It’s about 8 p.m. on Sunday night, and I am waiting to shoot Phish again, taking this opportunity to start my final Bonnaroo post (unless I get ambitious and do a wrap-up later). Your festival correspondent is very tired, and if given the choice would prefer not to stay up all night, what with real life resuming tomorrow. For the thousands of filthy, sunburned, exhausted people about to leave the Oz of these gates, I suspect the culture shock is not gonna be fun.
Thanks to Band of Horses, though, we’ve come down a bit. Like methadone to the Bonnaroo heroin, their set at sunset tonight was the perfect way to take the edge off, with unassuming yet highly motivated tunes ringing across the fading field. After the jump, not all that many pictures or words from a day that included Andrew Bird, Okkervil River, Merle Haggard, and more Phish. It does not include much of anything about “Hip-Hop Time” All-Stars Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg, both of whom lollygagged in getting to the mainstage, throwing a wrench into my carefully calculated scheduling plans. And as we learned last year with Kanye, “Festival Time” and “Hip-Hop Time” are not good friends.
UPDATE, 11:30 PM: When you get to the end of this post, you will learn that Springsteen sat in with Phish on three songs this evening. I encourage you to read on!
After falling asleep with my computer in my lap while editing photos at 6 a.m. this morning, I was in no position to get here much before Erykah Badu’s set at 3:30. Sadly, after we all killed some time laughing at funny audience members on the jumbotron — a zaftig woman with a hula skirt of beer cans; a man in a Guy Fawkes mask and long afro — I had to go shoot Andrew Bird, who I’ve been neglecting all summer. I am told that when Badu finally appeared, she was wearing a Public Enemy sweatshirt. Meanwhile, Andrew Bird and his monkey mascot were tearing it up on the second stage, though Bird opted for bare feet instead of his trademark funky socks to commemorate the blazing hot afternoon. No rain today, friends. Blue skies. Glorious. Flanked by his giant phonograph speakers, the looping whiz laid down a typically lush string murmur, then whipped through the hits: “Opposite Day,” with its deep violin bowing and mysterious undertones; “Fitz and the Dizzyspells”; the festival’s only whistle-along in “Nervous Tic Motion…” He introduced his band, one of whom was born on today’s date, and the crowd leapt into a spontaneous chorus of “Happy Birthday” —
— Oops, sorry. Had to go take pictures of Phish 2, Deja Phish. (Read my blog on Phish 1 here.) “Still here, huh?” Trey Anastasio asked upon taking the stage, and the crowd — coated with the tortillas that someone inexplicably decided to start flinging into the air a few moments before showtime, floury discs glowing eerily alongside glowsticks in the blue stage light — roared its response. Am now sitting in a lawn chair behind the stage as the Phish show unwinds, and have decided to call what I am doing “noodle blogging.” Ah, to be not sober. Anyway. So the Andrew Bird crowd sang “Happy Birthday,” and Bird was impressed. “Y’all are like one person. A really cool person.” He declared Bonnaroo to be his favorite festival, and I wandered over to Merle Haggard. The country legend was predictably solid, his generation-spanning band was huge, and because he covered it, I’d like to remind everyone out there in Music Mix land that if you’ve got the money, honey, I’ve got the time. What I don’t have, however, are any good shots of Okkervil River, whose sidestage was closed — much like MGMT’s had been — due to the presence of one Mr. Bruce Springsteen and his son. (Those two also reportedly wreaked havoc at Citizen Cope and Neko Case, inspiring at least one photographer to posit a Bruce = New Kanye theory.) I can’t imagine having the Boss there watching did much to help Will Sheff’s spastic anxiety, as he already seems somewhat overwrought. Can’t wait for that band to stop writing lyrics about the perils of life in the public eye — I was saying that very thing to a companion when they launched into “Westfall” and the line “With all these cameras focused on my face…” — and get back to making merriment, if they were ever really doing that in the first place. Because no matter what the song says, I am not waiting to hate anybody. I want to dance, and love.
