Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Preview of Opening Day at Bonnaroo 2009

While Bonnaroo has always featured bands over four days, that first day (Thursday) has often been considered by some as an unofficial day. That's because most of the bands (as well as the bigger bands) generally play between Friday and Sunday.

After doing the 'roo twice before, I have to tell you, the experience begins as soon as you step foot onto the farm. You might even say that the experience begins as soon as you hit the road. I can tell you this though - the very first thing you'll experience with Bonnaroo, is the traffic jam getting into the festival.

There's no easy way to get as many as 90,000 people into the gates in a short time, so be patient. The line will stretch much, much farther than the eye can see, and some of you may even be sent almost to the Tennessee-Georgia border, before you'll have to turn around to get in the real line, which will take you back to scenery you have already passed.

I know, I know. It sucks bad, but nothing can be done, that's how these things work. If you've been sitting on the highway shoulder for an hour or two, and haven't moved an inch, well, that's normal. Another thing. Please be extremely cautious as you're in this traffic jam. Not just by having the common sense of safety issues, but also, do not do anything illegal that may get you arrested before you even step foot on the farm.

By bringing all of these people onto a private 700-acre farm for several days, the two main concerns are safety and fun. Be smart and safe, but most importantly have fun! Bonnaroo only comes once a year, and it really is like the Christmas of the music world. Lewis Black has said it himself, and that's a man who wouldn't tell a lie!

So without further ado, and with the schedule finally getting here after several months of speculation, I'd like to offer you an in-depth look at the many things Bonnaroo has to offer, day by day.

The festival kickoffs earlier and earlier every year, with this year being the earliest in the festival's eight year career.

Beginning at noon on Thursday (although many of you still may be stuck in that bloody traffic jam), we have the Solar Stage presenting Hunab Kru Breakdancing. The Solar Stage is exactly what it sounds like - music and audio are powered by solar energy panels. Let's just hope that the hot Tennessee sun is out and about! To get a feel of what the Hunab Kru Breakdancing is all about, check out this video from YouTube. There will be numerous breakdancing sessions all throughout the weekend, so have a look at the complete schedule here.

Immediately following the breakdancing session on the Solar Stage, you have the renown Bonnaroo Buskers. With their parades and skits, these street performers will offer some of the most bizarre things you'll witness at Bonnaroo. They'll be doing this all weekend long, so make sure to check out the schedule.

Like I said earlier, things are beginning much earlier this year. The music is kicking off at 1pm (last year was 4:30, and in 2007 it was 7:15).

The first musician to hit the stage at Bonnaroo 2009, will be Jedd Hughes, taking place in the Troo Music Lounge. Once again, that's at 1pm. Hughes is an Australian, now living in Nashville, who was raised on the sounds of country legends like Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins. Beginning at a very young age, Jedd took part in music competitions (winning first place at the Port Pirie Country Music Festival at eight years old), and at twelve years old was chosen to represent Australia on a three-week tour of Europe, performing at the International Music for Youth festivals held in France, Belgium and Sweden. It was during his teen years that he discovered artists like Merle Haggard, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Del McCoury and Ralph Stanley, all of whom which have either performed at the festival or are performing this year.

After high school, he relocated to the States to attend the bluegrass program at the South Plains College in Texas. It was there where he met a man from Nashville named Terry McBride, who soon after became his writing partner after Hughes relocated once again to Music City, USA (that's Nashville). Six weeks into his stay in Music City, Hughes auditioned to be the lead guitarist for Patty Loveless, and within an hour of performing, was asked to join. Soon after he was invited to play at the Grand Ole Opry as well as MerleFest. His debut album was released in 2004 and featured guest appearances from Alison Krauss and Patty Loveless.

The country music continues in the Troo Music Lounge, when Roger Alan Wade takes the stage at 2:30pm. Although he's only released two albums, Wade has written songs for some of the most legendary country acts in history, including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Hank Williams Jr. If you happen to check out Wade's set, you may even stumble upon Jackass's Johnny Knoxville. Their cousins, and Wade has Knoxville and his jackass of a show (pun intended) to thank for the success of his solo career. There's a bit of humor to be found in Wade's music, as he typically writes songs for Joe Everyman. Some of the titles include "BB Gun", "Butt Ugly Slut", "Poontang" and "If You're Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough."

If Wade's set doesn't sound too much like your thing, you'll find a couple of other things going on over at the Solar Stage. At 2pm you'll find environmentally inspired and eco-friendly folk tunes from Now the River. Stick around, because you can't go wrong with a little African Drum and Dance by Mawre Company, directly following at 3pm.

At 4pm you'll have the choice of either Julia Nunes in the Troo Music Lounge or the Gypsy Hands Tribal Dancers on the Solar Stage. To see some video of the Gypsy Hands, click here.

