From the Friday Bonnaroo Beacon: Blog-aroo
By Mike Greenhaus
Even though the phrase the calm before the storm doesnt seem entirely appropriate this year, there has always been a certain sense of welcome calmness to Bonnaroos opening night festivities. As fans slowly trickle into the festival groundspitching their tents, sorting through their schedules and trying to figure out the difference between Which and What, This and That and, of course, late night and early morninga feeling of freedom and endless possibility seems to sweep the festival grounds.
Bonnaroos Thursday night programming started as a surprise bonus for early arrivals the festivals second year and over time has blossomed into a showcase for some of the summers most successful and blogged about bands. Long before he headlined Radio City Music Hall, Ray Lamontagne played Bonnaroo one quiet Thursday in 2004 and, over the years, the likes of Vampire Weekend, Tea Leaf Green, The National, DeVotchKa and Battles have all greeted initial festivalgoers. Each year a few former Thursday night performers also traditionally graduate to later weekend spots and this year is no exception, with Toubab Krewe returning for the first time since 2006 to perform Friday and MGMT making their way to Tennessee for the second year in a row to perform late Saturday night.
There was also sense of unadulterated excitement in the air as young bands like Chairlift, Hockey, Alberta Cross, The Low Anthem and Passion Pit all conceivably played for their biggest crowds to date and, if you bounced high enough from the back of Bonnaroos three tents, you could almost see certain groups pass from buzz bands to bonafide rock stars, as they learned to work their mammoth audiences. In certain ways it is like a living blog, where curious fans can bound between stages, sampling sounds and focusing in on their next favorite band: from country-rockers Zac Brown Band (who name-checked Tennessee during a cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down) to urban singer Janelle Monand hard-edged progressive rockers Portugal. The Man.
In fact, though the modern blogosphere was still a twinkle in some programmers eye when Bonnaroo debuted in 2002, in many ways, festivals and blogs have simultaneously developed into two of the best ways for young and alternative bands to find new fans, especially as the impact of records and radio slowly wanes.
This Tent, in particular, showcased a number of emerging hipster blog bands, including the manic, percussive White Rabbits and a trio of electro-pop indie groups poised for widespread success: Hockey, Chairlift and Passion Pit. Portland electro-indie poppers Hockey wont release their first album for over two months, yet they drew several thousand fans to their early evening setmany of whom sang and danced along to tracks like Work and Song Away thanks to mp3s and MySpace. Likewise, Passion Pit, a group that is less than two years old, was able to headline a main tent at the countrys largest music festival thanks to infectious sing-a-longs like Sleepyhead that spread almost entirely through the grassroots networks so essential to the Bonnaroo spirit. And if the sight of fans in Eat a Peach tie-dyes and Tweezer Phish t-shirts happily dancing to heavily synthesized pop music isnt the final proof of Bonnaroos eclectic nature, than at least the evening proved once and for all that hippies and hipsters look a lot alike when theyre splashing around in the mud between stages.
Unfortunately, the days inclement weather delayed the arrival of rootsy indie rockers Delta Spirit, pushing the groups set until 12:30 AM, but that time shuffle also seemed to open the door for otherat times muddyadventures. For Bonnaroos Thursday evening is also the only night the festival itself serves as a headliner. Without an arena size distraction, on Thursday, attendees are free to take full advantage of the festivals multiple offerings, from the Silent Disco to the Scratch DJ Academy to Centeroos illuminated fountain-cum-aquatic performance space.
Modern technology also showed its power onsite, when word began spreading via text messages, Twitter feeds and iPhone apps that Phish was playing a surprise set on the What Stage around 4 PM Thursday. As it turned out, the rumor mill turned out to be something of a game of digital telephonethe group was actually soundcheckingbut a sizable crowd was able to clearly hear selections like the new original Ocelet, Son Seals Funky Bitch and an aborted Llama through the What Stages fences.
It feels good to be staying here all weekend, a calm Trey Anastasio said to his invisible audience, an action which echoed the emerging blogger culture, if not in style, than in approach, where musicians are able to establish a direct connection with their fans.