Bonnaroo 2011: Friday's best, from Florence and the Machine to My Morning Jacket to Arcade Fire
For the first full day of its 10th anniversary celebration, the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has promised everything thing from platinum-selling rap to banjo wizardry to Pacific Northwest wordplay to smokey soul on its 600-acre farm. So without further delay, let's get this thing started!
10:45 a.m.: Traffic is the only thing that's jamming so far. But tiny Manchester, Tenn. is handling the load as well as anyone should expect.
12:30 p.m.: Richard "Cheech" Marin, star of Up in Smoke, Next Smoke and Still Smokin' hosts the "420 Blaze Comedy" show about ... well, I am sure you can guess. Actually, Cheech's synapses are still very much in tact. Did you know he was the first-ever Celebrity Jeopardy Champion? He sang a little ditty about Mexican Americans before The Workaholics and Jay Pharoah of Saturday Night Live joined in to provide more slacker show chuckles.
1 p.m.: It's incredibly dusty this afternoon at Bonnaroo. That's not great for us, but it's a perfect setting for Jessica Lea Mayfield, a Black Keys-approved country rocker with stark, windswept tunes. The blond, boot-trompin' 20something pines for birch tree memories and mending of hearts on Blue Skies Again. With a subtle electronic element, it feels like music out of a futuristic saloon.
1:15 p.m.: Thunderous blues-rock outfit Graveyard is like a dirtier, more pissed-off Zeppelin. In fact, send Page and Plant out to sleep in the Bonnaroo campgrounds for three days and you might get a similar outcome. PS, it's now 95 degrees on the farm.
2 p.m.: It doesn't take long to realize "newgrass" pioneers Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are masters of their craft. These clinic players also just happen to have lots of heart. Harmonica and keys are back in the mix as original member Howard Levy rejoins "drumitarist" Roy "Futureman" Wooten, bassist Victor Wooten and banjoist Bela Fleck. Fleck was the recent recipient of an honorary doctorate of music, the band announces. Not bad for a New Yorker who picked up his instrument because of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song. The group plays songs off latest jazz-bluegrass-rock-pop-country-mixer-upper Rocket Science that involve 11/16 time signatures (I think). Rocket science indeed.
2:30 p.m.: I overhear longtime MTV personality Matt Pinfield talk about a Wikipedia posting that said he died during taping a VH1 special about Afghanistan. I am happy to report he is in fact alive and well and roaming Bonnaroo.
2:35 p.m.: I just 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.
2:55 p.m.: We've found our home away from home. The Taco Bus of Tampa/St. Pete is here and serving up the beefy goodness!
3:15 p.m.: Matt and Kim have a huge crowd, which they promptly thank for taking their "Bonaroo virginity." Per usual, it's upbeat, sing-song-y and kind of naked.
3:35 p.m.: A man offers us "intuitive healing from a chi-gong shaman." I am not brave enough to ask what that means exactly.
3:45 p.m.: That little country-rock firecracker Grace Potter has graduated to the big stage. Apologies sounds as fine as it did a few years back in the smaller tent.
4:15 p.m.: A short chat with Kylesa's Laura Pleasants reveals how a metal act feels to play Bonnaroo. "The vibe is great," she says. The Savannah-based band helped fill a sludgy hard rock void today at Bonnaroo. But the group is also stoked to see Lil Wayne perform. Yay!
4:25 p.m.: What in the world is Walk the Moon, and how'd it get to be so catchy? These Ohio kids might just be the surprise stars of the day. Okay, so the face painting thing is a little too MGMTesque for our taste, but we can't help but love these dance-ready tunes about hourglass bodies and walking on tightropes. You've got to hear party pop-rocker Anna Sun, a track apparently named after the lead singer's favorite professor from college.
5:30 p.m.: In front of a tree-topped backdrop, Colin Meloy and his gang of Decemberists play Bonnaroo's scholarly ones. During their arcane, well-enunciated folk opera, gypsies, prostitutes, military wives and sea captains experience trying times. Meloy introduces Rox in the Box with the following: "We're going to go into our early 20th century labor dispute material. Hopefully you're not hearing too much of that this weekend." Bazing! It's literate stuff from Oregon players who would most likely pummel us at the jumble.
6:15 p.m.: Ray LaMontagne wears a feather in his cap. If, like the old tradition, it symbolizes having done something worthy of recognition, it would have to be performing Hold You in My Arms just as the sun slowly creeps away. The smokey soul singer with Gospel chops is there to comfort us in times of bad dreamin'. If you've ever seen the Travelers Insurance commercial with the dog protecting his bone as Lamontagne's Trouble plays, you get the feeling. Lamontagne's concoction of Van Morrison, The Band and Sam Cooke is both sweet and chilling.
6:45 p.m.: London siren Florence Welch is officially baring her soul from an overflowing "This Tent." If there are moments when you regret having to endure the heat, the crowded conditions and the toilet troubles at Bonnaroo, Florence just 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 introduces You've Got the Love. There's a girl crying in excitement next to me. Welch bounces, twirls and subs "Bonaroo's got the love" for the hook. Perfect. She also debuts a funky new number before closing out with Dog Days Are Over. Pure Bonnaroo bliss. Everything I hoped it would be.
8 p.m.: Fat Mike and El Hefe of NOFX are just as mature as they were 20 years ago – and that’s a good thing. One of the lone punk bands at Bonnaroo, the group busts through Linoleum with some burping along the way. Oh, and they make fun of jam bands, beards and the "devil's lettuce" before dancing can-can style to an old-timey outro show tune about racism.
8:40 p.m.: A guy just came out of the Porta Potty with a Funnoodle in hand. You know, like the giant foam things you sit on in the pool.
8:45 p.m.: It's been decided -- 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 has likely just come from Bonnaroo's beard and mustache competition as he leads the experimental Southern rock group with hairs a'flyin. New material from Circuital is curiously fun. Steam Engine gets a glow-stick-throwing breakdown and the funky Highly Suspicious receives support from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which just finished up a set across the way. One Big Holiday is the jamified closer and James has officially exhausted the fury white boots he's been running around in.
10:30 p.m.: Someone in a hang glider drops thousands of flashing light thingies with QR codes. It looks as if fireflies are dropping from the sky. Even the advertising is interesting at Bonnaroo.
11 p.m.: The Grammy-winning Canadians of Arcade Fire go deep. Ready to Start is a fitting, guns-blazing opener from the crew of 9-ish 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 are poignant, yet shake-worthy and the group has solidified its place as one of the best to ever play Bonnaroo's big stage.
1 a.m. Weezy's free, but I am too sleepy. Coming off time in Rikers Island for gun possession, Lil Wayne will no doubt come with the hot fire. Plus, he's got material from Tha Carter IV to unveil. I'll have to get the gossip tomorrow.
-- Review/photos by Carole Liparoto, tbt*