Bonnaroo's Phinest!

Article Contributed by Philip Emma | Published on Wednesday, July 8, 2009

As I make my annual pilgrimage to my 6th Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, I cannot help but see the nostalgia in the place that is so familiar for many reasons. It starts with the car ride, where I feel like I can drive forever because I cannot wait to pass those Bonnaroo toll booths that symbolize a sense of accomplishment and enlightenment that is about to take place. The way I see it, I now have 96 hours of church to fill my soul until next year. There is something about that 700 acre farm that has hosted the best music; yeah I said it, the best music in the past decade. There is no question that this is the best music festival in the world every year. It is funny reading the blogs on other websites, where people fight over this for six months before the festival begins. I laugh at that when I’m seeing the eighth face melting jam of the day, while being engulfed by over 150 acts of the most diverse nature. There is so much to do for any kind of music fan. Superfly Productions and AC Entertainment strive to give the fans of good music a diverse palette of colors to paint with throughout the weekend. Their goal is simply to provide the best music to the people. They accomplish that year after year. Therefore, I let the blogger haters talk, and I go to experience it on my own. This year, not only was the lineup fantastic, but it included my favorite band of all time, Phish. My expectations were high, and they were surpassed once again. The only disappointment for me was the absence of the Superjam. I don’t know why or how this was eliminated, but I’m sure glad that moe provided their own for our enjoyment that lasted until the sun rose. Here is a detailed account of every day of the festival including all of the bands that I saw.  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

After reading several other Bonnaroo reviews and talking to many people, I’m glad that I’m not alone in saying that this first night was disappointing. This is not to say that there were not any good performances on this night, it just seems like the consensus that we missed the Rose Hill Drive, Ray Lamontagne, Vampire Weekend, Tea Leaf Green, Devotchka, Rodrigo y Gabriella caliber performances of the past. The torrential down pours put a little damper in the scene as a whole, as people were often scattering for cover throughout the night. Tents were blowing away, and Bonnaroo rookies were being broken in to the unpredictable weather. My favorite part of Thursday night musically was Phish’s soundcheck of their new song, “Ocelot,” Son Seal’s “Funky Bitch,” and a portion of “Llama.” Many of us were thinking that it was someone’s car radio, but it was not.  

Portugal. The Man

The big buzz of the night came from people that saw Portugal. The Man. This underrated band from Alaska was very excited to play their first major festival, and according to the people that saw them, they were thoroughly pleased by their performance. This was already my first regret. I should have been there.


Jam/Church Mouth/One, Lay Me Back Down, And I, New Orleans, Bellies Are Full, People Say, My Mind, Horse Warming Party, 1989, AKA, M80, The Wolf 

Alberta Cross


This is where my night started although, I was later than anticipated. I did catch this rock n’ roll band out of Brooklyn’s second half set. I can see them heating up like My Morning Jacket did after their epic Bonnaroo performance. They have that feel to them. I want to call it Aesthetic Rock. It’s dreamy and the vocals are haunting. This is a band I would like to see in a small club. I think their sound has a smoky feel, rather than a day time festival set feel.


Old Man Chicago, Taking Control, City Walls, Thief and the Heartbreaker, Low Man, Leave Us, Ramblin' Home, Lucy Rider, Broken Side of Time 
Song 3 Blues, Rise from the Shadows, ATX 

White Rabbits

I missed a lot of this band’s set with “technical difficulties,” but I was able to catch their big song “Percussion Gun,” which seemed to activate the crowd out of a somewhat trance. This indie band didn’t draw the biggest crowd at the festival, but the people that were there seemed to know their music.


Rudie Fails, The Lady Vanishes, While We Go Dancing, They Done Wrong / We Done Wrong, Right Where They Left, Midnight and I, Kid On My Shoulders, Company I Keep, The Plot, Lionesse, Percussion Gun, Foxhunting, The Salesman (Tramp Life) 

Thursday is the night to explore, so I bounced around to a lot of attractions throughout the evening. The Silent Disco was initiated, as well as the Scratch DJ Academy. The arcade was bass bouncing as I took a time-out with a friend at the Café Roo. It was actually perfect timing because the rain was relentless at times.  