Nunes is a ukulele playing, singer/songwriter from upstate New York. Her claim to fame has come about through the Internet and sites like MySpace and YouTube, where her hit song "Into the Sunshine" has surpassed one million views. She's released two albums, but also loves to perform covers, which have been called "amazing." That's a good thing, considering that cover songs usually go over well at festivals like this.

Julia Nunes will also be playing the Solar Stage on Saturday at 6:30pm and the Sonic Stage on Sunday at 3pm.

During the five o' clock hour, the music will begin in the bigger tents, otherwise known as This, That and the Other.

If acoustic, folk-pop sounds like your thing, you may want to check out Erick Baker at 5:15 in This Tent. With a soulful voice, you may find that Baker has the power to heal, while he exposes the rawest of emotions in his songs about heartache, pain and suffering.

During the same time (actually starting at 5:30), Alberta Cross will be hitting the stage in That Tent. Another folk band, these guys from London were first inspired by the gospel, blues and soul found in bands like The Band, Van Morrison and Leonard Cohen. At the same time however, they bring to the table, elements of their modern day influences such as The White Stripes and The Shins.

Alberta Cross will also be playing the Sonic Stage on Friday at 12:45pm.

Another band playing at 5:30, are the Black Lillies, who'll be in the Troo Music Lounge. Hailing from Knoxville, they're popular on the local scene, often playing gigs in smaller bars and clubs in and around town. They should feel right at home at Bonnaroo, playing country and roots music, including instruments such as the mandolin and pedal steel.

The Black Lillies will also be playing the Solar Stage on Saturday at 8pm.

At 5:45 in the Other Tent, up-and-coming female R&B/Soul sensation Janelle Monae will be taking the stage. Described as a woman with "a big, bright smile and grand ambitions", Janelle quickly realized her lifelong dreams of being onstage, at a very early age. After high school, she left Kansas for New York, to attend the American Musical and Dramatics Academy, where she fell in love with the soaring melodies and harmonic possibilities of classical music.

But she wanted to change the world beyond Broadway, so she headed to Atlanta, the home of progressive soul and hip-hop music, to begin her music career. She was later discovered by hip-hop legend Big Boi, who signed her to his Purple Ribbon label, which led to the opportunity to write and record with Outkast.

Are you still feeling a little stressed because of all that time you spent in the traffic jam earlier today? Maybe you had some car problems on the way here. Or are you just looking for a way to relax or achieve a legal state of mind or inner peace before the non-stop weekend of fun begins?

Beginning at 6pm is the hour-long yoga class happening on the Solar Stage. Make sure to check the schedule, as there will be fewer classes this year, as well as only a few meditation classes.

Maybe you've come to Bonnaroo in search of something other than music, yoga or belly dancers. Maybe you've come to Bonnaroo to laugh your head off.

At 6:30 in the Comedy Sweet Tent, the Comedy Carnivale will be kicking off. A laughing good time featuring actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo, Christian Finnegan (he was the only white guy in the infamous Mad Real World sketch on Chappelle's show), Arj Barker (Dave on HBO's Flight of the Conchords), Nick Thune (Comedy Central's iThunes) and Pete Holmes (Comedy Central's Premium Blend).

It's often hard to get a spot inside the air-conditioned Comedy Tent, as there is limited seating, so you may have to wait an hour or two before you actually get in. That's okay though. On Thursday night, you'll get two other chances to see all of these comedians. The other performances are at 8:15 and 10pm and they last for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Lasting into the seven o' clock hour are four different bands - White Rabbits at 6:45 in This Tent, Delta Spirit at 7pm in That Tent, Erin McCarley at 7pm in the Troo Music Lounge and MURS at 7:15 in the Other Tent.

White Rabbits are a six-piece band from the mid west, now based in New York. Lead by two vocalists, their indie-pop sound is rounded out with textured, vocal harmonies and chants. They have shared the stage with artists like Peter, Bjorn & John and The Walkmen.

Despite never being signed to a major label, as well as only having one full length album out, Ode to Sunshine, Delta Spirit have gained quite a considerable following. They're quickly becoming one of the better bands of this new breed of indie-folk rock, which includes bands like Devendra Banhart and Fleet Foxes. They are also known for their energetic performances, topped off by the use of unconventional instruments such as trash can lids and orhcestral bass drums.

When Erin McCarley looks back on her life, she says her parents couldn't have done a better job in raising her and her older sister. At the same time though, she feels she was given "an unrealistic view of everything" because "that's not how the world is."

The start of her music career came after college, when she moved to San Diego and spent her weekends singing in a country cover band. It was at that time, that she discovered songwriting, which would become, in her words, "an addiction." She recalls the countless days holed up inside her home, where she would spend all day and night, working on the craft of songwriting.

