It’s over, PopWatchers: All four days of Bonnaroo have come and gone. I am slightly the worse for wear– my voice is shot, my flip-flops should be taken out and burned, a big piece of metal fell off my destroyed rental car on my way back here to Nashville, and I think something bit me on the lip last night when I was sitting on the fence watching the White Stripes– but now that all’s been said and done, I must consider this year’s Tennessee music hoedown extravaganza to be a rousing success, both on a universal level and w/r/t my own personal enjoyment.
Pics, naturally, on Flickr (I did a better job with the photo pits than I thought I would). And after the jump: uh, pretty much everything I saw yesterday, plus Demetri Martin telling you what I saw at his show. And for some reason, I keep getting a little emotional. What’s that about?
addCredit(“Jack White: CityFiles/WireImage.com”)
Sunday blew by in a haze, PopWatchers. It was the hottest day by far, and in many ways the most hectic. I was simultaneously trying to blog Saturday (damn you Flaming Lips and your shiny set with all its moving pieces that distracted me from the fact that it was 2:30 am and I needed to get home and write), see bands, take photos, stay hydrated, and plan ahead, but every conversation I had sent me running back to my notebook. I met kids who danced on stage with Manu Chao; heard about the refugee camp the sunburned fans had set up under the second-stage bleachers, where they passed out next to each other in rows like sardines; learned the only two items the Wal-Mart across the street sold out of were lice shampoo and condoms; and composed a short but violent manifesto in my head involving the draconian power trip of the teenaged security at The Other Tent. I also cried three times, the small, private tears of a girl both exhausted and exhilarated by what’s happening around her.
Many of my memories must come in random flashes today, thanks to the photo pit at the White Stripes show, where the crush of sweaty bodies turned several pages of my trusty steno pad into oatmeal. Oh but how it was worth that sacrifice to be inches away from Jack and Meg as they steamed through “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “When I Hear My Name,” and the squealing, squirming “Icky Thump.” My chest pressed tight against the speakers circling the base of the stage, I could feel every stomp of Meg’s kit course through me, shaking the cobwebs from my brain and the dust off my clothes; I had to fight the urge to stop taking photos and start moshing with my fellow lensmen, all of whom hated me plenty already for my point-and-shoot camera. My professionalism, at least externally, held firm. Inside, I was leaping about like a crazy person.
Later, in the soft, cool safety of my bed and breakfast, with clean feet and brushed hair, I still felt the rumble in my toes, and knew that dripping clusterf— of a pit experience would be with me forever. It’s not alone: Sunday worship came courtesy of Mavis Staples, preaching the good word via “Down in Mississippi.” Country music hall of famer Charlie Louvin, his voice as weathered as his face, broke hearts with the all-too-vivid “Will You Visit Me On Sundays.” Best wishes go out to jazz saxophonist and Pulitzer Prize winner Ornette Coleman, whose spinning, meditative set was cut short when he collapsed onstage and had to be hospitalized. Get well soon, Ornette, and know that my friends who were riding me to see you because you are brilliant were completely and utterly correct. I’m so glad I did.
Elsewhere, Elvis Perkins blew off sound issues to deliver a simple, gregarious performance of “While You Were Sleeping,” and the boys of Wolfmother– or “Wolfmoth,” as I can’t seem to stop calling them– fired up a steaming crowd with “Woman.” (Say what you will about Wolfmoth’s derivative tendencies; that Stockdale boy’s got a voice on ‘im.) The Decemberists, though their Coachella performance will perhaps never be topped, opened with “Mariner’s Revenge” (sadly, sans actual whale costume), even getting some of the photographers to sway on their invisible boat. Kudos must go out to head Decemberist Colin Meloy, by the way, for the best stage banter of the entire festival: I had no idea he was president and CEO of M.A.C.O.F.B (that’s pronounced “Macofbuh,” and stands for “Musicians Against the Calling Out of ‘Freebird’), and his offer to keep all beach balls tossed on stage safe from harm at the hands of the security men and their “bulging biceps” was incredibly compassionate.
