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New To You at Bonnaroo: A Guide to Bands You Might Otherwise Overlook (Part Two)

Since we last spoke, Bonnaroo has announced the 2005 schedule and the Superfly folks have given us a gift: The Secret Machines are playing a two-hour late night set on Saturday night. So here's a tip that may make your blood boil and head spin: don't miss the Secret Machines. Yeah, yeah. I know, Trey is playing at the same time but I'll say it again, and this time in all caps: GO SEE SECRET MACHINES. I mean, Trey is Trey and that's still nothing to sneeze at. But, well, it's kind of like the 21st century Knicks: Five years ago the Trey Anastasio Band was a championship team with Russ Lawton, Tony Markellis, and those sweet horns. And now? Trey is like Stephon Marbury surrounded by a bunch of Kurt Thomases (decent players, but don't go clearing out any space in the Hall Of Fame for them quite yet). The Secret Machines? They're more like the Detroit Pistons. You ignored them last year and they silently blew everyone out of the water. So do me and them a favor, and don't ignore them or you'll be very, very sorry.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s continue with the acts that are worth gambling on, bands you should check out.

Rilo Kiley

Not all child stars grow up to grow up to warrant an E! True Hollywood Story about their run-ins with the law or substance abuse. Take Jenny Lewis for example – doesn’t sound familiar? Well think back for a second. She played Hannah Nefler, the precocious redheaded little girl in the 80s flick Troop Beverly Hills. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Well surely you all remember her as Katie Monahan, the girl next door on the short-lived television show Brooklyn Bridge. No? Nothing? Doesn’t help you out at all? Don’t worry. She’d probably rather remember have you her for what she’s doing now: As the front woman for Rilo Kiley. Her band is making some of the best chick indie-rock this side of Liz Phair.

While you might fall in love in with her sexy looks at first sight, take a deep breath and take a listen to the music, too. If you like your music on the rockin’ roots side, you’re bound to fall in love with Rilo’s music, as well. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly this band sounds like. They jump from style to style keeping you on your toes and never boring you. Bits of country, folk, new wave and even – dare I say – show tunes (???) come out at times. Striving to combine indie cool with pop hooks, Rilo Kiley actually succeeds in both departments writing catchy songs that have much more in common with Bruce Springsteen than say, Avril Lavigne. Their latest release More Adventurous reminds me a bit of Joni Mitchell’s Blue if Joni was an indie rocker � deep heart felt lyrics about love, relationships gone wrong and being an independent woman.

Awwwww yeah, that’s right. The �roo has got itself some grrrrrrrrl power this year. But besides being the only thing hotter than the Tennessee heat, Jenny Lewis and her band will leave you surprisingly rocked out.

Check them out if you’re into: Liz Phair
Stay away if you’re looking for music like: Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic

Citizen Cope

As I said earlier, I’m from DC, which, you may or may not be aware of, is a fantastic place for music. Maybe you like the rugged, politically charged punk of Fugazi? Lead singer Ian MacKaye is such a legend in DC that he could run for mayor and win by a landslide. If that’s not your thing, ever hear of a band called "Galactic"? Take a guess as to where the core of the band � Rob Mercurio and Jeff Raines � grew up. In fact, the first song on their first record is "Go-Go," an homage to a brand of funk that was born in Rob and Jeff’s hometown. (And if that doesn’t get you, then this might: "Crazy In Love" last year’s "admit-it-you-KNOW-you-loved-it" jam from Beyonce and Jay-Z was produced by Rich Harrison, yet another DC native.)

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that DC’s version of a singer-songwriter – Citizen Cope – is best described musically as a funky Jack Johnson. Or, if one was so inclined, maybe one could call him "the 21st century’s Ben Harper." (If one did, though, one would be off a tad, because one would have to realize that Cope has been kicking around the DC scene since deep into the last millennium). Maybe I could play "annoying rock critic" and say something like "Citizen Cope sounds like Jack Johnson and Ben Harper playing Parcheesi on a boat in Kentucky"? Whatever you want to say about Cope, he’s definitely firmly entrenched in that genre. His lyrics reflect the combination of intelligence and grittiness that DC’s music often embodies. In that sense, he’s worlds away from Jack’s sipping mai tai’s on the North Shore feel of Brushfire Fairytales and closer to someone like Michael Franti’s thought-provoking lyrics (without the cheerful refrains about rainbows and what-not). But musically, Cope’s got that same acoustic-funk that makes the ladies in Jack and Ben’s audience swoon.

