The long awaited and much-discussed collision of hipsters and hippies arrived at Bonnaroo last night (June 17), with a headlining main stage appearance from Radiohead, taken in by the vast majority of the 80,000 in attendance. The tie-dyed, hemp- and sandal-sporting masses matched vocalist Thom Yorke word for word on songs like "There There" and "No Surprises," and "Fake Plastic Trees."
At 28 songs, the set was the longest of Radiohead's brief North American tour, during which the critically adored Brits have been testing out new songs in the mix for their next album. On this night, these included the raucous guitar jam "Bodysnatchers," the "OK Computer"-era outtake "Nude" and the danceable "15 Step."
Radiohead's presence, as well as sets from Beck and others, further emphasized the five-year-old festival's evolution from an exclusive jam-band haven to a more all-inclusive party celebrating an increasingly expanding array of styles. That said, ticket sales and fan reaction to both also reflect that often ignored fact that, believe it or not, jam band fans actually like and listen to Radiohead and Beck, too.
But while Radiohead ruled the Roo during the primetime hours, the afternoon and late-nights sets found organizers blending a handful of international artists (including the Magic Numbers and blind Malian sensations Amadou & Mariam) with a healthy, sentimental dose of New Orleans funk and R&B, thanks to sets from the Neville Brothers, Dr. John and others. Meanwhile, the core jam bands booked for day two recalled the HORDE and Lollapalooza tours of the '90s.
Sexy, big-voiced multi-instrumentalist Grace Potter opened the proceedings with a fiery, soulful set of tunes from her debut album with her Vermont-based band the Nocturnals, "Nothing Like the Water."
Fifteen minutes later, at half past noon, New Orleans' favorite sons the Neville Brothers opened the main stage, while U.K. faves the Magic Numbers and lauded singer/songwriter Jackie Greene got things started elsewhere. Led by the famous falsetto of Aaron Neville, the siblings ran through a sunny funk set punctuated by Aaron's touching rendering of Sam Cooke's "A Change Gonna Come."
Throughout the afternoon, the smaller stages hosted some of jam nation's most core bands, from long-time members Rusted Root and Blues Traveler to the recently embraced Les Claypool and Gomez.
As New York's Steel Train tore it up on one of the festival's many tent stages, earning many new fans, the virtuosic Bill Frisell tuned up across the farm, and blues heavy Buddy Guy wailed, screamed and a howled through a rousing history lesson of the blues, one actually highlighted by a cover of a tender soul classic: Otis Redding's "Dreams to Remember" (which he recently recorded with John Mayer on his new "Bring 'Em In" disc). The ever-smiling, Energizer bunny of the blues, Guy, like usual, took his guitar into the audience and rock away amongst the commoners.
If the festival's organizers, the New Orleans-based Superfly Productions, felt compelled, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to ensure that the city's musical legacy was celebrated at this year's Bonnaroo, they nailed it on Saturday, bookending yet another marathon day of music with the Nevilles and late-night sets from younger brother Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, the Rebirth Brass Band and Dr. John. The latter took the stage in a full Indian head dress, sliding into a masterful set of slow-burning funk.
The hurt and pride of the Crescent City also shined through Elvis Costello's set, during which he performed alongside the forever regal New Orleans songwriting legend Allen Toussaint. Playing the bulk of their elegant new disc, "The River in Reverse," Costello and Toussaint took turns backing one another, while also dueting on the hip "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further." Both were flanked by the Crescent City Horns, whose talents shone throughout, especially during a rearranged take on "Watching the Detectives."
Performing several chestnuts without Toussaint, including "High Fidelity," "Pump It Up" and the forever relevant opener "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?" Costello made a brief, fanged critique of the Bush administration's slow response to Katrina victims, calling them "jackasses and nincompoops."
In an afternoon press conference, Toussaint hailed Costello for giving him one of the most memorable recording and touring experiences of his life. Comparing the Bonnaroo environs to New Orleans in terms of the humidity, he also pegged Katrina as "quite a booking agent."
Husband and wife team Amadou & Mariam delivered live renditions of songs from their hot Nonesuch release, "Dimanche a Bamako," (co-written and produced by fellow world music sensation Manu Chao), as a huge crowd welcomed Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, the first of Bob Marley's many musical offspring to appear at Bonnaroo.
The masses roared their approval to both his own "Road to Zion" and the title track to his recent Grammy-winning third disc, "Welcome to Jamrock." But of course the largest applause came for his sometimes brief takes on such Bob Marley classics as "We and Dem," "Lively Up Yourself," "War" and "Top Rankin'."
Adding a needed, and fully embraced dose of irony to the festival, Beck's set was full of hits, and, hilariously, saw his band literally put down their instruments to enjoy dinner onstage. However scripted, the genius move gave the singer a chance to dip ever so slightly into his hailed acoustic disc "Sea Change," before covering "Do You Realize" by the Flaming Lips, his backing band on the "Sea Change" tour.
And while jam nation's old-school was represented, there were also performances from newer members of the scene, including jazz-fusion giants Medeski Martin & Wood, who hosted a guest turn from DJ Logic.
Day two's mightiest jam came after midnight, when one-half of Phish reunited during the annual Super Jam. Previewing their summer tour, singer/vocalist Trey Anastasio and bassman Mike Gordon teamed with the Benevento/Russo Duo and the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh for the Dead's "Casey Jones" and the oft-covered "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad."