What should I be doing instead of this?
June 14th, 2011 By Ric Hickey | Music | Posted In: Reviews, Live Music, Festivals

Live from Bonnaroo 2011, Part 4


The Bonnaroo Whirlwind kicks into high gear on Saturday afternoon. Today it was hardly half past twelve when Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears ripped the Other Tent in half with 60 minutes of high fructose Funk and Gospel that had the surrounding throng speaking in tongues.

Still staggering in disbelief after the 4 p.m. press conference, I made a beeline for This Tent where I got no help in clearing my head from Man Man’s chaotic intricacies and barking mad humor. On the far end of the festival grounds near the ferris wheel is the Other Tent where there was much Frisbee tossing in the late afternoon sun. Fans of Devotchka’s old world gypsy chanties and soaring astral pop waited patiently as the band’s start was start was delayed by an hour. Their patience was duly rewarded by a stirring performance with numerous goosebump moments.

But the delay in the Other Tent would have serious repercussions. A huge crowd that had gathered to see Bootsy Collins was forced to wait 90 excrutiating minutes while a seemingly inept sound crew drew the delay on painfully long. The crowd grew restless and soon the recurring “BULL-SHIT!” chants began.

When they finally took the stage, Bootsy Collins & the Funk University brought the P-Funk party to Bonnaroo with a vengeance.

Collins sang a verse or two before striking a single note on his star-shaped bass. But when Bootsy brought the hammer down on the “one,” it literally felt an earthquake where I stood. It is with great regret that I have to admit that my sources on the all-star band were mistaken. But for his part, Bootsy did deliver P-Funk veterans Bernie Worrell on keys and Blackbyrd McKnight on guitar.

The 90-minute delay threw a crimp into my plans for the evening, but not by much. I managed to swing back to the Which Stage in time for the beginning of Buffalo Springfield’s set. When Stills, Furay and Young took the stage the crowd embraced them like precious friends. The sound was rough at first, as the band eased into the set with several acoustic numbers. Here, the crowd repeatedly chanted “TURN IT UP! TURN IT UP!”

If the sound engineer didn’t hear them, it seemed like Neil Young did. He donned a familiar black Les Paul and lead the band through a scorching “Mr. Soul.” Following that with “I Am A Child” brought the Springfield spell down on the restless crowd in full. Lightning and thunder threatened but produced nothing more than a brief sprinkle. That little bit of rain sent many people scurrying for the campground, perhaps concerned about the long walk back to the car if this were to turn into a full blown thunderstorm. After that contingent cleared out, many of us simply moved toward the stage to fill the vacated space. I was already a little incredulous that I was actually watching these three guys sing those old songs again, when I suddenly had the opportunity to casually cut the distance between myself and the stage in half.

Springfield closed their set with the most blistering version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” that you can possibly imagine. Chuck and I were dumbstruck, literally speechless as we watched Neil navigate the band through several minutes of a crushing feedback crescendo. When Neil whipped up a frenzied wall of mush leading to one last rousing chorus, you could feel a cosmic shift in the energy of the whole surrounding area. This explosive musical sorcery shot electricity through the air all around us. I don’t really know how else to describe it. I looked at Chuck and said, “Did you feel that?” He just nodded. It felt as though everyone within a quarter-mile radius had the wind knocked out of them.

Photo by Chuck Madden

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