature,   By: Robert 'Bo' White

20th July, 2011     0

As I prepare for this article I wonder if I’m pushing the vale, aging out and misunderstanding the new mores and customs of our young hedonist tribes. I’m like a ne’er do well, Ray Davies singing about preserving the old songs from obscurity and protecting the new music from being dismissed. I like modern music because it’s based in part by all those original rhythms and melodies that were emanating from Sea Shanties, Field Hollers, Celtic folk, Anglo Broadside ballads and Negro spirituals. It can be argued that there is no musical form or expression that is completely original - it’s borrowed, co-opted, and recycled. So what am I doing here? It’s not a question; it’s a statement of my own quest to cheat time. But I realize that I’m trapped inside this body - a slave to time. And the clock is ticking

What can be said of Bonnaroo - good intentions and high commerce: $250 general admission tickets; $5 lemonade; Ts for $25; Water plentiful but lines are long. It’s a simmering 95-degree day, cloudy from the circling dust and debris. Thousands are covering their mouths and nostrils with handkerchiefs. Girls are in skimpy bikini bottoms without tops; their breasts are perky and painted.
 
The air is hot and cheap. We are breathing it in and breathing it out yet the sand and dirt clogs our sinuses. This is like the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the ‘30’s except we choose to be here. We are silly and wise - contributing to our own toxic waste yet recycling plastic bottles.
 
The press tent is a microcosm of the Bonnaroo Experience. Everything started out fine, but as the time drew close and press meeting convened, journalists began piling in and squeezing into small spaces. By and large they are all relatively young – twenty or thirty something’s; I’m one of the oldest. Hell, I actually know who Buffalo Springfield is… The moderator is from Esquire and he does a pretty good job describing the “New Stuff” @ Bonnaroo, including an immense water slide, additional water stations and trees (thank God) and a video screen at the Which Stage. Not too shabby.
 
The Comedy Tent was cool and delicious, with giant anaconda-like tunnels providing the ductwork that funneled the sweet blessed cool air into the auditorium. That alone was worth the price of admission - about 1500 fans stood in the long and winding ticket line for several hours as furnace level heat melted faces and sapped energy. Cheech Marin hosted the Comedy Show and he’s so cool he’s stoned cold. He’s the only Mexican that ever got detained for sneaking OUT of the country. But that was in his draft dodging days. He recalled a time when his partner Tommy Chong was in prison on drug charges and Tommy’s wife had conjugal visits, only it was with Cheech! Drum roll please!
 
The Workaholics from Comedy Central were almost funny with their low ball drinking humor. It was loud and sassy and very musical. The adolescent humor wears a bit thin but then again the more cerebral stuff goes over my head and my wife wasn’t there to explain it to me. At the end of their shtick they really got down…
“This is EFFIN’ Bonnaroo - Let’s get EFFIN’ crazy!!!!”
I thought, “Ok, I get it boys, now STOP IT and get the eff off the stage”
 
Thank god for Cheech Marin. He jumped back onstage and sang a lovely song about Mexican-Americans and white girls named Debbie.
 
There were several great lines in the song e.g., Mexican-Americans who take Spanish in night school and get a “B” and Mexican-Americans who have a son-in-law named Jeff. Jay Pharoah, a cast member of Saturday Night Live is a stellar standup comedian and impressionist (I dig his Denzel). He speaks uncomfortable truths and pokes fun at stupid white people – like the majority of Bonnaroo attendees living outside in tents, “waiting for Lil Wayne to perform”.
 
The humor is radical and right on the mark, sometimes in a white vs. black vein that exposes our shared hubris and how we’re all doing the same thing – just trying to make it. He turns a microscopic eye on our idiosyncratic behaviors e.g., “I love all you white people and the three black people who came to the show”
 
“Lil Wayne. I think he’s gay. He reminds me of Kanye (this gets boos) - so fruity that when he farts, it smells like potpourri.”
 
Cheech Marin finally introduced the headliner Ralphie May and the big man sauntered onto the stage like he owned it. He’s man-mountain weighing in at about 350 – easy. In a rapid fire delivery May gets down and gets it…
 
“It’s so hot it feels like a dog breathing on you, I have so much powder on my crotch it looks like I’ve molested a baby.”
 
