Bonnaroo: Adventure in Our Own Backyard

June 7, 2013

Click here to hear the playlist:

It’s past time to plan and almost time to roll from the annual axis of anxiety and anticipation, past preparation and into celebration. It’s the sensational and sweaty secular summer holiday of the midsouth. It’s the perennial June jubilee known as the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.


Featuring a tantalizing top bill of Tom Petty, Mumford & Sons, and Paul McCartney, Bonnaroo doesn’t stop with big gigs, as those with the most name-recognition are matched by the mass diversity of talent down the poster from there. Each spring, curious and determined fans can study the schedule and its array of stages to discover nuggets they didn’t expect and new acts that could change their listening experiences for the better and forever.

The linked playlist contains all my favorites from the upcoming festival, from people I have been excited about seeing since the lineup dropped, from artists who are rock-solid pop pillars to those recently-discovered rising thrillers. The songs coincide with the chronology of the weekend, synced to a hypothetical itinerary, granted that no fan could see this many shows easily and that some must-see sets are inevitably booked against other must-see sets. After a brief intro from me, tap the buttons to play and kick back with two hours about an upcoming adventure in our own backyard. –Andrew William Smith, Editor

[Photo of Jim James from the Nashville show at the Cannery Ballroom. Post originally shared at]

Nicki Bluhm – Jetplane (Thursday 6.13.13, 3-4pm That Tent)
Milo Greene – Don’t You Give Up On Me (Thursday 6.13.13, 430-530pm That Tent)
JD McPherson – Signs & Signifiers (Thursday 6.13.13, 6-7pm That Tent)
Maps & Atlases – Fever (Thursday 6.13.13, 1130pm -1230am NMOT Lounge)
Allen Stone – Celebrate Tonight (Thursday 6.13.13, 12-1am That Tent)
Trixie Whitley – Pieces (Friday 6.14.13, 12-1pm Which Stage)
Calexico – Splitter (Friday 6.14.13, 1:45pm This Tent)
Glen Hansard – Races (Friday 6.14.13, 330-445 This Tent)
Of Monsters and Men – King And Lionheart (Friday 6.14.13, 330-445 Which Stage)
Passion Pit – Where We Belong (Friday 6.14.13, 430-530 What Stage)
Wilco – What Light (Friday 6.14.13, 630-8 What Stage)
Jim James – Dear One (Friday 6.14.13, 7-830 This Tent)
The Beatles – The Long and Winding Road (Paul McCartney-Friday 6.14.13, 9-1130pm What Stage)
Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard (Saturday 6.15.13, This Tent 1230-130pm)
Lord Huron – We Went Wild (Saturday 6.15.13, 2-3pm This Tent)
The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now (Saturday 6.15.13, 330-445pm This Tent)
Frank Turner – The Way I Tend To Be (Saturday 6.15.13, 330-445 That Tent)
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – Good Light (Saturday 6.15.13, 515-630 That Tent)
Beach House – Holy Dances (Saturday 6.15.13, 7-830pm This Tent)
The Lumineers – Morning Song (Saturday 6.15.13, 815-930 Which Stage)
Mumford & Sons – Hopeless Wanderer (Saturday 6.15.13, 930-1130pm What Stage)
Delta Rae – Hey, Hey, Hey (Sunday 6.15.13, 145-245pm Which Stage)
Macklemore – Neon Cathedral (feat. Allen Stone) (Sunday 6.15.13, 230-330pm What Stage)
Black Prairie – What You Gave (Sunday 6.15.13, 245-345pm That Tent)
The Sheepdogs – How Late, How Long (Sunday 6.15.13, 330-445pm Which Stage)
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Mayla (Sunday 6.15.13, 530-645pm Which Stage)
The National – I Should Live in Salt (Sunday 6.15.13, 630-8pm What Stage)
Tom Petty – House In The Woods (Sunday 6.15.13, 9-11pm What Stage)

Click here to hear the playlist:

Bonnaroo’s Decade of Dust & Dreams: Jacket’s Sonic Beauty, the Sightings of Ben Sollee, & So Much More

June 19, 2011

Trekking down to Manchester, Tennessee for another music festival touches the body and soul like embarking on a mission trip or a fishing trip or a combat mission – where music fandom stretches your physical limits to achieve a limitless emotional and spiritual experience.

