(Above: Ozomatli brings its party vibe to Bonnaroo’s enormous What Stage on Saturday morning. Photo by Jeff Kravitz.)
After experiencing the chill vibes and thoughtful touches of Bonnaroo, I have only one conclusion: the hippies should run all the big festivals. With such nice details as a chandelier in the Where Café and strings of lights on the backstage bridge leading to the What Stage, it’s nothing like some of the bottom-line driven corporate fests I’ve attended.
And I honestly don’t have much problem with the drug culture, either. I’ve never met a violent pothead. Even if I occasionally have to duck out of a crowd to avoid a contact high, the widespread love of the Mary Jane makes for a pretty mellow scene.
In some respects, it feels like an amusement park for open-minded lovers of rock ’n’ roll. And if it’s an amusement park, ascending the riser at the What Stage for the night’s headliner is an E-ticket ride, as Paste editor Josh Jackson memorably put it. That’s a ride I eagerly took Saturday night, during Widespread Panic’s marathon set, arriving just in time to see Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes join the band for a few numbers.
The day had started almost 10 hours prior, with multicultural L.A. dance band Ozomatli on the same stage. The 10-man combo blends funk, hip-hop, salsa, Tejano and reggae into their own undeniably catchy sound, and is in demand as a live act. Their performance demonstrated why. From M.C. Jabu’s crowd surfing while rapping, to trombonist Sheffer Burton’s incredibly limber-hipped dancing, culminating in a drum circle and parade through the crowd—anyone who catches these guys live is guaranteed to be converted. There was even an improptu cover of “Pass The Dutchie,” and a guest appearance by Xavier Rudd, another fest fave.
Jenny Lewis is no hippie chick, but there she was at Bonnaroo, bandmates in tow. It’s the love of musical eclecticism that brings acts like Rilo Kiley, Lewis’ band, and Modest Mouse to the fest. (If Bonnaroo was only a doctrinaire exploration of the scene that owes its allegiance to the Grateful Dead, I’m not sure I’d make the trip.)
True to the freewheeling local style, Rilo Kiley’s set turned into a hootenanny, with M. Ward and members of his band gathered around the mic for sing-alongs. Ward stuck around at the end of the set to generate a feedback-drenched “jam” to close the proceedings.
Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam is a Bonnaroo virgin, and it showed during a languorous One-and-a-half-hour set, during which he was clearly awed by the audience enthusiasm at That Tent, similar to the reception given the quiet soulfulness of Ray LaMontagne the previous day. After fighting off waves of distant sound from the Black Crowes, Beam and his five-piece band found a groove, even inviting the hipsters down front to dance.
However, I’m not always at peace with the full-band arrangements for Iron & Wine’s earlier songs (“Upward Over The Mountain” suffers from its new, chugging arrangement), and it was interesting that the biggest crowd response was for the songs delivered with only Beam’s guitar and voice.