“No one’s talking about weed - LITE UP. I’m funny as shit when you’re high”,
 
He’s lightning quick with his story lines…
“I most want to smoke weed with Jesus Christ. What would I say to Jesus…Tell your daddy he’s doing a great job”…”Did you write Footprints in the Sand?”
 
May pokes fun of stereotypes and uptight people. Asian men who have tiny emaciated members and black men with such huge penises that during intercourse they still have a full five inches that’s dry. His caveat; don’t have hang-ups; teach your girlfriend “the gurgle effect” and during oral sex “never ever look up.”
 
Friday 2 pm
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
 
Fleck has been dishing out some of that tasty bayou-led roots music for 20+ years.
This is a reunion of sorts with his original band. It’s revealing that the modest Fleck supported the early career of Dave Mathews Band. They used to open up for him,
Now Fleck’s sax man Jeff Kaufman tours with Mathews. Fleck has honed a finely crafted music that is soft and intricate but doesn’t translate well in this big outdoor venue and the loud outdoor PA that brings out the bass guitar at the expense of the quieter instruments, especially Fleck’s banjo. It’s as if the sound guy is asleep in the back of the bus after smoking weed and pulling on a flask the best Tennessee moonshine since Jack Daniels went legal. It is a torrid day; the wind and heat team up to put considerable distance between the artist and the crowd. 
Fleck does well in incorporating jazz, blues, ragtime piano, and country licks into something both original yet familiar. From Scratch & Sniff, Sherpa and Big Country to A Moment so Close and the rousing closer Hoe Down, Fleck proved to be on top of his game. The crowd is massive. The heat is on.
 
Friday 3:15pm
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
 
Potter knows how to rock and roll. The band is tight as a vise with jangly guitars and an insistent locomotive beat. Here’s a blond beauty, a brick house that sings in a sultry voice that means business. She’s the beat of a heart and an unstoppable force of nature
 
Only there’s nothing original here. The riffs are borrowed and assimilated into a high energy form of country blues. Love gets a rise out the captivated crowd. This is funked up rock & roll with creamy harmonies.
 
Potter has the range and motion of a tigress and the countrified sexual energy of Tina Turner with her very own Ike on guitar and harp.
 
The reggae influenced “Goodbye Kiss,” gets the crowd wound up followed by “Oasis” that segues into a bridge with a gentle slide workout and an extended instrumental piece that is a bluesy train wreck that’s about as interesting as Iron Butterfly doing In A Gadda Da Vida - the long version – with a 20 minute drum solo that is every bit as plodding and obnoxious as the song itself…but it’s psychedelic, baby, even though it’s 19 minutes too long. Sexy Hot Summer Night (when I’m next to you, baby) is the perfect song for the occasion. Grace takes off the top layer of clothing to reveal a low-cut, form-fitting summer dress, delicious! Hell, Potter can scream like a banshee in heat and look good doing it. Stop the Bus has a cool Zeppelin vibe and a Good Times and Bad Times, riff.
 
Toward the end Grace blurts out: “How the fuck did a little band from Vermont get here. You Go Girl!!
 
Friday 4:15pm
Warren Haynes Band
 
Haynes opens with The River’s Gonna Rise is a great song but it’s Haynes that drives the engine. He sings with a pure, strong tenor and his guitar work is simply stunning. He gets a big full sound outta that hollow-bodied guitar and he picks more notes than Albert Lee on speed... Haynes makes good use of sustaining notes and he hits the E string hard and he throws in a few simple effects just for good measure. Haynes’ music is hot and his truth is molten. The slide work is expressive, it sings and moans and takes you right to the pocket. His voice is similar to Neil Young’s and his lyrics capture his integrity and strong social consciousness especially on Invisible, a song about forgotten Americans, especially the kids. Singing an American song; righting an American wrong.
 
Haynes is one of the premier guitarists in the world. The band is excellent and the intuitive interplay between the members is impressive - keys/guitar, squealing sax, screaming organ, and solid drumming.
 
If You Need Me is a slow tempo blues ballad that showcases Haynes vocal range
Haynes drew a large crowd but its 95 degrees and they’re not sweating.
What’s up with that— are we amongst mutant aliens?
 
