By Coele Gaia
Photos by Will Jordan
The illustrious fourth annual Bonnaroo 2005 kicked into full gear on June 9 as nearly 77,000 music lovers arrived upon the grassy country scenic fields of Manchester, TN some 60 miles south of Nashville. Superfly Productions and A.C. Entertainment coordinated the quality megaevent with an expanded musical lineup, conscious ecological agenda and an expressive art theme that rivaled previous years. Bonnaroo 2005 exhibited the intricate strategic planning of time-tested camp festival tradition and has dramatically matured into an incredible summit of live improvisational music. The greatly anticipated grand-scale event reflected the logistical fine-tuning, attention to detail and reasonably comfortable camp accommodations. The fun-filled, visually stimulating sonic circus offered a dizzying array of interactive attractions and voluminous live music. Reaching for near perfection, Bonnaroo 2005's effort escalated several levels above the first three Roos.
Easing the vibe into a pleasant sea of smiles ensured complete success as a traditionally testy weather pattern failed to dampen spirits. The impressive towering six-story main What Stage was visual and aural testimony to the serious sonic nature embraced by Bonnaroo's seasoned organizers. The formidable task of staging over 80 nationally touring bands, utilizing state of the art sound, is a penultimate dream achieved at Bonnaroo. The key goal of designing and creating several stages and large-scale tents was well accomplished. A monumental total of 10 stages and tents served as the platform of Bonnaroo's prolific live performance schedule. Popular demand constantly filled each venue to a dense nearly overflowing capacity, creating a vibrant right-place-right-time feeling. Bonnaroo's small town square, Centeroo, catered to a cornucopia of delicious food and diverse crafts vendors. Interactive activities included the sophisticated Dolby-powered Bonnaroo Cinema, Troo Live Music Lounge, Jack Daniels Cafe, XBox Discoteque and the MSN Digital Download Music Village. Major League Baseball's batting and pitching area was a particularly popular attraction.
Offering a stunning selection of stimulating options while attempting to catch the endless lineup of excellent performances left the tireless thousands to their own design. The stages were fired up daily at 12 noon and continued well past 3 a.m. Onsite Earth conscious efforts employed Clean Vibes, a team of relentless recyclers. The Conscious Alliance Food Drive gathered and donated food for those in need. An overall kinetic kindness blanketed the peace-loving gathering of friendly festive music and art aficionados. Performers autograph-signing sessions, workshops and stealthy gigs established an inside track of random happenings.
Chillin' at the Roo is where it's at and nary a dull moment existed. From the vantage point of most concertgoers, the 6.4 million watts of juice not only lit up the massive greenish Bonnaroo sign but seemingly poured into every living cell. The Roo was once again a living entity complete with an enormous pulsating heartbeat. The airwaves of Radio Bonnaroo's 5,000-watt eclectic programming mixed tunes, celebrity guests and artist interviews. Rare in-studio performances were interspersed with instant updated announcements and traffic reports. After paying close to $200, Bonnaroovians endured congested traffic, lengthy car searches, and the typical Tennessee scorching heat all in the name of great music, bonding with friends and high times.
Thursday, June 9 found the early Bonnaroo birds settling in well before the deluge of slow, snaking traffic. The first night came alive as the evening VIP tent offered a plentiful and delicious dinner complete with a cool smiling staff and free-flowing kegs of Magic Hat #9, Sierra Nevada and other beverages. A glowing blood-red crescent moon hung lazily over the 700-acre Tennessee farm creatively transformed into a super live music heaven. Late Thursday evening saw the Bonnaroo breakout sounds of the power trio Rose Hill Drive. Festival fave Perpetual Groove laid down an electric danceable late night set. The eclectic, zany purple-haired sitarist Gabby La La featured bassist Les Claypool at the midnight hour in a trippy pastiche of sounds.
