Bonnaroo was beyond great, in terms of music; other things, not so much. It was hot especially Sunday, which the sun felt about three feet away all day. Couple that with the ever-present dust clouds being kicked up by 80,000 pairs of feet and it made conditions less than ideal. But that didn't stop me from enjoying what may have been the best lineup Bonnaroo has offered yet. The only headliner I was interested in was The Police and just as I expected, it left me ambivalent. They just didn't seem like a right fit. But there was plenty of other great music to catch, with these five performances highlighting my weekend:
5) Mavis Staples - She opened Sunday playing a set heavy on standard Staple Singers songs and classics like 'The Weight' and 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken'. She and the crowd were clearly enjoying the atmosphere before the heat really became unbearable.
4) Gillian Welch - The most reserved set of the weekend but it was highly enjoyable. John Paul Jones joined David and Gillian for three songs to rowdy applause. It's tough in a festival atmosphere to keep a rapt audience but she somehow managed.
3) Wilco - They could have been performing in heat that was close to 100 degrees but that didn't stop Jeff Tweedy & company from looking like they were actually enjoying playing, a big difference from their '04 performance. Tweedy remarked that he usually hates festivals but was enjoying himself and the crowd. Plus, the Sky Blue Sky material sounds really good live.
2) The National - This was one of the truly impressive performances of the weekend. They played Thursday night, which usually draws a more curious than die-hard type of audience. I admit I didn't know much outside of the new album, as probably much of the crowd didn't either. But the passion of their performance quickly won over a somewhat surprisingly big and enthusiastic crowd.
1) THE HOLD STEADY - I've been to every one of these since '03 and I never had a more enjoyable experience at one performance than this one. Opening with 'Stuck Between Stations', they had everyone won over in fist-pumping glory for the entire set. I was ten feet in front of stage right and it was infectious excitement all around, with everyone singing the choruses to 'Chips Ahoy' and 'You Can Make Him Like You'. I couldn't really see what was going on behind but from what I've read, it seems like the band won over more than just the rabid fans near the front. This, like the Flaming Lips in '03 or My Morning Jacket in '04, could be one of those breakthrough performances that Bonnaroo can be known for. For that portion of Saturday afternoon, The Hold Steady were the best rock & roll band in the world. And they just may be still.
I know I said I would try to post pictures but my camera's batteries died before I could even get a picture. Besides, no one was being allowed to bring cameras in because Tool were being pricks about photography. I'm glad I didn't catch their set.