Citizen Cope’s set is on Sunday afternoon which is just about right for him – Unless you’re either a) still going strong from Secret Machines (or Trey, too, I guess) and looking to keep the party going or b) not really into hearing songs about young girls living on the street and people getting shot so early in the day (which is understandable).

Check him out if you’re into: Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Keller Williams
Stay away if you’re looking for music like: Disco Biscuits, Bela Fleck

M. Ward

M. Ward was awesome last year, wasn’t he??? Man, he rocked it out!! Hell yeah!!! Wait, what? You don’t remember M. Ward? He played Bonnaroo in 2004 � surely you remember him. He was in Beth Orton’s touring band. Well, in case you overlooked him last year, then you get another shot at him this year. And this time, he’s got his very own slot, playing his very own music. M. Ward (the �M’ stands for Matt, which is what his friends call him) plays what can best be described as vintage music. Not vintage in the way that say The Strokes play vintage rock, but more gritty and organic along the lines Americana, Appalachian, country, folk and blues. Taking these styles and putting a contemporary spin all while singing with his gentle scratchy voice which makes the music sound soothing and familiar like tossing on your favorite old sweatshirt.

M. has become a bit of a critics darling, being fully dipped in the indie rock scene over the last year or so. It certainly helped that he toured extensively in 2004 with kindred spirits like My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and indie rock pinup boy Conner Oberst. He also released his fourth album �Transistor Radio’ – an ode to the heyday of radio when on a clear night you could tune in stations playing everything from dustbowl ballads to finger picking blues songs. If you’re looking to rock out then M. is not for you, head over to the Kings of Leon who are on at the same time to raise your metal horns. But giving him an early slot on Saturday (2 PM That Tent � to be exact) is a great way to help sooth your way into what is bound to be a long day � Remember: Secret Machines late night. And don’t be surprised to see Jim James wander on stage, since he appears on M.‘s new album Transistor Radio � proving that it’s not just Warren Haynes who’ll cross-pollinate this year.

Check him out if you’re into: Tom Waits, Bob Dylan
Stay away if you’re looking for music like: O.A.R., Ozomatli

The Gourds

Remember that MP3 file that you had when Napster was all the rage that was labeled something like "PHISH �Gin & Juice’?" Admit it, you downloaded it. You probably still try to pass it off as Phish, too. It’s OK, it spread like wildfire, so you weren’t alone. Well, as every proper Phishhead knows, while the band loved to do covers and sometimes extremely unexpected ones at that (remember summer tour ’98?), this time it wasn’t them. (Phish never could’ve played bluegrass that well.) So if it wasn’t the Burlington Boys, then just who were the culprits? It was a band from Austin, Texas called The Gourds.

OK so now you’re probably thinking: "Great. Just what my favorite festival needs: A novelty act. Thanks, I’ll check them out right after Weird Al’s set." So do you really need to see them? Sure, why not? You’re there to have some fun, right? Just like that aforementioned band from Vermont, The Gourds like to keep their audience on their feet with wacky covers, but there also a lot more to them then that.

Sighting The Band as one of their major influences, The Gourds build on that tradition of making American Roots music � it’s just that their version is rooted in country, Zydeco, bluegrass, Tex-Mex, folk, honky-tonk and more (I mean, they covered Snoop!). These guys remind me of the much beloved Leftover Salmon, though slightly more earnest. While earlier albums endeared them to alt.country fans it was their quirkiness made them accessible to a broader audience.

The Gourds have quite the reputation of being a fun, interactive live act. Those of us from north of, say, Alabama never get to actually see real country (AND western) music played live. And those of us from the South who dig this kind of stuff will be happy to get back to our roots with a set from The Gourds. I mean, after all, the festival IS in Tennessee, remember? So grab some tall boys, your ten gallon hat, and big belt buckle and head over to The Gourds’ set because you never know what they’re going to play. And while at most concerts the typical shout out is for �Free Bird,’ try to resist screaming for �Gin & Juice.’ Though odds are they’ll probably sneak it into the set (with �Free Bird’, too).