“I’ll Take A Bullet For You” is a mid-tempo blues with a funky back beat and throbbing bass line. Haynes soulful vocal is perfect. He closed his set with Soulshine, a Gov’t Mule chestnut of the first degree
 
FRIDAY 5:15pm
Atmosphere
 
Atmosphere practices a form of modern hip hop with more intricate guitar notations and a prominent bottom with synth accents that color the musical landscape. Three chords are all you need just chill and put a smile on your face, brother. They got the crowd going with a call/response arms waving in time with the beat. The team leaders, SluG (Sean Daley) and Ant (Anthony Davis) like to rap about the everyday trials and tribulations of life especially with women:
 
“You make me sick
Tonight we’ll be effin’
In your back seat’
You don’t really want me to
(That’s just for show) “
 
SluGs rhythms have a syncopated 2/4 beat that shifts to a reggae beat at times. It’s a combination that builds a throbbing sexual excitement. Girls in the audience are dancing the dirty dog, doin’ the pelvic thrust and backin’ it up.
Mercy… Slug is indeed a showman of the first degree. He’s got the tricks i.e., jump, put your arms up in the air – it pulls the crowd into the music and the message - guaranteed. This feel good music that orders on nihilism
“I really won’t lie to you
 You smell
 I’ll eff you backwards anyway”
(Can’t believe I’m saying that out loud)
 Slug even pulls out the ancient yet effective call and response routine.
 
“Say Hell Yeah”
 “Hell Yeah”
“Say Hell Yeah”
 “Hell Yeah”
 
SluG tells a story about calling in sick from a massive hangover
This cat can use a simple piano notation, a nursery rhyme and give it a minor chord and suddenly the song is transformed into a sentimental homespun ballad
“BBQ in the backyard. Happy women riding a bike around the lake”
These are songs of celebration and struggle that are quieter and more reflective than typical hip hop and his use of metaphor help give the message more depth. Atmosphere’s music is like a Rockwell painting, colored in rich sepia tones and broad themes of kids and families and missing loved ones…“Keeping the coffee brewing in the kitchen-waiting for you on the corner of yesterday.”
 
Friday 6:30pm
Ray LaMontagne
 
This is super chill music. LaMantagne's scratchy tenor is reminiscent of Joe Crocker.
The music is country-ish and rootsy with acoustic pickin’ and sweaty muted drums and minor chords weeping that sad, sad song
 
LaMontagne has the expressive melancholy voice takes you to another place populated by old friends and slack-jawed fools and men that don’t want to be alone. In just a whisper he takes you back to a step in time where you have to beg, steal or borrow just to stay alive. LaMontagne’s hippie roots music incorporates blues, jazz and folk elements. He can do a straight 12 bar work out or shuffle incorporating syncopated beats and a prominent bottom line. This band doesn’t use volume to get the point across. I like their restraint and the use of musical spaces in between the notes. Highlights included a cover of Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried, God Willing & the Creek Don’t Rise, Repo Man and my favorite Like Rock & Roll Radio
 
Friday 7:15pm
NOFX
 
Southern Cal punkers NOFX were one of my favorite acts at Bonnaroo. These political punks are all about put-ons and put-downs and uncomfortable truths. They start out introducing themselves as a rock & roll band from Scotland. When they get down to it NOFX are a great Clash influenced band. Their radical political humor takes you right to the edge of the abyss. Leaving Jesus Land is a great song yet the message is heavy handed…
If you believe in God you’re an idiot
People care more about ranch-ranch dressing than Jesus
The Heartland will punch holes in the Bible Belt.
 
 NOFX sings about the problems that emerge in the face of rabid nationalism and the possibility of fascism in a red, white, and blue America. The message is a clear caveat about our declining values such as respect and decency creating the conditions that lead to revolution. And they do it with savage over-the-top humor
 
I enjoyed The Lesbian Song – a real groaner that is guaranteed to disperse the crowd
 They did great justice to Radio, a Rancid cover. The singer dude has an expressive voice similar to our very own Tim Avram. Besides great music NOFX had a knack for transforming what is crass into something hilarious i.e.
 
What do you get when you cross a Mexican and an octopus?
I don’t know, but he sure can pick lettuce.
 