The social barometer consulted by our neighbors in the mid-South sees us as suffering a mild form of insanity, but that doesn’t stop us from returning again and again – despite logic and basic boundaries as to what a human can endure. This year, in a late spring where the weather’s been remarkably wet and mild, our convergence weekend wore us out by being unusually hot and dry.

With an outer composure hiding an excitement that hasn’t subsided even in my sixth year attending and an inner howl of “Bonaroo-hoo” warming my blood,  I headed off with a crew of coworkers and best friends for the tenth anniversary of a world-renowned and somewhat risky weekend of concerts, community, and collaboration.

Doing three days instead of four this year, I knew that Friday alone would be worth the journey. Making my first stop at our “home base” inside the Academy tent in Planet Roo meant stumbling into a mesmerizing and mellow chanting workshop led by the Rahasya crew from Athens, Georgia. In general, Bonnaroo doesn’t need to sell counterculture stereotypes or cultivate its jam band reputation because these notions tagalong regardless of how close they resemble reality. But in the case of these folks bringing the day by humming “Hare Krishna,” this welcome flashback to the early 1970s calibrated our inner spaciousness in a way that we could spread across the weekend. (Besides all the overt instances of jam band and classic rock that populated the schedule, the indy-Americana of Low Anthem came sweating into Saturday afternoon so steeped in retrophilia that a song like “Hey, All You Hippies” functioned as a sort of audio time machine for those who hadn’t already left the temporal realm by other means.)

Seeking my first serious headliner on Friday took me to The Other Tent at the edge of Centeroo for a rousing afternoon revival with the incomparable rockabilly hipster Justin Townes Earle. Like his father did in this same tent a few years ago, JTE reminded us how crazy we were for spending the whole weekend roasting in the heat with our fellow fans. His sizzling set brought our first Ben Sollee sighting of the weekend, as the Kentucky singer-cellist-activist came onstage to add cello to “Mama’s Eyes” and background vocals to “Harlem River Blues.”

As afternoons at Roo this year meant grilling one’s flesh like a burger in a global solar barbecue, we decided to seek refuge in the fabled and air-conditioned Cinema Tent. After cooking some more in line, we were able to score seats for the screening of Louisiana Fairytale, Danny Clinch’s documentary about the collaboration between My Morning Jack and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Immersion in the cool dark room as deep journey into dynamic devotional: a musical and cultural cross-pollination placed me in a religious mood that would last into the night. My Morning Jacket pay homage to the past as it lives in the present, presenting themselves to us as a tribal tributary that links heart and sound, sharing a roots reverence and popular lineage that taps history without cheapening it. At the movie’s conclusion, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band kicked it out live, much to the delight of the packed house of patrons.

Even though we were able to catch some of Ray Lamontagne’s set on Which Stage that included many of my favorite tracks from last year’s excellent God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise, his lack of conversation between songs combined with the day’s lingering heat, gave the performance a detached mellow and lazy mood that has historically been a real detriment to artists who’ve performed on Which Stage during daylight hours. Such was the steamy curse that I recall from a particularly alienating Animal Collective show in 2009 and that this time around afflicted the wispy waiflike work of Lamontagne and Amos Lee later in the weekend. Luckily, we’d see some folks defy the dusty odds and do their best to play their best even in the daylight.