Those days spent working on the craft have helped her to create beautiful melodies, with influences drawing from the Beatles to Patty Griffin and Aimee Mann to Fiona Apple. While she admits that it's hard for her to write songs about being happy, she notes that she doesn't prefer being sad, but rather, she has learned not to be afraid of it. She has spent the past several years as part of the Ten Out of Tenn tour, featuring male and female singer/songwriter's like k.s. Rhoads, Andy Davis, Griffin House, Katie Herzig and Trent Dabbs.

Erin McCarley will also be playing the Sonic Stage on Sunday at 1:30pm.

Underground hip-hop MC, Nick Carter, otherwise known as MURS (which stands for Making Underground Raw Shit), has been creating music for the better part of a decade, although he's only been drawing high praises for the past few years.

While it was his Varsity Blues EP (not the movie), that opened a lot people's eyes to him as a solo artist, he enjoys collaborating with other artists, stating he'd like to work with as many artists as possible in his career. Some of those whom he's joined forces with include members of Living Legends, the Three Melancholy Gypsy's and Atmosphere. He has even directed an indie film entitled "Walk Like a Man" featuring music from other artists including Atmosphere, Blueprint and Brother Ali.

The four bands playing during the eight o' clock hour include Hockey at 8:15 in This Tent, Portugal the Man at 8:30 in That Tent, Those Darlins at 8:30 in the Troo Music Lounge and The Knux in the Other Tent at 8:45.

You've probably never heard of Hockey, but very soon you will know about one of the hottest up-and-coming indie-electronica acts. What's even more likely, is that you can't buy any of their records either. That's because they've only put out a thousand copies of a nine track demo called Mind Chaos. The demo was once available on iTunes, but has since been removed because of their recent signing to Capitol Records.

Capitol will be properly releasing the album in August of 2009, which will include new tracks, as well as six of the original nine tracks. Earlier in the year they toured with Friendly Fires, and will be making stops at other festivals like Sasquatch, Rock Am Ring and Hove.

Some of the guys of Portugal the Man may feel a little out of place in that hot Tennessee sun. The four-piece, experimental indie rock band hails from Alaska, where front man John Baldwin Gourley was brought up in a log cabin home with no power generator or telephone, working as a dog sled musher. They've released three full length albums and have toured with bands artists like Thursday, Rocky Votolato, Great Depression, The Photo Atlas and Play Radio Play.

Portugal the Man will also be playing the Sonic Stage on Friday at noon.

Bonnaroo couldn't be anymore local than it is for the women of Those Darlins. Living within an hour of the festival grounds, this trio of young, sexy twenty-somethings, make country-pop rock 'n roll, all the while remaining cheerfully sarcastic at their rowdy, booze-fueled live shows.

They've been drawing mass critical acclaim from magazines, newspapers and Internet blogs like the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Pitchfork Media, American Songwriter and Bust. They've toured with bands like Deer Tick, Boss Hogg, Ida Maria, and more recently, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. They've even gone on the road with our very own, Heartless Bastards.

The Knux are an alternative hip-hop duo made up of brothers, Krispy Kream and Rah Almillio. Born and raised in New Orleans, they moved to L.A. after Hurricane Katrina, and have since garnered mass critical acclaim, despite only putting out one album, 2008's Remind Me in 3 Days.
They've had three hit singles, which have been featured in shows and movies like Entourage and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Known for intense live shows, they've toured with everyone from Common and Nas, to The Roots and Lupe Fiasco, as well as DJ-AM and Travis Barker.

Going into the ten o' clock hour you have the choices of Chairlift in This Tent, the Low Anthem in That Tent, People Under the Stairs in the Other Tent and the Features in the Troo Music Lounge.

There's been a large number of indie-electronica acts that have formed over the past several years, so many, that it's almost impossible to say who will hit it big next. After catching Chairlift on the Peter, Bjorn & John tour a couple weeks ago (and not knowing anything about them when I went), their mind-shattering performance convinced me that they are certainly in the running to be the next great electro-indie band. Word has spread quickly about this band that formed just three years ago in Boulder, Colorado.

Chairlift's vision of creating live music for haunted houses, was born from the Gothic architecture, crystal chandeliers and vacant dance floors that were part of the Broker Inn, a Colorado venue hosting late-night jazz shows. Soon after, during the very same year, they picked up their things and relocated to Brooklyn, where they became part of a scene alongside other Bonnaroo artists such as MGMT and Yeasayer. So don't be afraid to check out Chairlift, as the only thing scary about this band is their hauntingly, infectious mix of electronica and pop that will stay with you long after Bonnaroo.

Chairlift will also be playing the Sonic Stage on Saturday at noon.

Ben Miller and Jeff Prystowsky started the contemporary folk duo, the Low Anthem, in 2003, in the northeast. The band would become complete, when they asked classical composer, Jocie Adams, to join in 2007. Later that same year, they released their first effort, What the Crow Brings. Drawing mass critical acclaim from major press throughout the country, the Low Anthem has drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, The Band and Simon and Garfunkel.

