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Postcards from Bonnaroo, 6: Third Inning Stretch


Solange Knowles could be the lava lamp reinvention of big sister Beyonce if the light go lit over at Jody Watley’s crib. Though it’s intriguing to see the way nu soul informs even the biggest stars’ families, as the reach for the bohemian fringe is evident.

The little flowered skirt and matching halter/bra top, the sliky/ropey dreadlocks she swings like Tawny Kitaen used to toss her mane in those Whitesnake videos and bit more aw shucks patchouli vibe than her sister could ever conjure. And that’s the good news.

Somewhere within the cultured pop pearl – and her sense of melody is as cane sugar sweet as the best Motown – there’s just enough earthiness to dirty up the All-American girl smile into something us mere mortals can aspite to.

Instead, Solange looks to take those sugarmountain hooks and turn them into songs that exude ‘70s funk flourishes, cascades of serious background vocals and a likable enough second soprano to enchant the non-slick, non-hardcore flyover. With a bass player who knows how to anchor without pushing the songs frames over, her set moved – and at times, the largely white, wildly sun-baked crowd would move in time,

If there was a problem, it might be the lack of great songs: grooves do not make anything more than a backdrop for good players and vocal high jumping. Even Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes’ noted jam who played on the What Stage slightly before understands, it still comes down to songs to anchor the future and playing to ignite the legend.

Up at the New Music on Tap Lounge, Chris Stapleton, whose made a living as one of Nashville’s most bankable songwriters, is trying to find a way to harness his titanic voice with material that’s distinctly his own. Obviously capable of writing massive hits (“Never Wanted Nothin’ More,” “Come Back Song”), he started his set with plenty of Southern rock bravado, seeming more derivative of Skynyrd before they found their stride than a genuinely envelope-pushing artist.

Three songs in, he found his way. Sounding like breakthrough-era Waylon driving early Tom Petty’s bus, there was a trajectory to the songs that wasn’t mannered, didn’t pander or evoke and seemed to suit that blues-tinge that has always given his voice more hoist than anyone in Nashville. “Maybe You Should Go” burned with want that should be denied; another song rippled with the kind of brio men in country so rarely embrace.

Maybe here, where no one’s watching, Stapleton can test-tube and check the equation. Because while getting on country radio is critical for most mainstream labels to do their thing, it’s out among the people where the careers based on the artist not the moment are forged.


So Dwight Yoakam is late for the press conference. And we’re all watching the clouds roll in, wondering if they’re gonna drop down rain. Storm or no, the temperature has dropped and that’s a good thing.
All by humself, sweet little Johnny Fritz (formerly Corndawg) climbs up on his director’s chair in a Grand Ole Opry t-shirt and a whiplash collar. When it’s his turn to talk, he talks about the heritage of comedy in country with Roger Miller, then shouts out his truth about country music: “Over the last twenty years has meant that if you’re foing to try to play country music today, you have to almost create your own format.”

Certainly Dwight Yoakam as part of the credibility scandal of the mid-80s is a soul brother. When he finally walks onstage, they couldn’t look mor different, and yet…

Andy Langer seizes the opportunity to welcome a Bonnaroo virgin. But Yoakam begins invoking his vast ancient festival experience:Aquafest, Bumbershoot, then Lollapalooza, which traveled.

Langer this is an opportunity to play to people who aren’t the comnverted, ZZ Top played to 20,000 people last night who’d never seen them

Dwight then begins the infomercial about playing in the rock clubs of LA, being on tour in Texas with the Blasters when he got signed. Talks about college radio playing him first, though ostracized from MTV.
“This record was #1 on Americana for 8 weeks.”

Reggie Watt and the host talked about Chris Rock opening for 60,000 Metallica fans here. Admitting he was nervous for his friends, he looked deep into the crowd and saw his friend kill it.

“Texture, timing, tone, approach. Those things are central,” the cloud ‘froed comic explains to the varied press core. Then he suggests that with Ed Helms and the Bluegrass Situation, Johnny Fritz and the emerging thing about comics dabbling in country music, there should be a resurrected “Hee Haw.”
“We watched it back home in Montana, while we ate dinner,” Watt says. “Crazy corny, but always hytserial…”
The notion of blurred lines and common ground is part of what ignites Bonnaroo. It is wildly different people under the sun, sharing the porta-potties and digging the scene. As Watts says, “You’re the center of creativity… Anything’s possible now. If you have an idea, you can transmit it to 80,000 within seconds.”
Somehow Dwight takes a perpendicular turn. Somehow a question about the diversity of the arts turns into a ramble about a clothing  company, his Bakersfield Bisquit Conpany and art directing his albums licensing out his brand.
It’s a slippery slope into monetizing music and the arts, but there’s no point. Trying to cycle back, “You can’t force yourself into something. It’s something managers force artists into…”
In the hissing, Langer points at Fritz and says, “He doesn’t have the same chance you did…”

Dwight tries to suggest that the Black Keys prove something else. He talks about Beck, about audiences embracing his guitar playing in its raw state as an argument for democracy. He fails to mention that he’s returned to a major label, because he wants those sorts of budgets and distribution to realize his vision.

Fritz taks about playing 200 shows a year, coming home without money. “What am I gonna do? Get a job washing dishes? No one’s gonna hire me ‘cause they know I’m going to leave to go on tour.”

The former Corndawg talks about making leather dog collars and belts, using that to finance his tours. Somehow, it’s a way for the most committed to thrive. But he also admits he doesn’t like the notion of crap on the internet who become sensations seemingly overnight.

As people whoop at the big think, it’s obvious that absurdity rules. You can hurl what you like; if it seems different people respond. They don’t realize, and don’t have to. The days of researching beyond what you know, beyond identification politics are about gone… and so here we are.
Reggie Watts brings it back to what matters. He says “The immediacy is amazing, but the challenge of going on the road 200 dates a year, or coming up the way you (Dwight) came up… that’s incredible. There’s no substitute for that.”

“There’s no substitute for five sets a night,” Yoakam agrees. Then somehow starts talking about wanting to work with Kid Rock on this new album; goes into a ramble about how twenty years later, the song was written in three hours.

Ahhhhh, the scholarly Dwight Yoakam, rambling and meandering in a way people who only read your interviews will never know. Until now.