Friday, June 10 awoke to the humid mid-south heat as the balmy morning gave way to the relentless stinging afternoon rays. Austere homestyle folk icon John Prine pleased a packed audience. The lovely, deeply intense British soulstress Joss Stone performed an affable sultry set. The teenager's confident stage persona rose well above expectations, establishing her as a true Bonnnaroo shining star. Early summer swelter mixed with an on again, off again misty sprinkle that offered occasional relief with cooler gusts. On the What Stage, he mid-afternoon sunshine greeted the locally flavored native talents of Nashville's Alison Krause and her awesome Union Station band. Remaining true to the pure country regional roots, Krause delivered the real deal, working the home crowd in grand ol' Bonnaroo style. Not far away, the grooving rap unit Juraasic 5 offered a fun dancing set to a swelling capacity crowd of sing-a-long fans and party hearty breakbeaters.
As the sun finally began to set, the road warrior Allman Brothers Band graced the monstrous main stage. Easing into a percussive "Mountain Jam," the monumental ABB displayed a solid set of legendary classic tunes. The pyrotechnical Duane Allmanesque slide guitar torch blazed through the heart of musical prodigy and chosen legacy Derek Trucks as the Brothers rode hard into "Trouble No More." A roar went up as the tasty classic-rock riff staple "Midnight Rider" ignited the capacity crowd. The unmatched harmonious dual guitar attack of Warren Haynes and Trucks drifted across the grasslands, massaging the masses with enduring pleasure. A heartfelt version of the homegrown Civil War chronicle, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," elicited a tearful ballad feeling and was followed by an upbeat blues favorite, "Good Morning Little School Girl." Embellished by the triple guitars of Haynes, slidemaster Trucks and Allison Krause's Union Station dobro king Jerry Douglas, the spontaneous results were revelatoy. A rollicking "Revival" uplifted the group mind into a lively interchange of sing-a-long ecstasy. Allmans staple "Statesboro Blues" featured Gregg Allman's trademark blues vocal and B-3 organ soul signature. The poignant "Old Before My Time" lead into a rousing take on Derek & the Dominos' "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?" For a version of the Grateful Dead's "Frankilin's Tower," master bassist Oteil Burbridge stepped up on vocals delivered the multi-verse Jerry Garcia sonic poem to near perfection. The haunting bittersweet mind-melter "Melissa" satiated the true southern fan base as did an incredible extended version of "Dreams." The flowing, seemingly effortless instrumental "Jessica" had everybody bouncing and dancing. The bass-driven, edgy, rock-solid "Whipping Post" encore left an indelible impression on the collective soul of the southlands most enduring and beloved band.
Over at This Tent, Bela Fleck offered an interesting acoustic set as a refreshing departure from the Flecktones electric sound signature. Nearby at That Tent, the supersonic explorations and rapid-fire Benevento/Russo Duo merged with bass slinger Mike Gordon, exploring spacey rhythmic interplay that defines the shifting electro-synth jam based evolution. Jazz-fusion icon Herbie Hancock and his Headhunters 2005 turned the Which Stage into a virtual mothership of funk frequencies that only the original fusion master could concoct. Hancock banged out awesome versions of "Watermelon Man" and "Frankenstein." Hancock solidified his reputable crossover status in musical history as the appreciative multi-generational audience absorbed his scientifically inventive keyboard voicings.
One of summertime's most enduring concert draws and unrivaled success stories is the Dave Matthews Band. Riding on the crested waves of the live improvisational movement, DMB's honed stage show of tight, extended jams, brilliant light design and stellar songcrafting places them atop the jamband pyramid. The road-seasoned band downloaded a gargantuan performance of spellbinding vocalizations, command solos and soaring crescendos. A crunching sax, violin, drum and bass driven sound while simultaneously embellishing storied lyrical expressions is DMB's forte. Bonnaroo 2005 was perhaps one of the finest DMB efforts to date and illustrates the serious nature of doing The Roo right.