Why did Hitler commit suicide?
Cos he got the gas bill
 
NOFX is one the more astute political bands at Bonnaroo. Their teetering on the edge off-color brand of topical humor reveals more truth than a Network News Broadcast. Scott Pelley needs to loosen up and start telling the real skinny about the world. He needs some NOFX. The people want to know!
 
Friday 8:30pm
My Morning Jacket
 
I don’t get it. Morning Jacket sucks yet that have immense popularity. Go figure.
The music meanders a bit and the off-key harmonies are like finger nails on a chalkboard.
The instrumental excursions don’t seem to go anywhere and don’t have a significant purpose.
 
Morning Jacket is at their best when they are playing concise song, five minutes max! The twilight zone riffs and echoed electronic are colored by impassioned vocal arias, like a Gregorian chant - wordless ululations. Their brand of pop music is accessible if not very original. However they do make maximum use of a variety of instruments i.e., steel drum, sax, synth along with a basis set up of guitar, bass, drums
 
Riffs that are too familiar serve as an intro to a rather long work-out that was poorly conceived, too cumbersome and incredibly boring. They are quite capable of creating good pop music even if their lyrics are not always clear.
 
The lead singer’s stratospheric tenor shines on the country pop ballads. The addition of the pedal steel gives the music rich creamy tones - but the results are ultimately too cliché. They don’t utilize their soaring lush harmonies adequately. They could focus on this a bit more - add falsetto - and become a modern-day Tremeloes
 
Saturday 1:30am
Lil Wayne
 
Not a very big crowd –it’s getting too late at 1:30 am. People are leaving as we are arriving. Lil Wayne stalks the stage and he doesn’t take any prisoners. He gets into a stream of consciousness rap that’s a bit naughty…
”Same old shit, just a different day”.
“Put your hands up - say woo woo; say police in the hood”
 “Tonight I’m willing to fuck all the ugly women.“
“Make noise for yourself ‘cos you’re beautiful - take it from behind.”
 
The band is excellent, the energy is good -synth, percussion, bass, drums, guitar.
There are at least three or more rappers onstage at all times as well as a beautiful sister who sings great.
 
Oops here he goes again ...”I wish I could fuck every girl in the world dropping names like Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton.
 
Lil Wayne was involved with Young Money in the recording of the monster hit BedRock and he sings it tonight to a massive crowd response. He states he was locked up a few months ago and segues to a brilliant sampling of Michael Jackson’s Love Machine. 
 
Everything but the rap is canned or pre-recorded but the scantily clad dancers increase the heat. The sexual tension is palpable. This is the perfect music for hot young lovers.
 
Lil Wayne announces that he’ll have an LP coming out August 29. He performs a song from the LP: How to Love. It’s an incredible piece of music - acoustic guitar, syncopated beats; it’s a wistful rap ballad.
 
Lil Wayne asked no one in particular, “Are you alright, nigger?” I’m guessing he didn’t aim that one at me.
 
Saturday 2pm
Old Crow Medicine Show
 
This popular down-home cowboy band has all the chops of a traditional country roots band, all acoustic, no electric and definitely no synthesizers. These cats are purists and they sure can make it real whether it’s high energy country or nifty bluegrass pickin’. The leader…. sings and plays fiddle. The ancient rhythms are preserved and the harmonies are so tight that the Osborne Brother must be smiling’. They open with Hard to Love and go right into Down Home Girl.
 
The second lead singer is a first chair tenor who sings so high he sounds like Todd Rundgren on helium. The sounds is acoustic nirvana as the tight interplay between the fiddle, harp, acoustic guitars, banjo, mandolin, slide guitar, upright bass is simply breathtaking. There is never any overplaying – each instrument contributes to the song
 
Highlights include: I Hear Them All, Carry Me Back to Virginia, Alabama, High Test, Minglewood Blues and the exquisite Wagon Wheel.
The Old Crow Medicine Show are righteous in their mission, ferocious in their craft.
This is music for the faithful.
 
Press Conference Saturday 3:30pm
 
Kareem Abdul Jabar is promoting a movie based on a book he authored about the Harlem Wrens B-Ball team from the 1920s. It sounds fascinating.
 
Steven Stills and Richie Furay talk about the recent Buffalo Springfield Reunion and appear to have a lot of energy wrapped around it.
 