Check them out if you’re into: Leftover Salmon, Drive-By Truckers
Stay away if you’re looking for music like: Phish, De La Soul

Dr. Dog

Just because the Disco Biscuits are absent from this year’s lineup (and just about every other lineup, for that matter), doesn’t mean that Philly ain’t in the house. Oh, Philly is most definitely in the house, this year in the form of Dr. Dog. But if you’re going to this Philly’s band’s set looking for Brownstein, the Barber, and the other guys’ brand of trance-fusion-electronica-organica-rock (or whatever the hell they call it), you’re wasting your time. Dr. Dog plays…..well…...they play The Beatles. Not the Beatles EXACTLY, of course, but songs that could easily be b-sides from Rubber Soul. In fact, I can’t think of any other act that comes close to being an influence, either. Oh I’m sure there are some obscure psych-rock outfits from the 90s, or some random 60s garage rock bands that they’d list as influences, but to my ears, just about all of their songs sound like they could melt into "Nowhere Man" at any point.

As we all know, there are far worse bands to emulate. I mean, Oasis’ What’s The Story Morning Glory is probably one of the top ten records of the 1990s, and they openly flaunted the fact that they stole music from The Fab Four. So Dr. Dog has come and done it, too. No big deal. The songs sound pretty good and they have it down pat: The harmonizing backing vocals, the Ringo-style open drumming, the melodies, etc. But if I had just listened to Dr. Dog’s most recent release "Easy Beat" (named for the 60s act "The Easy Beats" perhaps?), I’d wonder what the hell the big deal was. But luckily, I caught one of their shows down at South By Southwest this year at a sports bar at about 2:00 in the afternoon. Even at a lame venue like that, I could see for myself what the big (well, at least "good sized") deal was. They are fun as hell live. They kind of reminded me of your buddies in college who are good musicians getting together for a night of rock at the Kappa Sig house. With their combination of mid-Beatles era tunes and "Dude, you need to take your Ritalin"-type energy, you can’t help but smile and have a good time at their show. Sounds like a good change of pace for Bonnaroo this year.

Check them out if you’re into: um….The Beatles
Stay away if you’re looking for music like: The Disco Biscuits, The Duo

Tea Leaf Green

I was born in Washington, DC on June 9, 1973 which means two things: a) I’m older than about 90% of you and 2) I am exactly as old as one of the premier days in the history of our scene � that just happened to occur in our nation’s capital, as well. Also on that steamy day in DC, the two big kahunas � the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers – FINALLY got together for a rip roarin’ show that you have absolutely ZERO reason not to own in your collection. (It’s called Live Archive, people. Know it. Live it. Love it.) Yes, for my money, it just doesn’t get much better than mid-70s Allmans. Which makes sense to me. Their music is in my blood. A blazing "Elizabeth Reed" was probably floating through the air just as I was entering this world. What’s my point? If you like real, classic Allman Brothers, then, man, do I have a band for you.

In this scene you need songs with words you can print and sell on a t-shirt. San Francisco’s Tea Leaf Green’s got �em. Sure, the songs are still a little rough around the edges and they’re not exactly pushing the boundaries the way, say, the Disco Biscuits were in the late 90s. But somehow, some way their mix of Southern rock, funk, and disco is managing to sound fresh. Before you say "Oh goodie. Another jamband doing that. How novel", just hear them out. How are they hooking more and more fans every day? As I said, it’s all about the songs. They are catchy as hell and after hearing one verse and chorus of a song like "Freedom," you find yourself singing "Freedom / Don’t come easy to me" right along with them. That’s why I feel like Tea Leaf Green may not just be poised to hit it big on the jamband scene, but may even have a future beyond that.

During Jazzfest, when a friend called me from the Frenchman’s Street Block Party and said, "You should really get over here now," I obliged. And I’m so glad I did. The show at the Blue Nile that night felt a lot like a coming out party � like Umphrey’s set last year at the �roo � and has hooked me in since. So if you want to see what the future sounds like, too, by all means hit the Other Tent on Saturday at 1:00 PM.

Check them out if you’re into: The Allman Brothers, Phish
Stay away if you’re looking for music like: Leftover Salmon, Allison Krauss

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