Hockey was one of the bands that I was anticipating the most on this night. I just discovered them before the festival through their MySpace page because they were playing Bonnaroo. But, from what I heard I was anticipating a dance party from the electro-pop band out of Portland. And to my surprise, there were thousands of others jamming along to this band that has not even put out an album yet. That’s one of the beauties of the festival. What a way to start out! They brought the party and didn’t disappoint. As a matter of fact, there were a couple of points that they reminded me of my favorite electro-pop band Ghostland Observatory. They were not as didactic or in your face, but they presented the venue an opportunity to dance. This band has a lot of potential and many festivals in their immediate future already.


Work, Learn To Lose, Wanna Be Black, Song Away, 3AM, Spanish, Four Holy, Photos, Too Fake, Put The Game Down 

Passion Pit

As the night was settling in and rain subsiding for a bit, another electro-rock group entered the stage, and I watched as people flocked to the front. The banging bass and electronic sound somehow pulls people in, especially if serotonin enhancers are abound. It’s been compared to the feeling that Mario gets when he runs into a star in Super Mario Bros. After a night full of hipster bands, Passion Pit brought a dance groove that all types of people were dancing to including their song that’s been listened to almost 4 million times on Myspace, “Sleepyhead.”  


Better Things, Make Light, Let Your Love Grow Tall, I've Got Your Number, Little Secrets, Folds In Your Hands, Moth's Wings, Sleepyhead, Smile Upon Me, The Reeling

Delta Spirit’s set was delayed until 12:30am due to the fact that they incurred several delays because of the weather. In addition, although I’m not a big fan of country music, I heard that the Zac Brown Band covered the Band’s “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down.” That would have been fun to hear. Overall, the night was what it was, a warm-up for the weekend of insanity. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday was off to a good start early, except that I had all intentions of spending most of my afternoon at the Africa Calling tent. On the other hand, it is one of those Bonnaroo tough decisions whether to go off on your own or hang out with all of your friends. I recently saw Toubab Krewe a couple of times, and I know that they are a lot of fun. Therefore, I decided to follow my friends to Gomez. Not to mention that there was a whole stage full of David Byrne’s selection of bands. Anything that David Byrne recommends me listening to, will prompt me to be all ears. Decisions, decisions… My confusion landed me to start my day at the first press conference of the weekend. 

Press Conference #1


As I joined the press conference already in progress, my first goal was to identify who was there. It was great mix of people that consisted of: Comedian Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Vasquez (Delta Spirit), Grace Potter, Ani DiFranco, and Ben Elfman (Galactic). The conversation started with their ideas of the Bonnaroo community and their own personal journeys to get there. Potter added the most comic relief to the conversation. She seemed to take over with her out going personality and foxy looks. But the best part of the press conference was when the conversation turned to politics. Janeane Garofalo made the mistake of bringing up the subject by saying, “It’s so heartbreakingly disappointing how Obama has acquiesced in the name of bipartisanship.” After several minutes went by, one can almost feel that DiFranco had to comment on that statement, and she did. She said as a last comment that she disagreed with what Garofalo said earlier about Obama being disappointing thus far. After she listed his accomplishments to date so meticulously, she said, “I don’t think one person can do everything. It takes all of us to make something radical happen.” She then added, “Obama shows us how to be like family and forgive.” Garofalo quickly backpedaled by clarifying that she likes and supports Obama, but she just thinks that he’s been slightly disappointing so far. The two of them quickly hugged as soon as the conference was over, and I went to Gomez.  


I’ve seen Gomez at Bonnaroo before, but I think that this performance was a major improvement from the last time that I saw them. They drew me in almost immediately. The highlight of this set for me was the unusual Led Zeppelin cover of one of my favorite foot stomping songs. Gomez covered “Bron-y-aur Stomp” extremely well with their own flavor. It was a little more country sounding than usual, and that added a special flare to the song we know so well. Furthermore, after that the set continued its momentum with a very rockin’ rest of their set.  


Revolutionary Kind, Hamoa Beach, Natural Reaction, Trombone, Mix, See the World, Nicely (If I Ask You), Other Plans, Bron-y-aur Stomp, Ruff Stuff, Blue Moon Rising, Ping One Down, Airstream Driver, Little Pieces, How We Operate

Kaki King


This gypsy trailblazer never disappoints. From the first time I saw her open up for Mike Gordon at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, CO, I knew she was going to get somewhere fast, and she has. The first few songs that I saw lacked her usual finger picking, fret-slapping, percussion on her guitar. It was much different. It was electric and even almost metal. It was nice, but just unusual to see her play like that. After a few songs, she picked up the acoustic guitar and did her thing. The crowd seemed to change from that point on to. It was familiar, and a lot of times that’s what people want.  

