Live Review: Bonnaroo 2011

This year Performer Magazine was on hand for the ten-year anniversary celebration of one of America’s most well known music festivals, Bonnaroo. Last year’s festival experience had us a little skeptical that the Bonnaroo “magic” had managed to transcend the years, but Bonnaroo did manage to satisfy our appetite for new, up and coming artist showcases – the multi-genre lineups are studded with such diverse musical stylings that it’s near impossible not to find at least one or two appealing bands.

That new music niche is the “magic” that true music fans are after. Unfortunately for Bonnaroo, this type name recognition bolsters a less discerning music-loving crowd, instead droves of people were on Manchester Farm chasing the Bonnaroo buzz and we’re not just talking about popular artists. In Friday’s press conference with Justin Townes Earle, he joked about his new sobriety and his experiences with Bonnaroo, “I was at Bonnaroo last year, but all I remember is losing my boots.” He went on to joke that this year’s event will be the first one he will remember entirely.  Poking fun of the crowd’s drug use, Earle laughed, “I know what you’re doing and f*** you, because I can’t.”  Conference panel mates Grace Potter, Slug from Atmosphere, Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, and Warren Haynes all acknowledged that at Bonnaroo their audiences are often under the influence. Slug quipped, “Sure a lot of people are going to be high, but [playing Bonnaroo] was the only way I could get my name on a shirt with Eminem.”

Slug proves our point; since the festival has grown in popularity, its shift towards the mainstream and gravitation towards the “buzzed” about bands has come at the expense of many of lesser-known artists’ presence. The buzz bands and big names are now the draw. Mumford and Sons took to Which Stage leaving all but three of us behind to watch a rocking set by Chris Harford and Band of Changes on the Sonic Stage, which featured Dave Dreiwitz (best known as bassist for Ween). If a rocker with Ween on his resume can’t hold a festival crowd due to the hype of a concurrent show, how could a small time band have a fighting chance at making a name in this setting? It is something to consider if your band gets invited to play Bonnaroo. The buzz is what the current crowds go for – they’re much less about music discovery than ever before, even though Bonnaroo still obliges festival goers with innumerable options.

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Performer still took pleasure in finding breakout acts, especially the late night delight of Dave Satori’s (violinist of Beats Antique) birthday throwdown with belly dancers and hypnotic new tracks. With their over-the-top, showy onstage antics, this troupe of world-infused bass masters left the unsuspecting Bonnaroo crowd panting for more – even as the time approached 3 AM. The Pimps of Joytime burned up the On Tap Lounge on Friday afternoon, holding true to Bonnaroo’s jam-y roots. Our favorite performance came from Nashville duo Jeff the Brotherhood, who rocked out at On Tap Lounge following Primus’ Friday night set. The two have some serious punk rock chops and had Bonnaroo-ers crowd surfing and moshing with reckless abandon. While Arcade fire crooned into the night this band set the tiny stage ablaze with power chords.

photos by Ben Papps

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