Field of Dreams: the Jacket’s Victory Dance

As dusk quickly approached, though, we found ourselves on the crowded walk towards What Stage to grab a spot for the Jacket’s 8pm slot, seeking a particular piece of lawn where we could spread out and dance. Leaving the pit and the several rows after it to the patient folks willing to press, we really got a sense of the vastness of the main Bonnaroo venue by laying our blanket halfway back, with the VIP section just behind us and the waxing moon above. Seeing this band for about the tenth time brought layers and levels of emotion based on how their music meets me on a spiritual plane and in sheer anticipation of how they’d weave in the new songs that I’d been listening to for about ten days since Circuital had been released.

The opening one-two of “Victory Dance” and “Circuital” perfectly tones the crowd to connect with the new tunes – from the spine-chilling trumpet solo that kicked off the set as though “Taps” were playing in the belly of our common memory to Jim’s otherworldly wail at the end of “Victory Dance” to the comforting way the new record’s title track tracks our cellular responsiveness to the Jacket’s versatile jangle and sparkle.

Immediately switching gears to three soaring hits from 2005’s Z, the setlist immediately attracted anyone who wasn’t already reeling towards bliss. “Off The Record” opens slowly before slinking into lyric and hook and a danceable refrain that had the mass of thousands grooving along joyfully; then, suddenly, at midsong we meet the kind of whacked and wicked jam that makes the Jacket the Jacket, that stretches every player in the band to follow its tangly riffs into the manna of meaning as Bo Koster’s keyboards carry us to the misty mountaintops of rock and roll bliss. Followed by the fierce glory of “Gideon” and the playful abandon of “Anytime,” the party was fully underway, with James then greeting the “ocean of humanity” by announcing the occasion as an entirely surreal, mind-blowing, and “magical honor.”

At Roo, the everyfan’s festival, many bands forget their roots as fans, arrive just in time to do their set, and leave with similar haste. That’s not the case with My Morning Jacket who have been like pillars of the whole Bonnaroo project since its earliest years, always hanging out to catch other artists and really taking things to the next level with late-night sets of legend in 2006 and 2008.  For two hours on Friday night, we got to give the Jacket their due by giving them such a premier place in the schedule, and the Jacket just poured the love back out on us.

Even though only a handful of tracks from 2008’s excellent but polarizing Evil Urges have remained in the set, the journey that injects “Smokin’ from Shootin’” into a snippet from “Run Thru” (a 2003 track) and then collapses into the arms of “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Part Two” undoubtedly torques listeners into a state of rotation and levitation that leaves little doubt that this band has no qualms about bending the tilt of the universe for the time that it’s onstage each night.

Intentionally or inadvertently, My Morning Jacket give a ton of credibility to the narrative that the moment of Circuital signals a retro movement all about returning to the band’s roots by playing more songs from the 2003 pre-breakout album It Still Moves than they do from either Z or Evil Urges. And even though I did miss hearing “It Beats for You,” “Wonderful,” Librarian,” “Dondante,” and “Evil Urges,” to name a few, neither the focus on the new album nor on the older, jammier jams from earlier in the century in any way diminished the devastating beauty of the entire evening for me.

From their funkiest and freakiest with newer tracks like “Highly Suspicious” or “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” to the culminating guitar-god pyrotechnics of “Dancefloors” diving into “One Big Holiday,” My Morning Jacket made my night and my weekend with what may have been one of their career’s most important sets to date. For me, it meant watching and dancing from a vaster vantage point, from a different distance and angle, from a more mature but no less appreciative perspective. As far as I can tell, the latest album embraces all these added textures in what is already a many layered rock and roll masterpiece of a musical vocation.

Festival Gospel and Living Greats

Nobody pretends that Bonnaroo is a gospel festival or that when most people use the term “religious” to define the weekend that they really mean it in any other than the figurative, symbolic, or mythopoetic sense. Nonetheless, in ways that might surprise people who have never caught one of these shows or are skeptical of such old-fashioned spirituality in general, Bonnaroo offers plenty of bonafide soul songs for people who want to get their Jesus on or feel the Holy Spirit moving in ways that don’t require chemically-induced imitations of infinity.

With Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens and then Mavis Staples, both Saturday and Sunday afternoons kicked off with healing services on main stages, giving us what Staples said would be the closest thing to church we’d find inside Bonnaroo. Complete with arm-waving ambiance and “Amen” shouts, the altitude and attitude of the sun-kissed masses shifted as we got a taste of the Son – whether that’s what we were looking for or not.

Later Saturday afternoon saw the sought after Mumford & Sons show overwhelm the capacity of the Which Stage field for a stunning 90-minute set that included several new songs and all-out closing jam of “Amazing Grace” with support from members of Old Crow Medicine Show and Apache Relay. As great of a show as the Mumfords was, we snuck away to catch some of a veritable legacy Loretta Lynn over at That Tent. In a similar fashion on Sunday, we decided to forgo Iron & Wine to watch Cold War Kids but then ditched CWK to hear a few tracks from living legend Gregg Allman.

Such is the reality of seeing shows at Bonnaroo: you don’t ever see all the shows you want, and you often stop short of seeing all of one show just to catch a moment of another one. Sometimes this decision making is based on which artists I have seen before and which artists I expect to have the chance to see again.

One set that stood out among the others as a “must see” and “might never see again” came Sunday afternoon with Daniel Lanois’s new project Black Dub, featuring Lanois on guitar, Trixie Whitley on vocals, Brian Blade on drums, and Daryl Johnson on bass. For years, I’ve followed Lanois as the legendary U2 co-producer, and this was my first opportunity to hear him with his own group. For some reason, This Tent wasn’t terribly packed for the set; we got a great spot in the center of it all, in front of the sound board, and just sank our toes into the sandy floor and soaked in the funky, jazzy, clubby, soulful, and pleasant assault on the senses.

Cheesy Does It & Our Late Night Danceathon

Sleep at Bonnaroo is both rare and precious, and the musical schedule both dares sleep-deprivation and defies what’s even possible. As I grow older into the festival, I’ve had to sacrifice some shows for others, and I’ve had to prioritize rest. Now, many people might think I was crazy to skip both Buffalo Springfield and Eminem (skipping Black Keys was no big deal, having seen them many times before, including a real disappointment at the Ryman last year). But as soon as the sun set Saturday, I took a nap in order to be able to enjoy one of the fabled Bonnaroo late nights (which are in fact very early mornings).

Rising from my rest around midnight meant enjoying shows under the cover of darkness, with thinner crowds and cooler temperatures. And we found it amazingly easy to make our way from tent to tent to stage, taking in bits of Scissor Sisters, Dr. John, String Cheese Incident, and STS9 – and still making it back to the tent long before dawn. I don’t what it is about slipping from the simply sleazy gay disco of the Sisters to the mojo-moving Louisiana hoodoo of Dr. John to the eclectic cheesy jammy-pleasing work of String Cheese or STS9, but I was able to get my dance on in every case and loved the last stroll home with Cheese ripping through their closer, an awesome cover of U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”

The Wild World of Ben Sollee

On Sunday morning, we were browsing some booths when we stumbled across Ben Sollee giving an impromptu unplugged concert outside the Oxfam American tent in Planet Roo. We heard his track “Electrified” and a cover of Cat Stevens’s “Wild World.” Having arrived at ‘Roo in 2009 by bicycle, Sollee required many golf-cart shuttles this time around to show up at just about everything.

Even though we missed his actual headline set, we saw him jam with Justin Townes Earle, My Morning Jacket, and Low Anthem. We caught a bit of his set on the Sonic Stage and this spontaneous Planet Roo set. We also saw him marching in a protest parade around Centeroo with the folks from Mountain Justice Summer, advocating an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. And when we were deeply enjoying the Black Dub show, we looked behind us to see Ben Sollee just digging the set as a fan.

In a musical and cultural world where borrowing is both blessing and necessity, it’s hard to call very many artists original anymore, but Ben Sollee’s invigorating and innovative blend of cello, songwriting, and singing sure comes close. Add to that his warm activist spirit, and we have a real force for good in the world, embodying the best of what we’d like a festival of Bonnaroo’s magnitude to be.

