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Published: 2009/06/15

From the Sunday Bonnaroo Beacon: Baby, We Were Born To Roo

By Josh Baron
The word got out quickly: Jimmy Buffet was playing Which Stage at noon to start Saturday. Sure enough, the 62-year-old started the day leading the Coral Reefer Allstars through Parrothead classics like Mother Ocean and Fins while throwing in covers such as Van Morrisons Brown-Eyed Girl and the Grateful Deads Scarlet Begonias.
As Buffet sang the words I had one of those flashes that Ive been here before from the latter song looking out amongst tens of thousands fans, it resonated with a spirit thats nearly 40 years old.
Writing of his experiences at the Woodstock Arts & Music fair in September 1969, the writer Greil Marcus concluded the following:
We could have festivals with one or two headliners instead of festivals where everyone and no one is the headliner; we could categorize it, with folk festivals and jazz festivals and blues festivals and local festivals. All of these possibilities are good ones and all will take place, but after Woodstock they have to be seen, at least to some extent, as mere devices for holding down the number of people who will want to be there. The true challenge is to recognize that Woodstock was truly the Land of Oz and that those who were there will want to find a way back and that those who heard about it will want to follow.
Bonnaroo- no coincidence it too is tagged Music & Arts Festival- is this generations Land of Oz; it is the modern Woodstock (see: mud and music do have a long history together). The only real difference, thankfully, is that its annual.
Shortly into his headlining set, Bruce Springsteen delivered something of a sermon in middle of Working on a Dream. To the masses, the workingmans rock star declared that, We want to build a house right in this field. Build us a house of love! Build us a house of faith! All the tools needed are in this field tonight. Build a house of spirit and music! It sounded like a clarion call of a new Woodstock Nation.
No question, just about everyone was excited to see The Boss. It could be argued that no bigger performer- in terms of sheer worldwide popularity and cultural currency- has headlined. One can only imagine The Rolling Stones having quite the same impact and star power.
With a 12-piece band including himself, the sound was big. Whether it was classics like Born to Run with a deafening sing-along, full-rock rendition of Surrender, the punchy swagger of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out or a rollicking Glory Days with a Louie Louie tease, Springsteen and the E-Street band commanded the stage with a wherewithal and finesse that only comes from decades of playing to big crowds. At several points, Springsteen even utilized a walkway up the center of the frenzied crowd, a Bonnaroo first. While the decision as to what to see from 9pm to 12:30am was easy- only The Boss- the rest of the day was spent running between the multitude of stages around the site.
Alejandro Escovedo revved the energy high early on at That Tent with a tenacious set of full-throttle rock and roll that included selections from his recent release Animal, reminding those that know his past that he hasnt lost his punk rock edge. Immediately following at the Troo Music Lounge, Fiction Family- a group led by Nickel Creeks Sean and Sara Watkins along with Toad the Wet Sprockets Sean Phillips- eased people in a bit more gently with an acoustic-based set of tunes that roamed from wistful to happy.
Bon Iver, a band led by Justin Vernon, charged up This Tent with a rocking set, bringing new life to songs like Flume and The Wolves as well as a cover of Yo La Tengos I Feel Like Going Home which saw the Dearland horn section adding color to a building crescendo of noise that had deep groove buried within.
Jenny Lewis led her band, which includes singer/songwriter and boyfriend Jonathan Rice through a set of seemingly countrified hard rock folk unes, many off her latest album Acid Tongue. Highlights of the set included a solo reading of Rilo Kileys Silver Lining (her other band), the Traveling Wilburys Handle with Care and a guest appearance by pal Elvis Costello on Carpet Bagger (Costello later returned the favor inviting her up during his set along with New Orleans legend and statesmen Allen Toussaint and Americana singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale).
Raphael Saadiq, once a part of the pop group Tony! Toni! Tone! from the early 90s, delivered a blistering set of retro-charged R&B and soul that occasionally veered into harder rock that called upon some of the genres sounds. Original soulman Booker T. meanwhile came from the opposite direction, chugging through rock numbers courtesy of partners The Drive-by Truckers with a foray here and there into classics like Green Onions.
If the bizarre theatrically of Of Montreals synth pop catalyzed a dance party, the hard rock of Govt Mule encouraged heads to bob to numbers like Neil Youngs Southern Man, a full-band version of U2s One along with the a host of originals.
Wilco took the mainstage before Springsteen with lead singer Jeff Tweedy surmising that it didnt matter if the crowd booed or not- the band would just assume it was the Bru chant for Springsteen. While the band worked its way through new songs like the forlorn but steady One Wing, it zigzagged through its catalog and hit fan favorites like Misunderstood, California Stars and Jesus, Etc.
The Mars Volta, closing the Which Stage for the day before Nine Inch Nails late night set which began at 1am, were a churning, multi-headed, polyrhythmic beast that threw down visceral, pounding, psychedelic rock that was propelled by ferocious drumming, lead singer Cedric Bixler Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez who conjured a young Santana playing voodoo guitar that would make Hendrix smile. Numbers like Viscera, Wax and Luciforms fell into each other, one giving way to the next which resulting in a non-stop aural assault.
While moe. brought its classic jamband sensibilities to This Tent until the wee hours of Saturday night, in part fueled by bassist Rob Derhaks admission hed ingested six Red Bulls to prep- Nine Inch Nails brought its musical wrath down upon Which Stage with thunder and hyper kinetic lighting. Lead singer Trent Reznors rage-filled vocal delivery- lyrics typically centering on the human condition- were as visceral and impassioned as they come. Reznor opened the set with Home from the UK version of White Teeth, trotted out the rare Banged and Blown Through and welcomed Dillinger Escape Plan, who will be performing today, to the stage for Wish. Reznor also declared that this would be the last NIN show in the U.S. (one hopes he means for the current tour).
Patrick Hallahan, the drummer for festival veterans My Morning Jacket whove held down the late night slot for years, attended this year as a fan with his wife. I guess Im taking this year instead of giving, he mused. Turning more earnest, he felt that Its a very harmonious festival. Not to say that other festivals arent but theres just a really special thing at Bonnaroo. He paused, looking for articulation. This festival isnt any different than the festival I attended in 2003. The faces change but the spirit remains.
Indeed, even 40 years on, the spirit remains.

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