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Bonnaroo Beat 2003

Published: 2003/06/15

‘Hey Hey, My My’ from the Saturday Bonnaroo Beacon

photos by Jeff Waful

by Josh Baron

What stage? No That tent. This tent? No the Other tent

It didn’t matter what tent or stage you were at, the first official day of
Bonnaroo 2003 was spectacular. It was quite Shakespearean actually as the
weather seemed to be a reflection and indicator of the state of the human
behavior, mood and spirit. With bright blue skies and temperatures in the
70s, the music began in earnest and didn’t stop till after 4am. Kentucky
natives My Morning Jacket were an early highlight, thrashing their long hair
to meaty, guitar-driven jams. As people began to shuffle out, one attendee
described their sound as, "a cross between Luna and KISS." Yonder Mountain
String Band packed Which Stage- its largest crowd all day- and ran through
their various forms of grass with the help of Noam Pickelny on banjo who sat
in for an absent Dave Johnston. At around 4pm, choices started getting
tough: do you go with the gritty alt-country of Lucinda Williams or the
minimalist futurism of Tortoise (not to mention Joshua Redman, Kid Koala and
DJ Spooky)? Depending on whom you chose, you either saw band members
constantly switching instruments or Emmylou Harris sit in for two songs.
"Keller Williams, Bela Fleck and Ben Harper. Why do they put them all at
the same time? Very upsetting," said Kristin Marala from Florence, South
Carolina. It was a common complaint- but one that would only be found at
Bonnaroo. While the above three, all quite familiar to this crowd, pleased
fans, it was veteran indie rockers Sonic Youth who really turned heads, many
for the first time. "A bit more noisy than people wanted, but it makes sense
[for us to be here] because there’s a certain ensemble improvisation that
gets to go on," mused the band’s multi-instrumentalist Jim O’Rourke. Playing
nearly two hours, the band ripped through an aggressive, distortion-heavy
set that jammed as hard as any band billed.

Probably the most anticipated act of the weekend- particularly by fellow
artists- Friday’s headliner Neil Young and Crazy Horse took the stage and
proceeded over the next several hours to deliver on what they inherently
promised. Only four songs in on "Hey Hey, My My," Young’s signature lyric
"rock and roll will never die" was met with an enormous wave of cheers as
the statement resonated deeply at the sold-out festival and set the tone for
the rest of an outstanding set. After running through several hours of
material, including classics like "Down By The River," "Cinnamon Girl" and
"Like a Hurricane" and new material from his forthcoming album, Young
bellowed a few "Bonaroos" and was quickly whisked away by a waiting
motorcade of tour buses and state troopers.

With a brief respite, fans milled over to Centeroo to wait for late
performances by The Funky Meters and Sound Tribe Sector 9 to begin as well
as Stones’ and Doors’ cover bands. Soon enough, throngs were gyrating,
dancing and slipping along to the various beats though unbeknownst to most,
another beat was being made out in the campgrounds. Galactic, along with pal
Charlie Hunter, helped propel a Mardi Gras-styled parade through the
campgrounds and into Centeroo. As they rolled into Centeroo playing atop a
native New Orleans float, they brought a large party with them, capitalizing
on the energy that The Funky Meters had just relinquished after their
encore. As the band quickly reconfigured for their "second set" atop the
float, Charlie Hunter laughed, and with a smile said, "It’s late, I’m tired
and I’m playing with my friends." And that folks, is what Bonnaroo is all

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