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2008 Bonnaroo in review

Special to the Daily/Ryan McGee
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With arguably the most diverse lineup in music festival history, the 2008 Bonnaroo Music Festival may have finally ended the practice of typecasting music fans. Bonnaroo 2008 featured musicians, artists and comedians that reached across genres, generations and geography. In a culture that so easily (and lazily) slips into making oversimplified judgments about people, politicians and their differences, Bonnaroo is a revolutionary and bold concept. The festival dares 80,000 Metallica, Kanye West, DJ Tiesto and Widespread Panic fans to camp in steamy Manchester, Tenn. for four days of very little showering, more music than anyone can possibly listen to and getting along. Bonnaroo is about connection through a love of live music ” in all its forms.

And it works. Imagine that.

Bonnaroo can be hard to navigate and plan. Especially with stages that are named the following: What, Which, This, That and the Other. Conversations with my British friend, James, sounded like an Abbot and Costello skit.



Me: “What stage is My Morning Jacket playing?”

James: “Which stage.”



Me: “Yeah, Which stage?”

James: “That stage” (pointing)

Me: “Oh, you mean the Which stage? Ok.”

Add alcohol and the heat and … well, you get the picture.

Bonnaroo is also an emotional roller-coaster ride. There is the thrill of discovering a new artist, being blown away by old favorites (several times this happened with me) and staying up for 20 hours a day trying to fit it all in.

With so much action packed into one long weekend, I’ll just touch on my personal highlights.

Day one of Bonnaroo belonged to a dread-locked, British neo-hippie singer-songwriter named Newton Faulkner. Faulkner was masterful at playing, muting and using his acoustic guitar as a percussive instrument. He told funny stories that kept the audience captivating and ended it all with a rousing sing-along version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Blues enthusiasts listen up. The Isle of Man’s Back Door Slam is the real deal. I’d love to see these guys become this generation’s C.R.E.A.M., if they tighten up their songwriting and try to get a little funkier. There is no doubt about their musical talent and their live performance showed they are capable of greatness. We’ll be hearing about these guys for a long time.

Day two featured a performance from The Raconteurs that I would describe as the most haunting of the festival. Jack White seemed to come unhinged with passion for this band that made it impossible for me to avert my eyes. The Raconteurs are Brendan Benson’s and Jack White’s medium to explore their musical capabilities. It is compelling to watch them do just that.

M.I.A’s thundering bass and tribal rhythms weren’t enough to keep people standing in the crowd with arms folded. So she invited everyone up on stage to dance. The stage shook under the weight of the mass and gyrating bodies. M.I.A. is a London-born Sri Lankan, which underscores Bonnaroo’s global reach and impact.

Day two ended with laughter from Chris Rock and an epic midnight to 3 a.m. performance from My Morning Jacket in a pouring-down rain. MMJ is at the top of their game right now as a band and their performance was the highpoint of the festival for me. They played what should be the soundtrack to everyone’s summer “Highly Suspicious” from their new album Evil Urges. And during the climactic scream of their song “Gideon,” colored glow sticks furiously flew through the rain-soaked air. I couldn’t help but feel absolute speechless, jaw-dropping joy at the whole scene.

I loved Saturday’s Against Me! performance. This is a band that says what it means and cares about it. Against Me! is criticized from old-school punks for being too pop. To me there is nothing more punk than speaking your truth and playing with the heartfelt passion that Against Me! does.

Pearl Jam’s passion and power was on full display Saturday night in one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from them. Pearl Jam’s music and performances are about life redemption, which Eddie Vedder and the boys delivered. Pearl Jam played the drum propulsive “All Night” for the first time, which features one of my favorite PJ lyrics “Life has nothing to do with killing time.” Older songs like “Alive” seem to take on new meaning in today’s contexts. Pearl Jam’s performances always leave me with renewed faith in the power of rock ‘n’ roll to literally change your life. Their Bonnaroo performance was incredibly moving and made everyone believe in that power.

The last day of the Bonnaroo festival seems dedicated to getting back to Bonnaroo’s jam band-based roots. Most of the artists scheduled that day were of the jammy or chilled-out variety, which is a perfect way to wind down a festival of overstimulation. Rogue Wave’s songs were so good in the midafternoon sun. Robert Randolph and the family band was stellar as always, and Broken Social Scene shined despite some sound problems at first. Widespread Panic’s extended jams closed the festival and gave me time to lay back on my blanket, watch the stars and let the music take me away.

Ryan McGee is a Summit County resident who showers regularly when not at music festivals.


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