Bonnaroo

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Around the same time Willie Nelson was finishing up “Red Headed Stranger,” another redhead (Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley) was laying a bass line into an L.A.-pop rocker not quite yelling distance away from Willie and the Family on Which Stage. And if redheads weren’t your thing, you could have skirted over to That Tent where M.I.A. had filled the stage with “the boys” and was letting loose, transporting another kind of humidity, people-energy and eclecticism to Tennessee.Photo by Robert Clement

Around the same time Willie Nelson was finishing up “Red Headed Stranger,” another redhead (Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley) was laying a bass line into an L.A.-pop rocker not quite yelling distance away from Willie and the Family on Which Stage. And if redheads weren’t your thing, you could have skirted over to That Tent where M.I.A. had filled the stage with “the boys” and was letting loose, transporting another kind of humidity, people-energy and eclecticism to Tennessee.

Such was a moment in time from Friday evening at Bonnaroo. On Thursday night we made it down to Manchester (driving from Nashville) in time to catch a performance by MGMT, the Brooklyn-based band who recently signed to Columbia Records. The band let their infectious sound free in the tent, mixing whining, boyish singing with round, fluid guitar tone.

The show everyone was buzzing about kicked off at midnight on Friday, and so did the weather. The rain became a character in My Morning Jacket’s sensuous and spiritualized drama, with Jim James seeming to revel in the extra element. This was MMJ’s biggest stage yet at Bonnaroo, and while much has been written about the symbolism of the Louisville band and the festival, the visceral truth of the evening for the audience was in a glorifying, joyous and soulful performance of American music.

Not to be outdone by the festival’s Friday night mascots, however, was another proponent of truly American music from a different era. Levon Helm brought his homey Woodstock, N.Y.-grown blend of tunes back down south on Saturday afternoon – and it sure felt like home. After bringing down the house with “The Weight, ” Levon humbly rose arms with each individual member of his band – The Ramble on the Road – and the crowd seemed to lift him up just the same. It was a beautfiful tribute to the man and probably one he receives almost anywhere he plays nowadays.

One last star of the show was the beautiful, haunting Chan Marshall of Cat Power. With her excellent backing band, The Memphis Rhythm Band, supporting, Marshall enveloped herself in the songs like a brilliant but erratic moth to a flame. After all the festival’s musical farewells, she still seems the most bewitching – offering a strange, stunning, intimate performance with 70,000 people mulling about in a giant field in Middle Tennessee.



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