Good morning from Manchester, Tenn., PopWatchers, and a thousand apologies for the lateness of this post. Your Aunt Whittlz very much wanted to bring you all of yesterday’s Bonnaroovia as it was happening, but the sheer feat of getting to the venue and parking my car damn near killed me… and then someone tried to kill my car. Long story short, by the time I got back to my hotel at 3 a.m., the last thing I wanted to do was typetypetype, so I just uploaded my pics onto our Flickr site and crashed.
(Yes, that’s right, I said "hotel." No offense to camping, but it’s not real conducive to blogging.)
Luckily, in between those vehicular incidents was a first day of great music — some old, some new — kicked off by Ryan Shaw (pictured), a man I heard referred to as the reincarnation of Otis Redding on at least three separate occasions. More on him after the jump, plus the Little Ones, Mute Math, the National, Black Angels, RodGab, and I take you out of my pocket for a quick look around at where we’ll be spending our weekend.
addCredit(“Ryan Shaw: Chris McKay/WireImage.com”)
Truth be told, the better part of my yesterday was spent driving in circles around the Tennessee countryside, trying to find the secret back way into the compound in order to grab my press credentials. Should have known better when one of the directions involved taking a right at the big pine tree wrapped in plastic tape. I can’t fault the nice folks at Big Hassle, the festival’s PR firm: They managed to find a roundabout but hidden way to get to the field on side roads and thus avoid sitting in what I measured as over 10 miles of standstill traffic on the shoulder of the interstate. I’d rather be lost in the Tennessee backwoods than sit on the shoulder of the interstate for even 10 minutes, so really, I am not complaining that I missed a very important turn and ended up in Beersheba Springs, where there was no Blackberry service and I suddenly realized I’d gone from being the girl who could live happily in an Arkansas town of 924 people to the girl who freaks out when there’s no Blackberry service. It was like Men in Trees with crappier wardrobe. Horrible.
But I eventually made it to Manchester, and picked up my credentials. Hit the Wal-Mart for some water and granola bars, bought a rain poncho at the Rite Aid just in case, drove to Tullahoma and checked into my hotel, and then headed back to the festival grounds to get this party started. This was around 4:30 p.m. And this is where it all went to hell.
So I get back to the press check-in and ask where "guest day parking" is, and am told to go out onto the interstate, which I do, which puts me in line for… the campground. Which is not where I’m supposed to be. But you can’t really turn around and go out once you’re in, so instead you have to go all the way around. And in case you are wondering, "Whitney, is a 700-acre farm a big farm?" the answer is HELL TO THE YES. A 700-acre farm, if you are misdirected a couple times while rolling at a slow, don’t-hit-the-already-stoopid-drunk-campers pace, will take you upwards of two hours to circumnavigate, and you will want to kill yourself every one of those two hours, even as you flip through your iPod desperately trying to find calming music (tip: not Gillian Welch; she just makes the snail’s pace worse for some reason).
It was not until 7:10 p.m. that I walked onto the Bonnaroo grounds for the first time. And god bless Ryan Shaw for being there to greet me with a staggering vocal on Sam Cooke’s "A Change Is Gonna Come." Holy Moses, PopWatchers: I don’t know where that kid’s voice comes from, but he took that song — flogged so many times on Idol and elsewhere — and straightened it out, like a blacksmith takes a hammer to a twisted piece of metal. He made it pure again. So good, and all uphill from there. His music is about love, he told the crowd, because God is about love. And spread the love Ryan did, through "Lookin’ for a Love," "Working on a Building of Love," and "We Got Love," the latter being the highlight of my day yesterday thanks to one part where he managed to make clucking like a chicken sexy.
Took a walk, then, past the ferris wheel, avoiding the hundreds of whizzing frisbees, to check out the Little Ones, and liked what I saw from the up-and-coming 5-piece. It’s bouncy, clappy music with an indie-voiced lead singer, and songs like "Oh, Mj!" are fun even if you’ve never heard them before. Next, I scoped out Austin’s Black Angels and their thick layers of slide guitar and harmonica and organ, which inspired the crowd to fling glowsticks into the darkening sky, a surprisingly magical sight. Kudos to drummer Stephanie Bailey for being a chick, and for laying into her toms in an appropriately Weiss-ian fashion. That’s something I like to see.
Next: Mute Math! Whose sound check took a while — the poor mic tech was on stage for so long the crowd actually started chanting "One-two CHECK! One-two CHECK!" back at him until he blushed and slunk away. That’s understandable, though, as Mute Math like to get a whole slew of instruments involved, and they like to flail so much the drummer must gaff-tape his headphones to his skull. I don’t want to piss anyone off here, but all I really needed them to play was that "Typical" song, which, since Chris Sligh put it into the rotation has really grown on me. And oh happy day, Paul Meany et. al. kicked off their set with it! The keytar was flying, and I was very happy. Then I got a little bored of their echoey sound and left, but that does not in any way diminish the awesomeness of "Typical."
Also not diminishing the awesomeness of "Typical": The National starting 25 minutes late, causing the crowd to enjoy their own Tom Petty singalong (with the interstitial mix tape). And… well, I know this is damn near heretical for me to say, but Matt Berninger’s dour vocals — so pleasant when I am listening to them on headphones to drown out the world around me — just kind of fell with a little bit of a thud into the field instead of catching on the breeze and floating. Or at least that’s my opinion. Songs like "Baby, We’ll Be Fine" still grabbed my gut, still love the violin, just wasn’t as captivated as I wanted to be. Though really, who can be truly captivated in these festival environments? It is so hard to get the crowd’s attention and keep it, and maybe I’m no different. Maybe I should stop being such an elitist bastard and judging the really wasted red-faced girl who grabbed me by both shoulders and screamed, "WHERE IS CLUTCH?!?" so loud I was unsure if that was a rhetorical question or whatever, but she spilled my beer and ran off before I could really find out. (PS: Since I know there is a small segment of the PopWatch readership who like to judge me for these things, Bonnaroo beer = $6, and it comes in many flavors, though I will most likely stick to the Bud-in-plastic-bottle variety. Hate on.)
The night wrapped up back at This Tent (or That Tent, I have no idea which is which and am instead calling them "Ryan Shaw," "Black Angels" and "The Little Ones" in my head now), where things were getting a little kooky: the scrolling LED sign above the tent listing who’s up next read "Gab & Rod," and inside, the stage crew was rearranging equipment to the strains of Janet Jackson’s "Miss You Much." Which is, let’s be honest, one hell of a dance tune, but it seemed to jive a little strangely with my old pals Rodrigo y Gabriela, who I’d interviewed for an upcoming thing in the mag earlier in the evening (hence the gap in my activities around 9 p.m., if you’re following the schedule at home). Give the Mexican guitar wizards credit: They do have a knack for getting the kids to stop and listen. Not sure I’ve got a whole lot more to say that I didn’t say during Coachella, except that I’ve realized any RodGab show is basically a big heavy metal trivia quiz, testing your knowledge of the various Metallica riffs and whatnot that pepper their songs. I’m not very good at that game — was that "For Whom the Bell Tolls"? "Nothing Else Matters"? or wait, maybe Alice in Chains? — but I’m getting better. (Two references I had no problem picking up: Dave Brubeck’s "Take Five," and the White Stripes’ "Seven Nation Army.") This time the real pleasure for me was listening to the crowd’s reaction, which unfolded exactly as mine did when I first saw these guys back in Indio. There’s a moment of recognition that what you’re watching is special, but it takes you a bit to see just how special, and then you are clapping along like a fool and throwing devil horns right back at Gab and hooting at their new composition "F— Visa" (the travel document, not the credit card). But once again, the question remains: Why does everybody know every single word to "Wish You Were Here"?
After RodGab closed it out with their consistently mind-blowing take on "Stairway to Heaven," I headed back across the field to my car — props to you, Bonnaroo, for figuring out how to get journalists off the grounds in a timely fashion; could you please call your friend Coachella and explain? — only to discover that someone had dropped what looks like a telephone pole on the hood of the poor little Saturn, crushing it. Luckily, 1) it still runs okay (though the headlight is jacked) and 2) that someone was nice enough to leave a business card. So now I gotta get back to the festival, PopWatchers, and find a quiet corner to call the dude who plowed over my rental car. Awesome. I manage to rescue myself from the backwoods of Tennessee without incident, but some dude can’t even handle parking properly. Avis is gonna kill me.
Coming up later today: Sam Champion, Cold War Kids, Gillian Welch, and Dierks Bentley, who will be guest-blogging the Kings of Leon performance for you, if all goes well. Cross your fingers. Yesterday caused my faith to waver a bit. Meanwhile, why don’t you all tell me your worst rental car disaster stories?