With an anchor in the arts, music, theater, spoken word, gardening, drumming, and dancing classes we taught back at the Academy and with as many shows as I could manage when not working, eating, or sleeping, another Bonnaroo came and went quickly. With attendance such a miracle in logistics and a marathon in persistence, each year I tell myself that it could be my last. We’ll wait for the lineup to be announced in early 2012 and for our Academy plans to coalesce. We’ll wait and see and recover and rest. In the meantime, we have dusty memories (as well as pictures, videos, and downloads) documenting our dreams all over the web. –Andrew William Smith, Editor

My Morning Jacket pictures by Jeff Kravitz; Black Dub picture by Morgan Harris; courtesy of; all other pictures by Andrew William Smith. For more information:

Temporary City of Fun: First Rooflection of 2011

June 9, 2011

The steamy summer heat hits central Tennessee early each year. As the temperature rises to a regional hot-flash, people pack their bags. Some head even further south; others shuttle East; the smart ones trek north. But the best vacation for the rock n roll fan requires a little jaunt across a couple county lines.

The media buzz for the tenth annual Bonnaroo’s been building for months, but this year, the fanboy’s Christmas in June just kind of snuck up on me.

Even though this will be my sixth consecutive year volunteering creativity and time in exchange for my wristband, it requires a certain confidence in a higher power to conjure the carefree courage to suffer the punishing sunlight and celebrate the musical delight. Working at the Academy in Planet Roo anchors my Bonnaroo experience by providing a focus and a sense of service, with our diverse offering of gardening and arts classes. But during the hours when I’m not staffing the tent or supporting our staff, if I am not sleeping or eating, I am off exploring the festival grounds and catching as many concerts as I can manage.

The temporary city as cultural carnival—constructed in tents and motorhomes and countless other improvisations of functional art as life—defies logic and requires logistics of a heroic level. Back in 06 and 07, I needed the medical tent more than I want to admit, and in sheer amazement and need, I witnessed a team and facilities of stunning compassion, resources, and efficiency. All the Woodstock slurs and hippy stereotypes and permitted debaucheries asides, running this festival is a serious business, and the ‘roo producers possess a deep ethical and humanitarian ethos to provide such an excellent backend of support.

Planning and packing are a project in themselves, but the annual joyful anticipation comes from really studying the schedule and imagining what shows I might get to see. Making a playlist that progresses through the schedule helps plot my weekend and hones my longing, knowing of course that I will inevitably miss a show I wanted to see or stumble across something new that takes my breath away.

This year, I waited until a few days before to really ponder the offerings and the order in which they’re scheduled to unfold.  Along with looking at the extended weather forecast, learning the schedule is a fan’s perfect pre-Roo pastime. Entire online discussion communities exist just to talk about this festival. My first few years, I lived on these boards for weeks, trying to grasp what awaited me.

Just to remind myself that I am a new and better person than the one who started coming to this festival in 2006, an added aspect of my more recent Bonnaroo experience comes from the clean and sober community that hosts a table and meets as a fellowship for sharing in meetings twice each day, always gathering near the yellow balloons near the Sonic Café where we might see stickers such as “One Show At A Time.”

Landing onsite on June 8th for the last pre-day before the 2011 festival kicks off today,  I was amazed and grateful for how well-organized the intake and setup proceedings have become, stretching our human potential to construct a harmonious four-day music and arts society from the chaos that remains part of the larger reality inside and outside our warm, dusty, temporary zone of fandom and fun. –Andrew William Smith, Editor


Edge Encores at Glastonbury

June 30, 2010

If ever U2 composed an epic, festival-worthy track fit for fields and sunsets and crowded moonlit nights, it’s “Where The Streets Have No Name.” So, it’s no wonder that when MUSE brought U2’s The Edge onstage for their encore at last week’s Glastonbury festival in the UK, they picked “Streets” as the U2 song to cover.