Vieux Farka Toure (My Top 5 Show Performance)

As I approached this tent from a distance I could hear how rockin’ the show was already. I already began to regret missing the first few songs of this show. Once I got closer I felt the cool friendly vibes of this musician’s electric guitar. As the son of one of the most famous musicians to come out of West Africa, Ali Farka Toure, Vieux proved to be no slouch himself. I read an interesting story about this father and son connection one time. From what I remember Ali would not approve of Vieux pursuing a career in music. He wanted him to be a soldier instead. That concept is hard for most of us to grasp, and thank God that Vieux agreed with us because his music is straight inspiring. Thanks in part to the tutelage of Toumani Diabate, whose set was next with Bela Fleck, Vieux followed his dreams of following his father’s footsteps to become an inspiring musician of his own. This set had it all. It was an African flavored bluesy jamband show with the structure and sound of Africa. What more can a music lover ask for? Everyone in an earshot was dancing and smiling. I was really feeling this set, and to be honest, it was the first set that did that to me since arriving. I highly recommend seeing this budding musician from Mali when presented with the chance.  

Bela Fleck & Toumani Diabate

I’ve seen Bela Fleck with several different bands and projects before, and I have never been disappointed even slightly from what I heard, so seeing him with an African music legend appealed to me immensely. As the two took the stage the music started mellow and melodic. It was beautiful. The old soulful music took its listeners to a place, but it was difficult to be there while so many other loud bands and distractions were going on around you at this festival. At one point during the early part of the set Bela and Toumani started to describe their journey together. They described the African history of the banjo and the kora, which Diabate is renowned for playing. The two sound amazing together. They then explained that the kora that he was playing was over 700 years old. Diabate comes from a lineage of seventy-one generations of kora players. It’s hard to imagine how deep this tradition is. It is not hard to imagine why Fleck would want to learn the original style of the instrument that he has perfected and changed the face of. This show was tough to leave, but I wanted to make sure to catch the end of the Grace Potter & the Nocturnals show.  

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

I remember the first time that I saw Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play at the Wakarusa Music Festival in 2006. I was really impressed with the bluesy sound and vocals of Grace Potter as she sat behind her piano. During this set however, she mostly sang all around the stage in her red dress with soul and swing. She debut the title track to her new album Medicine produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett. They played a perfect “Apologies” toward the end of the set that sent the crowd into a sing-a-long that cried with feeling. This new and much improved lineup takes them even further than where they were when I first saw them three years ago. They added a new force in bassist, Catherine Popper from Ryan Adams and the Cardinals band. There are also a few changes at the guitar position. All in all, this band was moving and continues to capture the attention of everyone that goes to see them. Grace Potter seems to command control while on the stage, and now she seems to have other band members that can attract the same attention.  


Some Kind, Medicine, Joey, Ah Mary, Mastermind, Bus, Paris, Money, Apologies, That Phone, Sweet Hands, NBTW, Kitchen

Galactic with Trombone Shorty and Corey Henry


As a big fan of Galactic, I have been slightly disappointed with the last few shows I have seen them play. I was not really into the collaboration hip hop phase that they went through, but this show was hot! They seemed to give us the perfect mix of Galactic as a whole throughout the years. They mixed the old with the new. The addition of Trombone Shorty and keyboardist Corey Henry, brought the New Orleans back in their groove. That is what I love about Galactic. I love the hard core New Orleans funk, and that’s what they brought. They seemed to play all of my favorite songs throughout the set. Therefore, I was primed and ready for some more soul with Al Green.   

Al Green

The anticipation built as we waited for the legendary love song soul brotha Al Green to grace the stage. Then it started to remind me of seeing James Brown at Bonnaroo a few years back. The announcer for James Brown spent a good fifteen minutes just to introduce him, and my déjà vu served me justly because the same thing happened on this stage. I can see doing it when you see them at their own shows that last a long time, but these sets are fairly short, and no one has time for lengthy introductions when four other great performers are playing their hearts out. None the less, when Green finally came on he played the classics “Love and Happiness” and “Let’s Stay Together”, and the audience sang and swayed. Al Green just makes people feel good. Not to mention his high pitched squeals send shivers up your spine. I was afraid this set was going to disappoint like a few other big-name acts over the years at the main stage, but that wasn’t the case. Al Green did his thing, and the crowd ate it up. 


