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Published: 2012/06/08
by Sam Davis

From The Bonnaroo Beacon : "Holding On"

Photo by Kevin Yatarola

As the festival gates opened on the first day of Bonnaroo 2012, little time passed before the site came to life with attendees roving the city-sized grounds, vendors hawking their goods and bands taking over the festival’s multiple tents.

With temperatures pleasantly lower than previous years, the first day offered an ideal setting as festival goers filtered through the hippie bazaar of Centeroo and the various art installations free from the sweltering heat of recent Bonnaroos . However, comedian/performer Reggie Watts still cautioned fans to be wary of the sun’s rays as he wandered the festival grounds with a film crew in tow, offering attendees various degrees of SPF from his sunscreen toolbelt. “The sun is committing genocide daily,” he warned. “Stay suncreened.”

Meanwhile, those in the proximity of the Which Stage around 1 PM were treated to a surprise performance by Feist. She was on hand to sound check before her performance tomorrow afternoon and delivered a version of “How Come You Never Go There” as well as portions of a few other tunes.

The Tent offerings later kicked off shortly after 4PM with a set by Tennessee natives The Dirty Guv’nahs. The group performed what would be the first of the day’s many raved-up, rock and roll performances.

A second such highlight later occurred in The Other Tent, where Austin-based psych-rockers White Denim not only wowed members of Umphrey’s McGee, but surely turned a new legion of fans onto their complex, progressive sound. As guitarists James Petralli and Austin Jenkins traded licks, and delivered their high-flying musical acrobatics, the crowd responded enthusiastically.

Another standout performance came during one of the weekend’s most highly anticipated sets— a performance by the rapidly rising soul rockers Alabama Shakes. While the group’s debut LP only came out in April of this year, already fans were singing along with vocalist Brittany Howard’s every word. With the VIP section filled to capacity, This Tent could be seen overflowing on all sides as fans even tried to climb fences to gain a better vantage point. To close out their performances, the Shakes welcomed the Soul Rebels Brass Band to the stage, which finished with the horns parading through the crowd to the stage in front of the Centeroo Fountain for an impromptu jam session.

One of the great aspects of Bonnaroo is simply the sheer breadth of genres one can witness across the festival’s numerous stages and tents on any given day. During any one of Thursday’s performances, one could wander just a few hundred yards and find themselves in the grips of something completely different. Whether it be the funked-out grooves of Orgone, the passionate reggae of SOJA or the instrumental livetronica of Big Gigantic—who handed out hundreds of inflatable instruments to the crowd during their set—there was surely a something to suit every taste.

Elsewhere on Thursday, a second theme began to emerge—one that has been prevalent since the passing of several legendary musicians earlier this year. In The Other Tent, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. paid tribute to Whitney Houston with a cover of her famous version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” while Yelawolf paid tribute to fallen Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch with a version of “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right to Party.” You can likely expect this theme to carry through the weekend, with potential tributes to both The Band drummer Levon Helm, acoustic-guitar legend Doc Watson and perhaps even Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch, who passed away today in Nashville.

Speaking of Helm, one of the musicians who performed with him over recent years. Steven Bernstein, brought his Millennial Territory Orchestra to the Cinema Tent. There the “little big band” performed an animated score to three Laurel and Hardy silent films.

For the 11th year in a row, festival creative director Russ Bennett has constructed art installations and structures to help bring life to the festival site. “It’s collaborative creativity that fosters bigger and better things each year,” said Bennett about this year’s installations. “We consistently have a great team helping us.”

And, while Bonnaroo has surely evolved, for this writer (who last attended the festival in 2004) it was also apparent how close the festival has remained to its roots. As CID Entertainment’s Dan Berkowitz reflected, “The beauty of Bonnaroo is that it hasn’t changed. It’s just gotten better.”

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