The Low Anthem will also be playing the Sonic Stage on Friday at 1:30pm.

Another band that'll feel right at home at Bonnaroo, are locals, the Features. They earned their spot on the bill through a competition of local bands. Although they're from the small town of Murfreesboro, no one was really surprised when they signed to Universal Records in 2004. Having been involved in the local music scene since the mid-90's, the Features encourage singing along and clapping to their quirky pop songs.

Considered one of the most prominent acts in the underground hip-hop world, People Under the Stairs formed in Los Angeles by Chris Portugal (Thes One) and Michael Turner, Jr. (Double K). They've released a number of albums, with their latest being, Fun DMC, coming last year. They have a musical style similar to that of A Tribe Called Quest and the Pharcyde.

Starting in the eleven o' clock hour, and lasting after midnight, the four bands who'll be onstage are Passion Pit in This Tent, the Zac Brown Band in That Tent, Midnite in the Other Tent and American Princes in the Troo Music Lounge.

While they've only released an EP, Chunk of Change, Passion Pit have quickly become one of the hottest electronic-indie acts today, despite just forming in 2007. Their live show is intense, and they fit in the same boat with bands like Friendly Fires and Ra Ra Riot. Their debut album, Manners, hits shelves on May 19.

Due to his down-to-earth, highly contagious personality, Zac Brown has become quite popular along the southeast. He enjoys good company, having a good time, the great outdoors, warm nights and cold beer. A man's man, a ladies man, he's a man who lives life to the fullest and loves every minute of it.

He's opened a restaurant on Lake Oconee, Georgia, called Zac's Place, where he envisioned a place where he could relax and share his love for food and cooking with anyone and everyone. It's safe to say, that because of all of this, his band has sold over ten-thousand copies independently of his first two CD's. I'm sure Zac will make a lot of friends this year at Bonnaroo, as the atmosphere of the festival sounds like it's right up his alley.

Over the past several years, post-harcore, indie-rock band American Princes have been all over the map, working extremely hard on and off the road. Starting out in Brooklyn in 2002, they relocated to Little Rock, where they picked up vocalist Collins Kilgore.

While they were in Arkansas, they released two albums over a two year period, however, Kilgore made a move to Brooklyn, but would make month-long writing sessions back to Little Rock, which eventually became their latest release, Other People. They've gone on tour with bands like The Roots, The Flaming Lips, Son Volt, Soul Asylum, The Hold Steady and Spoon.

American Princes will also be playing the Sonic Stage on Sunday at 12:45pm.

Coming from the Virgin Islands, Midnite is a crucial roots reggae band, following the traditions of 1970's Jamaica. With a chant and call vocal style, their lyrics focus on politics, the economy, the oppressed and the redemption available to a life livicated to Jah.

Beginning at midnight in the Comedy Sweet Tent, will be something a little bit different than in Bonnaroo's past.

If you've ever watched Conan O' Brien late at night over the past twelve years, chances are that you know about the hand puppet, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. He's rude, obnoxious, insulting, vulgar and mocks anyone and everyone that is within reach of puppeteer Robert Smigel's arm. I'm not sure what his show at Bonnaroo will include or even why they booked him, but in my own honest opinion, it's going to be god awful. Sure, this puppet was funny the first couple of times I saw it, but after being around for so long, it appears to be just a waste of time to me.

The last artist of the night to perform, and playing unopposed, will be taking the stage at 1am in the Troo Music Lounge.

Electronic musician Tom Fec, of Black Moth Super Rainbow, chose a rather odd name for his alter ego - Tobacco. He says the choice of the name came from the Tobacco Man (from the film Redneck Zombies), a character that freaked him out as a kid.

Tobacco has created a signature sound, both with BMSR and his solo work, where he works with mostly pre-digital electronic instruments like analog synths and tape machines. Very little is known about this man who rarely does interviews, although we know he graduated from high school in Pennsylvania in 1998.

He released his debut solo album, Fucked Up Friends, last year, with Rolling Stone stating that it was "one of the year's best stoner-rock records - only it's powered by synths, hip-hop beats and vocoders instead of guitars." The album features a guest appearance from Aesop Rock.

So there's a look into what will be happening on the first night of Bonnaroo 2009. Remember to take it easy, as this is just the first night. The weekend may seem long, but it goes by very quick, too quick in fact. Before you know it, Bonnaroo will have come and gone, and by the time you're packing up your gear, you'll be making plans for next year.

My 10 Picks:

Erick Baker, Alberta Cross, White Rabbits, Delta Spirit, Hockey, Portugal. the Man, Chairlift, The Low Anthem, Passion Pit, Tobacco

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