This morning’s activities were as hectic as a hurricane as I jumped from one interview to the next in the Bonnaroo press compound.
Things started off nice and easy when I rendezvoused with a friend of a friend who is Lionel Richie’s stage manager. An industry veteran of many years, Sal Marinello has worked for Barbra Streisand, Metallica, Neil Diamond, Britney Spears and many more. Large festival stages like Bonnaroo are equipped with lights and sound, so Marinello’s workload and schedule today are not as demanding as a typical day on the road. Marinello and his crew arrived in the wee hours this morning with one truck instead of the usual seven. Main stage headliner Jack White’s line check completed and his gear rolled to the side of the stage by 8 a.m., Sal and his staff had Lionel’s gear in place onstage for their line check less than an hour later. (The rest of the day’s main stage performers will set up and perform in front of Lionel’s gear.)
The noon hour brought a flurry of activity that had my head spinning pretty much for the rest of the day. Nashville’s Wild Feathers returned on the red eye from St. Louis to do a three-song acoustic performance in the press tent that found the band looking ragged but sounding great as ever. Their material is strong, their performance was spirited, and their three-part whiskey tenor harmonies were crystal clear as ever. But they sure did look tired. Scheduled to play at noon, they were running late and had to jump right on the stage and burst into song immediately upon their 12:30 p.m. arrival.
Chatting with Ben Kaufman, Adam Aijala and Dave Johnston from Yonder Mountain String Band, I found the trio cautiously optimistic about moving forward after the recent departure of mandolin player and founding member Jeff Austin. Not that I expected them to be in a full-blown panic, but it was impressive to hear the calm in their voices as they discussed their future options with no apparent concern about securing a permanent replacement for Austin. Bluegrass legend Sam Bush joined Yonder for their 2:30 p.m. set on the main stage today. For their summer tour they’ll be joined by Jake Joliff on mandolin and Ally Kral on violin. (Yonder Mountain String Band plays Moonlight Gardens at Coney Island on the Fourth of July.)
The Flaming Lips brought a whole new freak rock spectacle to Bonnaroo this year and frontman Wayne Coyne was bouncing around the press tent talking to reporters for a couple hours yesterday.Bunbury Music Festival this year.)
It’s not the first time I’ve seen Coyne dominate a press conference here; yesterday he spoke excitedly about The Flaming Lips’ desire to always bring something special to the Bonnaroo stage.
“If you’ve been here for three days and you’ve already seen 50 bands,” he said, “you wanna see something different. So that’s why (in 2007) we decided to land a spaceship here.”
Cool as a cucumber in spite of the summer heat penetrating the crowded tent during an early afternoon press conference, Derek Trucks fielded a question about the size of the Tedeschi-Trucks band. “An 11-piece band is a lot like herding cats.” Then he quietly mumbled the unintentionally Zen aside: “But it’s better than 30.”
Still buzzing from my conversation with Wayne, I scampered out into the crowd to catch Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke on the Which Stage. This was one of my personal Top 3 must-see bands of the weekend. It was gratifying to see the young Bonnaroo audience embrace a band that has more in common with their grandparents’ record collection than what many probably have on their current iPod playlist. I stopped to say hello to Blackberry Smoke singer and guitarist Charlie Starr after a 4 p.m. press conference and we discussed some of our favorite early Blues singers. I feel confident that he and I were probably among the very few here at Bonnaroo chatting about Ishman Bracey.
From there the day just got crazier, as the Saturday schedule was packed with stellar artists, including Valerie June, Drive-By Truckers, Phosphorescent, Lauryn Hill and Seasick Steve who boasted none other than Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass. Walking through the crowd I heard Cake play a spot-on cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with the guitar solo section cleverly transcribed for the horn section.
After a late afternoon breather back at the campsite, I wandered through Bonnaroo’s famous archway entrance to catch some of Lionel Richie’s set. My timing was perfect. As soon as I walked through the gate he launched into the Commodores’ “Brick House,” a Bonnaroo performance I’d been looking forward to for months. Again I found it gratifying to see the young audience dialed into Richie’s performance as he pulled out one classic song after another. You can imagine how his ’80s gem “All Night Long” had the dancers moving. This was a moment of such heartwarming cross-generational bonding that it gave me goosebumps in the humid Tennessee night.
Last night’s main stage headliner Jack White nearly tore the stage in half, bringing an explosive thunder and fury that’s largely missing from Rock & Roll these days. One of the most highly-anticipated sets of the weekend, Jack and his crack band did not disappoint. A frantic and fiery performer onstage, he was straightfaced and serious, as if in character, throughout a bombastic set that stretched well over two hours. White has called Nashville home for several years now and he brought noise to these Tennessee hills last night like no one ever has before. An all-out stunner from the first song all the way through to the last note of several encores, this was unquestionably one of the most memorable performances in Bonnaroo’s 13-year history.
And believe it or not there is still more to come. Today is the fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014. Photographer Chuck Madden and I must bear in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, as we endeavor to take in performances today by Lucero, Lake Street Dive, Okkervil River, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Broken Bells, Washed Out, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Avett Brothers and more. The legendary Elton John will close out the fest tonight.
Thanks to CityBeat for making this all possible! Chuck and I would like to extend a special thank you to CityBeat photographer Jesse Fox who was a big help to us this weekend.
Only 361 days ‘til Bonnaroo 2015!