Originally, U2 were booked to headline Glastonbury for the first time, but Bono’s back injury put the plans on hold. Already, rumors about when U2 might return to fulfill their fate to headline Glastonbury have begun to circulate. For some fans, 2011 seems an unlikely choice, especially because U2 also need to reschedule a bunch of dates in the United States.

Speaking of U2 at festivals, next year, the Bonnaroo festival celebrates its 10th anniversary, so I do hope my friends over at AC Entertainment and Superfly Productions might consider bringing U2 to Tennessee. (As always, the Interference forums are a place for active speculation and prediction about such rumors.)

Here, we repost a Rolling Stone report on the U2/Muse collaboration (alongside other Glastonbury tidbits) along with a video of the performance. –Andrew William Smith, Editor

With scheduled headliners U2 out due to Bono’s back injury and the entire nation of England mourning their nation’s exit from the World Cup, Glastonbury — Britain’s biggest rock & roll blowout — still managed to thrill an audience of 150,000 fans in Somerset, England. Gorillaz recreated their latest disc Plastic Beach by bringing out Bobby Womack, De La Soul, the Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Lou Reed to reprise their guest spots. Snoop Dogg joined Damon Albarn’s band for the final song of the night, adding two fresh verses to “Clint Eastwood.”

Check out photos of Gorillaz, the Flaming Lips and all of Glastonbury 2010′s headliners and special guests.

Muse made sure U2 fans got at least a taste of what would have been — bringing out the Edge during their Saturday night headlining set for a cover of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” It wasn’t the only nod to the band over the weekend: Keane also paid tribute to Bono and Co. with a cover of “With or Without You” during their acoustic set.

But the biggest surprise was an entire unannounced solo set from Thom Yorke, who took the stage with a simple, “Hi, My name is Thomas Yorke” to perform tracks from The Eraser. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood joined him for a killer five-song mini-set of Radiohead classics, including “Karma Police” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” AtEase reports.

Glastonbury’s final day coincided with England’s World Cup soccer match against Germany, and an estimated crowd of 50,000 gathered at a pair of festival fields to watch England’s 4-1 loss on huge screens. Ray Davies was among the artists who had the unenviable job of performing during the soccer match, but his set lifted the bummed crowd: he paid tribute to the Kinks’ founding bassist Pete Quaife, who passed away last week, dedicating “See My Friends” and two of Quaife’s favorite Village Green Preservation Society songs to the late bassist. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him,” Davies told the crowd.

Stevie Wonder capped the weekend with a set packed with hits and covers (the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”). In celebration of the festival’s 40th anniversary, he wrapped things up appropriately, with a jubilant take on his version of “Happy Birthday.” –Daniel Kreps

reposted from

Scorched & Satisfied: Bonnaroo’s Cosmic Collaborations & Community of Cover Songs

June 22, 2010

The pocket-sized 64-page guide to the 2010 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival promised the “unique emotional space” that the festival might create for the performers and the fans. Part endurance marathon and part miraculous expression, the four-day annual festival carves out a temporary fairgrounds for the flow of emotions, a testimony to the fullness of feelings created and conveyed by popular music.

At Bonnaroo, emotions get tested, too, by more than just music: by surviving the severe heat (this year on average ten degrees warmer than 2009); by sweating profusely after walking to-and-from (or dancing at) show-to-show-to-show; by tolerating the pungent porta-potties with thousands of your closest, unwashed friends. After five consecutive experiences at Bonnaroo,    I’m joyful to confirm that any inconveniences caused by the cruder and crustier aspects of the Tennessee carnival cannot touch the universal moments of musical meaning and uncommon bonds of fan community.

Bonnaroo’s magic could be the result of pure math, the accumulated collision of consistently stellar quality and sheer quantity in the lineup. Among fans, few participants follow the same pace or see bands from the same place.With most of us plotting vastly different show schedules, the variety of experiences that people bring home borders on the visionary — the fact that thousands of us “Roo” means that thousands of deliciously different Bonnaroos have bloomed.