Stills looks like he’s been training for a 12 round bout with Muhammad Ali. He’s lost considerable weight since the 2006 CSN&Y Freedom of Speech Tour. Furay looks perpetually young. He’s trim version of his younger self with only his graying mane betraying his age
 
Saturday 4:15
Allison Krauss and Union Station
 
The music is soft, quiet with focus on vocals.
She opens with Paper Airplane followed by Dustbowl Children (an homage to Bonnaroo) but what blew me away was Krauss; generosity in sharing the limelight with her magnificent band. After several quite rootsy songs I heard a familiar riff, a soulful pop song…
“Baby Now That I Found You
I build my world around you
But you got to go
You don’t need me”
It’s an unexpected cover of the Foundations big hit of the 60s. Very Cool!
 
The band is exquisite - tight harmonies, virtuosity, and great songs. The versatile musicians play several different instruments to fill out the sound and give the music depth - acoustic slide, guitar, Allison’s fiddles, upright bass, banjo and dobro.
 
Krauss asked her guitarist “Are you too sweaty to bring it” ...but she was just flirting. .Allison is not just a beautiful presence; she’s dead serious about her craft.
 
This is a cohesive set that doesn’t stray too fair from the tightly-formatted formula. Highlights include Wild bill Jones, Man of Constant Sorrow and Every Time You Say Goodbye.
 
Music this good may fade away and take a back seat in mass popularity or public consciousness, but it will never die. It’s the classical music of country/folk/blues movement, given birth at the turn of the century through the merging of blues and early country - Maybelle Carter meets Robert Johnson at the Crossroads
 
Saturday 6:15pm
Mumford and Son
 
Mumford & Son are HOT – they and up with at least double the turn-out for Lil Wayne on Friday night. A massive-crowd relentlessly squeezes into the Which Stage area. The physical discomfort is palpable...
 
The heat is an invincible volcano blast of molten lava that robs you of energy and comfort and melts your good will. The constant milling of the masses is like a scene from Night of the Living Dead. These craven creatures of the new age are rude without intention, filling small spaces and stepping on feet, talking loudly while I try to listen to the lyrics. The band is superb, too good for their own britches as they reproduce their magnificent LP-note-for-note without straying even a minor chord away from the formula
 
It’s hard to stretch out with quaint story songs that have a beginning, middle, and end and have a moral to tell, a lesson to learn. Highlights include the entire first LP, note for note, song to song. The encore was Amazing Grace with Jerry Douglas and a few Old Crow Medicines dudes guesting. As Mumford & Sons get a little savvier they will stretch out and stray from the formula…and enjoy it
 
Saturday 7pm
Loretta Lynn
 
This show is traditional Country updated by the shared vision of Loretta Lynn and Joel White. Loretta is loose and friendly and conversational. It’s like playing music in your kitchen, drinking coffee and having a family sings along. Lynn is in a good mood and her voice has aged well like a fine wine, her range and timber is spot on. She has a rapid fire delivery that keeps the show moving like a runaway freight train.
 
Her vocals are mic’d perfectly. front and center. Not too hot, not muffled. Her set list is a treasure trove of great country music from the sixties, most of which she wrote, though she sings Patsy Cline songs – I Fall To Pieces, Walkin’ After Midnight and Crazy - as a tribute to her fallen comrade. But I was especially taken by her solid gold hits such as You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man, One’s on the Way, Don’t Come Home-Drinking.
 
Loretta seems to enjoy herself onstage like she’s sittin’ back and havin’ a conversation with a neighbor. This set showcases Lynn’s best songs. She’s a songsmith of the first degree, a great storyteller song-a faded genre.
 
Loretta does a remake of Louisiana Woman/Mississippi Man, that she did with Conway Twitty in 1959. She even did the 1ST song she ever wrote Honky Tonk Girl. Very cool.
As an aside she mentions her collaboration with Jack White sating, “He Left Me High and Dry”. Then she does a White-produced song. She closes with her autobiographical song Coal Miner’s Daughter.
 
