Journalist Michael Saliba is a longtime writer and music fan. He served as a City Paper contributor and columnist before relocating to Nashville, Tenn., where he currently works as a professional photographer. Saliba attended the big Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn., last week with his eyes and ears open. Here are his final reports and pics.
Sat. June 11
After leaving Manchester late Friday night, I headed home to shower and sleep before going to a wedding on Saturday afternoon. I guess the beauty of living within 45 minutes of Bonnaroo is that I don't necessarily have to always spend the night there. It was nice to sleep in a little and give myself a rest. This Bonnaroo business might just be a young man's game.
The wedding was beautiful and put me back at the festival during Buffalo Springfield. The original lineup with Richie Furay, Stephen Stills, Rick Rosas, Joe Vitale, and Neil Young played a sonic power-jam of '60s psychedelia on the Which Stage. While they were onstage, a short summer thunderstorm rolled through and cooled things off for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, it also tamed the dust blowing everywhere.
Eminem played on the What Stage afterwards, but viewing that at any distance less than a football field would have been particularly difficult, so I watched it from a tent backstage and had a beer. His stage show was huge and filled with live musicians, but there were no special guests (other than Royce Da 5'9"). He yelled out "Weezy" almost as much as he called out "Bonnarooooooo!," which was about every 30 seconds or so. The crowd response was palpable though. Hip-hop definitely belongs at Bonnaroo.
I was really excited for New Orleans funk convention, featuring Dr. John, the Meters, and Allen Toussaint. The Meters started the show with a slow boil of same spicy funk jams that they're known and revered for. They were joined by the dueling grand pianos of Dr. John and Toussaint. These songwriting legends traded songs and kept the fever pitch of the night going, so much so that I could have sworn I smelled a pot of gumbo boiling in the air. I'm afraid it might have been a mixture of my neighbor's marijuana, BO, and my own exhaustion, though.
In The Other Tent, Gogol Bordello brought their gypsy music to the stage. They stole my attention and my wallet. Seriously, this was my first time seeing them, and they were outstanding — one of the most energetic shows I've seen in a long time.
Just next door in This Tent, Girl Talk was holding court with his laptop, playing mash-ups for one of the biggest crowds I've seen all weekend. While the String Cheese Incident and STS9 were on at the same time, it looked like the Mothership had landed at Girl Talk with the amount of lights and glow sticks everywhere. It was good chaos.
Sun. June 12
"And now, the end is here. And so I face the final curtain..."
On the last day of Bonnaroo, I couldn't help but feel a little bittersweet. It's been a long weekend, and the weather is beautiful. A brief rainstorm from the night before cooled things down and blanketed the dust considerably. In the parking and camping lots, people were starting to pack up and say their good-byes in advance. Dusty cars filled with haggard looking folks holding regular jobs headed out on the highway to make it home in time for work on Monday. And the schedule was incredible.
I showed up to This Tent just in time for Daniel Lanois's Black Dub. Lanois is the acclaimed producer and songwriter who has worked with artists like Brian Eno, U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, and many others. Black Dub consists of some phenomenal musicians, like jazz drummer Brian Blade and singer Trixie Whitley. Their ethereal compositions mixed with Whitley's smoky vocals were well received by the modest crowd, and it's no wonder they were recommended as one of the "must hear" artists of Bonnaroo.
Iron & Wine took the Which Stage shortly afterwards and charmingly crooned with the help of a full live band and horn section. I didn't really see much of his show, because I wanted to catch some of Nicole Atkins and the Black Sea on the Sonic Stage. I caught them months ago opening for the Avett Brothers, and she's been on heavy rotation in the Saliba household since. Another soulful female singer with the perfect blend of late night rasp and hot-buttered soul. Definitely check her out.
One downside with Bonnaroo was that sometimes there were two separate acts playing simultaneously on opposite ends of the festival that you really wanted to see. So what do you do? If you're me, you run back and forth and catch bits and pieces of both. Beirut and Explosions in the Sky started around the same time, and both were my "can't miss" shows of the festival. Beirut frontman Zach Condon and company kept a large anxious crowd cooing during their Balkan folk/Brazilian-infused melodies. Their new album "East Harlem" has gathered a lot of praise, but their back catalog was phenomenal.
After getting a handful of songs in, I ran over to see some of Explosions in the Sky. They are best known for the soundtrack to "Friday Night Lights," but this instrumental guitar-rock outfit has gained a large following due in part to their extensive touring. As the sun set behind them, there were many just outside the tent either napping to them, swaying along with the gentle thunder or some even hula-hooping to it. Now it may read a bit silly, but I swear there was one girl that made it poetry in motion. Her delicate dance was choreographed perfectly, but she probably didn't even know who was onstage. Between that and the final refrain of Beirut, it was a perfect send off for Bonnaroo.