The Festival that was Bonnaroo ’09: Day Two

After four long days, which featured torrential downpours, grueling heat, lots of mud, and over a hundred of music’s best acts, the 2009 edition of the Bonnaroo Music Festival is now and will forever will be a memory. Join us, while we remember and review the festival that was Bonnaroo ‘09…

Hot and muddy. Not your PB&J type of combo for sure – after all, if you’ve taken a science class, you’re probably asking yourself how it can be hot and muddy at the same time. Yet, this and more was the scene on day two of this year’s Bonnaroo Music Festival. After a day of monsoon-like rains on Thursday, Friday brought the heat, and lots of it, but not enough to dry the cesspool of mud that besieged both Centeroo and the trails to and from it.

Of course, when you factor in the sounds set to take the stage on Friday, all this didn’t matter too much. Once you got past the fact that your own pair of Converse had become one with the earth and a drenching set would be accompanying you for most of the afternoon, you were home free.

That Tent: 12:00-1:00

On two separate occasions, the lovely Norwegian ladies of Katzenjammer swept us away with their unique combination of fiddles, trumpets, accordions, keyboards, kazoos, banjos, glockenspiel and of course their signature “cat” bass which resulted in a circus frenzy of chaotic energy and unmatchable on-stage fervor. Constantly switching between polka, rock, and country and while continuously trading instruments, watching the ladies of Katzenjammer as they plowed through a collection of mind-blowing jigs and waltzes without a moment’s breath was truly a sight to see! Whether they were frantically hopping up and down, jumping off amps and piano benches, or sweetly teaching you how to make their granny’s delicious cherry pie, Katzenjammer put their hearts on their sleeves and pushed our limits to the max with the ever-burning fire in their bellies. And you could tell how excited they were to be there as well between their ecstatic cries of joy and unwillingness to let any mishaps interfere with their performance, like when their keyboard completely died on them. Nay, they carried on strong and each of their 45 minute sets sent the entire crowd into an uncontrollable dancing frenzy that drenched us in our own beer and left us yearning for more. – AF

Dirty Projectors:
That Tent: 1:30-2:30

Where the hell do I start? This was a performance absolutely not to be missed. It’s hard to pack all of what Dave Longstreth and his Dirty Projectors do into one word, but as the name suggests, dirty is quite an appropriate descriptor. Not the kind of dirty that makes you want to take a shower, but the kind that makes you turn to the random dude next to you and say “Damn, that guy is dirty!” If Bitte Orca hasn’t hit your radar yet, or if you simply don’t “get” the Dirty Projectors, see them live as soon as you can. Hell, see them live as many times as you can. On the heels of their recent masterpiece, the folks that make up the experimental Brooklyn outfit brought forth enough goods to make the rest of Bonnaroo’s Friday, and maybe even most of the weekend, look like a shitshow. If it wasn’t Longstreth’s insanely glitchy, mind bending, intricate guitar work—something that seemed to wander aimlessly during solos, but somehow kept time (how that drummer kept it together was beyond me) — then, perhaps it was the triple (sometimes quadruple) threat of perfectly harmonized oscillating vocals that made it all so good. But, then again, maybe it was the intensely ornate breakdowns and power thrashing that went on in between during songs like ‘Temecula Sunrise'”. Oh hell, it was everything. All of it was almost too much to take in.

There’s nothing better than a pleasant surprise, especially at a music festival. The Dirty Projectors’ mid-day Friday set was that and more. It was a perplexing performance. One that was both awe inspiring and confusing. The crowd went nuts throughout the Bitte Orca heavy set, most notably while watching on as the ever-so-cute Amber Coffman stunned them with “Stillness is the Move,” one of the finest tracks on that record. These guys know what they’re doing, and the wow factor was as high as could be. But to really go for the gold, Longstreth invited “friend” David Byrne onstage to join the group (after all he did curate the stage and invite them to the festival) for a high energy rendition of their Dark Was the Night contribution, “Knotty Pine”, to end the set. Yes, it’s safe to say that the Dirty Projectors’ left their mark in Manchester this weekend. – DL

Animal Collective:
Which Stage: 2:45-4:00

Close your eyes. Let the waves of water drenched electric fuzz swash their way into your innocent ears. There goes your innocence.

After experiencing the event that is Animal Collective, most other things can seem pretty normal. Animal Collective is a group that grabs hold of the boundaries and beats them as hard as they can against the ground. This seemingly violent display of originality, however, is achieved through sheer eloquence. No matter the caliber of an Animal Collective performance, it is sure to leave some in awe, some downright disappointed, others simply bemused. They’re a band that’s as polarizing as they get. But Friday’s mid-day jaunt saw the boys perform the beach boys infused pysch-pop of Merriweather Post Pavilion in the sunny conditions it was inspired by. Sure, Animal Collective would seem better fitting as a late night act (they do translate better in the dark), but on the flipside, it doesn’t get much sunnier than MPP. And what better setting to perform such bright tracks than under the blazing Tennessee sun?