Following the soft acoustical opening notes of "One Sweet World," an incendiary "Too Much" blasted forth a not-so-subtle take on greed culture. From bare facts to bare fantasy, the inventive melody of the mysterious "Pantala Naga Pampa" foreshadowed a compelling version of "Rapunzel." On a surprise cover of The Zombies' "Time Of The Season," Matthews asked tongue-in-cheek, "What's your name, who's your daddy, is he rich like me?" The twisted tale of "Hello Again" from DMB's recently released Stand Up preceded "Crash Into Me." The gospel-tinged "Bartender" threw open the celestial doors of spirit, ringing out a clarion call. Then "Smooth Rider" set the stage for the one- of-kind master polyrhythmic driven energy of drummer Carter Beauford. The deep lyrical content of "Rhyme & Reason" expressed the quasi-eccentric side of Matthews' manic genius. Rock solid bassist Stefan Lessard's melodic, uncomplicated lines underscored DMB's free-form jam style, which he flawlessly held together. Warren Haynes appeared out of the shadows to join DMB for a monumental 20-minute "Jimi Thing" > "For What It's Worth?" Pedal-steel wizard Robert Randolph lent his stratospheric signature soloing to a southern-baked "Louisiana Bayou and "All Along the Watchtower." They encored with double "Steady as We Go" and the crowd-pleasing "Tripping Billies."
At the stroke of midnight the New Orleans funky phenom Galactic shook that groove thing backed by the incredible percussive energy of drummer Stanton Moore. A rainbow hued Krewe De Carnivale Mardi Gras parade delighted the throngs of party people and provided a slight chuckle as the Grand Marshall, American Idol runner-up Bo Bice joined in on the fun. The after-midnight techno jams of the lustrous Sound Tribe Sector Nine tranced out the late night scene. Huge surprise and major buzz band The Mars Volta lived up to the word-of-mouth hype accelerating into the hyperkinetic realms of undefined prog-rock.
Saturday, June 11 welcomed a cooler, cloudier grey sky, relief from Friday's typical Tennessee summer scorcher. Reid Genauer's Assembly of Dust delivered a solid set of originals, moving the band's status a solid notch up the jammyland ladder. World beat multi-styled Ozomatli dug into a cornucopia of musical genres, carving a unique path through the sonic jungles of afrobeat, reggae and salsa. Particle, having recently toured with the Dead's masterful percussion musicologist Mickey Hart as Hydra, presented a seasoned trance-fusion collection of frenetic tunes. Yonder Mountain String Band's poignant country picking particularly rang true. Bonnaroo breakout band, San Francisco's Tea Leaf Green, lit up the afternoon with a rocking set that eclipsed expectation.
So much music with so limited time made a difficult task of deciding where to go and when. Plotting the entertaining strategy is half the fun. Actually making it to all the desired performances while negotiating non-stop distractions and attractions is the ultimate challenge. Fortunately, there were no wrong turns as the tsunami level of talent crested to all-time highs. A brief stage break found the ubiquitous Warren Haynes fronting his own
kickass band, Gov't Mule. The talented quartet gave forth an empowered performance. Staying on course with the subtle Southern spirited feel of Bonnaroo, the Mule opened with the gospel-flavored a cappella "John the Revelator." Drummer Matt Abts' inside-out rhythmic patterns dipped deeply into a spacey "Thorazine Shuffle." It was the masterful rendition of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" that fully underscored Haynes' musical genius. "Fallen Down" delicately segued into the Dead's instrumental masterpiece, "Terrapin Station." "Soulshine" served up a deserving encore.
The much-anticipated reunion of the Georgia-grown, road-honed Black Crowes sparked a pleasant chain reaction throughout the gathering. Steeped in redemption, renewal and rock'n'roll, Chris and Rich Robinson's brotherhood professed the common love of music in a big way. Rock solid soloing fronted by the brilliance of guitarist Marc Ford, fortified by ace drummer Steve Gorman, opened the performance window for singer-songwriter and celebrated persona Chris Robinson's lean vocal delivery to rip through Crowes classics. "Thorn in My Pride, "Wiser Time" and "My Morning Song" highlighted the psychedelic set. A cool fun version of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" had everybody singing along. A touching nod to Jerry Garcia came forth with a reflective, spirited "Brokedown Palace." The "Remedy" encore placed a solid capstone on the Black Crowes' Southern-rock legacy and a fantastic set.