Fans themselves, the promoters seem immune to endorsing a single style and instead opt for endorsing everything good in a cosmic cross-pollenation. Bonnaroo collapses categories and generations by genre-bending the whole endeavor into a chaotic yet flavorful catch-all cacophonous hootenanny.

Of these and many, many more marvelous aspects, collaborations and cover songs certify my tentative thesis about the truly communal nature of Bonnaroo. At a festival, real debates and discussions — about creative property rights and piracy and vinyl versus CD versus MP3 — all take a holiday. While some fans may be fickle downloaders the rest of the year, we’re all united as fierce diehards here. Our love of music glues us. And with performers who share this love, Bonnaroo’s gravity is a gift economy of generosity and guest appearances where proper tribute gets paid to ancestors and contemporaries alike in the form of the classic gesture of the cover song.

Giving Songs A Chance

My second show of the festival, I sat on the grass just feet from up-and-coming singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz. The same age as many of the younger fans, Jarosz couldn’t help mentioning her enthusiasm for the fans’ enthusiasm, giddy as she was with gratitude for the honor of performing on the very first day. Her own songs’ maturity exceeds her years in the business and tracks like “Song Up In Her Head” work nicely with covers of Patti Griffin or Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells.”

Early afternoon Friday, the better-half-of-the-now-defunct everybodyfields, Jill Andrews serenaded an overflow crowd in the shaded comfort of Cafe Where. Backed by a full band laying down backyard-country-meets–boogie-rock grooves, Andrews’ sweet, soothing but unsettling voice fueled joy by finding our softer and sadder places, singing tracks from a recent EP and an upcoming album. Ending on a borrowed and inspired note and reading lyrics taped to the mic stand, Andrews closed with John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.” Also recorded separately for the touring John Lennon educational bus, this Roo-appropriate anthem turned into a sentimental summer-camp-singalong before she finished.

Musically not unlike Andrews or Jarosz and a true discovery for Bonnaroo, Shiloh Circle emerged from the back hollers of Tennessee hippiedom to share a simmering set of her sex-ed originals on the Solar Stage early Friday, making passersby blush and dropping jaws in the Academy’s nearby gardening class. Circle’s epic cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” couldn’t have been a better choice to introduce herself the crunchy granola grandchildren of America’s mother festival.

Kicking out jams on Thursday night, South Carolina’s needtobreathe may have been an odd pick for Bonnaroo, but the band owned The Other Tent with their bluesy blisters of radio-friendly rock, including an ear-popping version of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks.” Crossovers from the contemporary Christian scene, these bandmates share bonds of brotherhood, a preacher papa from a town called Possum Kingdom, and indisputable good looks — qualities not dissimilar from Friday’s hugely popular headliners Kings of Leon.

The last time I tried to see the Kings of Leon at the Roo in 2007, I ended up in the medical tent instead, nursing a devastating bruise. A KOL fan since I first saw them open for U2 back in 2005, I really longed to see this top-billed, homecoming set for Tennessee’s wildly successful “local” band. With a perfect seat in the back row of the guest bleachers overlooking the grounds, I danced and sang along to all my favorites from the last three records including an especially moving “Fans” and soaked in the several excellent new songs that infiltrated the set. Not to miss adding to the weekend’s cavalcade of cover songs, the Kings’already historic performance pushed the epic festival limits with a well-lit rendition of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”

Though some cynics admitted to skipping Kings of Leon on Friday, most everyone was back at What Stage the next night for some groovy lessons in musical history with the incredible Stevie Wonder. The Michigan native who helped define the Motown sound made the most of his Bonnaroo platform to direct the crowd like a choir and preach a message of peace, love, and unity. But Wonder’s wonderfully inclusive social commentary never overshadowed the overflowing set of classics that he spiced generously with cover songs from Parliament Funkadelic’s “We Want the Funk” to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” to just a sliver of John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance.”