Saturday 9:30pm
Buffalo Springfield
 
Buffalo Springfield is truly a legendary band that recorded three albums in three years. From 1966 through 1968 the Rock Press labeled Springfield as the American Beatles – other groups such as the Byrds and the Rascals also received such a dubious distinction. It casts a weird voodoo that casts a spell over otherwise gifted bands that makes the myth larger than live, an edifice no one can climb. The Buffalo Springfield eventually collapsed by the weight of their own immense talent and the over-the-top press
 
I just missed them though I was aware of their music and their appearance on the almost avant garde Smother Brothers television show. This Bonnaroo appearance was my last chance in a lifetime to see this legendary band. The band walked onto the stage with a roar from the crowd then Neil Young stepped up to the mic and intoned “Hello, We’re Buffalo Springfield” – a magic moment and opened with an incredible On the Way Home They went deep into their catalog-‘cos they had to…
 
Rock & Roll Woman, Burned, A Child’s Claim to Fame, Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It, Hot Dusty Roads got equal time with their more popular songs such as Kind Woman (Furay’s ode of love to his wife) and a few great Neil Young songs including Mr. Soul, Broken Arrow, and I Am a Child. Steven still looked great and sounded even better. He was trim and energetic and having a ball performing an early masterpiece Bluebird. It was a rare and precious treat. And he did a powerful rock & roll version of his very first masterpiece For What It’s Worth. A few Furay ballads were unfamiliar to me and seemed to slow down the energy. But the encore, well…it was a dream come true. Young and the band recreated an outstanding Rockin’ in The Free World with Stills getting the second verse.
 
Saturday Night 11pm
Eminem
 
Eminem hits the stage running. This is high energy music and Eminem is part of a proud lineage that starts with Jack Scott, who opened up the scene in Detroit to Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger, the Stooges and MC5, Kid Rock and Jack White. Eminem is that good. He is a gifted lyricist that can talk about child abuse, pain and suffering and universal love all in the same song. He goes deep and real on hits like Cleaning Out My Closet and Fast Lane and Lighters (with Royce da 5’ 9”).
 
There are automobile parts onstage from the “This is Detroit” Super Bowl commercial. There are several highlights worth mentioning – the outstanding performance of Eminem’s masterpiece about the duality of love and hate and the incredible medley near the end of the show that merged My Name Is/The Real Slim Shady/Without Me. The encore was a kickin’ Lose Yourself
 
1:30 PM Sunday
Mavis Staples
 
Mavis Staples is a gospel blues institution and she’s so inspiring and her gospel is so powerful that she can convince a poor sinner man like me to follow her down to the Jordan River and wade in the water. Truth. She’s been there and she can talk about the 1962 Freedom Riders ‘cos she’s been there – from Selma to Montgomery.
 
Staples is a purveyor of funky gospel and ancient blues. These are modern spiritual from the bowels of hell to the big sky where love, peace float amongst the clouds.
 
You can dance the Freak to the Gospel of Mavis Staples. This is soul food for the masses
Mavis told us all - I came here to have a good time and she proceed sto tear down the walls with You Are Not Alone, a song about pain and misery and how love can conquer all, even the effects of poverty, violence and racism.
 
This becomes a hand-clapping, tambourine-shaking “good time” and an affirmation of human courage in the face of desperate circumstances. She does a masterful version of the Weight (the Band cover) and ended with March Up Freedom’s Highway and the blues chestnut I’ll Take You There. A great performance. Mavis still got the gris gris
 
3:30pm Sunday
Black Dub
 
Daniel Lanois and Black Dub is a great band, an unexpected pleasure. Lanois gained fame producing U2 and helping to shape a sound that took the world by storm.
 
Black Dub’s singer has a powerful voice like Big Mama Thorton yet she is a short-haired blond pip squeak that looks like Peter Pan.T he music is finely crafted magic, soulful and sophisticated with well-conceived songs and a great leader/guitarist. Lanois is in top form He knows about sound and it pays off in spades
 
The songs are mini-symphonies – Silverado, Last Time (I Don’t Know), and Surely, Lanois is an inventive guitar player who makes good use of sustained notation and fluid leads - full-tone notes up and down the neck from the bass string to the E string. I Believe In You is a crazy good jazzed up blues. They close the show with The Maker. Excellent.
 
