Eighteen hours in and I'm already hot, tired and certainly as sticky as I've been in recent memory.
For the second year running and third overall, I'm back at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, bringing you the sights, sounds and, fortunately for you, not the smells of one of music's premier events.
Here's a recap of the action so far. After bypassing ten miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic (I love a back door) and setting up a campsite with my compatriot this weekend, Augusta musician and promoter Joe Stevenson, we ventured toward the stages.
It was a case of the good, the bad and intentionally ugly.
The first set was Manchester Orchestra, a stellar Atlanta act that has been known to share the stage with Augusta's own Dead Confederate. It was big, brawny, loud and lovely - everything rock catharsis should, but too rarely is, about.
Our second set was NeedtoBreath. After a lively opener, the band sort of lost steam. Still, I noticed a lot of fan singing along to every song. I asked one particularly fervent fan up front how many times she had seen the band. She said only twice, but that she the songs a lot in church.
That's when it all became clear. NeedtoBreath is a contemporary Christian act that has, unfortunately, fallen into the trap that befalls too many acts. The music and ministry conflict, with the desire to deliver a message robbing the rock of much of its power. Bummer.
Before retiring, we caught some of a set by the Dodos. It's the kind of band I always enjoy seeing. Discordant and yet still tuneful, they are a band that understands that good music can follow an established form, but great music is about taking chances.
ONWARD TOWARD NAP TIME
There is, for me, always a problem with pacing at Bonnaroo. There's so much to do here, so much to see and, more specifically, hear, that I often find myself rushing from stage to stage, running myself ragged in an attempt to get as much in as possible. In this heat, that can only lead to trouble.
So I'm taking a little break and spending the next few hours embracing the glories of air conditioning. Still, so far it has been a productive day. We've checked out the Punch Brothers (excellent bluegrass with a contemporary twist), the Carolina Chocolate drops, which recently played Sky City, the rocking Gaslight Anthem, who seemed to struggle playing their blue collar rock in the bright, hot heat of a Tennessee summer and Dr. Dog. Dr. Dog, in particular, seems like an act ready to break out. The band's vibe is similar to that of the Avett Brothers, but with a little more classic rock influence.
Later, we're planning, if the bodies are willing, to check out the National, She & Him, Tenacious D, Kings of Leon, Flaming Lips, Black Keys and LCD Soundsystem.
That, of course, assuming we survive.
SINCE LAST WE SPOKE
It's been a fairly intense 18 hours, marked by both Bonnaroo's ability to attract top festival talent and its eternal problem of managing the massive crowds the event attracts. Last night the plan was to catch some of the Flaming Lips (which we did) and some of the Black Keys (which we did not). The problem was fighting the fans attracted to both acts. Between the two, it felt as though the entire festival crowd had nestled itself between the two stages, making navigating the crowd impossible. In the end, we opted for the balloons, confetti and spectacle of the Lips before retiring for the evening.
Today, we hit the midway (best description) early and were rewarded for our efforts. We caught portions of excellent sets by Langhorn Slim, Brandi Carslile, the Avett Brothers, Dawes and the Postelles. I found Dawes particularly exciting. The only acts that left me wanting were Norah Jones, who has never been my scene and the Dead Weather. The Dead Weather was particularly distressing as I've been a fan of the records, but found the live set monotonous and oppressive. Dynamics would have helped a lot.
One last note. I've been taking a lot of photographs this weekend. They have not, unfortunately, been uploading properly. Hopefully when I return to Augusta, we'll be able to put together a little slide show.
AND IT'S A WRAP
The final day of Bonnaroo will be, for me, a wash. It's how it always works. While there are some acts I'd love to see (Ween, Kris Kristofferson Phoenix, Miranda Lambert), I find the festival experience draining. I feel like I've seen so much and come so far.
Still, I have one last update before I go. After posting yesterday I wandered over to shoot and catch a little of the Weezer set. Weezer is a band that I've always been a little cool on. I thought the nerd rock thing was sort of affected and while I appreciated the catchiness of the tunes, I felt there was something one note about the delivery.
I'm more of a fan today than I was yesterday. Live, Weezer is a band that brings the rock. Is there still a certain level of affectation? Certainly. But live, it works much better. It becomes part of the act - a sly wink at rock band pretentions. I enjoyed it a lot and, judging by the size of the crowd, there were thousands more in on the joke.
Weezer, and the size of it's crowd, did preclude me from checking out a living legend - John Prine. Fortunately my weekend compatriot Joe Stevenson was able to fill in my stead. He reported that the show and audience reaction was remarkable, noting that they became particularly when Prine was joined by members of Old Crow Medicine Show. It kills me that I missed that one.
I followed Weezer with Stevie Wonder, who might have, for me, been the most anticipated act of the weekend. He completely met my expectations. In full funky form, he rolled through set built on the foundation of his '70s super hits. He played the crowd and, with an amazing band, reminded fans why, for nearly 15 years, he was untouchable as an artist.
We wrapped the evening with Jay-Z, arguably the most powerful and influential artist in hip-hop. Sporting an amazing skyline-esque set and full band, he rolled through his catalogue, paying particular attention to tunes from The Blueprint 3, his most recent release. It was amazing. Jay-Z performs for fans of the live experience. He's not focuses on the hip-hop hardcore, nor did he alter his set for more rock-oriented Bonnaroo crowd. Instead, he hit the stage and performed like a champion. It was, for me, the perfect way to wrap a Bonnaroo weekend.