Now I must confess I’ve never really listened to Weezer except for when a student of mine did a project on the band or when my daughter’s band covered them at the Southern Girls Rock And Roll Camp. And I was on my way to camp for food and fresh clothes when from the nearby Which Stage, I heard Weezer do justice to MGMT’s “Kids,” a fitting Bonnaroo theme song if there ever was one. A set antithetical to Weezer in just about every way, love-or-hate-her Tori Amos’s performance on Friday in This Tent only drew a tiny crowd, but I was moved to hear some brief slices of a show from this dedicated artist, especially her riveting cover of Lloyd Cole’s “Rattlesnakes.”

Wagon Wheelie: Cross-pollinating Culmination

The communal cross-pollinating culmination of everything that makes Bonnaroo so mind-boggling, so mercifully beatific, and so crucially cathartic occurred when Mumford & Sons took over That Tent late Saturday afternoon. “There’s a lot of you,” quipped Marcus Mumford after the band opened with “Sigh No More.” To be able to stand so close and catch the whole set, we decided to forgo both Avett Brothers and Dead Weather. Indeed, this proved a worthy sacrifice as crowds spilled out into the hot, dusty fields.

Throughout the show, Mumford marveled at the dedicated and messy mass of folks gathered to hear him sing. In responding to a crowd where a female fan wore a hand-painted shirt that said “Mumford, I want to have your Sons,” the earnest lead singer seemed more like the fan himself. “We can’t quite explain how excited we are to be here,” he implored. No amount of our heart-screaming, lung-warping, foot-stomping, and chest-beating affirmation could stop the wellspring of humble gratitude pouring from the stage in both word and song.

After offering congratulations to US soccer fans on the draw with England and steaming through most of their debut album alongside new songs like “Lover of the Light,” the band paused again, sharing: “We made some new friends today. There’s a particular band you may know called Old Crow Medicine Show — who happen to be one of our favorite bands in the whole wide world.”

Failing to miss a beat or barely catch their breath, England’s indy-folk phenoms were claiming —  on their very first visit — Tennessee as their adopted home and paying a living tribute to the music of our region. “Without sucking up to them too much, I think we’re going to do a song. Please welcome Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, too. We have to explain to you now that these people with us are some of the main reasons we started writing songs and playing music.” After much tuning and fan howling, the Sons announced, “I think you know what song it’s going to be.”

A Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack and bootleg fragment from the near-infinite Bob Dylan back catalog, “Rock Me Mama” was revised and expanded by Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show until its widely popular manifestation as “Wagon Wheel.” Suddenly, west London met middle Tennessee on a southbound train to the marvelously mixed-up and magical miscegenation that is the American musical tradition.

As Mumford covered Old Crow covering Dylan with Old Crow, Gillian, and Rawlings as guests to ratify the rendering, as the seams of the stage seemed to burst into the pure Bonnaroo ether where the endless sky meets the expanse of the human soul, I experienced one of my annual epiphanies, the kind of emotionally packed moment that keeps me coming back to this festival year-after-year.

A Cover of A Cover Covers You

The cover song performed live does not require a royalty as it might on a record, and it is not piracy like the unpermitted copying of a CD. Existing in a liminal space of ambiguous legality, cover songs and collaborations testify to the resiliently shared and communal nature of our musical heritage.

As stripped down to dirt and road-doggery as the Mumford’s stage was swimming in shared bounty, Kris Kristofferson’s “cover” of Janis Joplin covering his own “Me & Bobby McGee” reminds me that those willing to share with wisdom and respect will get respect in return.  Kristofferson gives — and has been given back to. At this truly multigenerational meeting of the musical minds, this performer in his 70s took the stage with the passion of the kids all around the Roo in their 20s. –Andrew William Smith, Editor

All photos by Andrew William Smith, except the photo of Mumford & Sons by Laura Dart, reposted from

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