Road Trippin- Bonnaroo

Justin Rodstrom

By Justin Rodstrom

Staff Reporter

I send my condolences to any of you guys and dolls out there that missed this year’s stacked lineup of amazing talent the world over. I must say Bonnaroo spoiled us this year. There was New Orleans jazz, British punk, Philadelphia rap, soul, blues, Tennessee hard rock and just about anything else you could think of squeezed into the little town of Manchester, Tenn., for four days of heaven.

Day One: Billed as the small acts day, day one was an instant kick in the pants. The day started off for me with The Black Angels, a surprisingly crunchy hard-rock band that set the tone for an unusually un-mellow Bonnaroo experience. The real treat on day one came at night with Southern rockers Clutch. With a hard-hitting blend of metal, Southern rock and a shot of whiskey, Clutch shook up the scene, waking even the most baked stoners from slumber.

Day Two: The first big day out was day two, with a lineup that had me drooling in anticipation months before it arrived. The day started out with punk space cadets RX Bandits playing a somewhat uninspired set to a largely unreceptive crowd. Next, I moved over to blues man James Blood Ulmer for a real taste of the old school. After a little break in the festivities, I got a chance to check out hometown up-and-comers Kings of Leon. With a killer set and a stellar third album, the Kings were my first real taste of what is so special about Bonnaroo. After another little break for refreshments, I had my first real heartbreaker of a choice between The Roots and The Black Keys. Some tears were shed, but I made up my mind and went over to see the loveable, enthusiastic duo from Akron, Ohio, The Black Keys. I think the best way to describe their set comes in the words of a friend, Chuck Butterworth: “All that noise came from two guys?” The Black Keys tore through a set that included songs from their newest release, “Magic Potion,” as well as classics from throughout the Black Keys canon, and after two hours, the crowd still hadn’t had enough. And the day had just started …

In a pleasing twist, Bonnaroo let there be rock. The main stage was headlined by none other than hard-rock legends Tool. What was even more surprising was the excitement surrounding the concert. A field full of hippies feelin’ the peace-and-love groove became a mob of grungy headbangers with the opening notes to “Jambi.” A night full of intense, haunting video paired with a hypnotizing lightshow dazzled the 80,000+ audience for well over two hours, including a 20-minute jam session with none other than lead guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello. And the night still wasn’t over.

After a mind blowing set by some of today’s hardest rockers, the rest of Bonnaroo and I made our way over to The Other Tent for SuperJam, another concept that has put Bonnaroo on the festival map. This year’s SuperJam was a pairing of Ben Harper and none other than John Paul Jones, bassist and keyboardist for seminal classic rock band Led Zeppelin. The supergroup tore through Zeppelin classics including “Dazed and Confused,” “Ramble On,” “Immigrant Song” and “Whole Lotta Love;” R&B standards; and rock-and-roll tunes to an enthralled audience. Jones even joked about how they hadn’t discussed a set list – hadn’t even jammed together before the show took place – not that any of us would have been the wiser. I couldn’t even fathom having two more days of this, especially with what came next …

Day Three: The day started out slow, but it certainly picked up. The first band on the agenda was Hot Tuna, a group of old school classic rockers in the vein of Grateful Dead. Next up for me was Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals on the What Stage. Not only did Harper show off his slide-guitar wizardry with a tremendous backing band, he also brought out his jam buddy from the night before, John Paul Jones, for an ever-growing version of “Dazed and Confused,” this time well exceeding the 25-minute mark.

After that was all said and done, Harper made way for the night’s headliner: The Police. I know, it keeps getting more absurd, right? Sting, Steward and Andy showed the Bonnaroo crowd all they had to offer, extending their radio hits into sing-along jams, reinterpreting classics and taking their shirts off in fitful displays of sonic passion (well, at least Sting did). You could sense a couple pistons were not quite firing correctly, or maybe it was tension between the players, but they worked their way through the likes of “Roxanne,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and “King of Pain” with concerted effort.

Don’t think we’re done here, the best of the night is yet to come. I have to say what was about to happen is one of those rare things that a music lover is truly blessed if he or she is able to be a part of. Gov’t Mule came out and played an epic three-and-a-half hour monster set with a succession of guest appearances by some of the festival’s most important musicians: Bob Weir, Hot Tuna, Dierks Bentley and John Paul Jones. What followed was a truly special, truly legendary concert. Weir came out and did Grateful Dead classics alongside blues standards, Hot Tuna did old time folk tunes and John Paul Jones, Warren Haynes and the boys of Gov’t Mule performed absolutely flawless renditions of “Moby Dick,” “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid,” “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You” and the Jonesy epic, “No Quarter.” It’s one of those music moments that I will keep coming back to – something I know will never quite happen again.

Day Four: In a way, I’m glad day four was less intense than the previous night. It gave me time to sort out exactly what had happened the night before and a chance to get my voice back. You know you’re at something truly spectacular when a slow day includes performances by Wolfmother, Bob Weir & RatDog, Wilco, The North Mississippi Allstars, The White Stripes and Widespread Panic. I mean, are you kidding me? The fact that I’m still giddy two months after the fact has to tell you something about Bonnaroo. RatDog pulled off a fantastic set, jazzing up Weir and Grateful Dead classics along with a few covers. Wilco played its soft, pleasing, strange body of work to a receptive, unusually large audience. Of course, Jack and Meg pulled off their phenomenal punk-infused Robert Johnson cover with style and class. Widespread Panic always seems to end Bonnaroo in just the right way. Its set never ends; it goes on for hours and hours of metal-like flamenco drums and ever-ascending vocals. With its shows the night doesn’t so much end as fade away. You wake up the next morning unsure of what happened or how it ended, but you know it was fantastic.

The sheer number of astounding live acts just goes to show that there is truly great talent out there. We aren’t in a musical lull; we just need to look in the right places, and the creators of Bonnaroo seem to have done just that. Go out and support live music, and for your own sake, don’t miss another Bonnaroo!