Following the Crowes' welcome-back-home concert, cool surfer-turned- songwriter Jack Johnson delivered a solid offering to a burgeoning crowd of both fans and curious listeners. Australian Xavier Rudd's major debut was empowered by his unmatched combination of multi-faceted percussion, didgeridoo, 12-string slide guitar and infectious vocalizations. The triumphant Aboriginal soundings and honest stage persona has established Rudd as a shooting star. Another one-man-band, Keller Williams inspired awe with his upbeat, well-designed song selection, amazing guitar work and
intelligent vocal delivery.
The first of two nights celebrating Widespread Panic's return to the road was a three and a half hour jamathon that delighted the masses. Panic heads were pleased by the double dose of back-to-back extended sets (both Saturday and Sunday). The magical midnight hour found the ultra-cool Karl Denson stirring things up. Horn laced and sax appealing, Denson's Tiny Universe filled This Tent with a slammin' dance-your-face-off set that brought out the wee hours sweat.
Sunday, June 12 let the sunshine flow on Jamaican reggae legend Toots and the Maytals' rootsy style. The set was punctuated by the ska driven "Pressure Drop," the groovalicious "Funky Kingston" and the Maytals' signature song, "Reggae Got Soul." Chicago's Umphrey's McGee's dual guitar attack of Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss was hotter than ever as the most improved and increasingly popular jamband increased their fan base. Bayliss' outstanding craftmanship ranks among the best on the scene. Robert Randolph's charismatic hobby band, The Word, featured keyboard king John Madeski and offered a potent gospel-gilded electric sky church session to the capacity audience. Smiling toward the heavens while thanking God, Randolph's ecstatic enthusiasm proved electromagnetic. Eighty-two-year-old fiddler Earl Scruggs brought along his Friends for a real taste of county out in the country.
Back on the spacious main stage, Bob Weir's Ratdog opened with the Dead's timeless road-warrior tale, "Truckin'" (into "Playing in the Band"). A moving "Birdsong" led to a slow, jazzy "Cassidy," highlighted by the exploratory meanderings of drummer Jay Lane, guitarist Mark Karan and sax man Kenny Brooks. Interwoven unobtrusive spinning crescendos layered the Ratdog feel with an egoless essence. "Jack Straw" elicited smiles all around. An excellent courageous energy shift to the higher ground brought forth a rousing rendition of "St. Stephen." Beatles gem "Dear Prudence" rounded out a solid deadicated set. The sweet tried-and-true encore, "Sugar Magnolia," blossomed a golden flower into the hearts and heads of Weir's faithful followers.
Widespread Panic's guest-heavy 3-1/ 2 closing hour set proved to the loyal fan base that the Panic was back and in rare form. WSP served as Bonnaroo 2005's official headliner and, after nearly two decades together, they pulled out all the road-tested tunes they could muster. John Bell's charged vocals were excellently accompanied by George McConnell's hot-licking guitar, Dave School's chunky bass and the thunderous chops of drummer Todd Nance and percussionist Sonny Ortiz. Both Saturday and Sunday nights sets featured a collaborative who's who of Bonnaroo artists. Joining Panic with were Weir, Haynes, Randolph, Luther Dickinson and Col. Bruce Hampton.
All three days of performances served up a creatively inspired sonic library of memorable collaborations as the creme de la creme of the tight-knit live performance community gathered. Clearly, he family that jams together stays together. The passing of the musical baton amongst an honored coterie of players indelibly marked the Bonnaroo summit as the musically creative crossroads and launching pad for future projects. Bonnaroo is the Jamtopia, and the omnipotent potential remains limitless for years to come.
To purchase live downloadable MP3 and CD sets from the festival, go to livebonnaroo.com