I also fulfilled one promise I made to you PopWatchers, and that was to go see Flight of the Conchords and Demetri Martin. Rather than yap about the show myself, I am proud to present Mr. Martin, who will now commence telling you what I saw:
Hello, readers. Whitney saw a lot of people waiting for a long time to get into a tent that promised air conditioning but didn’t really deliver. And then they saw the performers on stage. They saw a Greek-American boy sweating like his heritage. I’m not a real sweater. I don’t sweat that much. But I was wilting pretty badly. And then they saw performers who had a little bit of trouble connecting with the audience. They saw guys who were trying to get their jokes to work but it looked more like we were just making announcements. I felt like I was making announcements nobody wanted to hear. The crowds are really nice and giving, but at the same time, it’s really hard as a comedian– it’s kind of a nice free ride to see these cool bands, but to come here to see comedy is probably not the right strategy. If you end up there, maybe you have fun or recharge, but it’s just hard. I always say the best rooms for comedy are the rooms that would be worst in a fire. That tent—people could have just run out. There’s a lot of exits.
Thank god Demetri et al made me laugh, because, as I’ve mentioned, yesterday was the day of the Crying Moment: Wilco on the main stage, guiding “You Are My Face” from Simon and Garfunkel-style harmonies into hard-nosed rock, then the staccato guitar blast of “Side With the Seeds” (when did Wilco turn into Spoon, btw?), and then, what really got the waterworks going, a terrific blast of noise that settled into “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” Jeff Tweedy’s plaintive mug on the jumbotron and all the emotion I associate with that song welled up… but I stamped it down! No time! Off to Feist! Who made me cry twice: first by brilliantly setting up the crowd to sing a chord based on the distance they traveled to B’roo (“If you’re from more than 1000 miles away, sing this: laaaa…”), and then by having us all make bird noises leading into “The Park,” just as, outside the tent, the only clouds of the weekend came and went, and left the field smelling like rain.
But no time! Off to get crushed to death taking pics of the White Stripes, and then to sit on my old friend the fence and watch the massive crowd ebb and flow under the spell of Jack’s guitar. Security didn’t kick us off the scaffolding this time– they must have figured it was the last night, and if we want to get killed it’s no longer their problem– and thus I was treated to the most spectacular view imaginable. Look:
Perch yourself there in your mind, PopWatchers, and imagine with me a perfect White Stripes set: Almost completely devoid of chatter. An hour and a half of mainly old stuff, with no marimba to be found. The opening block I mentioned above coursing into “Hotel Yorba,” then the eerie minor-keyed opening of “Jolene.” Then new track “I’m Slowly Turning Into You,” followed by a two-fer of “I Think I Smell A Rat” and “Death Letter,” and if that weren’t enough to remind you why you fell in love with this band in the first place, then Jack rolled his guitar into “Do.” Last night’s performance of “Do,” in my barely-legible notebook, is marked with a check mark, three stars, and then two more check marks. It was, to put it plainly, spellbinding.
So I can’t say enough that’s good about this show, but maybe less is more. Maybe it’s enough to say that Jack really does seem more at home in Tennessee, or to describe the reaction of the crowd on the ground (that massive field, suddenly full of humanity without an inch to spare). Maybe I could paint this picture for you and you would understand, the picture of the third time I cried yesterday: After a short encore break, and after a strafing “Blue Orchid” and a ginormous singalong on “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” there was complete and utter silence. Every arm in the field that had just been punching the air was stilled. Every mouth was closed. Every eye was on the stage, as Jack quietly, childishly, began picking the opening chords of “We’re Going to be Friends.” “You’re all friends now, right?” he asked the crowd, who roared in the affirmative and then returned to silence, maybe swaying a bit, as Jack began to sing. Behind the masses, over the trees, the sun had at last hit the horizon. That was when I realized this whole thing was ending.
“Seven Nation Army” essentially wrapped up my night– though I wandered to festival closers Widespread Panic for a while (with the other 79,999 people still on the farm), I couldn’t shake the sight of thousands of hands raised to clap in time with that so familiar, yet still refreshing riff. White (yes) stripes of light flashed across them, illuminating my fellow Bonnaroovians section by section, all of us aware that this was the moment, this was the show of the weekend, this was what you’d tell your friends about when you got home. How lucky we all were. Hope this blog has given you kids at home enough reason to buy your plane tickets for B’Roo ‘08 now. It is, truly, America’s best music festival.
Gotta get on a plane now (and away from the hipster couple incessantly making out to my left, jesus, get a room), but White Stripes pics are finally up on Flickr, and tomorrow I’ll be checking in one last time with that Hold Steady Q&A. I want to write a list of my personal highlights (#7: Newborn babies. At Tool.), though I don’t know if people care. Do people care?