In a set that consisted mainly of Merriweather songs, the collective was as loose as ever, stretching three minute studio tracks into fifteen minutes, to no contest. It was clear that Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist, were letting the Bonnaroo vibes rub off on ther acid drenched sound. This was one of the jammiest Animal Collective sets we’ve ever seen. But, it was a great one at that. The thing is, with the Baltimore trio, you never do know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s where half the fun lies. As the guys fluttered through their noisy pop, at times the sound was a bit softer than it could have been, but at others you could shut your eyelids and hear waves of static crash against you. They built a wall of sound and it was easy to get lost in it, as was especially clear in the near 20 minute rendition of “Fireworks”. Ending with the dancy “Brothersport”, Animal Collective closed the door on another great Bonnaroo experience. – DL

St. Vincent:
That Tent – 3:00-4:15

18 months ago, St. Vincent was the one-man band consisting of Annie Clark and a bunch of pre-recorded beats. Today, St. Vincent is still Annie Clark, but with a four-piece band accompanying her, complete with a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and saxophonist/violinist. The 18 month span has also brought a few changes in the musicality of Ms. Clark. Following the release of this year’s Actor, her sound is much more synth, though not in overly troubling sort of way. There is more jamming – Phish would be proud, more interaction, with both the crowd and her new found bandmates, and finally, there is more confiedece. As Clark made her way through the Actor heavy set, it wasn’t hard to hear, and feel, the confidence of the Tulsa native. You know, the type of confidence that in a span of 18 months has evolved you into an opener for The National  and Arcade Fire to one of the more anticipated acts playing on one of the biggest tents at one of the country’s biggest music festival. – AY

Yeah Yeah Yeahs:
Which Stage: 4:45-6:00

In what was perhaps the most unsurprising hour of Bonnaroo ’09, Karen O. and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took to Which Stage for what proved to be a powerful, passionate, and ultimately, pretty fucking awesome performance, aka your standard Yeah Yeah Yeah’s shindig. Karen’s outfit was a hit – leopard tights and multi-colored top, as were most of the selections performed during the hour long set. But the biggest highlight had to be Karen’s deep throating of the microphone shortly after the band kicked off its set. Yes, kids, the fearless frontlady was as crazy as ever. – AY

Al Green:
What Stage: 6:00-7:35

As the sun set, the ever so classy and romantic Reverend Al Green waltzed up on to the What Stage dressed in his Sunday best, flinging roses out to all the ladies. From there began the evening’s groovy lawn party, as millions of viewers jammed out to the legendary soul king’s classic tunes. But that wasn’t enough for the Reverend. No, Green continuously shouted out, “Y’all too far away” in-between breaking it down with his backup vocalists and you could tell all the while that he wanted to break loose from the confines of the stage. Green had a couple of tricks of his sleeve though, whipping out a slew of covers halfway through his performance from a time, as he put it “when the music was good, the lovin’ was good, and everything was good”; including tunes like “My Girl” and “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay”. Overall, Green dished out a spirited performance with gusto and a cool ease that brought everyone together for a peaceful evening of love, sweat and tears. – AF

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band:
Cafe Where: 7:30-8:30

Performing in the least ideal of time slots and locations of perhaps any artist at this year’s Bonnaroo was Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band. Wedged in a time 99% of the crowd could be found waiting for either David Byrne or the Beastie Boys to take the stage at a stage where a cesspool could be found instead of grass, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see few folks gathered when the Seattle outfit took the stage at 7:30. Yet, once the grungy, Minus The Bear-like sounds of their self-titled debut rang aloud, it didn’t take long for more and more folks to gather, and before you knew it, Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band became a crowd favorite – an ironic twist considering the circumstances. – AY

Beastie Boys:
What Stage: 8:30-10:00

Staying dry proved difficult throughout Thursday night and when I woke up Friday morning I wasn’t surprised to have a damp pillow and sleeping bag. But, a little dampness is nothing a day full of music can’t fix. At least, that’s what I thought until the weekends biggest let-down slapped me in the face. What could that letdown possibly be, you ask? The Beastie Boys, that’s what. Perhaps it was just where I was standing but when Mike D, MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mix Master Mike took the stage, the sound was less than impressive. Still, since this reviewer had been looking forward to the Beastie’s all weekend, I wasn’t about to let some sound ruin my experience, and headed up to the pit as “No Sleep Til’ Brooklyn” came bumping out of the speakers. Could this be the first of a set doused in Licensed to Ill material, I hoped?

That wish was left unanswered as “Paul Revere” proved to be the only other track the trio managed to play off its debut. Of course, “Intergalactic” made its way onto the list, along with “Body Movin” and to go the extra mile, they brought out New York rapper Nas for a new song called “Too Many Rappers”, which should find itself on the new record, Hot Sauce Committee. In the end, this guest slot might exemplify the hip-hopper’s set best. Choosing to fly someone in for a performance is kind of a big deal, especially when there at so many talented artists at the festival (yes, even rappers). Sure, Nas probably will likely appear on the song once the album surfaces and yes, it made sense for him to appear for its debut performance. But, could you have given us something more, beyond a couple songs, beyond Nas, beyond a set that felt very much like it was by the book? Don’t get me wrong, the performance was by no means bad, but it the end, it left a little to be desired. – AK

David Byrne:
Which Stage: 8:45-10:45

Whereas the Beastie Boys were bringing the beats, just a short five minute walk away, David Byrne was bringing the dance. And a childlike enthusiasm. And an all white fashion statement. And a set consisting of solo selections (“Everything That Happens”, “Heaven”), Talking Head favorites (“Once in a Lifetime”, “Life During Wartime”), and covers (Al Green’s “Take Me To The River”). Needless to say, the former Talking Heads frontman put on a  performance not to be missed. Would awesome be the right word to explain the 85 minute set? Or, perhaps disbelief, courtesy of everything from the choreographed dancing to the fact that Byrne could have and probably wanted to play another 85 minutes. Either way, to quote Byrne, it was a “Once in a Liftetime” performance. – AY

What Stage: 11:00-2:00ish

Upon the first note of Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, glow sticks rained from the sky and balloons appeared out of thin air as hippies everywhere rejoiced in the sounds of their worship. Much can be said about the jam band’s three-plus hour performance: The things Anastasio can do with a guitar still baffle me and c be outlawed in at least five states (Utah, anyone?. Covers of AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” and The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” and longtime classics, like “Chalkdust Torture”, helped catch the attention of even the smallest of fans. The band couldn’t have looked more happy to be playing the fields of Manchester – something Trey let the crowd know before the band launched into the first of many jam sessions that evening.

After speaking with my fair share of Phish-heads, we could all agree on one thing, Anastasio is a lot more fun without the habbit, thanks for quitting. With a full three hour set on Friday night, one was left wondering how they would dare to top themselves on Sunday night… – AK

That Tent: 11:30-12:15

“Thank you. You truly don’t know how happy we are to be here,” announced Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars midway through the band’s late night set at That Tent. Happy might be the biggest understatement of the weekend. In what was 45 minutes of nonstop music, the French quartet dazzled a packed crowd, which not only consisted of adoring fans, but members of Passion Pit, Hockey, and Delta Spirit, Flava Flav, Beatle Boy (yes, he’s not dead), and a higher-up from AC Entertainment (one of the company’s behind Bonnaroo) with selections mostly taken from the recently released Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Musicianship was displayed to the highest quality, as was excitement and passion, perhaps the latter of which was best exemplified during Mars crowd surf at the end of the performance. For a weekend jam packed with hyped indie acts, Phoenix separate itself from the back and provided a brilliant example as to why they should be considered king of the genre. – AY

Crystal Castles:
That Tent: 12:45-1:45

Between the hot mess of drug-induced sweat on the dance floor and some overwhelming theatrics, it’s surprising that no one suffered a seizure from Crystal Castles’ late night show at That Tent. Out from underneath a thick, suffocating cloud of fog came a forceful amalgamation of obscure noises and pulsating lights which completely enveloped the band, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint where the chaotic screams of vocalist Alice Glass were coming from. As a result, the audience was left adrift on a sea of fog and chaos, completely blinded by a combobulation of flickering stage lights, glow sticks and laser pointers. While thrilling, The duo’s intoxicating 50 minute set still managed to instill wayward feelings in its audience. Between our inability to see and connect with the band and the underdeveloped distortion of Glass’s vocals, Crystal Castles’ performance almost seemed to suggest that these electro junkies might be better off sticking to the studio. – AF


Additional photo support courtesy Karen Dunbar

Press Conference feat. Janeane Garofalo & Ani DiFranco:

Dirty Projectors:

St. Vincent:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs:

Al Green:

TV on the Radio:

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band:

David Byrne:

Beastie Boys:


Girl Talk:


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