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Wednesday, June 13

Review: Bonnaroo 2012 (Words/Photos/Videos)

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Something For Everyone
Pulling into Lot 8 early Thursday afternoon, Bonnaroo seemed like a relatively tame festival. Camps were set up, neighbors were introduced, line-ups and schedules were discussed and people set off for Centeroo to commence the jamming. By the time darkness had fully fallen, the circus had officially begun. 
Thursday saw a few notable acts as artists and festival-goers got warmed up for the long hours that lay in store over the coming days. Cave Singers presented early birds with some trippy jazz flute and hand drums for a sound that was sort of a funky, rocking, soul/folk hybrid. The bass levels were off, but they pulled out a decent set regardless. The Dirty Guv’nahs were a surprise up-and-comer, appearing at the relaxing, earthy Solar Stage; a southern-rock band fronted by the highly energized James Trimble. They came across as a very solid 5 piece that had scored the addition of an extremely talented lead guitarist (Cozmo Holloway) that elevated their sound to something that could successfully make it out of Tennessee.  Smiles and air punches/kicks were plentiful from the stage.  With darkness came the arrival of a few hip-hop acts. 
Yelawolf performed at This Tent. After a short discussion of the variety of influences that have shaped his art, he launched into some free-style and a few verses over samples of “Riders on the Storm” and some Johnny Cash.The crowd roared over the announcement of the dedication of his set to MCA and a subsequent smattering of Beastie Boys’ samples over which Yelawolf respectfully rapped. Kendrick Lamar followed on the same stage and, although many would argue he is a more talented artist, Lamar’s performance fell short of Yelawolf’s by a long shot, never catching fire. (Other hip-hop acts worth mentioning were brought by Gza—a seasoned performer who put on a solid show—and the somewhat wet-behind-the-ears-but-charmingly-enthusiastic Childish Gambino, who managed to deliver a high-energy set to a massively excited crowd.)
Thursday’s performance by the Alabama Shakes was a highly anticipated show, and Brittany Howard and company took the stage at 11:30 to a stoked crowd at This Tent. 2012 has seen this band blow up from a small-town dive-bar band to a nationally recognized Southern soul band with an addictive bluesy sound. 
Most would argue that their set this weekend marked their official graduation from small stages as the band delivered an outstandingly well-played, imaginative set.  
With the exception of a seriously killer set at Which Stage by The Kooks—who dazzled fans with an acoustic version of “Seaside” and performed a vocally stunning set in general (British accents curling around catchy hooks)—it was a matter of necessity that Friday revolved around What Stage. (Prime position for Radiohead was a must and a stake-out was in order to accomplish this!) 
To the right of the stage, gates were set up and lines had already started to form for Avett Brothers and Radiohead. A system was in place where the pit in front of the stage would be cleared out after each show and new groups of people would be let in. (This writer and her tour-buddy staked out a spot in the corner on the rail at the end of a semi-circle that enclosed the pit—a way to be close but still actually see the rest of the music on the stage throughout the day. In future years, this is the recommended way to go about securing heady views!)
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings followed and put on a rocking show. Backed by an incredibly professional and talented group of musicians (The Dap Kings), the 56-year old Jones—clad in a bright magenta mini-dress, covered in sequins and fringe—was jumping and skittering from one side of the massive stage to the other for the entire set. Whether she was engaging in elongated band-member introductions, telling stories in spoken-verse about her life, or doing the “shout,” Jones managed to engage and charm the crowd.
Next came The Avett Brothers, who apparently are to the South what any number of grunge bands were to Seattle. When security finally opened the pit to the throng of fans in the specific Avett-Brothers-line, unknowing onlookers may have thought John and George had been resurrected and the Beatles were playing a surprise reunion show…it was that frenzied. They did not disappoint as fans were treated to a skillfully executed performance including two Doc Watson covers and a beautiful, tear-jerking rendition of their own “Murder in the City.”
Guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela were a joy to watch live, especially since this year (their 3rd appearance at Bonnaroo) they were backed by the talented C.U.B.A. ensemble.  Gabriela employs a unique strumming method that gives a percussive tone to her guitar playing as the Cuban Rodrigo effortlessly shreds, blending salsa and rock deliciously.  But Thom Yorke and his band of musical misfits stole the night, if not the whole festival. 
Radiohead, on their first tour in four years, did a fair bit of work recently to prepare their most recent album, King of Limbs, for live presentation, the addition of Portishead drummer Clive Deamer being one major adjustment. Any doubt about the stage-worthiness of Limbs was removed in the first 30 seconds of Radiohead’s set, which opened, as the album does, with a staggeringly rugged and simultaneously glorious “Bloom.” 
The rest of the set had most people either frozen in stunned stupor, grinning like maniacs, or channeling the spastic booty-shaking of Thom Yorke.  The 8-song-total double encore was an epic end to the most visually and aurally stunning, unique, adventuristic performance of the whole festival. 
Hey Rosetta! was a Saturday surprise gem—an indie band from Newfoundland that is chock full of talent from the multi-instrumentalist front-man, Tim Baker, to a small string section (violin and cello), and beyond. Baker’s voice had a bit of a James Mercer meets Jeff Buckley timbre with a hint of Thom Yorke tremble.  The highlight of the day was Dispatch, who delighted dedicated, loyal fans by coming together after a decade-long hiatus. Pete Francis killed as he and the band delivered hit after hit of nostalgic funky, reggae-inspired glory.  (They will be releasing a new album, Circles Around the Sun, in August and announcing a string of supporting tour dates as well.) 
Superjam, hosted this year by Roots drummer Questlove, was highlighted by the presence of bassist Pino Palladino (The Who, John Mayer Trio) and by the neo-soul/R&B giant D’Angleo, in his first performance in the U.S. in 12 years.  The jam session was presented as a “time machine” and spanned 90-minutes, including highlights such as funky Beatles and Zeppelin covers. 
Gary Clark Jr. kicked off Sunday on What Stage with an electric set of guitar and soulful vocals.  Kenny Rogers was an interesting addition to this year’s massive line-up and, in addition to being presented with a key to the city of Manchester, his set was highlighted by a short collaboration by surprise guest Lionel Richie (who joined Rogers for a couple of songs).  
Phish played a fairly exciting set, which included a cover of Rogers’ “The Gambler” that was played alongside Rogers himself, who joined the boys on stage, and their first “Shafty” since 2003. As usual, the light show was epically psychedelic, and was by far the best of the festival, rivaling even Radiohead’s kaleidoscopic display of 12+ shifting screens.  
There was a fair amount of repetition in Phish’s set lists, though, between Bonnaroo and their Worcester shows, and many fans seem to believe the band is saving some fire for their upcoming three-night run at Atlantic City’s Bader Field. 

Overall, Bonnaroo 2012 was a manic conglomeration of artists from all genres across the board, and those in attendance were generally elated about the way the weekend unfolded, both musically and experientially.  
Words and Photos: Elyssa Karanian

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