Sunday 4:30 PM
Greg Allman Band
 
Greg Allman is a legendary rock n’ roll warrior wit, the southern variety. Allman is a stubborn survivor who refuses to let adversity push him too deeply into the abyss and just as you think he’s finished, Allman picks himself up and dusts himself off and says, “Is that all you got...it’s not a question; it’s a statement. The music is the message and it is through his songs that Allman is able to talk about those things that cannot be spoken He’s been up and down and all around the piss pot and though he’s sullied his reputation and sold his soul, 
 
Allman has persevered. Despite his years of addiction and other personal problems, Allman has emerged no worse for the wear with a few scars and a hard-earned wisdom. His new CD, Low Country Blues, is a winner. His first solo effort since the seventies is long overdue. In this marvelous set, Allman confirms his legendary status. He opens with “I’m No Angel,” a Billboard hit in 1986, peaking @ 49 on the charts. This concert version is slower, with a more laconic vocal presentation. Otherwise it doesn’t stray far from the recorded version.
 
Sound is bleeding in from a nearby stage, creating a cacophony of sound interference with Allman’s performance. This is a consistent problem at Bonnaroo as the promoters try to squeeze too many acts into small spaces that are too close to other stages.
 
Allman’s trademark Keep on Trying is a righteous 12 bar blues colored with saxophone flourishes, intricate piano arpeggios, and some great acoustic pickin’. This is followed by a great Allman Brothers song I Don’t Know. Allman’s incredible piano trills lead into an extended jam that takes down the road apiece.
 
Allman dusts off Goin’ Back To Daytona and sings like he’s 19 years old again. He sure ‘enuf  hits the pocket with his exuberant performance You can hear the smile in his voice as he sings. It’s an autobiographical tune about the Allman Brothers early days when they were starting to establish themselves as the Allman Joys. This is one of the best performances at Bonnaroo, marred only by PA problems and a non-stop cacophony of seeping sounds
 
Sunday 7pm
Robert Plant & Band of Joy
 
Robert Plant & Band of Joy presented a courageous show that in the end proved to be more than masterful. It was sublime. He honored his past by performing seven Led Zeppelin songs. His old mates would be proud, not that he tried capture the glory of the originals but that he recreated them in his own image, 42 years later.
 
Plant looked his age but he was fit and though his long curly locks had lost some luster and his scruffy beard betrayed a hint of gray, his energy was astounding. He was all over the stage. Despite all the obvious signs of aging, Plant is still a magnificent singer. His rich expressive tenor has dropped a few octaves but he can still sing with an impressive range and almost perfect pitch.
 
He opened a slowed down country-blues version of Black Dog followed by Down to the Sea and a great Los Lobos cover Angel Dance. Plant performs several songs from his past, only the arrangements are based in acoustic folk and country blues. What Is and Should Never Be is reconfigured quite nicely and Plant’s voice is rich and expressive.
 
In the middle of the show young folks are walking out in droves. This music doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin… this is a country/blues band with a touch of rock. Those who expected Zep must have been terribly disappointed. But this is simply a function of not paying attention. Band of Joy is a great band
 
The songs, music and performances are masterful. This may be the best show I’ve seen at Bonnaroo. Plant dusts off the Zeppelin catalog and gives us House of the Holy, Black Country Woman, Misty Mountain Woman, Ramble On, and Gallows Pole (an encore) My favorite song was a Page/Plant collaboration a touching and sentimental Please Read My Letter. It was originally written for a Page and Plant Tour and then redone with Allison Krauss. It is beautiful. Now my life is complete
 
This 5600-word treatise on Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival comes straight from the heart. It is a labor of love. It is about as thorough as such reviews get. I did not gloss over the problems facing the corporate entity that produced this massive event.
 
In some ways it’s too big. It seems that 700 acres is not quite enough space for a mid-sized Tent City of 80,000 souls. There was crime - thefts and drug deals and bootleg merchandise. Two people died. Inconvenience was the clarion call but it did not stop us from experiencing the beauty of live original music.
 
There was something for everyone - rock & roll, folk, gospel, blues. rap, hip hop, roots, eletronica, trance and more. There was a Comedy Club, Movie Theatre.
 
The Bonnaroo experience is a statement about how much we still crave the nourishment of music and the arts in a deep soul way. Have a Happy Roo!

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