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Bonnaroo Beat

Published: 2002/05/14

moe.‘s Al Schnier Talks about the Festival

Here is the first of our pre-Bonnaroo musician interviews. Leading off is Al Schnier of moe. and fame. Al has an interesting perspective because moe. performed at the calamitous Woodstock 99.

Now that we’re about six weeks out from the show, what’s your vibe, your sense of what will go down at Bonnarroo?

AS- I’m really excited about it. I think it’s going to be a major task to pull it off and have the whole festival run smoothly although I know they have the people who put together Lemonwheel and Big Cypress shows working on this event and apparently those shows ran really smoothly. The interesting thing will really be how many people turn out for this festival. I’m also curious how everybody’s going to funnel into the place.

It will be interesting to see how the whole thing comes together and what kind of atmosphere there is. I don’t anticipate it’s going to be the like the nuclear holocaust that the last Woodstock turned into. It would be great if the whole thing came together and the community proved to the world that you can have an excessively large gathering and have it be okay. So hopefully there will no dismerment or mayhem and everybody will have fun.

Since you mentioned it, moe. might be the only band at Bonnaroo to have played at Woodstock 99. What is your impression of that event and how things went awry?

AS- Well I had two separate experiences with Woodstock. One was when we were there playing which was on the first day, a beautiful sunny day. We did our set and totally cranked. There were maybe 50,000 people in front of the stage when we played and it was amazing. We had a great time. It was a totally positive experience and everybody left with big smiles on their faces.

Then I went home to watch the rest of the festival on pay-per-view and on Saturday night I saw the festival turning. It had gotten dark, I was watching Limp Bizkit and I was amazed by the number of kids responding to the music. There were 70,00 kids jumping up and down in unison going crazy and then Fred Durst said something to the effect of, “Did you ever have one of those days where you want to fuck shit up? Let’s fuck some shit up” or something like that. That’s when people started tearing down plywood and surfing on it. That was the beginning of the end and it just kind of went downhill from there. It was amazing to watch. At that point I was glued to the TV set much in the same way I was glued to the TV in the aftermath of the incident on September 11. I was just watching this horrific event in disbelief and I couldn’t walk away even though it was something I didn’t want to watch, it wasn’t making me feel very good.

Well, presumably no one will pull a Durst at Bonnaroo.

AS- Although I don’t think it would have the same effect. People would start doing origami and tearing that up.

Let’s talk a little bit about festivals in general from your perspective. What’s it like to be backstage at an event like Bonnaroo?

AS- It’s great. It really varies from one festival to the next but we’ve been in a lot of situations where you get to these festivals and you spend so much time hanging out backstage with all of these bands that you’ve come to know over the years. It’s like this huge family reunion where we all get to be in one place on the same day for a change instead of missing each other by a day, which is nice. And you end up standing around with a group of guitar players from four really great bands. It’s really cool just to see it all from a voyeuristic perspective.

This community has a pretty friendly atmosphere to it. It’s not highly competitive and you don’t have guys talking shit about each other. Everybody’s pretty cooperative, there’s that element. We always end up playing with each other, and trading dates and sharing info and there’s a lot of that that goes on. So when you get together at these shows it’s like meeting up with guys that you’ve known for years who are kind of your co-workers but not guys you work with every day, your peers. It’s a lot of fun for me personally.

One of the hardest things about it then, is trying to decide who to ask to sit in with you. You have twenty-three guys, and if any one of them showed up at your show on any other day you would have sit in. But you don’t want it to turn into the moe. variety show where it’s just one guest after another. That always becomes an issue as well but it’s nice to have the option, it makes for a lot of random opportunities that would not have happened otherwise.

In terms of sitting in, what’s the nature of the dialogue before going on stage?

“Hey, what are you doing right now, wanna play a song?”
“Sure, okay great.”
“Okay, it has this sort of a vibe and it’s roughly in this key and we’ll give you the high sign when we’re ready. Do you need a guitar? Do you have one? Do you want an amp, you can use my stuff, whatever.”

That’s usually about all it takes. Then we’ll go find our sound guys and say, “Hey, guess what, in the next five minutes we going to completely change up everything.” Actually, they’re kind of prepared for it at this point. We have guest monitors and guest channels and amps ready to go all of the time. So now our crew can just roll out the guest rig and have the guest stuff set up. The sixth member of the band is always ready to go. It can be that informal and at festivals it is.

We just had Popper sit in with us and that was a little different [at the Electric Factory on 4/19 & 20]. We knew he lived in the area and had some time off so we invited him down to the show. We contacted him beforehand and he said he would probably come down. Then he showed up and we said, “What do you want to do?” He ended up playing a whole set with us just sort of doing it on the fly and he liked it so much he came back the next night as well.

You guys did two Blues Traveler tunes. Did you work those out with him beforehand?

AS- About an hour before we downloaded those off the internet and just figured them out backstage to have them ready to go because we didn’t know what he’d want to play. So we figured out a couple of his songs just in case. We also thought it would be cool for our fans to hear a cover done with the original guy so it was a nice treat. He’s an amazing musician- a great vocalist and obviously an amazing harmonica player.

Then down at JazzFest you had all of Gov’t Mule replace you on stage [During “Opium” at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans on 5/2 the members of Gov’t Mule took the stage one by one, as moe. gradually stepped off and then Gov’t Mule performed “Thorazine Shuffle.” After this, moe. slowly returned and launched into St. Augustine.”] How did that come about?

AS- We ran into those guys and they made plans to come down and we were trying to figure out what to do between sets. That’s when we decided we’d just let them take over the show. Having Warren sit in was a no-brainer but the question was how do we incorporate the rest of the band. One by one they just sort of tagged in. It was this huge tag team wrestling event where one by one they tagged in, took our instruments from us and by the time it was completed we were off the stage and it was Gov’t Mule on the stage. Then we tagged back in after they did “Thorazine Shuffle.”

Let’s jump back to Bonnaroo. You’ll be performing your full show at a late night tent?

AS- We were given the option of either an hour-long set on one of the festival stages or the late night show and getting to play for three hours. There was a little bit of debate but we decided it was important to do our full show and really just tear it up. I think that’s where we live best. Plus I’d rather have a smaller number of people who are really into it rather than 80,000 who are wondering when Panic’s coming on [laughs].

Final question. Do you have any advice for festivalgoers, if you’re so inclined?

AS- Drink plenty of liquids. Pick up your garbage, treat the site like your own backyard. Also, everybody should have an awesome time and be willing to completely let go but at the same time not completely lose their shit.

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