How much is too much? Clarity being the key to everything... Solange Knowles, Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Fritts (ne Corndawg), Reggie Watts, Chris Stapleton.
Being a legend means never having to thinking about anyone else, especially when your handlers are high on their sense of power by proximity. And so we waited for Paul McCartney. No, not to see him, so we could leave the Bonnaroo grounds and go home to get a shower.
How much music can you stand? Or rather how long can you stand?
Because from noon on… and on, and on…There is more than too much of just about anything you could want. Floating through the air, wafting down the grass; and no matter where you go, people are into it.
Trixie Whitley (Postcard Two) gave way to Jason Isbell, a serious sort of songwriter with a bit of blue collar efff ewe and a lot of existential angst, dignity and faith in love (of all things). With his Southeastern landing to critical landslide last week, sales looking to top 20,000 and emerging from a “storied” in the exactly the sense one would expect from a man suggested he exit the Drive-By Truckers, the timeless featured man with the basic rock band hit a nerve from the gate.
Songs from his new album, plus songs the crowd knew drew equal response. He churned through “Super 8,” found the tentative tenderness in “Flying Over Water.” Creating intimacy with 20-30,000 people, some of whom were hardcore fans, others waiting for Of Monsters & Men, it was a reminder that the literate doesn’t have to be lost to the loops, the hooks or the glossy flossy production tricks that make so much of pop radio glisten.
Over at The Other Tent, Big K.R.I.T. proved that for hip-hop, too. Taking it back to tbe bare knuckle basics of a turntable and a sense of rhymes, the Meridian, Mississippian worked the mic and the largely white crowd in a way that engaged them. Not just in the jumping up and down, arm-waving way, but actually listening and chanting along.
Indeed, production here isn’t the deal – though obviously ZZ Top hitting it without their videos, etc, would be like leaving the house with a clean shave. Instead, it’s about a deeper connection hitting the music people where they feel. Drawing people to another place or the realm of accessing emotions that might not be part of their basic life.
Jim James, dressed in a school boy blazer and tie, was every bit the sleek chic eleganza with a silky looking cloud of hair, but beyond a basic backdrop of lights emanating in lines from a central point, it was his charisma that matched his music. With moves like the snake charming the tamer, he knew how to focus on the crowd – whether spinning like a sheepdog sufi dervish or strumming and leaning into a guitar poised on a stand.
James’ melodicism is hypnotic, with myriad influences beneath the surface – from surf to classical, pure pop to a lurching kind of rock – and musicianship from an equally GQ-attired band that is so effortless, it would easy to miss its quality. But make no mistake, these players are the sort whose excellence eludes casual listening.
With his soundscapes floating of This Tent, Wu Tang was taking Which Stage with the velocity the hardest core rappers could be expected to unleash. Jagged beats hammering into the assembled, as an apt counterpoint to Wilco over at What Stage delivered an overtly jubilant set that found Jeff Tweedy beaming.
All these years later, it’s not the survival that brings these acts back together. While often it’s about the money, there emerges a sense of how good the music really was, something that might have been lost in the moment, the egos, the addictions, the cross-agendas and beyond. For both Wu Tang and Wilco, acts who’ve weathered plenty and made albums that endured far beyond what either would’ve expected, the triumph of being onstage isn’t so much as how good the music feels all these years later.
For Wilco, who moved from “Heavy Metal Drummer” to “I’m The Man Who Loves You” to “Dawned on Me” and “A Shot in the Arm,” the patron saints of alt-country showed themselves to be more a classic American rock band a la Bonnaroo closers Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, bending pop melodicism into an organic sense of roots that was supple and fluid. That rapture is often what marks those who’re grateful for what the music gives – beyond the houses, pretty girls and fast cars – and that was evident.
Even deeper diving were England’s Foals, at the far end of an American tour. Though facing an mid-afternoon set, they drew their faithful well beyond the edges of This Tent and what at first felt like fairly rote crowd surfing from Yannis Philippakis with the expected hand-over-hand over the fans demi-turns mid-set culminated in an almost audience circuit during the set climaxing “Two Steps, Twice.”
A boy who sings a math-rock, precision-driven kind of music surrenders to the momentum of the moment, which carries the band sonic release well beyond their records. Singing with his heart out of his body, “Inhaler” and “Late Night” had an urgency that never drowned how hard and to the point the playing was, yet found the tumult of emotions thrown harder than control would suggest.
That’s the deal with Foals: go beyond where you should be. As “Two Steps, Twice” built and receded and built, the forelocked Philippakis leaned so far into the song, it was obvious he intended – and did – leave it all on that stage.
The day’s other story was the massive blanket of bodies for Of Monsters and Men, swelling beyond not just the grounds in front of Which Stage, but spreading down towards the Comedy Theater and well into the food area between Which and What!
Yesterday’s great surprise, and yet, the Icelandic five-piece delivered a set that more than delivered on the numbers who’d converged to hear their acoustic-tinged music.
Not folk, not even in the Mumford/Avett ilk, there’s an exoticism to Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s band that merges the female lead singer/male musical energy to create something that evokes slightly more magical arrangements rather than the more rustic classicism of the post modern folk boomers.
With 13 songs deliver mid-afternoon, they built an enthusiasm that never bordered on manic, yet was every bit as passionate as Foals’ response. In the appreciation, if not shrieking and fist-pumping, the music was heard, consumed and responded to.
Even the humble stages, like Miller Lite’s New Music on Tap “lean to,” plopped in the middle of the field, and the decidedly hippie Solar Stage, which anchored the activism booths, there were treasures to be found. It’s a matter of when you wander up, and whether you get lucky.
