The best of Bonnaroo 2011: My Morning Jacket, Mumford and Sons, Mavis Staples and more
Over the course of four hot and particularly dusty days, in which over-the-mouth bandanas became a prominent fashion accessory, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in major ways. There were big, brash rap performances, musical blasts from the past, made-for-festival superjams, whiskey-and-cigarette country numbers, funk-soul freakouts and indie artist breakthroughs.
On Friday, I chatted with Donald Glover, Community star, 30 Rock writer, son of Danny Glover, musician and stand-up comedian (whew) about dust allergies. We joked about his hesitation to take the Claritin I offered him. I suppose taking pills from strangers at Bonnaroo is, after all, pretty shady. On Saturday, Glover killed in the comedy tent with their Bonnaroo observations. "Hippies will walk through fire to get to a face-painting booth. I want to be a panda!" So true.
Florence and the Machine
London siren Florence Welch officially bared her soul from an overflowing "This Tent" on Friday. If there are moments when you regret having to endure the heat, the crowded conditions and the toilet troubles at Bonnaroo, Florence wiped away every care and concern. After a streak of dark, demon-exuding numbers (My Boy Builds Coffins) in which a witch-like Welch cloaked herself in a black frock, the band introduced You've Got the Love. A girl cried in excitement next to me. Welch bounced, twirled and subbed "Bonaroo's got the love" for the hook. Perfect. She also debuted a funky new number before closing out with Dog Days Are Over. Pure Bonnaroo bliss. Everything I hoped it would be.
My Morning Jacket (above)
My Morning Jacket IS Bonnaroo. They've played the festival five times already, with one of those sets being the four-hour, rain-soaked experience you'll see on Palladia every now and again. Jim James likely just came from Bonnaroo's beard and mustache competition as he led the experimental Southern rock group with hairs a-flyin'. New material from Circuital was curiously fun. Steam Engine got a glow-stick-throwing breakdown and the funky Highly Suspicious receiveed support from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which had just finished up a set across the way. One Big Holiday was the jamified closer, and with it, James officially exhausted the fury white boots he'd been running around in.
The Grammy-winning Canadians of Arcade Fire went deep. Ready to Start was a fitting, guns-blazing opener from the crew of eight members. It's hard to describe exactly how it feels when 50,000 or so people do the woah-oh-oh's on No Cars Go. Let's just say it feels really good. The Suburbs and Intervention were poignant, yet shake-worthy and the group solidified its place as one of the best to ever play Bonnaroo's big stage.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
The spirit of James Brown was alive and kickin' inside the body of a skinny Texan! Austin's Black Joe Lewis, a former pawn shop employee, blasted primal funk-soul with outstanding, necktie-wearing players the Honeybears. But there wasn't anything sweet about tracks like Booty City and Humpin. This was freaky, sweaty fun. After a rousing, horn-fueled Sugarfoot, Joe and the 'Bears were joined by a gang of sliding, shimmying gospel players. If you like Sly Stone, Howlin' Wolf or James B., you've got to give Lewis a spin.
Mumford and Sons
Folk-rock revivalists Mumford and Sons have outgrown Bonnaroo's small stages after a breakout year. In fact, they had one of the most well-attended shows of the weekend. After opener Sigh No More, the band of Brits announced, "It's very dusty, so let's kick up a storm and have a dance." A hoedown in Hanes undershirts ensued. New tune Below My Feet got the addition of horns. Huge stuff from Mumford and Sons.
Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses
Throaty country singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham clearly has a ton of Marlboro Miles. Or maybe it's a lack of lozenges. Either way, it works just fine. Joined by his band The Dead Horses, the Crazy Heart artist wove tales of whiskey mistakes and general hard livin' during this top-notch Sunday set.
Did we call Ryan Bingham throaty? We just hadn't seen Mavis Staples yet. Before launching into Stax-era hit I'll Take You There, the soul-gospel diva with the crackling wail demanded more participation from the crowd. In one of the funniest moments of Sunday, she scolded someone in the audience. "No, no, you didn't even open your mouth. When I take you there, I take everybody." And in a made-for-Bonnaroo encore, she and band covered Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth. "I will sleep with a grin on my face tonight," she said as she departed.
Robert Plant and Band of Joy
Robert Plant and Band of Joy kicked off their Sunday set with a folksy cover of Led Zeppelin's Black Dog. Plant and Patty Griffin provided the familiar wah-wah-wah-wah's in perfect harmony. But before we get too comfy with this sort of set, Plant declared, "You know, it's not all like that." Americana is in full force on Little Angel Dance before Plant made a surprising statement. "Aside from two of us, we're all from 40 miles of here, so it's an easy gig really." Then it was a cover of What is and What Should Never Be to really psych us out.
-- Carole Liparoto, tbt*. Photo: Getty Images.