When midnight struck for the Friday night late show, ?uestlove, Ben Harper, and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin took the stage for the festival's inimitable SuperJam. Ripping through a handful of Zeppelin tunes including “When the Levee Breaks,” “Good Times Bad Times,” and “Dazed and Confused,” the trio stirred up long improvisational transitions from one song. I think I share my sentiments with the rest who witnessed the show in saying that hearing these songs rip-up the stage in extended jams brought me back to age thirteen again. The set also included a cover of Marvin Gaye's “Inner City Blues” and Stevie Wonder's “Superstition,” which Kirk Douglas from the Roots sat in on.
Shortly after, DJ Shadow took the stage for his last show on the Outsider Tour, and it went off with a bang. Barely able to stand at the beginning, I ended up dancing almost into the sunrise with this set featuring quite a few tracks off his 1996 debut Endtroducing such as “Organ Donor” and “Mutual Slump,” and bringing out Lateef the Truth Speaker to feature on a few tracks from his 2006 record The Outsider.
Day Two proved to be a struggle – the heat took its toll, and I ended up back in the EMS tent from intense dehydration and nausea. Not the way you want to spend your Bonnaroo. Fortunately, I didn't let it stop me from seeing what I set out to see that day, and although I caught only a few full sets -including Regina Spektor, Ween, the Police, and the Flaming Lips – they were some of the most unforgettable.
Now, a lot has been said about The Police performance at Bonnaroo, such as the 80,000 people who trekked across the country to see them. Over the course of 18 songs, they played an incredibly tight, slick sounding set – but there was something completely missing during this perfomance, and that was the crowd participation – proof that The Police were just a variety act to a lot of the crowd members. Maybe it was because it sounded so flat from a distance, but the only spark ignited in the crowd at large was the opener “Message in a Bottle,” along with the predictable “Roxanne” and “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” I think the performance's downfall came in the extended jams off some of the lesser known tracks that alienated a lot of the crowd. Regardless of the crowd, they put on a fantastic performance. Sting's vocals are in pristine shape, Stuart Copeland looked like he was running a marathon behind the kit, and Andy Summers, although looking bored, kept the band on its toes with his extensive guitar breakdowns. The group played extraordinary, extended renditions of “Driven to Tears” and “The Bed's Too Big Without You.”
Earlier in the day, Regina Spektor was one of the more light-hearted shows of the weekend. She seemed to be having a great time with her quirky sense of humor, and it echoed throughout the audience as she played through tracks off “Soviet Kitsch” and “Begin to Hope.” Ween also tore through a nearly three hour, pure psychedelic rock n' roll set, playing crowd favorites like “Zoloft,” “Voodoo Lady,” and “Bananas and Blow.”
The true highlight of the night occurred as the clock struck midnight and the Flaming Lips took the stage for one of the biggest extravaganzas, if not the biggest, that Bonnaroo has ever seen. Bringing their UFO in toe, Wayne Coyne appeared on its hood, from where he rolled off into the crowd inside his “Space Bubble”. Before the show, a good 5,000 laser pointers were thrown out into the audience, and lit up the stage throughout the performance's duration. Playing through favorites like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” “Waitin' for a Superman,” and “She Don't Use Jelly”, they also played “Mountainside” from In A Priest Driven Ambulance, a track they haven't put into their repertoire in 11 years.
Day Three proved to be much better health wise as I made a point to find my way into tents and shaded areas, staying out of the sun for as long as humanly possible and seeing acts such as Ornette Coleman, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, and the White Stripes.
To kick off the day, I went into the Blue Note-sponsored Somethin Else' Jazz Tent to see Don Byron and his band. It was one of my favorite additions to this years festival. It featured air conditioning, waitresses at your service, and a real jazz club atmosphere (minus the fact that 90% of the people in there were white and/or a hippie). Although not as good as the Thursday Night performance featuring Lou Donaldson and Dr. Lonnie Smith, it still had its charm. Don Byron was really the only humble cat in the band, while the rest seemed to be battling for a spotlight – entirely too showy.
After, I headed over to the Cinema Tent to catch director Jim Jarmusch (Ghost Dog, Coffee and Cigarettes, Down by Law) give a Q&A session. This guy was in his atmosphere – he acts like a rock star and has the most deadpan expressions. He told a story about the shooting of Broken Flowers, when at one point Bill Murray wandered into a house across the street from the location and didn't come back for an hour. When he finally did return, he had a plate full of cookies from a family that invited him in for breakfast.
Shortly after, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys hit the stage to claim my surprise performance of the weekend. Stanley's voice still carries as much soul as it did five decades ago and the band seemed extremely grateful to be on stage. Their rendition of the classic “Orange Blossom Special” put the crowd in a frenzy of hee-haws and leg stomping.
What happened next couldn't have been expected by anyone at the festival, and sure was a tragedy to see. One of the main reasons I attended Bonnaroo was to see the free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman. He hit the stage and played “Follow the Sound” – and this motherfucker, not to mention the band behind him, can still blow his (and their) ass off. There was too much to wrap your mind around. But 45 minutes into the set, Coleman, overtaken by the heat, passed out onto the stage. He was carried off to a roaring ovation, and I have to say‚ those were 45 of the best minutes of music that have ever graced my ears.
I finally headed over to the White Stripes in the midst of their new single “Icky Thump”, which roared at the largest crowd WHICH stage had seen over the course of the festival. I got a spot on top of the fence to catch them make a killing on tunes like Dolly Parton's “Jolene,” “Ball and Biscuit,” and “Seven Nation Army.” There was no chance I could handle three hours of Widespread Panic; this was the end of the rope for me. My body had enough, and it was time to hit the road. Until next year, another Bonnaroo goes down in the books.