Although Tennessee’s Bonnaroo started out as the ultimate, modern-day “hippie festival” — it was once even even brutally, but hilariously skewered as such by those evil kids on TV’s South Park — it has in recent years become much more than a showcase for jam bands like Phish and My Morning Jacket.
Over the years, Bonnaroo has in fact hosted everyone from Radiohead to Tom Petty to Willie Nelson to Metallica on its way to becoming what is arguably now the biggest of all the big summer music festivals. Rumor has it that none other than Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will headline this year’s Bonnaroo.
2008’s lineup at Bonnaroo was as diverse as any in the festival’s venerable history. In addition to the bands you’d more or less expect — I mean what’s Bonnaroo without My Morning Jacket, right? — Bonnaroo 2008 featured everything from punk (Against Me!) to funky R&B (Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings) to metal (Metallica, Mastodon) to the God-knows-what-genre-it-is of Gogol Bordello. It seems these days that Bonnaroo is striving to be Lollapalooza as much as it is Woodstock.
All of this is captured on Live From Bonnaroo 2008, which condenses the entire Bonnaroo experience into roughly 100 minutes on DVD. Interspersed between performances by sixteen bands are plenty of crowd shots from the festival, which give this DVD the rock-doc feel of something like Woodstock or Monterey Pop.
There are interviews with both the diehards who come from all over the country to attend each year, as well as the so-called “Bonna-rookies.” The film provides a pretty good overview of all the action, from the big boys on the mainstage, to the makeshift rave in a tent, to the comedy stage (where a stand-up comic compares his act to Metallica’s). Both the video and 5.1 audio mix (taken direct from the soundboard) are stellar throughout.
As for the performances themselves? The standouts would include My Morning Jacket’s Jim James going into his trademark trance-like state during “I’m Amazed;” Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder leading the crowd in a “fucking beautiful” (his words, not mine) sing-along during “Better Man;” and the Raconteurs’ Jack White making an acoustic guitar sound as wicked as an electric during “Old Enough.”
But, as it should be with any great festival, there are also plenty of new discoveries — and surprises! — here.
Like when the Lee Boys channel the spirit of Sly Stone doing “I Want To Take You Higher” at Woodstock during their own “Come On, Help Me, Lift Him Up” in one of the most frenetic and energized takes on gospel music I think I’ve ever heard. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings are equally electrifying, doing a high energy hybrid of funk, jazz and R&B on “Let Them Knock.” Other standout performances on the DVD include those of Against Me!, Les Claypool, and Broken Social Scene. There is no shortage of great music on this DVD.
Strangely, Metallica’s appearance here represents a low point. Although they appear to have the crowd eating out of their hand, I was a little surprised at how much energy they actually seemed to lack during “Fade To Black.” Maybe it’s just me, but they sounded kind of tired, and James Hetfield in particular also looked it. I’d definitely have to give Mastodon the decision in the Bonnaroo metal-matchup here.
For those of you with HD and surround-sound, though, I cannot urge you strongly enough to crank this sucker up when you sit down to watch it — especially during the sets by Sharon Jones and the Lee Boys. Thanks to this DVD, those are two artists I will definitely be investigating further.