Bonnaroo: One of Our Favorite Music Festivals

Summer means the brilliant fireworks of July 4th igniting the sky. It means the smell of warm hot dogs and ice cold beer and the roar of a crowd at the baseball stadium. It means Bonnaroo. Every year, music fans from all over the world unite on a farm in Manchester, Tennessee for what is always certain to be four days of some incredible music. I wanted to take a look back on some of the incredible musicians that performed at last year’s Bonnaroo festival and also preview what we’re really excited for this weekend:

Bonnaroo Festival 2015 – A Look Back

  1. Billy Joel – “Captain Jack” – Live at Shea Stadium – 2008

The New Yorker referred to Billy Joel as the “33 Hit Wonder”. That about sums up Billy Joel’s illustrious career in rock and pop music, which is why we were so into his performance at last year’s Bonnaroo festival. Since 1973, when Joel released his first hit song, his signature tune “Piano Man”, he has been the 6th best-selling recording artist, and third best in the solo artist category. In total, he has sold 150 million records, good for one of the best selling artists ever. Out of his whopping 23 Grammy Award nominations, he has won 6. In addition to being inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Hall of Fames, he has also received a Kennedy Center honor, the United States’ highest artistic honor.

Not a bad career for a normal kid from Long Island, New York, who happened to be blessed with terrific piano-playing skills as well as a true gift for producing melodies that are as memorable as they are pleasing. And though much of Billy Joel’s work, especially his later work, is on the lighter side, Captain Jack takes a surprisingly dark twist. Captain Jack is a song from Billy Joel’s sophomore, breakthrough album Piano Man. It’s disaffected, almost desperate lyrics ring out as Joel sings, “Your sister’s gone out, she’s on a date / You just sit at home and masturbate / Your phone is gonna ring soon, But you just can’t wait For that call / Captain Jack will get you high tonight / And take you to your special island / Captain Jack will get you by tonight / Just a little push, and you’ll be smilin'”. Filled with references to drugs, masturbation, death, cynicism, and despair, Captain is, in our mind’s Billy Joel’s greatest composition and a true classic of the rock catalog.


2. Mumford & Sons – “I Will Wait” – Live at the Lewes Stopover – 2013

When Mumford & Sons busted out as a rock and roll force with their chart-topping album Babel in September of 2012, they sounded like no one else achieving huge commercial success in music. With influences that include rock, folk, country, and bluegrass, Mumford and Sons were creating giant rock hits with instruments like the dobro, banjo, and double bass. Not the usual recipe for success but one which wound up leading the band to a Grammy win for Album of the Year for Babel, their sophomore set. Recently, the mostly-acoustic oriented roots band created some controversy among its fans by plugging in and going electric – what is this, Bob Dylan circa 1965? But Marcus Mumford and his bandmates are still fundamentally the same great musicians, creating gripping rock music steeped deep in the classic rock and roots music traditions. They are a perfect fit for the Bonnaroo festival scene. 

“I Will Wait” is the band’s biggest hit to date. The urgent, emotionally charged tune was the lead single off of the band’s sophomore studio set Babel, released in 2012. Mumford passionate sings, “Well I came home / Like a stone / And I fell heavy into your arms / These days of dust / Which we’ve known / Will blow away with this new sun / But I’ll kneel down / Wait for now /
And I’ll kneel down / Know my ground / And I will wait, I will wait for you.” The melody soars and goosebumps stand on end. The song has sold over 2 million copies in the United States, and hit #1 on multiple Billboard charts including US Hot Rock Songs and US Adult Alternative Songs.


3. Florence + The Machine – “Shake It Out” – Live at Hackney Weekend – 2012

Florence + The Machine is an indie rock band formed in London, 2007, featuring the magnetic, hypnotic front woman Florence Welch. Welch’s powerful vocals and the band’s dynamic, dramatic stage show have been major contributors to the enormous rock success of Florence + The Machine of late. Their music blends the influence of rock, pop, baroque, and soul into an enticing mixture that has been entrancing people on both sides of the Atlantic. Florence Welch has cited Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane as her greatest musical influence, and she has learned her lessons about how to be a great rock star well. Florence + The Machine have won two Brit awards and been nominated for 8 others; though they’ve never won a Grammy, they have been nominated 8 times for those as well. All three of their albums have hit #1 in the UK and their latest, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful has hit #1 in the USA as well. So it’s no surprise that they went on right before Billy Joel’s headlining act last year at Bonnaroo. 

“Shake It Out” was the first single from the band’s sophomore album Ceremonials. It is influenced by gothic pop as well as rock and gospel elements. Its main instrumentation is an eclectic mix of organs, tambourines, and bells. It featured a music video partially inspired by the classic Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut. The song itself was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

4. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters – “Going to California” – Lollapalooza São Paulo, Brasil – 3/28/2015

Robert Plant is most known for his heyday with Led Zeppelin, but the ex-Zep frontman has certainly been keeping himself musically busy. You may recall that in 2009, Plant had won 5 Grammy’s for Raising Sand, his collaborative Americana album with bluegrass sensation Alison Krauss. On his latest album lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, his 10th solo album, which was recorded with the Sensational Space Shifters, he has pursued a mesmerizing concoction of sounds with a band that includes instruments like the djembe, the kologo, banjo, and electronic drums (go figure). The album features mostly all-original material with the exception of “Little Maggie”, a traditional song that he had previously attempted but had found himself unhappy with. And while his former bandmate Jimmy Page has kicked around the idea of reuniting the Led Zeppelin gang with Plant and Paul Jones, Robert Plant has denied interest, choosing instead to follow his own muse. We love the journey it’s been taking him on.

But we’re definitely O.K. with Robert Plant re-visiting classic Led Zeppelin material at his shows. In fact, we love it. Here’s a terrific rendition of the lovely ballad “Going to California” from Led Zeppelin’s landmark album IV (or technically, untitled). We think you’ll dig this performance.

Bonnaroo Festival – 2016 Preview of Dead & Company

Dead & Company – “Scarlet Begonias” – Jimmy Kimmel Live – May 10, 2016

When John Mayer joined up with Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and Bob Weir to play Grateful Dead songs as Dead & Company, many people feared the worst. Could John Mayer, once an idol for teenage acoustic pop/rock fans, really be the keeper of the flame for Jerry Garcia and the legacy of the Grateful Dead? Turns out, the answer is a resounding “yep”. Over the years, John Mayer has really proved his guitar mettle as a blues-rock guitarist, so this really should come as no major surprise. If possible, Mayer has actually turned out to be an underrated guitarist, mostly due to the lasting image of his pop/rock incarnation. But the former members of The Grateful Dead, just like a variety of major blues stars and other guitarists, have recognized John Mayer’s talent. Everything else about this Grateful Dead kinda-reunion has been note perfect too. This band just sounds great together, and we truly hope they keep performing shows as a unit.

On May 10, late night TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel assembled a Dead & Company mini-concert during which the band played five songs. Our kind of television show host, we must say. Here’s a stellar rendition of “Scarlet Begonias” from the broadcast, giving you a taste of what this year’s Bonnaroo headlining act may very likely deliver this weekend. You won’t be disappointed.

– Brian M. Reiser
Tribut Apparel / J&R Adventures

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