L-O-V-E, Let's Get Married, Lay It Down, Everything's Gonna Be Alright, Amazing Grace, Let's Stay Together, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, Here I Am, I Can't Help Myself > My Girl, Bring It On Home To Me, Dock of Bay, You Are Everything, Tired Of Being Alone, Still In Love You, Love And Happiness 

David Byrne (My Top 5 Show Performance)

Wow! David Byrne’s last Bonnaroo set made my jaw drop, as he and Trey Anastasio closed a memorable Bonnaroo a few years back. That was impressive. This show was even more amazing because of the Stop Making Sense theme to it. First of all, there is no doubt in my mind that Stop Making Sense is one of the greatest musical movies of all time. With that being said, Byrne was masterful at mixing his material that he recently collaborated with the great Brian Eno and the famously exuberant Talking Heads songs. This was all clad with dancers, costumes, and choreographed moves by all parties. It was high energy for the most part, but when Byrne wanted to take it down and have you listen to his amazing singing voice, the crowd was all ears. The set had it all.  

Beastie Boys

I have to say that I only caught the encore, but I know that Nas came out to jam with them during their half oldie and half new funk set. They balanced the setlist well, and the five song encore included favorites “Intergalactic” and “Sabotage,” which pleased me quite a bit.  


Biz Us Nuge, Time For Living, Super Disco Breakin, Sure Shot, No Sleep Til, Shake Your Rump, Gratitude, Sabrosa, Egg Raid on Mojo, Body Movin, Pass The Mic, Root Down, Too Many Rappers^, Paul Revere, Ricky's Theme, Something's Got To Give, Tough Guy, Remote Control, So Watcha Want, E: Mix Master Mike solo > Intergalactic, 3 MCs, Heart Attack Man, Sabotage 


This is the moment of the day that I was really waiting for. After seeing nearly every show since they came back in March, I had high expectations for this “late night” set. I figured that they’d play a Phish set including many of their new songs and heavy hitters, and they did. It was a very complete show with a dance party ending. They opened with “Chalkdust Torture,” which I have now seen thirty times, and would not mind seeing it thirty more times. It’s an electric opener that usually starts a show on the right foot. Then, they inserted the new song, “Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan.” After, they jammed for about forty minutes on three classics, “Divided Sky,” “Possum,” and “Down With Disease.” It was AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” that was the bust out of the night, and right after that, the dance party kicked off. It was the perfect sandwich of “2001 > You Enjoy Myself > Wilson > You Enjoy Myself.” The transition between “Wilson” and “You Enjoy Myself” was delicious, and Mike’s bass solo was dark and lead to the best vocal jam of the year so far. Of course, Chris Kuroda’s light show cannot go without being mentioned. With all this space to fill on the large field of the Bonnaroo main stage, Kuroda used his magic and his new extra level of lights to color our view. They encored the show with the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” which was extremely loud and well-coordinated, especially during the end of the song.


Chalk Dust Torture, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, The Divided Sky, Possum, Down With Disease, Alaska, Stash, Golgi Apparatus, Wolfman's Brother, Poor Heart, Kill Devil Falls > Free > Wading In The Velvet Sea > Harry Hood > Highway To Hell > 2001 > You Enjoy Myself > Wilson > You Enjoy Myself 

Girl Talk

First, I want to preface this one by saying that it is sometimes really hard to see any show after seeing a Phish show. Phish usually does a great job at filling your musical plate. But on the way to Nectar’s, yes that Nectar’s from Vermont, we stopped at Girl Talk’s mad party that they were throwing on stage. It looked like a Flaming Lips show with tons of people on stage and confetti and other visual attractions flying all around the stage and crowd. It was fun for awhile, but after a whole day of music three, late-night shows that were all electronic was kind of annoying. Why make a whole night of three djs? Many people were complaining about this all night. It was just very limiting in a place that had very few limits. People wanted choices; therefore, Centeroo was empty on this night.

Thursday and Friday were a success, but the best was yet to come! Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon.