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Published: 2011/06/11
by Josh Baron

From The Bonnaroo Beacon: Victory Dance

Photo by John Patrick Gatta

Hope to dance the victory dance
Over many lives to come
Hope to dance the victory dance
In the evening’s setting sun – “Victory Dance,” My Morning Jacket

As the sun began setting over the second day of this year’s Bonnaroo, the band and the crowd were doing just that—a victory dance. Not just for the fact that Louisville’s finest had finally risen to a co-headlining mainstage slot after first appearing at the festival in 2004 but also in subconscious celebration of Bonnaroo’s tenth year.

“I was told it was going to be like a modern day Woodstock,” recalls 10-year contract employee Lanell White prior to the first event. White, who’s known for donning an umbrella hat at her post outside the festival’s administration trailers, says, “When I got here and saw fabulous people in communion with each other having a good time, sharing, dancing, laughing, making friends, it was awesome. It’s gotten better and better each year.”

So too has the experience for many a returning band. “My night, personally, was transcendent,” said Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan backstage after the group’s set that featured a number of songs from its new album Circuital. “I haven’t seen an ocean of people like that in a long time. It’s certainly one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever played to but I would say the percentage of positive energy may be up there with [our] great [performances].” Hallahan—who’ll be helping out Dr. John, Dan Auerbach and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Sunday night’s SuperJam on percussion—put it rather simply: “When the right things happen at the right time, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Earlier in the day, another Roo veteran made their main stage debut—Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. “You have no idea how good it feels to be up here on the main stage at Bonnaroo,” Potter told crowd, noting her 2006 debut at the festival. “How the f—k did a little band from Vermont get here?” Based on the jammed out crescendo of “Stop the Bus,” the belting blues of “Nothing But the Water” and the sexy sass rock of “Paris,” the question proved to be rhetorical.

Watching Potter’s set side stage was none other than adult film legend Ron Jeremy. “It totally thrilled me when she came up to me first and said, ‘Hi, Ron. Nice to meet you.’ I nearly collapsed in my drawers,” he says with a laugh. “I told her I’ve hung out with Grace Slick and I said you do a great cover of ‘White Rabbit.’ You do her proud.”

(Other random but notable celebrities seen around the site were Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio taking in the Jacket’s set and country legend Faith Hill who requested an introduction to Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine fame.)

Comedian Lewis Black was beyond proud to introduce to introduce Warren Haynes for his set. “It may be one of the top ten experiences of my life,” he says. “That was the first time I truly had a sense of what it must be like to be a rock star.”

Haynes—who’s appeared at the festival eight times whether as a member of The Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule or solo—showcased his new R&B/soul outfit, the Warren Haynes Band. The group, which includes singer/keyboardist Nigel Hall and saxophonist Ron Holloway, eventually invited keyboardist Ivan Neville to sit-in for tunes like “Sick of My Shadow,” “Hattiesburg” and “Main in Motion.” Bookending Haynes’ Which Stage set were spectacular performances from Béla Fleck and The Flecktones and Ray LaMontagne.

Earlier in the day, the Flecktones—once again original with keyboard/harmonica player Howard Levy—played to a packed crowd. The audience was eager to hear Fleck, who’s performed in more acoustic contexts at the festival over the past years, in a more electric and rhythm driven setup as heard during the group’s popular “Big Country” which saw the addition of fiddler Casey Driessen.

(On a side note: For Bonnaroo co-promoter Ashley Capps, it was particularly sweet to see the Flecktones performing this year as he promoted the group’s first show back when they were known as Béla Fleck and The Fringe in the late ‘80s.)

LaMontagne’s set opened with him solo acoustic before moving quickly moving into a full band setting. While it featured such original chestnuts as “Hold You in My Arms,” “Trouble” and “Jolene,” it was the covers that sparked the crowd’s enthusiasm: Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and a segue from Neil Young’s “Down the River” into Pink Floyd’s “Home.”

Fellow balladeer of fractured love songs Justin Townes Earle performed earlier in the day at The Other Tent. Earle delivered gems such as the guest-laden “Christ Church Woman” (Ben Sollee on cello, Bryn Davies on upright bass) and a cover of Lightin’ Hopkins’ “My Starter Won’t Start This Morning” which he introduced by way of a Townes Van Zandt adage: “You can’t do a set without doing the blues.”

While not quite the blues, Wanda Jackson’s rockabilly set featured a range of material from her career. Whether it was her 1956 debut song “Gotta Know”—“It’s got a little bit of country and a whole lot of rock and roll”—or a newer tune such as “Shakin’ All Over” from her recent Jack White-produced This Party Ain’t Over—Jackson remained ever the small stature firecracker.

Elsewhere, at the same time, hands were raised in the air: socially conscious rapper Atmosphere admonished fans to put their hands up while Swedish band Opeth—“a death metal band sometimes; a heavy metal band sometimes; a prog rock band sometimes” according to lead singer Lars Mikael Åkerfeldt—catalyzed a small sea of devil-horned hands gesticulating in unison.

Other highlights from the day included The Decemberists rousing main stage set (performing for the first time without keyboardist/accordion player Jenny Conlee who’s undergoing treatment for breast cancer); Florence and The Machine’s rapturous set featuring tunes such as “Cosmic Love,” “Got the Love” and “Dog Days Are Over;” Del McCoury & Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s uplifting collaboration (including their recently penned official festival theme song, “Bonnaroo (Feel The Magic)” and legendary SoCal punk band NOFX.

In a new co-headling slot, Arcade Fire played a slightly shorter set after My Morning Jacket from 11p.m.-12:30a.m. The 8-piece Canadian group once again displayed a shambolic-like enthusiasm and vigor, constantly switching instruments and bouncing around the stage for songs like the cathedral-driven “Intervention,” sprightly “Rococo,” triumphant “Tunnels” and indefatigable “Let’s Go.”

As the clock went well past midnight, New Orleans’ rapper Lil’ Wayne delivered a blistering set of raunchy anthems, backed by a band and dancers. Big Boi, showcasing his own vocal acrobatics and quick tongue on the opposite end of the site, was backed by an even bigger band and array of B-girls. While both sets were packed, the electronic-driven acts, Bassnectar and Pretty Lights, saw unexpected masses swelling far outside their stage tents.

As 49 year old Oklahoma City fan Peri Bennett noted after a trip down the water slide earlier in the day, “I think it’s cool that you have someone like Loretta Lynn and then you got somebody like Lil’ Wayne here—I’m here to see it all.”

Or, as Lewis Black notes, “Bonnaroo is always amazing. It’s never not been amazing. Even if you had this many people standing around, not listening to anything but themselves, it would be amazing.”

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