Skipped the Snoop show and retired instead to Band of Horses, since, as of his scheduled start time, it was rumored Mr. Doggy Dogg was not even on the property. He must have shown up eventually, as I could feel his bass throbbing throughout quiet bearded Horse gems like “No One’s Gonna Love You”; louder, clangier songs like “Weed Party” and “Is There A Ghost” fared better. As shade finally swept across the field, the band was in fine if not extraordinary form — nothing compared to their 2008 ACL set — but like I said, they were the perfect way to come down. Threw in a Gram Parsons cover (“A Song For You”), and tried out a new song in the encore: “And if you’re ever left with any doubt / what you’ll live with and what you’ll do without / I’m only sorry that it took so long to figure out,” sang Ben Bridwell (he may have been dueting with Tyler Ramsey at the time). It was a peaceful moment, marred only by the dude walking through the crowd loudly hawking bootleg Bonnaroo t-shirts. I had a conversation with Kenny Chesney while I was out reporting a feature on him last weekend (that’s right, I just obnoxiously name-dropped Kenny Chesney) about how both of us wish, in different ways, that we could just go see a show like a regular person sometimes — hang out in the sun with our buddies and drink beer, just enjoy the music instead of working. For a moment during tonight’s Band of Horses set, I felt that elusive relaxation, and smiled.
Phish could feasibly play for the next twelve hours without me being able to identify a single song, so that’s where I’ll leave you, and this festival, Mixers: at the intersection of art and commerce, beauty and vulgarity, humanity and the —
— HOLD UP! We interrupt this needless reverie to tell you that at approximately 10:10 p.m., Bruce Springsteen joined Phish for three songs. I was noodle-blogging away backstage when I was wrangled out to the soundboard by interested parties who stuck a beer in my hand; three songs later, the jamming stopped and a pregnant pause appeared. “We are having such a good time up here, it’s impossible to describe with words,” said Trey into the silence, then told the story of his first rock concert as a kid, a concert that was so good it’s never been rivaled: Bruce. He introduced “my boyhood hero, and still my hero today,” and Springsteen emerged, then proceeded to basically hornswoggle Trey etc. into posing as his backing band on “Mustang Sally,” calling shots like “Come on, Mr. Keyboard Man!” and getting the whole crowd going on the ride Sally rides. (“Most expensive bar band ever,” said one of my companions.) Up next was “Bobby Jean,” capably performed but not overly thrilling save for Bruce and Trey’s echoing guitar solos, overlapping in the most pleasant of discord while the Phish guitarist grinned like a 12-year-old. As the crowd cheered, I started wondering what suddenly being cast into a Springsteen show does to you if you’re on drugs.
The last song of the collaboration (and the end of Phish’s first set) was “Glory Days,” a strange choice primarily because Bruce did it yesterday, and because it took a hot mess of a second for everyone on stage to find the same groove. Oh no, I thought. Don’t try to recapture a little of the glory-uh. But since Trey Anastasio can solo on anything, what seemed destined to be a train wreck actually crescendoed into something extraordinary: Bruce dropped back to rhythm and let the man who idolizes him take the lead on what could honestly be termed an incredibly Phishian take on an incredibly not Phishy song, everything modernized and shaken loose. And so unlike yesterday, when everything Springsteen did was better than everything everybody else did, I can now say with confidence that Trey Anastasio is a better lead guitarist than Bruce Springsteen, and I think Bruce would agree.
Okay! Since I’m back at the hotel now, I think I’m done. Your turn, Mixers: If you attended Bonnaroo ’09, share your memories below, or wait for that (alleged) wrap-up post that I am (maybe) going to write tomorrow, if I’m not somewhere having my cheap-rain-boot-tortured feet amputated. One more time for old times’ sake: SQUID BRAINS!
Photo Credit: Whitney Pastorek/EW.com