Rayland Baxter, whose Feathers & Fishhooks, had 6 people onstage with decidedly minimal gear, and his strong polaroid form of singer/songwriter is bulked up by his lashing guitarwork. Carving into what turns out to be a loud sound with that guitar, he exudes a likeability as he sings songs that offer the imagery of 20-somethings finding fun, friendship and amour along the margins.
Not meant to be profound, the commitment he and his band – especially a drummer who works the high hat hard, only to punch the tom for staggering rhythmic effect – shows that small doesn’t have to mean flaccid or lacking in song development.
Coming back for an encore, just young man and his guitar, he offers an aw shucks intimacy that offers a peephole into the attitudes and familiarities of an generation coming of age making a decision to commit to each other rather than merely strive and jockey for fame and money.
At the other end of the spectrum, John Oates takes Rock & Roll Hall of Fame status and returns to his roots. With an upcoming turn at the Rock & Soul Superjam, he explained he would only play new songs – and took songs about new methodology in the record business, meeting partner Darryl Hall and yes, activism.
If it was a rich rock legend slumming, he brought a great deal of wonder to the table, talking about coming of age when festivals reigned – and singing his raspy deep soul’n’hard wood lead parts while playing an acoustic guitar.
And so it goes, and so it continues.
Though Paul McCartney was the evening’s big play, it’s hard to muster enthuisiasm for someone surfing the “wow, is this for me?” reality-break that so often comes with the removed from the rest of us realm (see Postcard Five), and so I passed. If I have failed you, know some are born Stones People, others are Loyal to the Beatles’ Realm. Being the former, I was fine… and figured better to rest up for today.
Today, another day and even more, more, more music.
chicken scratch notes. grown-up content. under 17, bring a grown-up. otherwise, what you don't see at these sorts of press conference experiences...
How It Looks
Imagine cloning the Mudslide Slim & the Blue Horizon album cover. A whole field of skinny boys, with skinny braces, a few skinny ties and skinny pants with earthtone cotton pants hanging off them; scraggly longish hair teasing collars, curling around ears, occasionally sweeping around jawlines and various forms of perfectly ungroomed facial hair to let you know they're beyond puberty...
It would seem so mannered, cuffs casually unbuttoned or turned back beyond the elbows, flaccid fedoras wilting in the bright sun... Like a vintage costume soiree for poseurs looking to throwback to a more populist era of Willa Cather and John Steinbeckian dustbowl charms. But you look at them, and sense they mean it.
Just like the girls with long cotton skirts barely clinging to jutting hip bones, mens vests buttoned up with nothing -- or else a garishly clashing bra -- underneath, thin claves barely filling out the shafts of the cowboy boots they clomp along in.
That's what it looks like backstage. Well, like that and middle-aged people in drab hipster, almost camping gear, standing weight to one hip weighing the merits of this act, that social media platform. Big timing the big time in the land of the hipeousie and impossibly sangfroide doing anything but melting in this straight down, raindown heat.
The sun couldn't be clearer, brighter, more golden. Like Ashley Capps makes son kind of deal with Apollo, or Helois if its Greek to you. Blazing and burning the exposed flesh, like an offering to his mighty rays to keep the rain at bay.
On the Which stage, Trixie Whitley wails. A mountain of moan out of a tiny wisp of songstress/writer, giant shards of emotion flying in some white girl cross between flame-tossing dervish Janis and belting-prime Aretha, with a bit of Teena Marie's bottom register thrown in for deep burgundy measure. The drums crash just as thundrous, thumping and humping to drive her power home. It's a lotta land she's gotta cover, but it pours out in steamy blankets of pain and want. You can't not listen... as people moving from one place to another find themselves stopping, looking round.
She is her father's daughter, though only the intense organic nature of her music reflects the potency of slide guitarist/emotion channeler Chris Whitley's attack. Lean and raw, he distilled ache into the tightest, sinewy bits of vocal and guitar lines that scalded when they were played. Meatier, throater, thumpier, she has his extreme depth of feel, but she wields a broader sort of voice.
Shes the first act -- at high noon -- on the Which stage, to be followed by PASTE Magazine cover boy Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, a band named for the mental ward back home. Of Monsters and Men will follow, Jim James and Wilco, ZZ Top, Rayland Baxter. Every level, every kind of constellation, asteroid and shooting star imagined... Too many more to merely list here, and yet.
All before tonmorrow comes.
How It Smells.
For all the heat, the dust, the drying mud, it's mostly grass in the sun. There's the smell of smoke from the grilles near where there's cooking, good wood being burned to smoke or char or que some kind of flesh; a satisfying smell of sustenance being made.
A little patchouli, some incense being burned out on the sprawling fields. For all the porta-potties, it is not that smell of chemicals dissolving human waste, nor the nearly toxic stink strips hanging in truck stop toilets in the deepest parts of the South, or those cakes in urinals that are never changed enough.
Yes, you can smell the people. But the good smell of sweat on skin, of honest exertion and healthy diets. Not some noxious stench of those who refuse to bathe. It reminds you how powerful our own musk is, the way pheromones speak so much louder than anything we can say.
It is, of course, the first full day. But compared to the rank smells of crass commercialism that is CMA Fan Fest, carny food and wilting rayon outfits, cheap beer being poured and released back into nature, this is a whole other mass of flesh churning under the heat. Fascinating juxtaposition; that or an over/under of priorities meaning it's "about the experience" or charging $40 to park close-by...