(Above: The Allman Brothers are joined during their Friday afternoon set by guitarist Jerry Douglas, who also played with Alison Krauss + Union Station. [L-R]: Gregg Allman [obscured], Warren Haynes, Douglas, Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge. Photo by Jeff kravitz.)
The fields of Bonnaroo are a giant hippie playground. Pranksters in florescent body suits spray the crowd with super soakers and sling water balloons straight up in the air scattering crowds. Guys in Tevas hit the batting cage or play vintage video games. Girls in flowering skirts and bikini tops enjoy the swings at a giant playground. Campers take clothed showers in a giant fountain. A silent disco allows dancers to don headphones and rave to their personal choice of music.
So it’s appropriate the first act I catch today is Josh Ritter. Watching the young Idahoan play and sing on stage, I can't imagine anyone having more fun than he seems to be having at this particular moment. His songs don’t come from a deep sense of despair or anguish. They’re the outflow of a guy with a particular sensitivity to the beauty and joy of living, of doing what you love and doing it well. And this joy, this sense of satisfaction is completely contagious.
Live, the blips and bleeps of the upcoming record produced by Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse), are filled in by Sam Kassirer's Wurlitzer and Hammond piano synth. On Idaho, a spooky new song about his home, Ritter begins with acoustic guitar and a haunting melody. He’s later joined by bowed hollow-body electric bass and ethereal keys. On another new one, “Thin Blue Line,” to the cadence of a drum march, Ritter sings of earth’s bounty of both heaven and hell. Having heard half the new record due next January, I can’t think of an album I’m looking more forward to with the possible exception of Death Cab’s new one.
At 18, Joss Stone may be a product of manufactured pop, but the British apparently manufacture their pop like the Germans manufacture cars. It’s the first big show of the day at the secondary Which Stage, and it’s a soulful performance thanks to a powerful rhythm section and the vocal acrobatics of young Miss Stone. She transforms “Fell in Love with a Girl” into a pop masterpiece, proving that if the Peppermint Schtick of The White Stripes ever grows stale, Jack White can still write a masterful song.
Later in the day, at the appropriately named Other Tent, is Joanna Newsom (pictured above). Like an angelic Cat Power, she stays hidden behind her harp as she croons with a quirky charm. Festival-goers take in the strangeness with their eyes shut, lying on the grass at the back of the tent. I only catch the last song before the crowd’s applause erupts several times louder than her quiet, meditative songs.
Power In Numbers is the name of Jurassic 5’s most recent album, and the L.A. hip-hoppers actively demonstrated the principle during their Bonnaroo set. Gazing out at the sea of 10,000 damp punters in front of the Which Stage, they put on a sample of a '50s-era instructional record. And in no time most of the crowd temporarily stowed their bongs to raise their arms, opening and closing their hands in time with the commands.
J5’s Mark Seven, staring out at the masses, says—half to himself—“shit, that looks awesome.” This was after the rappers had conditioned the crowd to yell their lungs out in response to the word “Bonnarooooooooo.”
The set was largely comprised of road-tested tracks from Power In Numbers with a few from Quality Control, including the title track. The veteran L.A. crew also teased us with a few selections from their yet-to-be-released new CD, due out this fall. We can't wait.
The Which Stage looks huge until you get to the towering What Stage, where I arrive just in time to hear Dan Tyminski launch into “Man of Constant Sorrow.” It’s a staple for Alison Krauss + Union Station, and as Tyminski sings the first line, truth imitates fiction. The crowd erupts into a cheer as loud as the one at the end of O Brother.
The band finishes with an instrumental that demonstrates bluegrass’ strength of showcasing the players’ pure talent without detracting from the music’s overall feel. There’s no self-serving wankage, only the beautiful speed of melody.
The Allman Brothers Band—whose current incarnation includes guitar gods Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, and bas virtuoso Oteil Burbridge—hits the stage with a gorgeous rendition of their Duane Allman-era staple “Mountain Jam,” a track the band resurrected recently after decades of . During their bluesy, jazzy set Gregg Allman proves he still can belt about as good as ever. Slide specialist Jerry Douglas is sitting in, playing a telecaster dobro-style while Warren Haynes takes the vocals on blues classic “Good Morning Little School Girl.”
With our official duties behind us, the entire Paste contingent decamped for The Other Tent and the midnight set of New York’s Brazilian Girls, whose CD has been an office favorite since prior to its official release in February.
For an act trading in electronic textures, the three-quarters male “Girls” were surprisingly dynamic live, with charismatic lead singer Sabina Scuibba looking like Kylie Minogue in gauzy white robe sporting long, elven sleeves and keyboardist Didi Gutman triggering samples and loops. During the multi-lingual set, drummer Aaron Johnston’s work drew open-mouthed stares, as he deftly doubled drum-machine rhythms with seemingly nonchalant ease on songs like the apropos "Dance Til The Morning Sun" and "Corner Store" (which substituted a kazoo/vocal chorus for the recorded brass hook.)
With its refrain of “drink some tea/smoke some herb,” "Don’t Stop" was a hit with the glow-stick waving audience. The set ended with "Pussy," which, without sharing too many details, was entirely robbed of its delicious ambiguity by the Scuibba-led singalong during an extended coda.